Common thread

An amazing weekend retreat, at excellent Herman’s Island, with (most of) the amazing writers who make up The Common. The weather was uncommonly terrific…sunny and bright every day, and warm enough to sit out in a short-sleeved dress, with barefeet and read for an hour or two Saturday afternoon. Everyone made amazing food to share, we ate our weight in potato chips (and conducted a few fine taste-tests featuring some of the more absurdly flavoured chips out there: late night cheeseburger anyone?) (may I say it didn’t taste any different than a mid-day cheeseburger might?), we stayed up late every night, saw at least two shooting stars, and sang songs all night like a transistor radio.

And, on top of all that, I got some really good work done. A few thousand words, nothing to write home about necessarily, except that it was such a useful exercise for me. A relief to discover that my big talk is not just big talk, and indeed, my project is still very much alive in my mind. And that I am capable of keeping the pilot light lit from day to day, picking it up, fanning the flames and beginning again. A relief to get some connective tissue done, to get Evan and Lansing well and truly on their way, and to start to lay some of the serious groundwork of their relationship. Ahead, Dacey Brown awaits her chance to escape Grand Falls, New Brunswick. And her chance she shall receive.

I am on fire, I feel, and it’s good.

Also, huge news out of the Atlantic writing pool in general… Gillers and IMPACs for all!

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What’s in my head, out

Oh dear, not much writing happening lately, I have to say. The fall has been a blur of work-related outreach events (that is, lots of hosting of fundraising dinners for various organizations, the CBC open house, The Howe Symposium and Scrabble with the Stars), helping Kev get his fall tour organized and underway, a bit of travel (mainly flying to Toronto to surprise Kev in the midst of his fall tour) and…what else? I’m taking Italian lessons again, which is mostly an exercise in humility as my classmates all seem to be able to speak in paragraphs and I can barely say Io mi chiamo Stefania without stumbling, but what are you gonna do? You know? October also brought a successful Blowhard Presents, on the theme of Flying Solo, and early November brought a less-well-attended, but no less successful (for hugely different reasons) Porkpie. I also spent most of my free time cooking huge amounts of food and putting it in the freezer. The local produce has been extraordinary this year, so there’s that. But also, I figured if I cooked a bunch of stews and soups and chillis and the like, and popped them in the freezer, it would serve the dual purpose of preserving the goodness of the harvest, plus ensuring that we don’t starve to death when we’re living off a three thousand dollar grant for two months…and that neither of us will have to take time out of our creative projects (Kev’s likely to be writing a new album by January) to make supper. So the kitchen has been a storm of activity this fall as well.
Whew.
So, not a lot of writing going on. But, a lot of thinking about writing. And for me, that’s a huge part of the heavy lifting anyhow. Next weekend, The Common is going to a lovely and well-appointed retreat on Herman’s Island…and I expect to get some good work done there. It’s time to start thinking about structure, I think. I want to lay out the pages and scenes I have so far and write the parts I need to write in between so that I have a real sense of what’s there and where we’re all going. I have some scenes with Dacey on the bus–I read them the other night at the tiny Porkpie, and received really lovely feedback from the little group there. I am keen to get them all into central Canada, into the same vehicle, so that things can really start to happen.
I’m worried, a little, about the winter. I worry about my tendency to procrastinate. I worry that I won’t really have enough time to get it all done. But maybe if I can get a good start on things next weekend, I won’t feel so nervous about January. Even if I only write two thousand words a day, which is more than do-able for me, I’ll end up with fifty thousand words by the end of the first month. Then I’ll spend two weeks in the car on tour with Kev, which should be the perfect time for a road-trip-reset, and then I’ll have ten days or so to finish up that first draft. In ten days I can knock out another twenty thousand words.
So crazy to think of it in those terms. But watching friends take on NaNoWriMo, and remembering the pace at which I wrote Homing that miserable Winnipeglian November in 2003–it all seems possible, frankly. I’ve done this before, and I can do it again. The first draft is just the first draft. It doesn’t have to be perfect. It just has to be finished. Then I can rewrite in spring and see how we go.
Right? Right.
Two thousand words a day. Anything more than that is gravy. I’ll have to figure out how many pages that is for me in long hand. I get so obsessed with stats and numbers. Anything, I guess, to distract me from the actual writing. Absurd, but true.
What is that, anyhow? So long as I can manage not to just clean the vegetable crispers instead of actually writing, it’ll be fine.
Of course, there’s a simple solution to all of this. Just write it. Just put the words on the paper and it’ll get done. I have huge affection for my characters, lots of engagement with my themes, and a clear sense of where it’s all heading. There’s nothing to be afraid of, here. In fact, my head is so full of the characters now all the time, it’s a wonder I can do anything else with my time at all.
What do you do when you’re staring down the barrel of your first draft, spending more time worrying than writing? How do you solve it? I’ll take any and all encouragement you care to offer.
I’ll definitely be calling in a gift Sue Goyette left tucked under a plate at my birthday party/Toasted Tomato Sandwich festival this year. It was a certificate entitling me to a session of encouragement/ass-kicking. I’ll save that for early January. It’ll be the perfect way to launch, I think. An ass-kicking from Sue Goyette. What better gift, I ask you?