When words hurt

“Who are you?”

The question comes from the other end of the phone line, uttered by my grandmother. Though we’ve been talking for a few minutes, this is the third time I have to remind her who I am.

“Oh, Tash. You’re living in New York?”

“No, Edmonton.” My aunt is in New York.
It’s not unusual for her to become confused, and my heart breaks every time I hear the fear in her voice. She can’t remember where she is, why she’s there. All she wants to do is go home, but that’s no longer an option, anymore.

The home is good to her, the nurses and staff love her, but it’s not the same. It’s not her house. And though one of her sisters is there, my grandmother doesn’t always remember who she is. For that, I am somewhat grateful. My great aunt has become unresponsive, and when my grandmother does remember her, she becomes upset because this is not the little sister she knew.

Whenever I talk with my grandmother, I’m left asking questions I cannot answer. Questions about what is the moral thing when a person’s body begins to outlive their mind (or vice-versa), what do we do when those we love are lost to the ravages of time and age, is there a part of her that understands I remember for her? That the love she had for me cannot be diminished or lost, no matter what is happening to her brain? Can she feel my love for her, even if she cannot remember my name or that I am her granddaughter?

I don’t know, and the sadness sometimes seeks to overwhelm.

These are the times I’m grateful I’m a writer, because every time I write a story, I’m reminded it was her love of books that helped to inspire mine because parts of her show up in my characters. I suppose then, that no matter what time or age might do, she can never be lost.

Ummm, what?

Reading a book on how to write (when at a loss, go back to the well, right?), & the author says to set goals, then gives an example, “Have a book traditionally published by 2018.”

And then I put the book down.

I’m sorry, that’s not a goal. A goal is something YOU can accomplish. YOU can choose *if* you finish the manuscript, and YOU can choose *when* you submit, YOU can even choose the people to whom you submit, BUT YOU CANNOT choose if your book gets published because that’s not in your decision, it’s someone else’s. At the point your goal hinges on someone else, it ceases to be a goal. If any of us had the ability to control someone else’s choices and actions, well, I’m just saying there would be a lot more chocolate on my plate when my husband cooks dinner.

The Long & Winding Road

Maria Stiehler | Unsplash

January 11, 2017, and this is not where I thought I would be. I had an idea for a novel, had the general outline, and intended to start writing in October. The schedule was too busy, no problem, November.

*Except* when November came, I hit the writing road the way I always do. Flat on my face. Splat. I couldn’t get the first pages to work. So I wrote and deleted and wrote again…and got 10 pages that were passable and workable.

Sent it off to my publisher and said, “What do you think?”

“Great! Looking forward to the rest of the novel!”

*Except* those pages don’t work. At least, not for the start of the novel.

More writing, more deleting.

In the meantime, I’m trying not to panic as November rolls into December, and December ticks down to January. I know writing is a winding road. I know there are millions of stops and starts, but all I could see was time counting down.

On a good day, I can get in 8-10 pages. Those days saw me at 150 words or less. And still I wrote, and still I deleted.

Today, I’ve got 30,000 words deleted and 358 words written. I’m trying not to panic, not to give into frustration, to just concentrate, let the writing be the writing, and put one foot in front of the other and see where the writing road takes me.

Reality vs. Perceived Reality

Unsplash | Angela Litvin

I’ve been going through my old blog posts, and I came across one I wrote in 2007 where I said I’d been a full-time writer since 2004. And 2017 me went, “What?! Full time since 2004?! What kind of moldy yogurt was I eating?!”

2003 & 2004, I was a one-woman wrecking and renovation crew, updating our home. I remember very long days laying laminate and painting (so much so, the idea of picking up a paint brush still triggers my gag reflex). 2004 was also the year of serious medical issues with a close relative, where I was the main caregiver. I would grab a moment here and there, while at the hospital bedside, and scribble a note or two, but full-time writing? Not likely.

It took a moment for 2017 me to put my nose back in order and stop huffing, and realize when I called myself a full-time writer, it wasn’t about the investment of hours. I took the title to say to the world, “This is what takes up my mental and emotional time. I do no other thing.”

And 2004 me gently reminded 2017 me that to a large extent, my days still don’t always look like 8-10 hours of writing. Case in point. I’ve been working on a manuscript, and by working, I mean writing, deleting and writing some more.

I’ve been doing this since November 2016 with disastrous results. The manuscript just won’t get traction. At first, I wasn’t worried. December was coming up; things would slow, and I would have unlimited time.

Now I’m on January 4th and still on page one (though with about 20,000 words deleted). So my days are much like my days of yore, save a difference.

Now, I have the comfort (sort of) of knowing that the block will eventually work itself out because I have years of trying & failing & trying & succeeding behind me. And unlike days of yore, when I would get frustrated and spend the rest of the day in a chocolate-induced haze, watching trash TV, now I know to stay in my chair and keep going. That even if I have to delete a page (or 80), the windy road will eventually find me home.

2007 vs 2017

I was watching an episode of Corner Gas yesterday, the one where Lacey wants to write for The Howler…only The Howler won’t have her. Throughout the episode, she meets up with other townsfolk who all write/have written for the paper. Emma, when she learns that Lacey wants to be a columnist, tries to encourage Lacey and says of the paper, “Oh, they’ll take anyone.” Meanwhile, she has no idea that Lacey has already been rejected.

The subtext that Lacey’s been rejected because she’s not a great writer aside, the episode brought back a lot of memories of when I was trying to break into the publishing industry.  Everyone, it seemed, was getting published or getting an agent.

My friends were winning writing contests, a fellow writing student had their first book accepted for publication from the first publisher to whom they submitted…I keenly remember struggling to hold on to my sense of optimism. I think I spent more time reminding myself that writing was an individual journey, that we each had our own path than I spent writing.

Fast forward ten years later, and I’ve been nominated for awards, won some awards, had my books on lists. I have an amazing agent (Amy Tompkins), supportive publishers (Orca Book Publishers and Great Plains Publishing), and I’m writing in the genre I love best (Kids & Teens).

I’m glad I held on and kept going, though looking back, I’m still unsure how I managed to make it through all the rejections, dead ends, and brick walls…somehow I did, and with 2017 now started and carrying its challenges and obstacles, I remind myself that if I kept going in 2007, surely I can keep going, now.

Happy New Year to all. May 2017 bring us all the happiness, peace, and health our hearts can hold.

 

 

2017 Events

January 27-29, 2017: YouthWrite Winter Wordplay ~ The Many-Headed Liar: Creating 3D Characters. Ever struggled with paper-thin characters? Learn simple, effective ways to develop believable, relatable characters that readers love or love to hate.

February 1-2, 2017: OLA Superconference ~ Bring Your Own Cape: Using Novels and Non-Fiction Narratives to Further Themes of Diversity, Equity, and Social Justice.

February 9-10, 2017: YABS’ Story Avenue ~ (From the YABS website): Story Avenue is an annual set of writing workshops held in Edmonton for all of the Grade 5 and 6 students from five Edmonton schools…The program was started in 2007 as a joint venture between YABS and the City Centre Education Partnership (CCEP). Ten local professional children’s authors and illustrators teach writing workshops for approximately 400 students.

February 9, 2017: NCTCA Conference ~ Beam an author into your classroom!

February 25, 2017: Elk Island YAC ~ If your child is part of the Elk Island school district, and in elementary or junior high, they are eligible to spend the day a host of authors/artists/illustrators learning how to better their literacy skills and have a blast doing it!

March 9, 2017: Minnekadha Literacy & Wellness Day

April 8, 2017~ Foothills Young Authors Conference

May 6-13, 2017: TD Book Week Tour ~ Traveling through the NorthWest Territories

July 31 – August 4, 2017: Gallery 49 Young Writers’ Camp ~ Registration through Sherwood Park’s Art Gallery.

We’re not shipping syrup to the Serengeti

The writing has not been going well. Deleted pages, blank pages, no pages. It’s easy to get frustrated, to blow everything out of proportion, and to get discouraged.

That’s when having friends in the industry is such a help. One of my writing friends told me when the work threatens to overwhelm, and the anxieties grow, she takes a breath and says, “You’re not shipping syrup to the Serengeti.” As in, this isn’t life and death. As in, take it down a notch.

And not just that, but I have the best job in the world. I’m a professional storyteller. I make my living by living in my imagination. This is hard work, gruelling and boring at times, but it’s also blessed work…and when I come across a gorgeous photo like the one below, it’s a double reminder that we’re all foraging, all looking for the thing that gives us life and value and connection.

I’m not shipping syrup to the Serengeti, I’m not even hunting in the freezing cold. So how about if I take a breath and concentrate on the positives—to take joy in the *trying* rather than the *finishing*.

While my friend below hunts for their next meal, I’m going to do my part. I’m going to hunker down in my den and get some words in.

Photo courtesy of Ray Hennessy

Photo courtesy of Ray Hennessy

Images by unsplash.com