My Reading Pile

Beside my bed is a tall stack. Of books. Some are waiting to be read. Some are too dull to keep reading (like parenting or conflict management), and some have great titles and covers, but I just haven’t had time to start them. By the time I get to my bedroom at night, I have little mental, physical, or emotional energy to engage in reading. And if I do, it is usually a mistake that I deal with the next morning in the attempt of an early rising and heading out for another day of work.

But some books do get regular attention, albeit slowly… I often have 3-4 books in various stages of completion.

One year I took a year to work from home and to concentrate specifically on writing and reading. It was one of the best years of my life. I thrived and read many books, and I wrote and wrote. I read books to write reviews about too. Nothing better than getting paid to read!

I had no dry times when I couldn’t think of anything to write (unlike recently), and I didn’t have trouble finding books either. Good times.

This year I received a Kobo for Christmas, and I have already read an entire historical novel, just for the fun of it. Wow, have I been missing this in my life! I definitely need to get at that pile, and renew my interest in reading and writing. Who knew a little piece of technology could be such an asset?

A Christmas break sure helps too!


Writing Contests: The Joy, the Pain

A writing contest is a little like passing in an assignment at school, hoping that you get an A.

Sometimes you do, and sometimes you don’t. And that’s okay most of the time.

But to intentionally enter a writing contest, to pay a fee to compete with others for the top prize is a little more nerve-wracking and personal.

I have experienced both the joy and pain of the competition this spring.

In 2011, I had over 50 articles published, most of them news stories, but also book reviews, business profiles, personal essays, and this blog. They weren’t all great; sometimes the constraints of research to deadline made for unforeseen challenges and not necessarily exemplary writing. Sometimes the stories were slightly dull to begin with, and I was hard-pressed to breathe some life into them. But I also produced some good articles, and had good feedback from my editors and readers.

I want to grow as a writer, and for 2012 I resolved to enter my work in  a writing contest. So I did. I entered seven different articles in seven different categories in the Word Guild’s Canadian Christian Writing Awards.  I paid the money. I waited.

A few weeks later, I was thrilled to learn that I have been shortlisted in the Blog category, for my posts “Mudalicious” and “Quilt Therapy”.

I was so thrilled, I forgot that in this contest, writers get feedback for their submissions.

And so a few more weeks passed.

Then I got an email with 6 attachments, all individual comments from judges for each article that didn’t get shortlisted. There was more pain than joy here.

Some of the reviews of my articles were strongly worded- maybe the judge was tired of reading crappy entries and mine was one of them. With some I barely made a passing grade. Ouch. These articles had all been published, and I had been paid for them, and now I was told that they are crummy. That’s hard to hear. It stings.

Thankfully, a few of the critiques I received were very positive, very encouraging and motivating. Phew! They are the wind behind me, gently pushing me forward.

Now that I have had more time to read the articles, judges’ comments, and ponder what I could have improved on, I can see their points. Some of them I even agree with. In fact, I think I can say that I agree with all of the critiques except one of them, which I could have a good debate about.

I also received good advice like “Take a grammar course”, which I definitely know I need.

So if you want to ramp up your writing to the next level, try getting a critique. Even better, enter a contest. Listen to the judges, but listen to your heart too, because it is still YOUR writing after all! Even if you don’t get an A or you don’t become a finalist, you will have learned something that will help improve your writing.

Congratulations to all my fellow finalists in the Canadian Christian Writing Awards!

A Look Back, and Ahead

In 2011, I had 52 articles published (mostly news related), and made 39 blog posts. So that is one article a week, and almost that much for blog posts. Thanks to everyone for the encouragement and challenge along the way!

I am looking forward to two writing conferences in 2012, and I hope I can maintain and even better my record from last year. I would like to have more personal essays published, work on a novel, and just get better as a writer.

And I would love to have a new camera and improve my photography skills.

What are your (writing) goals for 2012?

Transcribing History

For almost a year, I have been working on a unique project.

I am transcribing several journals of an early (circa 1900) Canadian, Mrs. Robert Simpson. Written in ink, in small notebooks, every line is full from one side of the page to the other; there are no margins at all. Her script is clear and tidy- there is hardly an error that she corrects, and if so, there is a tidy single line through it. The grammar is poor and run-on sentences abound. Yet these are remarkable because according to Simpson family lore, the author had no formal schooling.

Julia wrote these journals around the turn of the 19th century. The second wife of Mr. Simpson (his first having died), she had eight children with him, two of whom died in youth, and one who died at age 31 (childbirth?).  Her husband was of Irish descent, and perhaps she was too.

These journals are unique, because they are not a diary or a re-telling of daily events. Rather, they are fiction. “Lillian Angroves Choice” is the title of one of her stories, another is called “Bessie Heath’s Courage”.

Another journal is all poetry, exclusively memorial poems for those who have passed away. They all have the same heading: “In Memory of (name), who died (date), aged (number) years. A particularly poignant example is:

In Memory of Clara Evelyn Simpson, Died June 16th, 1912, Aged 13 years, 2 months and 12 days. 

This was Julia and Robert’s youngest daughter. One year later, she wrote another poem about Clara called “Not Forgotten”.

Another interesting and very valuable part of the journals is the family records Julia wrote on the inside covers of the them. She lists her own birth family- parents and siblings- with all their dates of birth and death. She lists her own children too.

This is a bit of a pain-staking project, but marvelously intriguing too. I so wish I knew more about her life. These journals are so tantalizing!

Writing Limbo

I’m at that weird and awkward place in my writing career that reminds me of getting a new job when you’re fresh out of school.

I have made a lot of growth and progress as a writer, met fantastic people and written about interesting things. But everything I have done is mostly short. Magazine articles, newsletters, book reviews, profiles, and more. At least, that’s all I have had published.

I would like to have something longer-like a book- published, but this is where it gets awkward. Even if I have a complete manuscript ready, most publishers prefer that you have already written and published a book. The same goes for various organizations who provide grants for writers. You need a book credit to your name to prove that you are worthy of their money. I can understand where they coming from, that they don’t want their money wasted on someone who ultimately is not committed to meeting the goal of publication, but it is like trying to get your first job. You need to have experience in order to get the job but you can’t get experience without the job. Frustrating.

So here I am, with teens in the house, trying to get my “first job”. And about the only way to have that happen without some Divine Intervention is to plug away down at the bottom and work your way up. So that is why I am considering having a book published for free…

I have found a local organization that is soliciting local writers to submit children stories for kids under age 5, and they will print them at no cost to the author, and then distribute all 2000 of them. Sounds like a good idea to me. I will learn a lot more about collaborating with an illustrator, and putting together dummies (a set of model book pages). I will indeed learn from the bottom up what goes into making a book. I will meet many like-minded people along the way and build mutually beneficial relationships.

That’s not to say I don’t believe in Divine Intervention- I do! Heartily! Because sometimes Divine Intervention is low-key, and I need to have eyes to recognize it- like seeing an opportunity with a small local publisher…

The Privilege of Writing

Today was a day that a writer loves. A day where I could indulge my interests, with the added bonus of being paid for it!

I love history, and I had the privilege of interviewing Pat, who is part of a small group with a big vision to resurrect a local one-room schoolhouse. Sitting at her kitchen table surrounded by old photos and documents and a 1953 portrait of Queen Elizabeth II, we had a lively discussion while I plied her with questions. The history of the schoolhouse goes back to the time of the settling of the United Empire Loyalists in the area, and was in use until the late 1960s. Hearing her passion and desire to preserve the best of the past is so inspiring.

Before we sat around the kitchen table, I was invited to have a cup of coffee with Pat and her husband, Hans,  and we made the interesting discovered that Hans immigrated to Canada from Holland on the same ship that my father did, in the 1950s.

Not only did I do research for a story, I made some neat connections with people in my community whom I had never met before, and this is the joy of writing! Days like this sustain a writer through the lonely, slogging-it-out days when it is just you and the blank page.

I cherish days like this!

Right at Home

Sitting six feet from the woodstove and seeing snowflakes gently falling to the ground outside as I ponder words at my desk is an amazing feeling. I am so glad for those around me who helped me decide to give up my secure job as an Office Admin at Home Hardware to pursue my love of writing.

I am feeling right at home during this time of transition. Even though the paycheque is a little thin right now, it is worth the gains along the way- even little things like sitting six feet from the woodstove.