While I was away . . .

I’m still in the process of Organizing My Office (note the capital letters, please). It’s a convoluted task. While I was away this summer, messmaker elves (a breed similar to the shoemaker’s elves in the old fairy tale, but nowhere near as helpful or benign) were hard at work. Or at least I’m pretty sure they were involved–I have no idea who else would’ve left stacks of notes jotted on crumpled scraps of paper, piles of mail (opened, but not dealt with), and mountains of miscallanea across the region called (in fond remembrance) my desk.

While other writers are in full fall mode and have already written inspiring posts about new energy to pursue goals and freshly scrutinized, revamped plans, I’m pulling out another trash bin. However, there’s been some progress. My keyboard is cleared (I do have my priorities), my year-at-a-glance calendar is updated (yes, I consider September the first month in a new year), and I’ve pulled down my corkboard (not sure that was a good decision) to replace with two new ones . . .

Before digging into my day’s work though (editing and writing a column, then organizing if I get to it ;-)), I wanted to share two exciting things that happened while I was away (no elves are involved this time): (1) I had a story accepted by AlienSkin Magazine. “Red Bird” will appear in their December 2009/January 2010 issue. (2) I got an e-mail about how well Cleavage – Breakaway Fiction For Real Girls is doing. It’s gone into a second printing and is listed in the Canadian Children’s Book Centre’s Best Books for Kids & Teens 2009, as well as in Resource Links Best of 2008 for Grades 7 – 12. The editors Deb Loughead and Jocelyn Shipley continue to promote it and the book now has a trailer. I know my story is just one small part of the anthology, but I’m very excited about how the whole book has been received!

Autumn is re-energizing, but even more inspiring than new post-it-notes, colour-keyed schedules, and the like, is the fact that bit-by-bit I’m starting to amass a body of fiction. I’ve published non-fiction for awhile, but I’m eager to share my stories. Slowly, slowly it’s happening. It’s happening! And I don’t want to rush my year, but I’m already wondering what nice surprises I’ll look back at next September.

Ye Olde Idea Shoppe

Stephen King has said he’s frequently asked where he gets his ideas. He gives slightly varying answers, but one of *my favourites, he attributes to a friend of his: “I buy them at the supermarket.” Now it’s obvious he was being a bit facetious—on some level asking a writer where he/she gets ideas is like asking the moon why it hangs in the sky or where the ocean gets its water. There probably is a perfectly reasonable scientific explanation to the query, but I’ll be darned if I’d ever know how to articulate it. And even the best responses would be destroyed with one further question: why? Why do you get ideas for stories? Why indeed. But I digress. Back to ideas, where they come from, and the ones at grocery stores—oh yes, the grocery store. S.K. and his quoted buddy were speaking partially in jest, but they would agree that the statement is factual.

Story ideas abound in grocery stores. They arrive in the produce section (who hasn’t lifted a big yellow clump of bananas and thought about the huge, hairy spider that might have arrived with the shipment?). They lurk about the deli. Why does man keep standing there like that? Is he going to try to shoplift bulk olives? Does he have a thing for the girl at the counter? Is she his long lost child? They sit in well-ordered rows in the canned foods sections. Do you know what’s in that can of refried beans—the third one back in the middle of the row? Well, do you?

When short on cash, or just not in the mood for a big shop, have no fear. Ideas are everywhere:

In conversation, like when a friend recently expressed his suspicion that the reason there are so many more vaccinations now than when we were kids isn’t disease-prevention at all. It’s a safe guard for world governments worried about over-population. If at anytime they want to cull the population, they just have to press a button and release whatever it is that reacts with whatever injection. Story idea!

In overheard snippets of dialogue. “I can’t believe she’d do that. It’s sickening.” What can’t the speaker believe she’d do? And who’s she? And who, come to think of it, is the speaker? And what’s sickening? How sickening?

In dreams (See, that’s what I’d like to know—forget ideas—where do dreams come from? Come to think of it, a story about where dreams come from would be pretty fascinating!)

In physical work, especially it seems to me, in gardening and yard work.

In doing absolutely nothing (which is why, even when I’m really busy, I strive to have do-nothing time . . . It’s good for your brain).

Even in random personal moments. I bought a full-length formal gown (of all things) two weeks ago. Wearing a dress like that makes you (or makes me, anyway) just feel different. And that made me think of a story idea—what if you walked into a vintage store, tried on an outfit, and suddenly—poof—you were you no longer—or you were, but only in the flesh suit and life of the person who’d owned the apparel you now sported? (Hey, I didn’t say every idea was a good idea.)

Chances are if you’re a writer, you don’t need to find ideas. You need to somehow stop tripping on them as they lift the floorboards late at night. You need to carefully replace the stone you moved only to find another one scuttling beside a centipede. You need to do something, anything, to stifle them, so you don’t lose focus on the ones you’ve already collected and are trying to coax onto the bright white page. You understand full well how ideas just appear, well, everywhere, from nowhere.

My question for people who ask, “Where do you get your ideas?” is this: Don’t you get random weird ideas all the time?

I know that not everyone writes, but it never actually occurred to me that perhaps not everyone is inundated with the what-ifs, questions, and strange observations that spark story ideas. I think I thought that ideas came to everyone, just that some people are compelled to do something with them . . .

* If you happen to know where on earth I read this bit—I want to say it’s in On Writing—could you give me page number? I’d like to give the actual name of the person King attributes it to, and I’d like to confirm how it’s worded. Thanks!

The Waiting Game

Is there anything more onerous to a writer than the waiting game? Most people tackle a project and then, well, they’re done. Not fiction writers, oh no. They “finish” their work (which could take months, a year, or even years) and send it away, only to have the really time consuming part of the job start: the waiting.

Lurking dangers surround all that waiting. Self-doubt has lots of time to imagine unkind things being said to your story’s face (and to do its own unkind muttering in your head). The desire for regular coffee money might trick you into some cave of a job where you’re paid by the hour. Writer’s block (if you subscribe to that kind of notion) is more prone to leap upon you and starting chewing on your throat—especially if what you want to write next might depend (foolishly!) on whether the circulating work sells (my advice: write like it sells, or don’t and start something entirely new—just write!).

It’s not all bad though. If you let it, waiting to hear back can be kind of like counting down to a vacation. Each passing day is one closer to at least some sort of a response, the wait gets sweeter, the anticipation builds. I’ve learned to use the hope that just won’t die (I’m bandaging my throat here as you read!) as motivation to write the next thing. While your words sit on someone’s desk, there is the endless opportunity that said words might find a home—someone might like that story, poem, article, or what-have-you. Nothing is more inspiring than the idea that someone might relate to your offerings and even (gleep!) want more of them. Exciting stuff.

I try to take full advantage of this wait/hope phenomenon by keeping 6 – 8 things “out there” all the time. That way, rejection doesn’t hurt as much (hope sprints over to another project to rest on) and my inner-creep can’t do as much of a job on my self-esteem.

Hmmmm . . . Is there a point to this post? Yes (lectures self), get your stuff out there and keep it out there until it finds a home. And in the meantime, the waiting time, get busy on the next idea.

Happy writing,
☺ Ev

Don’t read agent blogs–just say no, then go and tell!

Gah and gah! I _know_ better, but what did I just go and do? Read an agent’s blog, that’s what. Oh, I know the argument for doing so–to get a line on the industry, to keep up with what’s selling by whom, to whom, for what, yada, yada, yada. Not enough is said about WHY ALL ASPIRING NOVELISTS SHOULD STAY AWAY FROM AGENT BLOGS. They can only make you feel bad. They can only tell you that whatever you’re currently writing is not what’s selling. Or that it might sell, if only you were a gender other than what you are. They can only explain in intelligent, well-articulated ways all the reasons you are a lunatic for even daydreaming about publishing fiction.

My most recent brush with death started out with an agent sharing wisdom her dad had given her when she was a teen. Well, my mom gave me a bit too, including: a leopard can’t change its spots. Whether that was a good quality or a bad one depended on the anecdote it was attached to, but nonetheless, I am convicted of its truth. And I have no desire to even try to change my spots. I–for whatever horrible, unchangeable, unfathomable reason–need to write. BUT I DON’T NEED TO READ AGENT BLOGS.

Maybe one day I’ll be the novelist some agent blogs about saying, “despite everything everyone knew to not work, to not sell, and to not be a valid expenditure of time, energy and breath, Ev Bishop blah, blah, blah…” Or perhaps not. But in any event, I’ll take a lot more pleasure in my WIP and waste a lot less time trying to dance to a tune that constantly changes.

On that note, I leave you with a quote from a writing forum I frequent: “My final thought is that you need to write what you believe makes your story stronger not to please some imagined editor.”

Hear, hear!

Severely traumatized, but drinking coffee, typing and feeling reasonably sure of a complete recovery,
Ev

p.s. I suppose there is value in reading an agent’s blog before you pitch to him/her–or so say all the agent blogs anyway!

Goals for a new year….

Happy New Year! (Okay, so my wish is a bit late—sorry about that!)

It seems that making New Year’s resolutions has gone out of vogue for some people (maybe for lots of people?), but even if I don’t always accomplish my goals, I feel there’s a real benefit in thinking through the year past and contemplating the year ahead.

2009 is already looking exciting, full of “big” events and changes. My daughter, who’s currently working toward her pilot’s license, will turn sixteen and will definitely be driving a car. My son will enter his teens, and my husband and I will be separated for longer than we ever have been before (almost two months), as he works out of town this summer.

Some things won’t change though. I will still be writing, still striving to better my craft, still trying to express the worlds that live in my head.

I’m hoping to land an agent and/or publishing contract for a novel or two this year, but it’s a hard thing to set as a goal—so many factors in making it happen are out of my control. That said however, some of the most important steps along the path to publication are fully within my control—are fully in the control of any writer.

We are in charge of whether we write regularly. We determine our word counts. We focus (hopefully) on ever improving our craft and storytelling. We decide on how many agents or markets we submit work to. We are responsible for not giving up.

I’ve made goals that I will meet in 2009, knowing that little by little they will help me reach my goal of having a novel “out there” are:

~ Edit current WIP and submit it to 100 agents (unless I get one before that point—hope, hope!).

~ Start a new novel, and strive to have at least the first draft complete by the end of October.

~ Write (or edit/polish) six short stories and submit them about.

~ Attend SiWC 2009

I hope you’ve set goals this year too—if you haven’t, do so now. It’ll get you fired up.

Cheers to us in 2009: Great word counts, much growth!

~ Ev

Write here. Write now.

I meet and work with a lot of aspiring writers, and I have heard every imaginable excuse as to why they want to write, but can’t—everything from where they live (like only people in London, New York, or Istanbul can pick up a pen or sit down at a computer?), to having too many demands at home or at work, to not having enough other things to do to “feed” their muse. Sometimes I find myself making up reasons for why I couldn’t, why I didn’t, why I shouldn’t write today….

I have also met countless writers who achieve mind-boggling word counts in spite of brutal schedules and complex life situations. I aspire to be like them (in terms of output, not suffering!). I want to write 30+ novels. I want to craft essays, articles, and short stories too numerous to mention…. I want to reach out into the void with my words and have even just one person respond with, that’s how I feel.

I love Barbara Kingsolver’s line, “There is no perfect time to write…. There is only now.” The three forces—writers’ excuses, writers’ examples, and BK’s wisdom—forge my own writing motto: Write here. Write now.

May this blog be an encouragement and a motivation to those of us who write, not soon, not later, not when we’re moved to, not when it’s easier to do so, but now.