Well, it’s done. The last scene needed to complete the manuscript for book three of my Papilion Trilogy, Berserker, is done. All that’s left to do it to blend the snippets into the main story, to diligently consider the beta readers’ feedback I received (some of which is still on the way), and then hit the last rounds of editing.
I won’t lie. I felt like giving up. This has been the toughest year in writing yet, and there were more than a few periods when I felt like walking away. It’s tough to be a writer, tougher when resources are financially out of reach, when human resources are scarce (reviewers, beta readers), and when Life keeps getting in the way. Discouragement and lack of motivation were constant enemies; we wrestled a lot.
When I started The Purple Morrowfour years ago or so, I had one book in mind. I purposely wrote a simple story, being that it had a complex theme : exploring self-doubt and loss and what it takes to move on, in a fantasy context. That grew to two books—Wolf’s Baneliterally became the bane of my existence for 2 years, and Berserker—well, yeah. I was often two hairs shy of losing it more than once. … …Funny how the book titles see, to reflect my mental state at the time of writing…
Anyway, the end is in sight. Berserker started as a writing challenge : write a million words in a year. I started out great—in two months I had about 50k or something. But then I hit a block and let the manuscript sit. I worked on other things while periodically going back and adding to it. But there were challenges, the main one being: How to write a satisfying trilogy ending? Some people have been faithful, reading all the books, they are invested in the characters and what’s happening to them, screaming at the end of book 2 and rabid for more–
Don’t you sometimes feel that writing the ending of a story is tough? So coming to writing the ending of a trilogy…
I was afraid of screwing it up.
Actually, I lied. I haven’t written the ending yet. But I will. I’m waiting for the editing to pull the story threads together to inspire the right ending in order to satisfy my readers. Fingers crossed.
Anyway, I guess this is a thank you to everyone who has read my books, who has motivated and encouraged me with their comments and feedback and support. Know that you played an important role in getting this project finished. 🙂
So, back to work! Still lots to do but at least now there is light at the end of the tunnel.
I’d love to hear your writing stories, both good and bad. Are you struggling, or riding the wave of success? Tell me about it 🙂
A few weeks ago, you might remember that I had the equivalent of a writer’s meltdown until I made two conclusions, one of which involved meeting a certain person by the name Lise Weil. (You can read about it here). After talking to her and learning about the writing retreat that she runs a few times a year, I decided I would attend the next one. It took place yesterday.
Now, what’s the difference between a workshop and a retreat? After attending both kinds of events, I can say this: a workshop is where you go to tune-up your writing skills while a retreat is where you go to tune-up your creative core (i.e. your Self).
I wasn’t sure what to expect. I arrived at the apartment at 11AM, and not long after four other women arrived. With the exception of one (who is a member of my writing group), I didn’t know any of them. However, they were all warm and welcoming.
After some opening chit-chat, we began the day with dream work. We had all been asked to write down our dreams leading up to the event. Each person then shared their dream and then the others had a chance to comment. I am a big believer in the power and messages of dreams, so I was very interested to see where this led. As expected, the activity gave way to some interesting insights and revelations. I had analyzed mine before attending the meeting, but it wasn’t until I listened to the others that I began to see the connection to writing. As my thoughts broke through the little box of interpretations I had built, I was now able to discern issues like, concerns about being a ‘legitimate’ writer and the validity of having a writing blog when I haven’t sold tons of books or ‘made it’. Basically, this dream opened the door to my darkest, deepest insecurities.
Another example: one woman shared her belief that her words and ideas had no value because they were fragments and not part of a whole, realized piece. In my opinion, her words were magic. Each phrase carried so much weight and beauty, and her expression was so pure and raw. And, when read together, the lines did read like a poem (a whole piece). But my real point was this: Why weren’t the words themselves, or her visceral, honest expression, enough? (On the way home that night when I reflected on this conversation, I realized that this is a question that I should be asking myself). As you can see, things were already getting interesting.
The next activity was to write something inspired by a poem. Lise passed around a bag and we each blindly choose one. The underlying expectation was that each person would somehow choose the poem that was ‘right’ for them. I think, for the most part, we all did. Mine was a wonderful poem by Cynthia Rich called Buddahdarma. Lines like, ‘You are not the person that you knew before’, ‘Your being opens like an unseen door’ amongst others connected to my pit of insecurity. In the writing exercise that followed, the poem inspired the creation of a complete, introspective narrative of 1000 words called A Mirror Tells No Lies. Writing on the fly like that, carried by the power of a few choice words, was revelatory. The resulting story was rife with concepts and metaphors that I must unpack, and Lise suggested I analyse the sections of the poem that triggered that creative burst as a means of better understanding why it connected. This was homework I actually looked forward to.
After that, we took a walk. It’s a deep freeze in Montreal right now, so going outside for an hour was no joke. But, after sitting for so long, I admit it was time to be active. So, I bundled up, grabbed my notebook (yes, we had an assignment to) and got walking. The assignment involved ‘being in the moment’, connecting with what’s happening around us and paying attention to ourselves. Once I got used to the cold, I realized how wonderful it was to connect with my body in motion. One of the women attends an African dance school and she spoke of the importance of the body connecting with the mind. I was reminded that we interact with the world through our bodies which affects our mind and soul. In essence, it impacts our creativity. So I walked, and I sensed, and I experienced. Then I found a little café, enjoyed my unctuous peanut butter and chocolate chip cookie and double latte, and completed my assignment. It’s a free-writing piece, no editing, a journal entry of sorts discussing what the day meant to me. Here is a sample:
‘…I’ve been waiting for this retreat. I wasn’t sure what I would get from it or even what I wanted—I just knew I wanted the experience. It’s nice to be around others who don’t have it all together either—I feel normal. Rather than feeling ‘less than’ because one person has done this, or won this, or talks the good talk. I’m not competing—I’m being. I write and I feel excited. I listen and I feel moved. I share and I feel listened to. This is a unique and precious moment.
‘ I am trying to find my voice and my identity within myself and my writing. In the mess that is my life at the moment, it feels wonderful to be focused on 1 thing. There is no contingency planning, nor worrying; the stress of real life is ‘out there’ and I can concentrate on me. I can delve into understanding this thing I like to do, and that makes me feel grounded. Or it could, if only I could bring this ‘quiet’ back with me into the real world. And, I guess, that is the question for me: How to not lose this focus? How to quiet myself and listen to me when the winds around blow so hard and so fast? The winds of children, and husband, and work, and finding time to have a life outside—it’s a whirlwind spinning at breathtaking speed. Either way, however it ends, I’ve had today. And I am grateful for it.’
I now know that I went to the retreat to find my voice. Not only to find it, but to find value and purpose in that voice. And to learn to love it. Our voices are a reflection of our soul, who we are in the deep and shadowy places as much in the bright and sunny ones. That is the mystery behind the Mirror story that I was to analyse and the reason that poem struck a chord so hard that my fingers could do nothing but write a story to illustrate that awakening. I am my writing, and my writing is me. The good, the bad. The beauty, and the horror. And with that acceptance comes a measure of peace.
How about you? Can you relate to this experience? Have you attended a writing retreat and what did you get from the experience? I’d love to hear your thoughts.🙂
So I’ve entered theWOW555 flash fiction contest again, this time as a means of encouraging two writer friends to try something new. One says she has trouble writing short stories (what better way to break that than by writing a story of less than 500 words???), and another who just needs a kick in the butt to get writing, period. I checked in with one of them last night after he’d submitted his story, and he said he was glad he’d tried it and thanked me for the push. When I checked in with the other this morning, this is what she said: ‘ Dyane remember when I said you were the best? You’re actually the worst. THE WORST.’ To which I replied, ‘Lol lol lol Happy to oblige, as long as it gets you writing. Ta!!’
Anyone else feel they need a little motivating? 😀
Anyhoo, my entry is below. It’s experimental and darker than usual, but if there’s an opportunity to try something different from your norm, flash fiction is it. 🙂 Hope you enjoy it. And if you have a moment, why don’t you give the contest a try? There’s still time! Or check it out anyway to read some neat stories, meet some new writers, and vote! Voting opens tomorrow!
Eye of the Beholder
I follow her through the trees, just as I’ve done since we were children. Only now, her dark hair reaches to her waist, and when we stand side by side, the top of her head sits just under my chin, perfect for nestling. The grass gives under our feet. We steal around tree trunks like ghosts. The smells of the forest come up from the ground, earthy, pungent. It is spring, and the wind carries the airs of life as well as the vestiges of winter’s breath. I follow her, as always. And she leads me where she wills.
At last, I see our place, a knife-shaped outcropping. It is covered in moss and slick unless you know where to put your hands and where to dig in with your toes. At the top we sit. Side by side, knees almost touching. Far away, the sun sinks in the sky, a dark-yellow disk that will soon sear the tops of the trees.
It won’t be long now, she says, her voice a hopeful sigh in the wind. We’ll be leaving for the city in a few days.
I look at the ground beneath us. The soil is soft, green with grass and sprouting wildflowers. I used to twist flowers like those into wreaths for her hair.
She’d always wanted to leave this dead-end town where jobs were scarce and happiness scarcer. Only, I always believed I’d be the one to save her from the dying farms and the soon-to-be ghost-town.
She goes on. I want a job. And decent friends, women who have opinions and ideas in their heads. This town is dead. If I stay, I’ll die with it. You understand that, don’t you?
She looks at me. And in the failing light, it’s not me I see reflected there, but another.
The rock under me is unbearable. Its jagged edges cut into my rump. I get up quickly. Startled, she looks up, asks what was wrong.
But I’m heated, crushed to the ground from the weight of his shadow in her eyes.
What’s wrong? she asks again, reaching for me.
How could she not know?
My hands are around her neck. They are cold. She struggles. I am numb. At last, my sickness steals her breath.
The soil at the foot of the outcropping gives easily to a pair of determined hands armed with a stone. The gash in the ground won’t be easily noticed. She lies in the ground, my beautiful angel looking up towards heaven. And this time, I am pleased to see my dark and distorted reflection in the drying wetness of her eyes.
The outcropping is not quite so hard beneath me as I reclaim my seat. The sun has slipped past the tops of the trees. Its fire has gone out. And finally, I am at peace.
A lot of things ran through my mind at the moment she passed. I looked at my great-aunt standing at the other side of the hospital bed and wondered what she was thinking as she looked upon her younger sister. Was she remembering the times they had spent as girls, then as young women, chock full of hopes and dreams? Or was she thinking of their last game of dominoes, trying to accept that they would never again play their favorite game together? Then I asked myself what would my own children would think when I told them great-grandma was gone for good.
You think a lot when someone you love dies.
My grandmother was a fun lady. She loved people, loved a good time and she was constantly saying things that put us all in stitches. I have a roster of ‘grandma-isms’ that never fail to bring a smile to my face. Luckily, my mother does a great Barbadian accent so when she quotes my grandmother she reduces us to tears of laughter, and my step-dad can cook some of her greatest dishes—grandma taught him herself. But more than all that, on a deeper, visceral level, I remember her as strong woman, dedicated and committed to her family and to other people, too. She raised her own children and was a ‘surrogate’ mom to other people over the years. Growing up, I was always amazed to meet people at family gatherings who always spoke about her with the deepest respect and, even, love.
We are influenced by the people around us. I know for a fact that she was one of the greatest forces to influence me. If I believe I have the brains and strength and ability to do anything in this world today, it’s largely from watching that humble lady do the simplest but most important things every day—everything she did spoke of her love for her family. Life was not always easy, but she never quit. She never turned away from the task at hand. She was steady, keeping on at life daily, until the very end.
That’s a real woman.
So how does this relate to writing? Well, it goes back to influence. My grandmother didn’t buy me books, or pay for writing classes or do anything to directly influence my writing. But her values and example did. I also know how proud she was when she learned I had published my first book—I remember the look in her eye and the smile on her face and the resulting pride and joy I felt. As a parent, everything I do serves to help raise my children right: I sacrifice and do anything I can to protect and to support them, just like any good parent. Even things like getting my book to print, taking them with me to the stores where it’s on consignment, and visiting their schools to talk about writing were done with the intention of showing them that every day, regular people can accomplish their dreams if they work hard. Kids need to dream. And they need examples, models, to help them believe they can achieve their goals. Grand-parents have the same goals as parents, and I believe they hope that their legacy will serve to lift up their grand-children. When I told my grandmother about the book, I think she felt that she had contributed to something wonderful—something that had enabled her grand-daughter’s dream to come true just by her being. And she was right.
There are few things in life that help put things in perspective quite like the death of someone close. Sitting beside her bed today and thinking about all this, I felt a sort of stirring inside. Aside from her illness, these last few weeks have been generally challenging. There were moments when it was hard to keep writing or blogging: “Blogging takes up so much time”, “Anyway, nothing worthwhile is happening in my writing life right now so why bother posting at all?” Or the classic, “Ugh, I just don’t feel like writing today. Or any day.”
But life is short. What we don’t do today might never get done; we have to use the time we have to the utmost. The words you don’t put to paper might be forgotten, or that book you are too afraid to submit might never get to that agent or editor and fail to be discovered. The story on your heart you don’t think is very good might go unwritten and so miss touching someone’s life. Or a struggling blogger might find his second wind because you left a few encouraging lines.
Folks, you matter. Your life and your words matter. What you do or don’t do, matters. What legacy do you want to leave behind?
I’ve been away for a while and I’d love to hear from you. 🙂 Drop me a line and say hello!
In the posts mentioned above, I was very honest about my struggles. I had thrown myselfinto writing, trying to learn the craft and the business aspect at the same time. Like most, I sacrificed a lot–money, family time, energy and sanity to move the mountains necessary to succeed at this thing. The more I pushed to ‘make it’, running around like a possessed chicken without its head, two things were happening: 1) I was burning out, and 2) I was beginning to accept that success doesn’t happen overnight, no matter how hard I wished it to. Notice I said accept. See, I’d already realized that truth on a brain level but not at an emotional one, and the latter is where the magic happened this time around. Both points were excruciating to swallow.
But that’s the great thing about life experience. You can learn from it and grow stronger…if you allow it. I hated being in that Black Hole. It happened during a rough personal time (I was recovering from surgery which kept me off work for 3 months) and when I felt I needed support and encouragement the most, nothing happened. My blog seemed to lose steam, some good writer friends had gone in different directions, and I just didn’t have the energy to actively pursue promoting my book and maintaining social media, are some examples. After going so hard for so long, it felt like I’d been cruising along in a manual transmission car that had suddenly broken down and was now stuck in idle.
It sucked. I hated every minute of it. But as the walk through the Black Hole continued, I started to see the benefits. With the frenetic pace slowed to a crawl,I had time to think. I had time to assess my journey. I was able to make choices about what was really important to me and what wasn’t. And best of all, I finally felt free of social media’s yoke. Don’t get me wrong. I love using it to stay in touch and it’s a great resource, but for a long time I felt like it was mastering me rather than the other way around. I almost did a happy dance once its reign of terror was over.
So, how did I spend those quiet months? I got busy in other, more effective ways. I revised Wolf’s Bane, the sequel to The Purple Morrow, twice—once before sending it to beta-readers and then again afterwards; I beta-read my friend’s manuscript; worked on the final book in the Papilion trilogy and finally named it (Berserker); launched my writer’s website, and a whole lot more. I did all that on my time and because I wanted to.
Last thing: when I used to watch Dr. Phil, something he often said stood out in my mind and it relates to how we define success. Before I descended into the Black Hole, I thought the only way to feel I’d ‘made it’ was to have sold tons of books, to be featured here and there, or to have the words, “best-selling” after my name. The Black Hole experience caused me to confront the biggest demon of all, answering the one question I’d been trying to avoid: “What happens if I fail?” After all the work I’d put in over the years failure simply wasn’t an option.
The beauty is that facing that question is what led to making it out of the Black Hole. Once I was able to say, “So what if I fail?” the anxiety drained away and I was able to see and appreciate the things that were working. Like, there are certain online friends who just seem to know when I need a boost because that’s when I’ll get an encouraging email, or a Like on FB or a Share on Google or a surprise mention on some other social media platform. Or, I’d remember the people who told me how much they were moved by one of my stories. Last night, my aunt left me a FB message thanking me for pursuing my dreams. It’s not the first time someone has said that to me, which reminded me how privileged I am to do what I love to do. Last week, I posted an interview featuring local writer Su Sokol,and later that same week we met for coffee and talked for two hours about writing.
And last Friday, I visited my daughter’s class to talk about writing. It was fantastic! For the activity, they broke into groups and wrote a story based on writing prompts they came up with (I will be blogging about this soon). I’ve written it before and I’ll do it again: something magical happens when we take writing out of cyberspace and into the real world. Try it and you’ll see what I mean.
Success? We define it for ourselves, not the world. And if we keep looking ‘out there’ for it, we’ll miss the ways we are successful close to home, which, in most cases, are the most important. My daughter was proud that I came to her class. How do I know? Because she confirmed that I hadn’t embarrassed her. For anyone who has an 8 year old, you know how much that speaks!
Anyway, more on this line of thought to come as it has totally changed my outlook on what I write and why, as well as what I hope to achieve. But in the end, I just hope that anyone who is wandering through their own Black Hole will take heart and see that it’s not all bad. In fact, in can launch you to places you never could have gotten to otherwise.
How about you? Have you walked through a similar journey through the Black Hole? Share your story below!