Tag: writing

NaNoWriMo: Day Zero – She Comes Prepared

NaNoWriMo: Day Zero – She Comes Prepared

Here we are on day zero, A.K.A. the day before NaNoWriMo. For those unaware, NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month: a month in which writers of the world enjoy an incredibly supportive and positive community as we all reach for that 50,000 words. That’s right, the goal of NaNoWriMo is to write 50,000 words in a month. If you reach that goal, you win.

Last year I won with my first ever novel Ravenscrag. Unfortunately, it is still being edited. I thought about making its second draft my project for Nano this year, but it didn’t seem like the right time for it, so here I am with a new idea and a new 50k to write.

I have a great feeling about this one. Last year Nano marked my return to writing fiction after a long absence. I was very much a “pantser” last year, which means I flew by the seat of my pants with no outline or real plan for my novel before starting. Now I have a year of writing short stories under my belt and a better understanding of writing fiction. I’m aiming for my second win in a row with a great cast of characters and a story that I really love and can’t wait to write. I have a very basic outline that I struggled much of this month to actually sit down and hammer out, but the basic story structure is there. Now I have a month to put meat on these bones.

Title: Suicide House
Genre: Psychological/Supernatural Horror
Synopsis: In Maple Hill, the suicide rate is 10 times the national average. After a young man takes his life, a group of friends vow to uncover the well-guarded history of the town.

Protagonists:

Brandon Fuller – Died by suicide.
Hailey Greene – Main character and girlfriend of Brandon. You don’t want to mess with her.
Julien Davis – Brandon’s asshole best friend with a heart of gold.
Connor Fitzgerald – The smart kid. He has a blog.
Molly  Westcott – So optimistic it’s disgusting. She’ll probably read your aura.

Antagonist:
Jack Harpe A.K.A. The Suicide Killer

Bring it on November! It’s going to be a challenge but I’m ready.

My Journey Into Fountain Pens, Why I Use Them, and Why You Should Too

My Journey Into Fountain Pens, Why I Use Them, and Why You Should Too

When I was 15, my mother bought me a calligraphy pen set for Christmas. It came with the fountain pen, several different nibs, and ink cartridges in black, blue, and red. I followed the instructions to put the ink cartridge in and get it working. We lived below the poverty line so it was by no means a fancy or high quality pen, but at the time I didn’t really understand fountain pens so didn’t think it would make a difference. It was just a pen, right? When the pen didn’t work well, when it scratched through my paper and handled terribly, when it bled through anything I tried to write on, I let the stains of that ink colour my opinion on fountain pens from that point forward.

Fast forward a decade and I start experimenting with my penmanship. In the back of my mind, fountain pens were still “old, outdated pens that suck”, but I wanted to try something new for writing with. To be honest, I was tired of junky plastic disposable pens that gave me hand cramps when I used them. As much as I love writing, I wanted to make the experience a more enjoyable one for myself. I was pushing my son in a stroller around my local Chapters store one day when I found an old fashioned quill dip pen, packed beautifully in a box with a little bottle of black ink.  I bought it, some nice paper, and set for home to try it out.

I liked it! The methodical dipping of the pen and writing was quite meditative. I enjoyed the inconsistency of line–thinner here, thicker there. It felt simple. I wanted to write by the light of an oil lantern. The one thing missing was the convenience of portability. I couldn’t very well pull out my pen and a bottle of ink to sign something at the bank without holding everyone up.

Throughout my online searching I kept on finding myself surrounded by fountain pens. I resisted them for a while, but eventually caved and bought a Lamy Safari, a sort of mid-range fountain pen highly recommended for beginners. I paid about $50 CAD for it, which is a lot for a pen when you compare it to the disposables out there, but I’ll get to the savings later.

My pen came with a couple of blue cartridges, and something called a converter. Converters are cool, because with them you can use ANY fountain pen bottled ink in your pen. Anything. You would not believe the variety of inks available to you until you look. I was overwhelmed and mesmerized by choices, and quickly ordered a few samples. There’s waterproof ink, quick drying ink, archival ink, and in any colour you can imagine. Some inks have shimmer, some are fluorescent, some even look different colours depending on how the light hits it.

I quickly fell head over heels for my new pen. It was clipped indefinitely to the front of my shirt at work (many a pen thief around here) and in my purse any other time. It soon became the only pen I used. I started poring over the selection at The Goulet Pen Co. (I can’t recommend them enough. They’re great people and have a fantastic selection.) and ordering various inks to try. 

I wanted something with a wider nib, so bought a Lamy Vista, which is like the Safari only with a clear plastic body so you can see the ink inside. This became and continues to be my everyday pen, my favorite, my writing companion. It’s filled many journals.

When hanging around in fountain pen communities, it doesn’t take long to become enamored with the pens available. You soon find your Holy Grail pen, which you lust after. That pen for me was the Sailor Imperial Black. It was gorgeous in photos. Matte black body, titanium ion darkened metal details, and a 24k gold nib, also darkened to a gorgeous black finish. This is the kind of pen you use to sign your child’s birth certificate, or your marriage certificate. It made my little goth heart happy, and it also came at a hefty cost, but I’ll tell you more about that journey when I write up my review on the pen in the coming weeks.

I’ve been using fountain pens solidly for 3 years now and I can confidently say I’ll never go back. There have been days where I forget my pen at home when I go to work, and using the regular ballpoint disposables practically ruins my day. There is a certain pleasure in writing with a smooth-flowing pen that you’ve grown to know quite well. You take it apart to clean it, you refill it with new and exciting inks, you carry it with you everywhere and you notice your penmanship improve greatly.

Now let’s talk about paper. When you start using one of these pens, you will learn that certain types of paper doesn’t play well with fountain pens. The ink might bleed through, or it might feather really badly. This honestly depends a lot on the ink you are using as well. There are inks that write well on cheaper paper, and honestly it’s not a huge deal if you write on standard paper with a fountain pen. For the best experience, there are types of paper that are quite cheap that work extremely well with fountain pens. I really like Apica notebooks. They’re cheap and great with any kind of ink I’ve tried.

Considering a fountain pen? Here’s the good and the bad:

Pros:

  • You will never have to buy another pen again.
  • You refill the same pen infinite times, so you don’t need to throw it away.
  • With less waste, it’s a better choice for the environment.
  • Ink flows smoothly and effortlessly.
  • No hand cramps, even when writing for a long time because you don’t need to use much pressure to write.
  • Thousands of choices for ink so you can find one that is perfect for you.
  • Fountain pens range from very cheap (<$10) to very expensive (>$1,000) so there is an option for any budget.
  • Huge online community on Reddit for when you have questions or are looking for recommendations.
  • It’s a lot more personal. It’s not just A pen, it’s YOUR pen.

Cons:

  • Losing an expensive pen sucks.
  • Cleaning your pen can be somewhat messy (but some of us like that).
  • If someone borrows (read: steals) your pen to jot something down quickly, they can ruin it by using too much pressure if they aren’t used to fountain pens.
  • Not all paper is fountain pen friendly.

I was wrong about fountain pens in the beginning. I thought they were scratchy, bleedy, inky messes that you’d spend more time fighting with than writing with. Now that I’ve been using them for a few years I can’t say enough good things about them. They’re the perfect tool for any writer who enjoys penmanship, any business person who does a lot of writing in a day, or anybody who simply enjoys pens. 

 

Words Will Save Her – A Brief History of My Writing

Words Will Save Her – A Brief History of My Writing

CHILDHOOD

I started writing poetry when I was 9 years old. Nobody ever told me to do it, I simply felt compelled to create a tangible representation of what went on in my young head. As a kid suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), I had a lot of emotions flowing through me: anger and fear being major players. I spent a lot of time alone, and I spent a lot of time writing. I filled notebook after coil-bound notebook with these little poems that just sort of poured out of me. I kept them all hidden away in a drawer.

As I got older, my body changed and puberty began. My confusion and developing feelings towards boys were spelled out in my poem books and journals. When I finally got my own room in our unfinished basement when I was 12, a new hiding spot was found for my growing collection of notebooks up on top of some metal vents near the ceiling.

HIGH SCHOOL

A few years later, high school began and my increased level of emotional intensity was matched by an increase in both the frequency and severity of content in my poems. I branched out into writing stories at this time as well. I was an angry girl who acted out, had a problem with authority, and spent every moment possible working on artistic endeavors or spending time with some of the first friends I ever had who I felt understood me. It was in high school where I developed a taste for controversy, which was reflected in my assignments for a creative writing class which were never marked because they were “too disturbing” for the teacher to stomach. I was proud of this fact. Hell, I still am. Isn’t the purpose of writing to make someone feel something?

When my mother bought a family computer when I was 15, it wasn’t long before I became quite quick at typing and moved my previously handwritten hobby into a digital one. I’d type out poetry and short stories into Notepad files and save them to floppy disks rather than continuing with my spiral-bound notebooks, which by that time seemed slow and clumsy in comparison. Thematically, my work remained dark and focused on love, death, and depression.

 

EARLY ADULTHOOD

My writing stopped rather abruptly when I was in my early twenties. I was working full time with people I loved. I was in a long-term relationship. I had friends I loved spending time with. I didn’t have time for those silly writing projects anymore. After 6 months or so without writing much of anything, my chronic depression had spiraled down to a point where I could barely get out of bed most days. At the time, with all the good going on in my life this didn’t make sense to me. My self-harming had gotten quite bad again and suicide was never far from my mind. Nearing complete hopelessness, I went to see my doctor who prescribed an antidepressant for my depression, anxiety and OCD symptoms, as well as a twice-a-week appointment with a psychologist.

I saw the psychologist at the scheduled times for about 4 months. Things had gotten bad between my boyfriend at the time and myself because he wasn’t able to give me the space I needed to heal and so we broke up. A year later I still hadn’t written anything. The meds I was on had taken away the bad feelings, but they’d also taken away any good feelings. I was essentially an emotional zombie, losing my ability to create anything with colour or with words. I made the conscious decision to go off my meds and start creating again as a way to handle my mental health issues and fulfill my desire to create.

I started writing again. I started drawing and painting again. It took a year to safely wean myself off the medication I’d been on, and it was difficult. When I look back now, I realize that I was trying to use medication to accomplish what I’d normally been able to accomplish using my creative outlets. I’ve always been more fulfilled when I’m creating, and when I stop for too long, my head tends to get out of control.

 

NOW

I’ve noticed, more recently than ever before, just how necessary it is for me to write. I’ve always thought of myself as a visual artist. I never really claimed the title “writer” in the same way until this last year. The things is, I’ve always been happiest when I’m actively writing. In the last month or so, since I’ve resumed blogging regularly, I’ve found myself reaching a state of inner calm. I’m forced to remember why I stopped writing in the first place, and once again it was because life got busy with work and motherhood and trying to be a responsible adult. I stopped giving writing any priority in my daily life.

Without writing, I become this sort of wound up ball of string. Every day that goes by without writing becomes another length wrapped tightly around my middle until the very center of who I am becomes so compressed that I lose myself. Every time I sit down at my computer and start typing away into the night, I unravel a little bit. This built up emotional fog I have to such excess gets released in little spurts and I start to see more clearly.

I write to figure things out. I don’t usually know how a blog post will begin or end until I’m in the desperate throes of its creation. It starts with a single inspired thought and as I type out word after word, sentence after sentence, it evolves. I whisper to myself each line and furiously type it out until it feels somehow complete. Many posts get published on the blog, and many don’t. When it really comes down to it, I write for me. Sometimes I get messages or emails or comments from people who say that a post of mine helped them, and that is a really great feeling.

When I deny the writer in me, it’s a poison in my life. The built up emotion or ideas end up coming out negatively if I don’t give them their own space. This is something I’ve learned and re-learned the hard way a number of times. I need to write. Writing is the one thing that’s always been able to save me.

 

Why I Stopped Creating Art for a Living

Why I Stopped Creating Art for a Living

From a young age I heard from nearly everyone in my life, “You should be creating art for a living.”, and for a long time, I did. I drew portraits. I created knitting patterns. I made soap. I wrote. I utilized my creative skills in a way that paid the bills. I was unhappy.

People are multifaceted, and if you start doing what you love for a living, it can quickly become all you do. Truth is, I have more interests than I have time to explore them and I’m never bored because I’m always doing something.

When I started creating art for a living. I went through a phase where I felt like I’d finally made it. This was it. This was my time. This was what I was meant for. Every time someone placed an order for a portrait I got a rush. Once the novelty wore off, I felt unfulfilled and as I churned out portrait after portrait, my passion for the pencil started to slip. It wasn’t long before what I used to love doing started to feel like a chore, so I changed gears.

Sisters
“Sisters”; charcoal on paper.

I started doing a few other things to make money from home but I got burnt out doing them as well. At one point I’d turned each of my hobbies into a source of income but I still wasn’t happy.

I started ghost writing articles. I freelanced, and I got a ton of work because I was so fast. I made a lot of money. I made more than I ever had in my life. Over time, I started to hate the work because I was being told what to write and it felt disingenuous.  The work started to feel cheap and I felt like I was lying to people. My creativity seemed to be wasted and I knew that if I was going to write, this was not the kind of writing I wanted to be doing. I wanted to write for me again.

A few years ago I stared at my computer screen and wondered what was wrong with me. I’m creating art for a living and it’s what I’ve always wanted to do. I should be happy. I thought for a long time that maybe I’d never be happy career-wise. Had I ever been happy? Yes! I recalled my first years after high school when I worked in a call center. That sense of purpose and being an adult I had. That feeling of being a part of something. Having a schedule, a set of directions, being forced to practice my social skills, having coworkers and making some of the best friends I ever had, drawing or writing for the sake of it and loving my output, being challenged. Challenge. That was it! I wasn’t being challenged when I was doing these little commission jobs where I was basically just filling in the blanks. I was doing work that I wasn’t passionate about, because my goal was ultimately to please someone else rather than myself.

Violent Devotion
“Violent Devotion” watercolour on paper.

As soon as I let go of the idea that I had to be a paid artist to be happy, a world opened before me like a blossoming flower. It took a long time for me to get used to the idea of a life doing something other than art for a living, because for so long, I’d felt like that was what I should be doing.

I still create, but I’m not pressuring myself to turn it into a career. It’s the best thing I could have done for my creativity, because now when I finish something I can actually be proud of it because it is 100% me right there on the page. I don’t even post advertisements on my website because I never again want to get the feeling that I’m being sold and that my work is suffering because of it. If someone wants to consume my work, I want it to be on its own merit and not some glazed over superhighway lined in billboards that will only distract you from my core message – which, basically, is love.

When I look back now to the years I spent creating art for a living, I realized that what was missing was that I was still working for someone else. It cheapened the experience for me and I was finding it harder and harder to find myself in what I was producing. In the grand scheme of things, I was still doing work that was dictated, which took a lot of the wind out of my sails.

Now I work in a Mental Health Clinic, where I still do something that I love, and on the side I still create. I create because I have to. I create for myself before anything else, and that has made all the difference.

Things I Learned Doing NaNoWriMo

Things I Learned Doing NaNoWriMo

With NaNoWriMo 2016 having concluded several weeks ago, I have tucked my keyboard (and my story) away for the month of December. During this most needed stepping-away, I have had ample time to reflect upon the experience and what I’ve learned post-Nano.

On the impossibility of the goal:
Writing 50,000 words in a single month is a daunting task. It’s almost self-defeating to look at it in all its full glory. When midnight strikes and November rolls 30 new days onto your calendar, staring that 50k in the face feels like looking up at Everest. It seems impossible. It seems like it’s something only people without kids can do. It seems like you will have no hope at all if you have a full time job. It seems like if you are successful, you will emerge on the other side a dusty sun-deprived hermit.

Like the ever-wise Vincent Van Gogh once said, “great things are done by a series of small things brought together”, and when you look at NaNoWriMo in the same light, breaking it down into manageable chunks makes it seem doable. A daily word count of 1,667 doesn’t seem so bad, does it?

On inconsistent productivity:
I stumbled and I fell during NaNoWriMo. I didn’t end every single day with my 1,667 words packaged up with a neat little bow of celebratory self-praise. Some days were only a few hundred words, and even getting those out was a struggle. It was easy on these days to want to throw in the towel. That was, until I looked at my total word count up to that point and realized that each day was just a drop in the bucket, and that of course some days would be more or less productive than others. Other days I had over 2,500 words, which more than made up for some of the less productive days.

On unfiltered writing:
My previous writings have come from a place of agonizing perfectionism. The reason I’ve struggled with fiction writing in the past is because I spend so much time refining and perfecting each sentence as I write it, that I essentially never get anywhere.

During the month of November, I struggled to keep my inner-editor turned the other way, so that I could just let the words flow pure onto the page. With a hefty goal of 50,000 words in a month, I couldn’t waste precious time messing around with word choice and bogging myself down in the details. My focus was on getting the story out and recognizing that this was not its final form; that it was okay to be imperfect because that is what the editing stage is for.

It worked. It hurt sometimes to leave a sentence looking like garbage but at least I got the story out, and that was what mattered most.

On letting the story breathe:
I started out NaNoWriMo with a rough outline for what my story was going to be. I knew the genre, I had fleshed out the characters a little, and I had most of a plot skeleton just waiting for me to put meat on its bones.

I spent hours prior to NaNoWriMo planning things out, sure that without a plan of action I would flounder and fail.

It only took about a week for nearly my entire plan to derail as the story took on a life of its own. Most of the little details that I wanted to implement were scrapped as the story unfolded. Antagonists became protagonists, the mechanics of how certain things worked completely flipped, characters took on a life of their own and I was completely at their mercy.

On making yourself write:
One of the biggest questions I’ve seen on forums filled with writers, and one of the biggest questions I’ve stared in the face for most of my writing life is: “How do I make myself write?”.

It’s easy to get caught up in looking for some magical formula to cure what is infamously known as “writer’s block”. It sometimes feels like all the prolific writers of the world have a secret they aren’t telling us, but do you know what I learned? I learned there is no secret; you just have to write. It sounds too simple, and I balked at the same advice before I found it myself to be true.

The only way to write, is to write. You just sit down and you do it. You do it even when you don’t feel like it; even when you are depressed, tired, and sick.  You do it even when you don’t have enough time. Speaking of time…

On having the time to write:
One of my biggest excuses during my non-writing periods in life has been “I don’t have time to write”. If you’re reading this and you’re a writer, I bet you’ve said this a time or two. It’s a cop out. You know it. I know it. We all know it. Now, instead of saying you don’t have time, change your wording. Say, “I’m not making writing a priority.” Feels different, doesn’t it? I bet it rings true though, because I guarantee once you make writing a priority, you’ll find the time.

I spent about an hour a day on my novel during NaNoWriMo. I made getting my word goal a priority and by working on it for a few minutes here and there, I was able to reach it most days.

On keeping your story a secret:
One of my favorite books about writing is the aptly titled On Writing by Stephen King. Whether you love, hate, or are indifferent to his work, one can’t argue with regard to King’s amazing work ethic. One of the biggest take-aways I’ve had from his memoir on the craft of writing is the closed door practice he enforces in his first drafts. That is, writing the first draft with no input from anyone.

This was one thing I was very protective of during my NaNoWriMo experience. It helped that I was, and am still self-conscious of my fiction-writing abilities. Even giving away a small idea of what my story is about has been difficult.

On stepping away:
Writing a novel brings you necessarily close to the work, which is why it’s important to take some time away from it before going back and judging/editing it. You’re still too close to the story to see it objectively right after completion. I decided to take a month away from my story to work on other things before going back to read it. In January, I will read the entire thing and start making some edits and then write the second draft.

On the experience:
This was the first NaNoWriMo that I ever seriously attempted, and I am both shocked and proud that I was able to complete my goal. The community is incredible. I had so much fun doing word sprints, connecting with other writers, and enjoying all of the positivity surrounding the challenge. I am walking away as a stronger writer with a finished novel that I can now spend time agonizing over and refining until it’s something that I would feel good about publishing.

Don’t be discouraged, either, if you didn’t quite reach the 50,000 words in one month. The great thing about NaNoWriMo is that you can create your own goal. Even if you set a goal that you don’t quite complete, you’ll still have more words than you did when you started, and that is something to celebrate.