Balance, balance, balance!

Photo by twbuckner, Flickr

Photo by twbuckner, Flickr

I’m not one of those people who love the word “balance.” In fact, when people say it like a prayer, “It’s about balance, Ev . . . balance,” my gag reflex kicks in. But this is a flaw in me, I suspect, nothing to do with the lovely word or concept behind it at all. I think my response is triggered by a guilty conscience. I am, too frequently, topsy-turvy, helter-skelter, over or under weighted, definitely all-or-nothing in my approach to life. I over indulge my passions . . . and (sometimes, often times) starve the shoulds, musts, smart-tos in my life. Ah, well . . . I think there was a wise line about knowing thyself once upon a time.

Anyway, why this rant about balance? Because I realized recently that my writing life is like a teeter-totter stuck on the ground by a very solid, much bigger than me friend. A dear friend. A beloved friend (originally misspelled as “fiend”—does that mean anything, I wonder?). A FUN (all caps!) friend. A friend I would never want to leave the playground—my writing itself.

At conferences, in blogs, during author talks, etc., more established authors often talk about the importance of creating and maintaining a writing habit. They warn—rightly—of the danger of talking about how-to-get published, daydreaming about being published, overdosing on reading and studying about writing and publishing and not actually doing the work, not writing. Writing is the first and most important thing, they say. The only thing, really, 100% necessary for an eventual writing career. And, again, I completely agree, and have met too many “aspiring” writers who, actually, uh . . . it still confuses me . . . don’t write.

However, there’s a less talked about, but equally stymieing condition afflicting those who profess to want to write as a living (usually so they can write more, not because they care about the money other than as a necessity for stuff like, say, heat and toilet paper). They don’t submit enough. Or at all. They have the writing routine nailed. They craft several short stories, a novel or two, plus non-fiction essays and thoughts, a year . . . They might even work each piece through a couple drafts, so they’re pretty solid bits of work . . . and then, nothing. They happily move into their next story’s world because writing is about the writing, don’t you know?

Well, I do know. And I totally believe that. Celebrate it. Love it.

So imagine my horror when I realized that, yikes, I’ve become one of those people who talks about wanting to write as a career, but doesn’t do the work needed. Only, in fact, does half the work (the most important part though, I still brag). I write. Regularly. Amass quite a few words, even. (Er . . . actually the example two paragraphs ago was taken from my own life.)

But I fall down in the submissions department. Terribly. Yes, I have quite a few short stories out in the world now, along with some non-fiction, and a novella under a penname (hopefully to be joined by a sister story very soon!)—but I’ve been writing for years. I have multiple novels and a myriad of short stories that I’ve sent out a few times, then put away—and they’re stories I still believe in. I’m not talking about my file of those-that-shall-not-be nameds.

And why do I wimp out and epic-fail in the business end of the writing life? Well, there’s probably a lot of complex reasons, but let’s boil it down. I’m insecure. But aren’t we all? And isn’t life short? Yes, and yes!

Usually at this time of year, I’ve just returned home from SiWC, primed to work and wildly inspired anew. And now, despite not attending the conference this year, it’s like my body and brain remember. I weirdly, no doubt because of the company I kept in London, feel a similar November-surge of refreshed motivation and commitment.

I don’t regret the time I spend “merely” writing—it’s the most essential part of storytelling, and I’m still learning how to do it—but it’s time for me to find a balance. (Gag!)

I want the teeter-totter to work as it should, an exhilarating ride of constant motion . . . so, yes, I will keep exploring new thoughts, new ideas, new worlds through new words and stories . . . but I will put more weight behind the business part of my writing, the polishing and shining, the submitting, submitting, submitting.

What about you? Do you relate to my teeter-totter at all? If so, which end do you need to add more weight to?

P.S. Just saying “SiWC” here made me realize I have to attend in 2014! Unless I “must” go overseas again, ahahahahahahahaha! ;)

Today is my day … I’m off and away!

It feels a bit weird to post this copy of my October 2013 column because I’ve been on my marvelous trip and am back already, but as this blog is the best way for me to archive my Terrace Standard column, and because some of you may be curious about what I got up to in London, sharing this still seems the thing to do. Enjoy!

I suspect my November column may share reflections on my trip. Oh, wait, no! Now I’ve gone and spoiled the surprise. I guess I should’ve said: Spoiler alert: in November’s column I’ll share reflections on my trip. ;)

And now, without further ado, I present “Today is my day … I’m off and away!” by me, Ev Bishop, originally published in the Terrace Standard, October 30, 2013 as my monthly column “Just a Thought.”


Photo by Erik Daniel Drost, Flickr

Photo by Erik Daniel Drost, Flickr

I’ve long-loved Dr Seuss’s book Oh, the places you’ll go! For being silly and hilarious, it’s oddly inspiring, and whenever I read it, I’d want to travel and wonder when, when, when?

I love almost everything about Terrace, but I’ve always been fascinated by other places and hoped to travel physically, not just through the words of a story or pictures in books (though I wouldn’t trade those journeys and adventures!).

And I’ve gone on some very fun gallivants—lots of road trips and camping excursions, annual conferences, and beach seeking. But I’ve always, always, always—since I was barely able to read—wanted to go to England, particularly London.

And guess what? The day has arrived. Literally. I leave tomorrow (or, rather, since you’re reading this in the paper—I left last week!).

London is definitely romanticized in my mind, and I don’t know if my trip can possibly live up to my expectations (except even as I write that a little voice is yelling, “Of course it will. It totally will. You are going to love, love, LOVE it!).

I can hardly read over my itinerary without squealing—oh, who am I kidding? I don’t even try not to squeal. I’m staying with one of my best friends and a favourite fellow writer, so it’s really a holiday dream trip.

Here’s our rough plan (please forgive the copious exclamation marks. I can’t help myself):

Day 1 – I arrive, YAY! Most likely very jet-lagged—or so everybody warns. I suspect I’ll be too freakishly excited to be tired! A drive about tour, then dinner in London. Then, supposedly, wine and chatting at my friend’s flat, but I suspect the first sip will put me to sleep.

Day 2 – Weather permitting we will tour Highgate Cemetery, and visit Trafalgar Square, Leicester Square, China Town, and the Covent Garden area. My friend also wants us to “pop into” the Natural Portrait Gallery just to see Van Gogh’s Sunflowers (Her words, “Just for a minute because it’s free and near the door, so it won’t take long.”—mind boggling!)

Day 3 – Church of some kind, somewhere. Visiting and walkabout. Harrods for tea!

Day 4 – The Natural History Museum and Westminster Abbey. Also Big Ben, dinner in Soho (at my friend’s favourite fish restaurant, Randall and Aubin), then sightseeing and exploring the area.

Day 5 – Off to Lancashire on the train to visit family I’ve never yet met, and seeing cool rural things full of my roots (am hoping for a cemetery, along with the old family halls and farms).

Day 6 – Day in Lancashire, evening train back to London. I’m so freakishly excited about the train! I’m first class on the way down, and last class (ha ha) on the way back. If only I had Harry Potter-esque robes for the journey.

Day 7 – The Tower of London and St. Paul’s Cathedral.

Day 8 – Hyde Park and explore Notting Hill area.

Day 9 – Our chauffeur (a.k.a. my friend’s hubby) will deliver us to Stonehenge, and then we’ll head to Oxford for exploring and dinner/drinks in the Eagle and Child—the pub, established in 1644, that J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis and the Inklings had their weekly writers’ meetings!

Day 10 – Stratford Upon Avon!!!!! I will see Shakespeare’s grave!!!! Eeieieieieieieieeieieeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!!!!

Day 11 – Up in the air . . . again, literally. I don’t fly out until afternoon, so I may sneak in a little something else.

I have a brand new sketchbook journal in honour of my trip, along with a package of gorgeous drawing pens as I have delusions of doodling things I see and trying to jot down interesting bits I spy and hear and experience. I suspect, however, the journal will be neglected as I ogle my surroundings eyes wide, mouth agape. I can’t wait!

And on that note . . . I should pack. Hold the fort until I’m back.

To Capture the Moon –

We had a gorgeous full moon last night, and in honour of it and the thoughts the moon always triggers in me, here is today’s Déjà vu Thursday. Enjoy, and good luck in your own attempts to capture the moon, or whatever else you’re seeking. :)
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The yellowed-ivory moon rose over the snow topped mountains in the near distance. Huge bellied and magnificent, she sat heavy in the periwinkle sky of the early spring evening, queen of all she surveyed. And I, a peasant beneath her, awed by her visage and her serene scrutiny, deserted my leaf-raking and flowerbed cleaning and ran for a camera—completely taken in: this was the night I’d capture the moon.

I fetched my camera, and . . .

Completely failed in my quest. I have seen gorgeous photographs of the moon. The people who take them are magicians. Or perhaps they too think, You call this image beautiful, breathtaking, magical? No, you should have seen the moon that night. I didn’t even come close.

I know in seeking that illusive picture of the moon, concepts (magic spells!) like aperture, ISO, and EV 1 or 2 units come into play, along with tools like telephoto lenses, tripods, and the like. I have heard that I can master them. And perhaps I will. Strive. Try.

My first pronouncement—“completely failed”—softened under her encouraging glow as the night darkened around her. I emerged instead with a lesson, applicable to my writing and so many other parts of my life. The attempt is the joy, is the success, is the purpose. The moon will never be captured fully, but she can be suggested, alluded to, conjured, imagined, dreamt. . . .

And as if to affirm that truth, I discovered that two of the twenty or so shots I took turned out . . . not bad. Though nowhere close to how beautiful the moon actually was on April 6, or how she overtook the horizon and my imagination, I hope they hint. . . .

So the aftermath of my night’s chase? Most often with words, but sometimes using picture, paint or other, I’ll keep seeking to express the beauty and mysteries that sometimes surprise us in the day or wait and appear only fleetingly at night. And most often I’ll miss the mark, not accomplish what I’m shooting for, but that’s okay. I accept the quest. I revel in it. I delight in it. And who knows? Sometimes I might come . . . close.

Find a place you trust . . . Part II

A private space

Photo copyright Ev Bishop

The Saturday before last, I wrote about Rule 1 (Find a place you trust and then try trusting it for a while) from Corita Kent’s Immaculate Heart College Art Department Rules. This week I fully intended to explore one of her other wise instructions, but realized I wasn’t finished with finding that place you trust (or it wasn’t finished with me).

I previously thought of the place she refers to on inner terms: finding that place within you that wants to create, allowing it room in your life, and having faith that it will always be there within you, ready when you are. I still think that’s the most helpful reflection on the quote (for me)—yet a literal, physical space also strikes me as very important.

I know other writers who can pile up plots, twist story threads, and ponder deep thoughts in coffee shops, on buses, in parks . . . you name it. Their muses seem to spring to life and find amusement anywhere and everywhere. Not so for me.

Perhaps ironically, creative spontaneity is more likely to hit me when I plant my butt at a specific time, with great regularity. The more disciplined I am in carving out time and adhering to it, the more wild my imagination and flights of fancy seem to be. I don’t really understand that . . . but it’s how it works for me. And the same can be said about having a private space to work that’s all my own—that people don’t interrupt me in, that I can trust is for my eyes only.

One of the greatest gifts I ever gave my writing (thanks to my husband’s ability with a hammer and saw) was my own work station in my old house—a corner nook in the heart of the house, that, literally, put my nose in the corner for my writing stints. Now I have an actual office. With a door. I love—and I need—to be able to shut the world out, while I go inwards.

The idea of people watching me work and wondering what I’m up to is intimidating, makes me self-conscious, pulls me out of whatever world I’m trying to tread into. Random questions, or, worse—gulp and blech!—requests to “share” a piece in progress shuts me down. Doesn’t inspire at all.

One of the most damaging things I ever did to my writing (twice, before I learned!) was to share first a long short story, then later a novel (much worse!) with a “first reader” (different people each time), before I felt the stories were ready to be read.

It took a bit to recover, but I learned a valuable lessons (why are those often so painful?). I not only need a private, physical place I can trust. I need a private emotional place. This is very subjective and personal, but I have no interest and see no value in having young drafts responded to, let alone critiqued. But you learn what works for you as you go along. . . . Other writers swear by a more shared “process.” Still, I think, most writers would say that first drafts especially require privacy. That they, at least need to be able to choose when and if and how the bit of their souls they put into print are revealed.

So yes, for me, the place I need to find, keep and trust that Kent refers is both figurative and literal, but I’d love to hear thoughts on this. Do you need a private place to work, or do you like public/shared spaces? And when it comes to projects . . . do you workshop and share as you go along, or do you, like me, prefer to wait ‘til the story is solid, quite close (sans final cutting and polishing) to what you envision the finished result will be?

Inklings, Prcrastinators, Me…

Photo by en.wikipedia user, Remember, and has been released into the public domain.

Photo by en.wikipedia user, Remember, and has been released into the public domain.

Well, it’s a Déjà vu Thursday once again, and this re-shared post, though perhaps not the most amazing piece I’ve ever written, feels super-exciting and completely apropos for two reasons:

1) The Surrey International Writers Conference is just around the corner, and it always kindles thoughts on the importance of a writer’s community—thoughts that are more poignant this year, as I’m actually not attending the conference (for the first time in ten years!).

2) Right around the time of SiWC, I’ll be in London, England . . . but making a side trip to Oxford where I’ll do what? Well, have lunch and a drink (or two, ha ha) in The Eagle and Child! (Yes, that’s right—the pub where C.S.Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien and the rest of the Inklings used to meet up.) To say I’m excited about EVERYTHING surrounding the trip would be the silliest understatement! Most of all, I just can’t wait to spend ten days with one my best friends (and one of my favourite writers), Jen Brubacher. Friends, especially ones who share your passions, are wonderful gifts.

Anyway, that was a ridiculously long introduction. Enjoy this week’s Déjà vu!

- – - – - – - – - – - – -

C.S. Lewis is one of my favourite writers. I love his Narnia creations, and his books on Christian faith (most notably, Mere Christianity and The Problem With Pain) were instrumental in bringing me to Christ. It was, however, his writing in A Grief Observed that most spoke to me. Though losing a wife and losing a mother are ultimately different; loss is ultimately the same and Lewis’s honest writings about sorrow helped me. And re-affirmed my conviction that books and story—fiction and non—are crucial helpers to us humans as we try to figure out how to live and what it mean to be, well, human. It’s not giving Lewis too much credit to say he’s one of the reasons* I started writing again.

But it’s not really C.S. Lewis I want to write about today. It’s his Inklings—a writing group that, from what I’ve gathered, consisted of twelve or so members (including J.R.R. Tolkien). I won’t embarrass myself with the romantic view I have of the bunch holed up in some pub, corner of a library, or ancient book and antique laden reading room. I won’t confess that thinking of them, I always feel the warmth of a crackling fire glowing from a grate and see it casting looming shadows of the literary greats along the walls—shadows that grow as their stories did, well into the night. And I won’t admit that I’m sure they always drank port—its scarlet red shimmering as firelight refracted off the crystal glasses containing it—cheers! And of course there’s cigar smoke. And equally of course, somehow said smoke is sweet and mellow and doesn’t make me gag or give me a headache just being in the same room with it.

Oh, how jealous I was of his writing group! And then I got to be part of my own—a smaller group, though, I think, not lesser for being less. We try to meet in person once a year or so (and usually manage to, thanks in part to the huge pull of SiWC—but it’s tricky as we hail from different parts of B.C., and now, London, England), and we meet online regularly in a private forum called Procrastination (which makes us Procrastinators now, doesn’t it?). We drink lots of tea and coffee—and only occasionally port. I do have a wood fire that warms me—or at least the living room near me. We all have tonnes of books—or at least read tonnes of books. I don’t smoke cigars, but can’t speak for the others in the group.

I wish I lived in a place where we could all be together, at least monthly, but I can’t complain too much because I live in a time where despite huge geographical differences, we can still maintain very close relationships and share our words in real time, almost instantaneously.

It has been said that C.S. Lewis would’ve written and published all that he did without the Inklings (and the same has been said of Tolkien), and I suspect that may be true—at least partially. I think his writing community was a huge help to him, creatively and emotionally and practically.

The writing life can be a lonely, misunderstood and alienating (except when it’s the glorious opposite of all those things!). The writing craft is daunting—you only master one thing to notice six other problems you’d never even thought of dealing with. And the publishing world? Well, let’s just say it’s always been rife with tales of doom and gloom and the end of books and reading—not the happiest news when one’s trying to eke out a living with their words. Meeting with kindred spirits who like you, who like your stories, who are kind and funny and compassionate—even while they’ll straightforwardly tell you what is and isn’t working with your stories—keep you keeping on.

In James W. Miller’s review of Diana Pavlac Glyer’s The Company They Keep: C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien as Writers in Community, he says that, “using a formula for determining influence created by another scholar, Karen Lefevre, Glyer analyzes the way the Inklings served as Resonators (encouraging voices), Opponents (thoughtful critics), Editors, and Collaborators (project teammates) for one another. She then adds her own fifth category, that they were Referents who wrote about one another and promoted one another’s books to publishers and the public.”

When I read that description, I thought, Egad—I’m so lucky! I have the good fortune of being part of a community like that too.

How about you? What is your writing community like? Are you part of a writing group? Does it have a name? Is it a face-to-face group or an online one? Do you feel there’s an advantage to either type of meeting?

- – – – – – – – – – – –

* Well, him, Stephen King, and Julia Cameron—bwahahahaha, what a combination! I wonder what on earth they’d think of being grouped together?)

Find a place you trust

Trust That Place

Trust That Place

A week or so back, I wrote about the power and inspiration I found in Corita Kent’s words, “Nothing is a mistake. There’s no win and no fail. There’s only make.” I then promised (threatened!) to share my thoughts on some of the other Immaculate Heart College Art Department Rules in the future. Well, the future, to quote some guy from somewhere, sometime, is now. And I’m starting with Rule 1.

Find a place you trust and then try trusting it for a while.

If you read my blog, you’ve no doubt heard me allude to some of my many insecurities and neuroses as a writer (and sometime, just to change things up, I’m going to write about the flipside—the bizarre ego and arrogance I also have . . . but that’s another day). I almost always go on to say that the solution is to write anyway. Write through the fear. Write through the conviction that whatever I’m writing is crap. Write through the confidence that this piece is the one that will finally pull the curtain from in front of everyone’s eyes and reveal me for the impostor I am. Etc., etc., etc! (And I believe that: writing through, despite—even because of—whatever terror or sadness or confusion I’m feeling is crucial.)

I’m sure I’ve also shared that when I’m writing, in the act itself, I’m freed from my obsessive inner whining, criticizing, and self-abuse. I love stories. I love words. I love the adventure and freedom and challenge in trying to express the worlds within me—and I’m endlessly fascinated by the worlds and wild places that exist in others. On the outside we often share such similar lives—and our inner lives have similarities too—but how those similarities manifest in our dreams, visions, and imaginations are so crazily divergent.

I trust that writing place, when I’m deep into a plot, running through an essay, or mucking about in the dark recesses of my past, one hand out so I don’t smash my face on a low hanging limb, searching for the word or phrase to get that image out on the page.

I don’t always know why I write (though I try to articulate it once in awhile)—or what I should write. (Is there a form of writing that’s higher than another? Are some literary or artistic pursuits more worthy than others? Is seeking to entertain enough? Can one ever aspire to more than that without being a pretentious idiot?) But I trust that I should be writing. And I trust that inner place.

It’s the latter part of the quote I’m working on: And then try trusting it for a while. As in, maybe letting myself get all crazy with self-doubt and angst and really mean self criticism when I’m not physically writing is something I can work to let go of . . . and, actually, as I write this, I realize something that makes me freakishly happy: to a large degree, I have let go of it.

Yes, I’m still familiar with the winding tunnels of insecurity—but I have map to get through them. I know the language of creativity curses—and have counter spells. I used to want to write, need to write—yet didn’t write. I didn’t trust the place—and wasn’t sure it existed, or that I could find it if it did exist.

It is still hard to get to the page . . . fighting inner dragons, toughening up your maiden self, nurturing your mother side, honing your inner crone . . . it’s hard work (exhilarating, joyful, fun—but also intimidating, trying, scary . . .) But something has changed. I used to worry . . . What if there’s nothing there when I try to write? Now I know there’s stuff there, will always be stuff there . . . It’s more like I have to use a scythe to cut all the distracting ideas away so I can get to the ones I really want to explore.

I trust the place. I’ve been trusting it for a while. And that’s . . . well, pretty cool.

Lessons From Bubble Pop

Lessons From Bubble Pop.


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