Where I Write . . .

My officeTwo blogs that I love to frequent – Murderati and scribo ergo sum – recently had posts about writing spaces: Murderati over a period of weeks as its multiple authors take turns describing and sharing pictures (you’ll just have to visit the site and scroll back through recent weeks for all the lovely inspiring nooks and crannies) and Jen Brubacher here sharing her own unique view of her own little niche in London.

It got me thinking and dreaming a little about where I write. I always wanted to be one of those coffee shop writers who wear cool clothes, smoke endless cigarettes (Whoops, that’s politically incorrect now, isn’t it? — That was my 80s’ daydream. Smoking wasn’t as bad then!), and write reams and reams of brilliant prose inspired by, yet simultaneously oblivious to, the streams of humanity walking past the window, fighting at the table beside them, flirting with or harassing the barista . . .

I wanted to be Hemingwayesque, writing in some Cuban bar that would eventually name a drink after me . . .

I wanted to be ferreted away in some ancient ivy-ridden library–a serious academic with thick, non chic glasses (so non chic that they were chic!). I wanted to have my work space be the turret in an old Victorian styled house overlooking the ocean . . . I wanted to write in . . .

Truth be told, none of those venues suit me. I like absolute quiet or the white noise of my family crashing about the house, doing their thing around me. I can’t be in too interesting a place or all I do is people watch or explore.

I write in an odd little space in the heart of my home — literally the walk through point to get to any part of the house — at a little corner desk designed and handcrafted for me by my husband. The walls have an ever changing assortment of post it notes, quotes, cartoons, postcards, to do lists and random artwork. The shelf contains bottles, sea glass, old spoons, sea shells, rocks, pine cones, fishing net, a tea set, lots of dust and well, other curiosities and pretties that caught my imagination during a walk or explore.

My alter-ego Bobblehead Ev (or Mev, a.k.a. Mini Ev, actually) and her mini Bert sidekick (who, of course, matches my Bert sidekick) keep me company. I stash a lot of pens plus junk in my first “big girl” mug–a yellow smiley orb that’s totally awesome.

It may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but I love that it doesn’t have windows. When I stare ahead all I see is the world inside my head. But I also love that I’ve layered it with lots of doodads to distract inspire me.

It’s always immaculately tidy or a huge jumbled mess. There’s no middle ground. And hands down, it’s where I think and dream best.

How about you? Where do you write? In a specific spot or nest or on the fly where ever the muse takes you?

p.s. I’m definitely not the only writer/reader interested in writers’ workplaces. Google “writers’ spaces” and have fun!

Where Stories Come From

People frequently ask me where I get ideas from and I’ve even blogged about this topic before in “Ye Olde Idea Shoppe.” While I occasionally have a clear connection between input and my vision for output (Oh, for “Such and Such” I was sitting under a bridge when X, Y and Z happened and Bam! I was hit with the story idea), I generally stumble through some lame mumble: Well, I don’t really know exactly. Ideas are everywhere.

Today, however, I’m happy to share a concrete bit of knowledge—including pictures—about where some of my ideas come from.

This weekend I was garage saling with my aunt and suddenly this crazy handcrafted basket made of twigs and burlap and leather appeared from out of nowhere.

“It’s a witch’s basket!” my aunt proclaimed with a small cackle. Indeed, it is Someone Interesting’s basket. I do not know what ideas exactly are coming from the basket, but there are many and I’m interested to see which ones I try to put to paper.

How about you? In the mood for a writing exercise? Here’s the basket—in three locations for your imagining pleasure. Write a scene or a short that features it or its owner, be he/she a long time keeper of the basket or someone who has just stumbled upon it.

If you do write something about this basket and want to share, I’d love to read what you come up with: just point me to the place!

Happy writing,
Ev

Is it weird to post a link to an interview of me?

In answer to my title’s question . . . perhaps. But I can’t help it. The questions were really fun and I’m excited and flattered to be featured on one of my favourite blogs, scribo ergo sum–a blog that just coincidentally happens to belong to to one of my favourite writers, Jen Brubacher. It is the best coincidence of all that she is also a dear friend.

Anyway, I always love a chance to talk about writing and if you’re at all interested in hearing about my first publication, how I got into writing and editing, what my opinions about ebooks vs. traditional books are, what my favourite writing books are, plus other intriguing writerly things ;-), please check it out at: http://jbrubacher.blogspot.com/2010/07/interview-with-ev-bishop.html

INK WELL Spring 2010

Yay, another issue of Centennial Christian’s artzine INK WELL has been put to bed. We had over twenty contributions this time!

Click HERE to preview the whole magazine online. I think you’ll like it.

It features stories by Matthew Buxton, Rebekah Coburn, Laura Cooper, Brook Peerless, Michelle Roseboom, Brixton Sandhals, and Danelle Wiebe, plus poems by Brook Peerless, Shivohn Peters, Michelle Roseboom, Cora Stelmaschuk, Emma Tettolowski, and Danelle Wiebe.

Artwork contributors include me, Rebekah Coburn, Dorothy Jedrzejczyk, Reegin Maki, Vera Nordmann, Sarah Peden, Karyn Roseboom, Maria Steigmiller, and Cora Stelmaschuk.

Working with these freakishly inspired creatives makes me really happy and puts me in excellent company! I’m grateful that I get to know them and I hope that as they go onto bigger endeavors and publications, they keep me in the loop, so I can add their work to my reading piles (or their art to my walls).

FROM THE HEART – an anthology for a good cause

I’m excited to be able to announce that the public presale of the Writers for Charity anthology From the Heart, edited by Beth Davis, is now open. All the profits from this book will go to children’s charities (specifically, Children’s Hospital and St. Jude’s Children’s Research Foundation).

Don’t feel pressured to buy, of course, but it is a good cause and I’m happy to have a previous column reprinted in within its pages–“Simple Things” an ode to my then little son and his song about, of all things, cud!

Public Pre-Sale Prices:
Single Book: $22.50 + S&H
Carton (six books): $130 + S&H

Books are regularly priced at $25 each.

To take advantage of the reduced prices please email the following information to presale@writeforcharity.com:

* Name
* Shipping Address
* Phone Number
* Number of Books Desired
* Payment Method
* Email (for invoice purposes)

You can also visit www.writeforcharity.com and click on “The Book” for more information.

And whether you’re interested in the anthology or not, I hope this finds you doing very well and enjoying your spring immensely! I will be posting a new entry later today or tomorrow, so come back soon.

Happy writing and reading,
Ev

Going Through Changes

I started a new job April 27 and as I was driving home from work the first Friday, reflecting on the week’s training, the thought occurred to me: I’m not a kid anymore.

It was a happy thought, triggered by the realization that I’m, for the most part, free of the obsessive worry to please that plagued me in younger years. I have confidence. Or at least far more than I used to

I attribute this change to a myriad of ongoing experiences. Running my own business has shown me that I’m competent in a variety of areas. Writing has given me a safe place to vent and to explore, while providing a sense of fulfillment that makes “job satisfaction” less critical to me. I want to do well at work, because that’s my personality type, but my job is a job, not my life. Aging itself, which has lent perspective about what to concern myself about.

This “not a kid anymore” strain of thought was lovely and apropos as it occurred on the eve of my 38th birthday and coincided with the realizations my main character has made lately.

I’m fascinated by how changes in our personalities or general approach to life can sneak up on us, catching us almost unawares—like until we’re put into a position where our personality/beliefs, etc are tested, we’d never know they’d deviated.

While my change in self-perception/outlook was positive, sometimes these sneaking deviations from formerly held views and approaches to life are negative. The person who wakes up on his 30th wedding anniversary and realizes he doesn’t love his spouse (or that she has never loved him). The person of religious faith who, after years of devotion, worries that their faith is baseless. The fifty-year-old who realizes now that their children are fully grown that they’d made the same serious mistakes raising them that their own parents did . . .

The most powerful part of these inner revelations is not the actual change in our thinking, but the awareness of our change and what we go on to do in light of it—how it affects the way we live and the way we relate to people in our lives.

The most interesting novels to me show characters grow and develop (and regress!) over time—they explore the twisty path of human experience, not just event.

I hope your characters have pivotal moments—large and small—in their interior lives, perhaps kindled by action happening in the story, perhaps intrinsic to, thus feeding the story. It doesn’t matter which comes first—the plot, then the characters’ change and growth or a character’s change that leads to some explosive plot, but inner change has to be there.

We shouldn’t create static characters, because humans aren’t static. Even in the silliest, most simple ways they change, grow, discover—and are changed by noticing that they do.

So what do you think? Do your characters change in big and small ways through your story or series? Do you agree that it’s important?

Do-it-yourself online writing retreat

The writing life can be a tad isolating, so a few years back, I started my own writing forum, Procrastination, as a way of keeping my treasured friends-who-also write close as we grew further and further apart geographically. We’re a small board; maybe five of us post regularly, with only three or so more than that who pop in every couple of months. We’ve even taken to (most years) meeting up for the community-building/inspiration-boosting/writing-celebration of them all–the Surrey International Writers’ Conference.

Then this year at SiWC, late Saturday night, missing one of our Procrastinators who couldn’t make the conference, feeling sad and a bit blown away that our wonderful weekend was almost over again already, we started discussing (or maybe bellyaching, just a bit ;-)) how Surrey gives us energy/motivation for our whole writing year, and how the conference never arrived a moment too soon . . . In fact, wouldn’t it be great if we could afford do two a year–SiWC, plus some other retreat or something six months or so later?

Enter fantastic brain wave! It occurred to us that we already had a perfect meet-up place, and instead of just using it as a message/conversation board, as fun and valuable as that is, why not use it for something a little more planned out. An online writing retreat! Our set up was simple.

I created a private thread (only people who had signed up ahead of time could see the thread when they entered Procrastination.) On the set day, at a set time, we each posted one exercise. Then we spent that full day, plus one more day writing according to our own schedules. On the third day, again at a set time, we each posted our results to each exercise (with no disclaimers about perceived quality, etc). Everyone who signed up committed to reading and responding to each participant’s posts. The result was fantastic–much better than we’d even anticipated in terms of fun, inspiration, and concentrated, results-based motivation.

We all came away a bit in awe that we could write so much in such a short time period–and that a lot of it was “keeper” material, stuff we wanted to do more with, possibly lengthen, possibly tighten and polish and submit as short stories.

Seeing as it was such a success, and how (for now) our ability to take in bigger conferences/retreats is limited to annually, we decided to make it a seasonal event–our spring writing retreat is just around the corner; I’m already excited and brainstorming what exercise I’ll offer.

If you’re part of a small online writing community and feeling a bit low energy in the ol’ writing department, I highly recommend organizing some form of your own online writing retreat. And if you don’t have that kind of online community, but long for a bit of a writing extravaganza/refuelling? Well, come visit me here again soon. A while back I did a writing retreat for one and I’ll post a bit about that in a few days.

Happy writing!
🙂 Ev

Overnight success

A few years back I was listening to a radio interview of a musician who’d just made it big, and the DJ asked her, “So how does it feel to be an overnight success?”

She laughed. “People keep saying that and I have to keep telling them my overnight success took 13 years of really hard work.” She went on to say that her “secret” was to learn to keep working through disappointment and rejection, to keep focused on her love for the music she was creating.

I use her words for encouragement and motivation in my writing life, often—Don’t give up, Ev. Keep writing. You love it and you’re getting better and better. Persist, persist, persist!

Just before starting to write this post, I plugged overnight success took 13 years into Google and was amazed by how many hits it got. Apparently this long arrival of “overnight success” is the rule not the exception—10 years, 13 years, 15 years, 20 years, 32 years—all those were referred to as overnight successes, triumphs, sensations. . . .

And it makes sense. The Arts used to be referred to as Disciplines, a name that better reflects the nature of creative pursuits. I also like referring to writing as a craft, because of the word’s connotations of work, practice, honing, refining . . .

Then just last week, my attention was pointed to an article from August 2006’s Scientific American, “The Expert Mind” by Philip E. Ross. He makes a fascinating, well-supported argument for the idea that “effortful” study and motivation are far larger contributors to success in academic and artistic fields than innate ability.

Here are just two of the quotes that really struck me:

“The 10-year rule [coined by Herbert A. Simon of Carnegie Mellon University] states that it takes approximately a decade of heavy labour to master any field.” ~ Phillip E. Ross

“At this point, many skeptics will finally lose patience. Surely, they will say, it takes more to get to Carnegie Hall than practice, practice, practice. Yet this belief in the importance of innate talent, strongest perhaps among the experts themselves and their trainers, is strangely lacking in hard evidence to substantiate it.” ~ Phillip E. Ross

As I am often dubious about my talent, I find great hope in the studies that Ross references. I love all things word and story related, yes. And sometimes I think I have a modicum of talent, maybe. But I know too many people whose natural talent for storytelling exceeds mine to the point that I should have given up long ago if mastery and success were purely talent-based.

What I do possess, however, is tenacity. I’m stubborn. Always have been—childhood pictures prove me out: mini-Ev, all of four-years-old, brow furrowed obstinately, jaw jutting in firm commitment to my focus. And I have a strong work ethic (my euphemism for obsession ;-)).

But even importantly, I find joy and challenge (yes, even with the frustration!) in the learning, in the toil, in the striving to say it better, be more evocative, be more honest.

There’s a small, weird part of me that knows success as the world calls it won’t be my idea of success at all. The point of writing for me, the fun, is the growth, the power of developing writing muscle, and (I’m sorry, it’s the worst cliché!) the journey . . .

I’ve been writing seriously, working on my craft, for just over ten years. Do I hope to see my novels in print soon? Absolutely. I want to share my stories, to give (hopefully) a bit of what so many others have given to me through their carefully scribed words and thoughts. But when “it” has happened, when I have a book or ten out there, will I think I’ve arrived? Nope. I hope to be the kind of writer whose best work is always yet to come.

So here’s to the work and to overnight successes for us all—be they tomorrow, ten years, or even more from now.

Happy writing,
Ev

Axe sharpening . . .

I was introduced to Ecclesiastes 10:10 the other day—Using a dull axe requires great strength, so sharpen the blade.

The verse was used in the context of faith, how it can be easy to go through the motions, to seem fine when really you’re discouraged and struggling. How instead of taking strength, joy and peace from your faith, sometimes clinging to it can seem like drudgery. The speaker went on to talk about how to sharpen your blade and the importance of doing so.

I appreciated the message and felt the verse applied to a lot aspects of life—relationships, jobs, writing. Almost everything in life, no matter how passionate we are about it, has seasons where continuing on just feels like work, where we wonder if what we seek is actually attainable, where we question whether there is anything special or valuable in what we’re trying to hold on to…

If you’re like me (and since you’re probably a writer reading this blog before getting to down to work, I suspect you are), you’re no stranger to hard work. You’re used to sitting down whether you’re inspired or not and putting words on the page. You’ve steeled yourself against rejection. You will keep wielding your axe because it’s what you need to do—and let’s face it, in the end, a dull axe does the same job as a sharp one. And for that pragmatic attitude and ethic, we should be congratulated. We rock!

Thankfully, not every writing session fit the description above—far from it. We know flow. We’ve embraced the muse. Had those wonderful times when the stories and thoughts in our heads pour out faster than we can type, those moments when we finally glance at the clock we can’t believe that we’ve been writing for hours and we still feel so energized. All is right in the world. All is right in our heads. We are writers; we pour our inky-hearts out on paper—we rock!

I guess what I’m trying to say is yes, persevere when the work is hard and it’s all sweat and fear. But yes, double-yes!—seek those things that remind you that writing is your passion, that make your time spent at the computer less like hacking and more running a warm blade through butter that has fresh bread waiting for it.

Here are a few of the things that sharpen my blade and make me feel that I’ll burst with contentment because I get to write: Spending time with my opera-singer sister and laughing about the angst of the artist’s life. Keeping close contact with writing friends, through e-mail and an online forum. Reading good books. Writing things that are just for me, like poetry. Doing writing exercises and taking “no pressure” classes and workshops—and, maybe ironically, giving workshops. Playing outside, rain, snow, or shine. Making sure I have do-absolutely-nothing slouch time. And (again, perhaps ironically) writing through those uninspired dull-hatchet times.

Have a wonderful writing week, fellow axe-wielders! And if you have time to share, I’d love to know: What sharpens your blade?