Monday, March 30, 2009

The Art of Writing

When it comes to writing – to really getting down to the job of putting my ideas on paper – I have been known to dither. I confess. I am a ditherer.

The act of transforming mental images into words is the writer’s favourite activity. We live for those moments when time disappears and we’re completely unaware of our surroundings: we exist in another dimension – our written dimension. It’s intoxicating and exciting and exhausting all at once.

We emerge from one of these sessions unaware that hours have passed and, often, facing a list of things that need doing. The writing is set aside till next time.

But unfortunately, this is what often happens next: knowing that we need a chunk of time to reach that state of complete writing oblivion, we wait to start again. We wait till there is nothing on our desks needing attention (bills, membership renewals, emails to check or respond to), or no chores or family obligations calling our name. The kitchen is tidy, the kids are delivered to school, the dog has been walked, the laundry folded....

The problem is: how often do we find ourselves completely free to write? Almost never.

And so we dither. Or, at least, I dither.

It takes time to write. And the time is there: we just have to take it.

The art of writing, said author Mary Heaton Vorse, is the art of applying the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair.

Simple. True. I vow to put my days of dithering behind me.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Looking Into The Future...

I asked some readers in Alberta to let me know what they think happens to the characters of Wild Dog Summer once the story ends (because, of course, stories don't end; they just keep going, even if we're not reading them any more). With great imagination - and after having paid close attention to the events of the story - they came up with some very creative ideas. (See comments under my March 10th post, What Next?)

What actually happens to BJ? She finds herself in another adventure, this time involving her friend Linden Flanders - the toymaker's son of the title - and some controversial plans to cut down the tree pictured here on the cover of The Toymaker's Son. Strangely, although BJ wouldn't go away, she just didn't take over my imagination and demand to be the central figure this time. Perhaps her story was done, and I knew it was time to let another character speak.

But the life around Rosehill was so real to me, I found myself wondering about other people in the town, other stories. Linden's story crept to the top and wouldn't be ignored.

Perhaps - looking into the future some more - there's yet another Rosehill character just waiting to tell his or her story. I don't know yet, but I'll keep listening... and I'll let you know.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Virtual School Visits: The Next Trend?

A couple of weeks ago, I had the pleasure of visiting Resurrection Catholic Secondary School in Kitchener, Ontario, to share some insight into my life as a writer. The group was made up of Grade 12’s, many of them present or past Writers’ Craft students, and they asked some great questions about the writing process, my experiences getting published, finding literary agents and – of course – how much writers make.

It was a short drive to the school, and only took a few hours of my time. Driving home, it occurred to me that students all over the country would benefit from more face time with a writer. But distance and time constraints, not to mention the costs involved, sometimes prohibit teachers from putting those requests out there.

As I pursued my recent blog discussions with a class of Grade 7 students in Alberta, I thought how easy it would be to turn on Skype, dial up the teacher’s computer, which could then be projected on screen through a DVP in the classroom, and talk to these students. They could take turns sitting at the computer asking me questions, face to face. We could have a real-time, virtual visit. This is something that YA writer Art Slade recently tried, and you can read about it here: Virtual Visits I: Carman Collegiate Gets To See My Floating Head ( (And if you keep reading Art’s blog, you can learn about his cool treadmill desk, too!)

The down side – had I decided to go virtual – is that I wouldn’t have received my lovely Resurrection mug full of Werther’s Originals as a thank-you gift or met some very tuned-in, enthusiastic young writers. But the up side is the convenience of using technology to connect with readers and writers without spending money or resources on getting there and home again.

Face-to-face school visits are still a wonderful experience for both sides of the equation. But I wonder: are virtual school visits the next trend?

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Another Shout-Out to Mr. Toly’s Class: What Next?

When I come to the end of a book I’ve enjoyed, I find myself wondering “OK, but what happens next?” I want to know what the characters – who seem like real people to me after all we’ve been through together – are going to do now that the story is over.

So now you’ve come to the end of Wild Dog Summer. You’re leaving BJ and Craig and Mrs. Kelsey and everyone else behind as you turn the final page and close the book. Their story is done – or is it?

When I finished writing this story, I had a hard time letting the characters go. In fact, a number of years later, I called up BJ and wrote another story in which she features as an important (though not the central) character. I guess I just couldn’t say good-bye. (This story is called The Toymaker’s Son and it will be available soon).

Is it all “happily ever after” for these characters? I’d love to hear what you thought of Wild Dog Summer, and I’d especially love to know what you think happens next in BJ's world.
Thanks for reading,

Monday, March 2, 2009

Practice Makes Perfect

In a few weeks, I’ll be performing at a concert for the Mill Race Festival of Traditional Music. Every day I sit down with my dulcimer and run through the set, practicing each piece and trying to program my fingers – and my musical mind – to play everything without effort. It takes a lot of effort to make it look as if I'm doing something effortlessly.

It occurs to me that this principle applies to writing as well. Inspiration strikes, and we dash off our exciting ideas in a story or poem, using all the writing tools and skills we’ve collected over time: skills we've practiced over and over, every time we write. We gaze at the finished product in pleasure – but is it really a finished product?

No. When I come to the end of piece of music, I very rarely think that I played it to perfection. And when I come to the end of a writing experience, I just know I’m not done. I need to revisit, rethink, revise, rewrite. I need to rehearse that written piece over and over before I get it right.

It takes time, energy and commitment to be a musician - or a writer. Practice may not make Perfect, but it certainly helps!