There’s a disturbing trend that’s seemingly reaching every corner of the globe. A veritable tidal wave of populism, nationalism (particularly of the white variety), and protectionism is crashing down on the United States, the United Kingdom, and yes, even here in Canada.
At the root of the problem seems to be this notion that it’s every person for themselves That somehow if only everyone else would just get their shit together that everything would be okay. There are myriad problems with this attitude, but the first thing I notice it is that it does a wonderful job of highlighting a person’s privilege. There’s this attitude of, I’m okay, so why aren’t you okay? I got what I wanted, sorry about your luck, with an implied or sometimes even whisper-spoken “sucker” tacked onto the end.
Is this what we’ve become?
There’s a hole blown in the middle and everyone seems to have been forced to one side or the other, ready and primed to vote for the candidate who promises the loudest and with the most fervor that not only will you get dinner before sex but you’ll get a cigarette after as well. One thing is certain, someone is getting screwed and you don’t have to be a member of the party “for the people” or a very stable genius to figure out who.
True to my prediction in my last post, Doug Ford (a.k.a. Trump North, Trump Lite) took power in the province of Ontario and true to form he and his supporters have been wreaking havoc and showing their true colours. For the uninitiated, Doug Ford is the equivalent of a state governor (though how he got there is a little different and how the government behaves is a little different as well). Presently, he’s invoking the notwithstanding clause in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, a document in which there is a bevy of rights bestowed to all the citizens of the Great White North.
By Marc Lostracci [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)] via Wikimedia Commons
However, in order to get the damn thing ratified back in 1982, there was a notwithstanding clause added. This allows a federal or provincial government to essentially override the Charter for some (but not all) of its guarantees. If invoked, it only applies for five years (during which time there will be an election) but it can be re-invoked after that indefinitely. Québec has invoked it a whack of times, but they were never on board with the Charter in the first place.
In Ford’s case, a judge ruled that he violated a section of the Charter and that his legislation was therefore unconstitutional. He’s invoking the notwithstanding clause to get around the ruling he doesn’t like for legislation that no one voted on and he never even mentioned once on his campaign. You would think that if a citizen’s rights were being stripped it would be over something pretty egregious. You would think it would only be used in extraordinary circumstances. In #DoFo‘s case, you would be wrong. He wants to reduce the city council in Toronto by almost half – weeks before an election. Say what you want about the judge that ruled that by doing this he is violating a section of the Charter, using the notwithstanding clause to override this decision is akin to using a sledgehammer to drive a thumbtack into a sponge.
In other words, he’s being a colossal ass hat.
On top of that, he has promised to use the clause at every opportunity in the future. The clause shouldn’t even be a thing and should never be used. But, since it is and since it does, it should be used in the rarest of occasions. Is the size of Toronto’s city counsel extraordinary? Not even close. Do Ford or any of his lackey members of parliament care? Nope. They’re getting what they want and t’hell with the rest of you. If you are part of the 60% of those who voted (and the 75% of the total electorate) who didn’t want anything to do with them, I have a newsflash. They don’t care about you, and they sure as shit don’t care about your rights and freedoms.
As everyone knows, down in the U.S. it’s worse. You can’t even go 48-hours without hearing about how some level of government is abusing their power and giving a large portion of the population the shaft. For cryin’ in the sink, the Senate is all set to confirm a Supreme Court judge FOR LIFE who likely perjured himself during the confirmation hearings! For the love of God, I can’t figure out how anyone is okay with any of this, let alone millions of people.
Kevin McCoy [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Speaking of God, religion always seems to make its way into these conversations at some point, with those using The Good Book as a defense all trigger happy and ready to whip out a selection of examples that “prove” their point.
Well, I can do that, too:
“Judge not, that ye be not judged.” Matthew 7:1
“So when they continued asking him, he lifted up himself, and said unto them, He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.” John 8:7
“Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye.” Matthew 7:5
“For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this; Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.” Galatians 5:14
Funny how you can tell a lot about a person’s character by the bible verses they cherry pick. And people wonder why atheism is growing at such a fast rate? When did caring about your neighbours become a bad thing? When did experiencing happiness over another person’s success give way to resentment? When did selfishness become the norm? When did we start allowing ourselves to be governed by such ineffectual, petty swindlers?
Shealah Craighead [Public domain] via Wikimedia Commons
By Andre Forget – Andrew Scheer [CC0] via Wikimedia Commons
I’ve recently joined several Facebook groups dedicated to my immediate community. It’s a small village of a few thousand that sits within a bigger city of over a hundred thousand that sits within a bigger region of close to half a million people. These groups provide links to garage sales, buy or trade opportunities, local businesses, share success stories of the people that live within a few kilometers of me, give alerts to petty crime and other activities of concern, and are generally used as a forum to connect people who already share a small geographic space.
At first, the only posts I noticed were the ones that made me feel good about the community I choose to call home. After a while, however, it became clear that there will always be those who either don’t care, are ignorant (willfully or otherwise), or are generally insensitive and unempathetic toward anyone that doesn’t fit their specific definition of a model citizen. The bad news is those people tend to be loud. The good news is they also appear to be in the minority.
So, I’ll be doing my part in these groups to hopefully return the notion of being neighbourly to the mainstream consciousness, at least locally, but if you want an example of a community doing this on a larger scale, look no further than the Bangor Maine Police Department on Facebook. They are a shining example of community and compassion and if even a few people from all our neighbourhoods took a page out of their book we’d all be better off.
I have touched on the subject of online writing groups a couple of times before but this time I would like to come at it from a different angle. I thought I would share a bit about what I love about one of the writing groups I am in and then see what some other writers I know have to say about a group they are in as well.
There are all kinds of online writing communities. Some are straight-up critique groups, others are for folks all with the same publisher, some are there for people to shameless self-promote, and still others are there to help with motivation, word counting, and goal tracking.
I am in half a dozen online writing groups on Facebook incorporating all but the shameless self-promotion, but I have to tell you my favourite group of them all brings in all the elements and then some. As someone who is generally annoyed by people but is also fascinated by them and values friendships this group is a little slice of internet heaven for me.
Here are just a handful of the things that make this writing group my first destination in the morning when I open up Facebook and usually the last place I visit online before I got to bed:
Advice in this group is never dispensed without someone having asked for it.
There are no agendas.
It is not political (except for a unanimous distaste for the current U.S. President).
Occasional shameless self-promotion is welcome, but more often than not group members are promoting other group members.
It is not always about writing. Friendship and emotional support are in abundance.
Inappropriateness is high, but respect for everyone, their beliefs, and their experiences is paramount.
It is diverse, not just in writing experience, but in age, gender, and geography.
There are two different views on the Oxford comma (those who are in favour of it and those who are wrong).
As you can see, there is a lot there to like. But I am just one person. So that is why I reached out to a number of writers I know who are either in my favourite writing group or another one of which they are fond. Here’s what they had to say:
“I love our group. No downsides. We are shoulders, soundboards, and friends beyond multiple borders. Filled with people who changed my life in more ways than just writing.”
“This group is about respecting and caring for one another and the work we’re doing, rather than using one another for our own means.”
“Respect, encouragement both in real life and fictional, friendship, love and a true safe space amidst the faceless 1’s and 0’s of the digital social media universe.”
“As one of the few members who hasn’t had any fiction published, I like being in this group because I still receive a lot of tips and pointers, encouragement for my non-fiction writing, and encouragement to get off my ass and actually write some fiction. There’s more to be had here: lots of love and respect, a lot of humor… and some of you are just darn cute.”
“I’d heard that anyone can achieve their writing goals simply by hard work and honing their craft, but I have discovered that’s nonsense. Behind every Harry Potter is a Ron, a Hermione, a Mad-Eye Moody, and a Dumbledore. Everyone needs a team, a group of people you can trust, be yourself with, even if you’ve got a bit of the Voldemorts that day, and share in your victories. I was lucky enough to be invited into a group like that and I would urge others to find their peeps and stick with them.”
“Unfailing, unquestioning love and support, including a well-aimed kick in the ass when it’s needed.”
“It’s a safe, non-judgmental place for [us]. No one cares if you are a newbie, a wanabe, or a published author. People will listen to your ideas or concerns and offer advice when asked for, hugs when needed and lots and lots of talk about no pants and cookies which just makes my day“
There you have it, folks. The votes have been tallied and the results are in. Writers, who are stereotypically known for being solitary hermits who hammer away at a keyboard in some writerly-looking cave only coming up for coffee and chocolate actually value the interaction and camaraderie that comes with being part of a community.
I, for one, couldn’t be more thrilled. It is nice to know that you are part of something bigger than yourself and even nicer to know that there are so many of us out there who value the importance of others.
I used to be an active person until one day I wasn’t. Inertia being what it is, a bad back, a handful of concussions, and sheer laziness have seen to it that it has been like this for a number of years now. On top of that, my day job is one that has me sitting on my butt virtually all day, and on top of that, I have a minimum thirty-minute commute to get my sedentary ass to my cushy sit-down job and back again nine hours later.
Then, about a year ago my wife started making a concerted effort to walk 10,000 steps a day. That, combined with some other dietary and lifestyle changes and she started to lose some weight. Looking down a belly that was starting to hang over my belt I decided that I would join her on her walks and for Father’s Day that year she bought be a fitness tracker like the one she had (a Jawbone Up!).
The game was now afoot.
If you’re not familiar with fitness trackers they are just step counters with an accompanying app on your phone. You set a daily target and it buzzes or flashes a light or gives you a virtual high five when you hit your goals. I have mine set for 10,000 steps a day, which is entirely arbitrary but works out to somewhere between 7.5 and 8km – which, if you’re counting, is a crapload more than one, which also happens to be my previous daily average for the last several years.
It’s amazing the difference gamification of something as simple as walking can have. At any point throughout my day I can fire up the app on my phone and get a screen that looks like this:
I pretty much ignore the calorie burn statistics, but I like the graph and stats immediately below it. That’s a screenshot from Saturday and you can see there was one big walk in the middle there. Most days I will have a couple spikes because I’ll get up from my desk twice a day and go for a walk at work, either on the treadmill in the gym or outside on the walking paths through the greenspace that snakes its way around my office.
The people at Jawbone also have a trend feature in the app and you can get graphs set to daily, weekly, or monthly time periods and take a look at how you’re doing. As you can see from my graph for the past seven months, once the weather started to get cold my monthly step count dropped significantly:
I expect to have better averages once the weather warms up again (soon!) and my wife and I will reintroduce our nightly post-dinner walks around our neighbourhood. Which brings me to another wonderful benefit of getting off the couch and leaving the house. You get to discover your neighbourhood and meet the people in it.
Since we started walking together around the neighbourhood we’ve been down just about every side street within a three or four kilometers of our house. We have also finally made our way into some local businesses while we were at it and supported members of our community.
The one thing that has amazed me more than anything else since I started walking was the fact that only a few thousand steps from my front door were not one but two fabulous wooded areas with walking paths (one dirt and one paved multi-purpose)! If we go on a long walk (more than 6,000 steps) and the ground is dry we’ll go through the woods. It is like entering a different world with beautiful, tall trees, small critters, and birds.
For the houses that border the wood, it is literally right in their backyard but for me and my wife, it’s pretty darn close and we had lived in this neighbourhood for almost seven years before we discovered them.
I will call this one “Harry Potter Wood”. Image courtesy Google Earth.
The one with the paved path. It’s about 1km start to finish. Image courtesy Google Earth
If you haven’t gathered by this point, I have been converted. Granted, I am not turning into a fitness freak or anything, but I feel healthier, I’ve lost a bit of flab and noticed a bit of muscle where there never used to be, I get to spend some quality time with my wife, support local business, and meet my neighbours. I have yet to identify a downside.
Plus, I get a congratulations notification on my phone when I reach 10,000 steps!
I’ll do everything I can to support my friends with Booktrope, who announced yesterday that they are shuttering the windows and closing its doors. I whipped up a quick link to “Booktrope” over at Amazon but I thought that I could do better.
With that in mind, here is a more comprehensive list of authors you should buy books from before May 31, 2016.
I’ve started to add others who can provide services and I’ll update the links when I have new websites for authors that are republishing.
If you know of someone who should be on the list, just send me an email and I’ll happily add them.
Last week I wrote about karma. Some people think it’s bunk and others are all on board with it. I’m a baptized Anglican who gave religion an honest-to-goodness chance, more than once at different points in my life I might add, only to land on Atheism as the thing (or lack of a thing) that makes the most sense. At the same time, I am drawn to the notion of there being a balance to the Universe as well as some sort of Order of Things. Or maybe it’s simply my mind playing tricks and if I stare long enough at the randomness maybe patterns will appear?
Karmic principles can be boiled down to the most basic of concepts: Balance. Put good out, get good in return; put bad out, get bad in return. Finding (and explaining) the order among the chaos, however, can’t be reduced to anything as simple. At least I haven’t been able to do it, and on a few occasions I’ve tried.
Does everything happen for a reason?
That’s the big question, isn’t it? My brain tells me, “Nope. It’s all random shit. If it’s working out for you then it’s just dumb luck, and if it isn’t then deal with it,” but my gut tells me something else. Maybe it’s as simple as making as many good decisions as possible in an effort to obtain the best possible result. Then again, I’ve certainly made my fair share of bad decisions and things have come up roses more often than not so maybe it doesn’t matter.
What does it all mean?
Ugh, these conversations annoy me. I don’t know. I’m fairly convinced it doesn’t mean anything; it just is, and when it’s done there is nothing. But then stuff like this happens:
Back in 2013 I was gearing up to participate in NaNoWriMo and decided that I would start a Facebook support group for the month long event. I had been a member of one such group a year earlier and it was a big success. Having befriended many writers on Twitter and Facebook I felt that there would be good uptake, and there was. A good sixty or seventy people joined and many of us went on to make our 50,000-word goals.
When NaNo finished I kept getting asked if I would keep the group alive as a writers’ group. It seemed like a great idea so we conducted a poll and “Writers Without Borders” was formed. The group became private shortly thereafter (too many non-participants and riff-raff selling stuff) and now members add friends and acquaintances as they feel is appropriate.
Leap ahead (from then, but about a month before now) and a friend of a friend of mine makes a comment about Chuck Wendig. I can’t remember where, but I think it was on Facebook. Anyway, since I have a big man crush on Chuck and this person was mutual Facebook friends with something like 39 people I had to friend her. I’m not sure why, but I just felt compelled to click the “Add Friend” button. So I did, she accepted, and shortly thereafter I invited her to WWB.
Turns out she was in the process of starting the OCH Literary Society and she put out a call for writers. So, I submitted the first 1,000 words of the novel I’m currently editing for consideration. A few days later I got an email saying I was accepted. The site needed fiction writers, but I could blog if I wanted. I said I would do both and we landed on once a month blog post and some serial fiction with installments every couple weeks.
This reminds me of the show Connections, in which the host James Burke would walk you through a whack of seemingly unrelated events only for you to end up learning that a poem written in the dark ages is the reason we have indoor plumbing today.
My connections went like this:
2011 – NaNoWriMo (failed writing No Known Cure with WAY less than 50,000 words)
2012 – joined random NaNoWriMo Facebook group (won with No Fixed Address – the prequel to No Known Cure)
2013 – started my own NaNoWriMo Facebook group (won with The Book of Good“)
2014 – NaNoWriMo group becomes Writers Without Borders
Oh, and remember those 1,000 words I sent my new friend, Allie, that got me into OCH? They were the first thousand words of my first (and first failed) NaNoWriMo in 2011.
And the serial novel I’ll be contributing to OCH? Well, it’s none other than my successful NaNoWriMo after the creation of what would become WWB in 2013, which I had shelved after 56,000 words because I didn’t know what to do with the second half of the story.
How about one more…
Allie’s last name is Burke. Same as the host of the show Connections.
Strange things are afoot, Ted. Strange things indeed.
P.S. You might be wondering about the title I chose for this post. Sorry, I couldn’t resist that little inside joke, which I’ll let you all in on now:
Back in the winter of 1994 I was wrapping up my first year a the University of Waterloo and a bunch of us were in Kirby’s room (because he had cable – stolen from the study room across the hall, but he had it nonetheless). Someone was flipping through the channels (a practice which drives me completely nuts. Just choose something to watch already!). Flip – something stupid. Flip – something uninteresting. Flip – some British dude standing in the middle of the ocean saying, “That’s why I’m on this oil rig!” Flip. By the time we flipped to the next channel everyone had processed the absurdity of what we had just heard and started laughing out loud. None of us knew what the show it was or who the dude on the oil rig was and that phrase would be forever used whenever any one of us encountered a non-sequitur.
Jump ahead to the summer of 1996 and my pot smoking, guitar playing, physics genius (but socially awkward) roommate and I were on the couch watching re-runs of the show Connections, with the aforementioned James Burke. He was doing what he does and jumping us through time and leading us toward the ultimate connection when the scene cuts to him in the middle of the ocean and he says, “That’s why I’m on this oil rig!”
Well if I didn’t just jump off the couch and point at the TV and scream, “Ah ha!”, like I had just caught someone in the act of a heinous crime. My roommate just sat there completely confused, guitar in one hand, joint in the other. He’ll never know how awesome I felt at that moment.
After two years of waiting, the connection was made.
If you’re participating in NaNoWriMo, and close to keeping pace (or right on pace, or even slightly ahead of schedule) then you know exactly what I’m talking about.
Welcome to the saggy middle.
If you’re like me this represents two moments of opposing emotions:
First, you’ve already written more words that you have yet to write. It’s all downhill from here, baby! These are good times and certainly cause for celebration. Take a moment to soak it all in and realize that even if your laptop were to melt in some freak background microwave radiation solar flare electromagnetic accident that you would have around 25,000 words backed up somewhere and ready to use (thank you Dropbox!)
Second, you still have more than 20,000 words to write. This damn journey is uphill BOTH WAYS! Don’t let that moment soak in though. For one, it’ll mess up your mojo you just gained from the awesome milestone of passing the halfway mark. Also, it’s too darn depressing and wallowing in it will sink your back end.
Saggy middle. Sinking back end. What is this, a book about turning 40? This looks like a job for MOTIVATION!
Some people use the resources right from the NaNoWriMo website (profile inbox, discussion boards, etc…) Another good resource is another writer. There are tons of videos, articles, blog posts out there where famous faces like Anne Rice, Stephen King, and Chuck Wendig.
Another good one is go to the mall. I’m serious, especially at this time of year when people are either gearing up for Thanksgiving in the U.S. or Christmas everywhere else. Sit on a bench or chair with your laptop open and just wait for all the wonderful character traits and ideas to walk past. Imagine the conversations of the people across the aisle. Find ways to shut up that snot nosed brat screaming for the latest whatever-it-is at a mother who looks like she just dropped her last nerve in the garbage with the empty cup from her Chai Latte. Plus, the sooner you get motivated and writing the sooner you can get out of the hell pit of doom, destruction, and despair that is The Mall in the weeks leading up to December 25.
Me? Keeping in line with my last post on community I have a standard go-to for motivation in my writers’ group on Facebook. Others, they head straight to Twitter for words of encouragement and inspiration. Either way, what could be better that reaching out and commiserating with a group of people all facing the same sort of challenges. Reach out to them (remember, “Ask and you shall receive?” Well I’m not making this up, folks. That shit works!)
Ask them for a boost, a shoulder to cry on, an empty face to yell at, an idea. They’ll help you out and whip your saggy sinking ass into shape. Even if they’re jerks about it, they won’t be, but even if they are, don’t worry about it. You’ve just been given a great opportunity to kill them off in your book!
At this point you’re either way ahead of the game and feeling good, on pace and still clinging to a sliver of hope that you can keep it up for 20 more days, or you’re behind schedule and looking at the chart on the NaNo website that reads: At this rate you will finish on March 13, 2016.
Regardless of which category you find yourself in I have something that can help.
No, not the show with Joel McHale and Gillian Jacobs. Actual communities. It turns out these things are everywhere, and they’re all kinds of awesome. Communities, and more specifically the people that are a part of them, are worth their weight in gold, or diamonds, or even in some cases platinum-190.
These are the people, when you say, “I’m depressed” they mean it when whey ask, “Why are you depressed?” and when you respond, “I don’t know” they’re completely okay with that answer. They give you a hug and then ask you if you want to go get a slice of pizza. They’re not trying to fix you. They’re not trying to solve All The Problems. They are people who, when they see that you have the courage to ask for help, they help. They show up on your doorstep, or wherever else you need them to, simply because you asked.
Writing, which is largely a solitary exercise, can wreak havoc on a person mentally. No one else is going to get those words out of your head and onto the page. You’re on your own for that, I’m afraid. But that doesn’t mean you are alone.
Twitter has dozens and dozens of hashtags you can search to find thousands of people, just like you, churning out words or looking for nuggets of encouragement, support, or distraction. During the month of November the number of hashtags and the number of people using them in tweets increases dramatically. Here’s a sampling of some I keep in mind whenever I need to feel less alone:
There are also a whack of Facebook groups out there for you to join. Just search NaNoWriMo or just about any search term related to writing. You’ll find groups aplenty, and then some. Join ’em all or just join one, but join something – and then participate. The number of people you will find for support and encouragement will blow your mind.
I took it a step further and once I found a bunch of wonderfully diverse and supportive people on Twitter and Facebook and I invited them to a Facebook group of my own creation. We’re almost at 50 members now and it’s one of the best places there is to be when I’m working on my writing.
You won’t find any of it unless you look up from your keyboard every now and then and ask. As with most things in life, if you don’t ask you won’t get. So buck up, swallow your pride, find your ouside voice, put up your hand… do whatever it takes to ask. Just ask. Ask. State it categorically: I need a friend. I need some help. I need some encouragement. I need some pizza!
Ask and ye shall receive. (pizza delivery times may vary) ~ Andrew
If you follow my tweets, have me as a friend on Facebook, are part of the super secret society private group for crazy people writers on Facebook, or read this blog, then you are aware that I wrote a short story a while back based on the loss of someone close to me and submitted it for publication in an anthology that was being put together to help out a writer friend. The proceeds of this book are going to “Orange” Karen DeLabar and you can find her on Facebook, Twitter, and the Internets.
This week, on April 11th to be exact, the anthology finally made its first public appearance and the response has been amazing. So many people, and not just friends and family either, have picked up the book – in some cases several copies. Readers Digest’s Most Trustworthy writer, Margaret Atwood, even re-tweeted a link!
It’s hard to put into words what it feels like to be a part of something like this (but that won’t stop me from trying).
The Orange Karen Anthology represents my first publication, and that’s a really big deal. Seeing my name on the back cover of a book is a amazing feeling and one that’s completely surreal. The story I wrote was one that was really close to me (write what you know, right?) and over the last couple weeks I have re-read it numerous times, read some of it out loud for R.B. Woods’ “Word Count” podcast, and shared my story and the link to the book with hundreds of people: friends, family, co-workers, random strangers in the Twitterverse and Facebook, and the lady whose kid takes piano lessons at the same time as my kids’ guitar lessons.
Suffice it to say I’m a little emotional.
One thing I have going for me is I know I’m not alone in what I’m feeling. Many of the other people involved have expressed how overwhelmingly emotional it is to be a part of this. Back in January I posted an open letter to writers. The catalyst for that post was largely due to personal experiences some of my writer friends were having at the time and the key takeaway was that to be a writer one of the things you need is a good support group. Based on what I’ve seen in the past few days it’s clear that the people who put the anthology together, the contributing authors, and Karen herself have one of the most amazing support networks you could ever ask for.
It’s moments like these that convince me that there may be hope for humanity after all.
This is the most round about, disjointed, gushy, thank you post you can imagine, but as I mentioned a minute ago I’m a little emotional, so cut me some slack. Knowing that Ryan’s story is helping Karen have a happier ending to her story is what this is about, and I wanted to let as many people as possible know how much I appreciate it.
I’m reading the anthology in its entirety now and I have to say there are some pretty amazing stories in there (mine is titled “Losing Vern”). If you haven’t picked up a copy already I would highly recommend you do.
~ Andrew *As a note, if you pick of a paper copy from the link above it results in the best royalty payment (that goes straight to Karen’s medical bills). This is not a hard sell, just an FYI. If you pick up the eBook you still qualify for the group hug from the organizers and contributing authors.
^If you own a Kobo and need the book for that format please contact me for a solution.
At this early stage in my writing career I thought it would be a good idea offer some of my insights into this fabulous craft that we are all so passionate about. You’ll find that throughout this letter I have a fondness for certain phrases, have a certain style, and am wonderfully all over the place in the area of grammar and punctuation (my blog posts do not have the benefit of an amazing editor, or an editor of any kind, so you get what you get).
At this point I am convinced there are at least four things that every writer possesses:
A desire to be a writer;
at least one idea;
a great support network; and
something with which to write.
Naturally, to actually become a writer there are dozens upon dozens of other qualities, qualifications, and quirks you must possess, but in my opinion if you don’t have those four you’re not setting yourself up for success. Far be it for me, an unpaid, unpublished, part-time scribe to impart any advice; but I think those items are absolutely key – especially the third one. Contrary to the idea that writing is a solitary pursuit, I am finding that it actually requires quite a bit of input, feedback, and support from the many sources around me.
I am also in the extremely fortunate situation of having had a job working for someone else (and have since graduating from university), but for a lot of people writing is their job. It’s a very real one, and at the rate my daughter is reading books it’s a darned good thing they do it.
I have all the items from the list above and actually have something to show for it (writing wise) but I would only consider myself to be a part time writer. Due to my full time employment, my wife and kids, and all the activities that go along with them and the rest of the family and my friends, and all the costs and bills that come along as a result, I’m at the point that I need steady income in order to maintain the lifestyle I have chosen. I could cut back in a lot of areas and have some more time and money on hand but I suspect I’d be less fulfilled in many ways (hint: success and fulfillment have nothing to do with money).
There are times though, when I just feel compelled to create and this is where my support network really shines. I meet my commitments to my job and my family and in return they shower me with everything I need to bring my ideas to life. My job offers a work-life balance like none other. My wife will let me spitball ideas, or she will give me tips, or just sit and listen to me ramble, or she’ll just leave me the hell alone. Heck, she said she’d go to the gym on her own after the kids go to bed so I can have an hour a night to just sit and write. Speaking of kids, mine are the greatest source of inspiration a person could ask for. They breathe life into my words even on topics they can’t comprehend. My family is extremely supportive as well – especially my in-laws – and so are all my friends. I look forward to the day when some of them are beta readers for my novel (plus, I owe Neil Hedley a signature on his copy of my book at some point).
Unfortunately, I know some of you are actively discouraged from writing. Some of you are either published authors or aspiring to be, who have people in your life that would rather have you do something else. Anything else, in some cases. Your comments on this vary, but there seems to be an underlying theme: “When are you going to get a real job?”
Another common theme seems to be that many of these not-so-supportive comments come from the mouths of your family members: mothers, fathers, spouses, siblings, and the people closest to you. Now, I don’t know about any of your personal situations or have any of the history behind your interactions so I’ve only been exposed to one side of the story. If I have learned anything from my thirty[mumble] years on Earth, it’s that one side of a story is not enough to know the whole story. What I do know is that you are passionate about what you are doing, you are good at it, and you are remarkably supportive of others who choose to go down this path.
So I will close with this:
If you have the desire, the idea, and the something with which to write; and support is the only thing missing, then you have to do whatever you can do to find it. I’m not saying sell all your things, leave your spouse and kids, stop calling your mother, and move into a writer’s commune, but I do think you owe it to yourself to find that support and try to work it into your life.
I can promise you that I’ll do what I can to support you in a similar way that the people close to me are doing. I value the work that you do, and am grateful to have developed friendships with so many of you who do it.
I am what could be classified as a ‘new writer’. Aside from a two page anecdotein the humorous collection “The Darwin Awards III: Survival of the Fittest” I have never been published. I write this blog, of course, but these posts are mostly just random thoughts that eject from my head like the Oort cloud spitting out a comet. Many have come, but only a few have ever been considered wonderful.
I have a full time job, and a family, and several other interests outside of writing, but for some reason I am drawn to the art of dreaming up a fabulous story in my head, and translating those thoughts into words, and organizing them in such a way that they transport the reader to a world that is not their own.
I had this idea to write a screenplay, so I could see my story come to life, but a friend suggested I write it as a book first. He knows me well, and though I fought the idea for some time I eventually came to the same conclusion. So off I went; to write a book. I wasn’t really concerned that I’ve read exactly zero books on how to write, or that I haven’t studied English, literature, or anything remotely related to writing in almost two decades. I’ve read Lynne Truss’ “Eats, Shoots and Leaves”, insist on a single space after a full stop, and will fight to the death over the Oxford comma. That should be good enough, right?
There are many schools of thought on how to begin writing a book. There are thousands of books/websites/classes/opinionated snobs that will tell you this but in my opinion Kurt Vonnegut sums it up better than anyone else:
“You cannot edit a blank page.”
So, I’m writing a novel and a trilogy of short stories and both are marching along slowly but surely. Then, I heard about the Orange Karen Anthology. Writing communities are close-knit and when one person in this community suffers they all suffer. They also all rally behind each other providing the support necessary to help people through tough times. When a friend of ours was struck by a terrible illness, and racked up ridiculous medical bills in the process, her community rallied to create an anthology with all proceeds going to help her out with the financial costs that have come with surviving.
In awe of her courage and determination, and proud of the support from her community, I was inspired to submit a story for consideration in the book. Taking a page from Mr. Vonnegut I just wrote it down. It was a story based on real-life events, and it was an emotional one to tell. I had mentioned I was writing it in a Facebook group and another group member, a friend who wrote alongside me during NaNoWriMo this year, offered her assistance with editing. I happily accepted her offer.
At first she had some reservations. The topic was very close to me and she didn’t know how I would accept her feedback. But, we both plugged through those uncertainties, fears, and doubts and several versions and emotionally gut wrenching re-writes later we had a finished story to be proud of. It was exhausting, and it was completely worth it.
Jennifer Gracen was my editor and she guided me through this process gently, but with expert precision. I am beginning to think it’s no accident that you can find the word “grace” in her last name and the fact that she is a compassionate mother of two beautiful children served her well on this project. From her initial suggestion to write in the third person (I stared by writing it in first person) to her final “I like how you re-worked this”; every bit of red ink on that manuscript was a learning opportunity and it would have been a tragic waste of time for both of us if I would have considered it anything less.
Jennifer’s job was to tighten my sentence structure, fix my grammar (and my god forsaken tense mix ups), suggest alternate wording, prevent orphaned or complex dialog, and otherwise tease, coax, persuade, charm, lure, sweet-talk, or cajole the right words out of me using whatever methods she felt would work best. Looking back at that first brain dump of words and comparing it with the final version you wouldn’t know that it was written by the same person.
My editor made me a better writer.
I am beyond thankful for all the effort she put into this and I sincerely hope that I will get to work with her again. My only concern now is that she will read this post and notice that I have ignored a lot of what she just taught me. Don’t worry, Jen, not every comet gets to be wonderful.
It is with all my heart and the utmost compassion that I extend a thank you to my dear wife. The story is more hers than it is mine and she didn’t just let me write it – she gave me the strength to write it and for this I am eternally grateful.