Posted in Backstory, Ideas generation, Journals, Writing craft

A writer’s letter to Santa Claus

christmas treeWhat do you give a writer for Christmas?  Most of the lists of suggested gifts are filled with things like computer writing software, printer paper and coffee cups emblazoned with bon mots from writers who have gone before us.  I have a different view of what a writer – like me at least – really covets.  So, apart from the Moleskines which I covet every year, Santa Claus is really the only one who can fill this list.  I’d like to share my 2014 letter to Santa with other writers and aspiring writers.

“Dear Santa:

So we come to the end of another year.  It’s been a year of writing, not writing, writing some more, editing manuscripts, madly searching for a publisher, and taking a foray into self-publishing.  Well, you know what I’ve been through this year.  I’ve worked hard so I know you’ll look kindly on this writer’s little Christmas list.

  1. First, I would like a few Moleskines.[1] I know that they’re expensive as notebooks go. I know that other people in my life can provide these as well – but one can never have enough Moleskine notebooks, can one? After all if they’re good enough for Ernest Hemingway, they’re good enough for the rest of us. I also know that most of my work is digital. But I can’t shake my addiction to those brightly-colored covers. I seem to be inspired to write just by looking at them. Or at least I’m inspired to think about writing. That’s a first step in any project, isn’t it?books
  2. Now to the things that only you can give me. First I’d like the gift of a continually open mind. Let me see ideas everywhere I go and in everything I do (then the Moleskines become very useful, right?). Let that open mind accompany me when I read the newspaper, eavesdrop on conversations in restaurants and airports – well, you get the idea.
  3. I’d also like the gift of patience in the rewriting and editing process. That feeling that comes at the end of a finished manuscript at long last is wonderful, but can put me off from the rigors that are then required in the revision process. I need that forbearance more than anything else to get me through that part of the writing process.
  4. Then, Santa, although I know it might be difficult, I’d like the gift of compassion for all those agents and editors who can’t seem to answer their email in a timely fashion – even when they’ve requested the proposal or manuscript. *deep breath*
  5. I’d also like the gift of creativity so that I can see old ideas in new ways. I have journals filled with all those ideas from my sometimes open mind (see #1), but they are often derivative or jotted down on a whim leaving me without a clue as to context later. Please let me revisit those journals and consider how to turn those ideas on their heads or inside out to come up with a truly innovative approach to the material.
  6. Finally, thicken my skin just a little bit as I prepare to send out a manuscript to readers for pre-publication comment. I’m sure they won’t all love it (as they should).

Well, that’s it for this year Santa.  I’m planning another hard-working writing year and hope to be able to share with you at the end of 2015 just how far I’ve come with these gifts of Christmas 2014.  Merry Christmas!”

[1] For the uninitiated, Moleskines are (as their web site says): “…the heir and successor to the legendary notebook used by artists and thinkers over the past two centuries: among them Vincent van Gogh, Pablo Picasso, Ernest Hemingway…”  You can read about them at and buy them all over the world in book stores and online.  The paper is great and the array of sizes and colors amazing.

Posted in Ideas generation, Journals

Travel as writing inspiration

Who wouldn't be inspired by a beach in Tahiti?  I was.
Who wouldn’t be inspired by a beach in Tahiti? I was.

As I finish draft three of the new book and begin deliberations with a new publisher (more about that in an upcoming post), I’m also thinking about my packing list – that list is the one for an upcoming trip to London, Rome, the Greek Islands, Athens and ultimately five days in Istanbul. Travel is the other love of my life – after my husband, son and my writing.  I’m taking a few notebooks, a great pen, a mini-iPad and a flash drive.  Other than clothes, that should about cover my needs!

The truth is that I think we can be inspired by so many things. Whether we write fiction or non-fiction, we need to be always aware of our surroundings, what we see, what we hear, how we feel about what’s going on around us.  There we can find the genesis of an idea.

As I’ve said before, “The most accurate way to describe my mind is to use the Buddhist term: monkey mind. That’s me.  My mind is always moving; the thoughts are chattering away, unbidden.  Ideas fill my head from morning until night.”  Obviously, this can sometime make real life challenging, but I’ve learned to cope as all writers do.  The truth is that travel – whether to the other side of the world or simply to the other side of your town, province, state or country – opens up my mind t new things if I only pay attention and let my mind fill with the ideas without grasping for them.  Then that’s what the notebooks are for.  I take along several Moleskines™ of different sizes, my favorite kind, a great pen, and an iPad for making electronic notes that I then either store in Dropbox or send to myself as an email.  The flash drive is in case I have access to a computer in an airport lounge or, as is the case on this upcoming trip, in our suite on board the ship that will take us from Rome to Istanbul.

My new character.  What could she be thinking?
My new character. What could she be thinking?

I’ve been inspired with ideas for historical fiction in particular several times in the past. Two great ideas are still gestating in my mind as we speak, since I’ve been embroiled in several non-fiction projects with deadlines and haven’t had time to get back to my real love.  But that time is fast approaching.

One time several years ago, my husband and I were on a ship in the Mediterranean. Believe it or not the ship interior was the inspiration.  Among the various pieces of fabulous artwork on board was a large painting that covered one wall of the piano bar.  I was drawn into the face of the main subject as she sat aboard a ship on what in my mind at least was a transatlantic voyage.  She was a character out of an era that has always fascinated me: the 1920’s.  I photographed her and thought about her, wondering what she was thinking.  I didn’t figure it out until a year later when we visited the Caribbean island of

Bequia and I saw the ruin of a village that was evidently built in the 1960’s but in my mind (and that’s all that really matters to a writer, isn’t it?) it was built much earlier and finally I had a transatlantic connection.  I’ve already started the book.  Maybe I’ll post the first chapter here some time.

Moon Hole, Bequia.  My character is headed here.
Moon Hole, Bequia. My character is headed here.

The places that we’re visiting over the next month and a half are steeped in ancient history. I’ve been doing as much background reading as time permits and I think I’m ready.

I’m going to listen, look, smell, taste and feel some new experiences. I’m going to write those impressions down in my trusty notebooks and then I’m going to come home and write a new book.

Other thoughts about inspiration, keeping journals, and travel:

The Genesis of an Idea

Keeping journals

Maybe Bora Bora will inspire you! (from our travel blog)

Posted in Journals, Writing, Writing craft

A tale of two modes: Paper versus digital

My beloved notebook and my even more beloved computer!
My beloved notebook and my even more beloved computer!

The irony was not lost on me.  As I downloaded Natalie Goldberg’s new book The True Secret of Writing: Connecting Life with Language I knew I was treading on sacred ground: you see (if you are not familiar with Natalie Goldberg, which you should be if you think you’re a writer) Natalie’s writing philosophy is deeply underpinned by the notion of the writing flowing from the heart, through the arm and out the pen as you move your hand across the paper.  Although she acknowledges the utility of the computer, and no doubt uses it herself, the paper clearly has the upper hand in the paper versus digital divide for writing practice.

Last week I changed offices again at the university.  Yes, my time chained to my desk toiling away at chairman-type duties has finally come to an end.  Few people understand the concept of peer governance in university departments: that’s when we all take a turn at being “in charge” and spend a year or two or three with all the responsibility and no authority.  I have done my duty now three times – one for a full three-year term and twice to fill in for year-long sabbaticals for others – and now return to doing what I do best and prefer.  That would be teaching and writing.  However, changing offices is not without its substantial benefits.

true secret of writing natalie goldbergThe requirement to take files out of cabinets and books off shelves gives one a moment to pause and consider whether or not one actually needs all that paper.  And that question refers equally to one’s creation as much as to one’s consumption.

First I’m thinking about my consumption – of books, documents, pamphlets (does anyone actually produce these things today?), newspaper clippings, print-outs of academic articles, notes, and the list goes on.  It’s only recently that I succumbed to the eBook mania and began downloading books on my IPad.  What I’ve discovered is that I actually read faster on the IPad – although I still love that feel of a real book in my hands.  Now, though, I can have a whole library in the space of one IPad.  Who can argue with that notion?

So, I’ve taken the view that anything on paper that needs to be kept should be digitalized and saved on a hard drive.  I’ve been doing this both at work and at home.  As I move ever closer to early retirement, and my husband and I move ever closer to right-sizing our living accommodation, we have purged all manner of paper – photos being the number one culprit.  Even all those old photos of our ancestors just after the advent of the widespread use of photography from the early 20th century.  Yup, all scanned and digitalized, and the paper products recycled.  It’s such a feeling of a burden of paper being lifted off our shoulders.  So those are some consumption thoughts.  What about creation?

I create a lot of paper.  All I have to do is open the bottom file drawer in my desk to see that I do love to keep paper copies of my writing.  I write on a computer and I print out everything.  And I do love my writing journals.  I won’t go on about them now – since I’ve done that before – but it does bear repeating that there is nothing quite like a new journal and a pen that glides smoothly over the pages.  If you can get that just right, you can be in writing heaven.  But my hand gets a cramp these days.

Does this mean that I’m confined to the computer forever?  As I’ve begun to read Natalie Goldberg’s book (on my IPad), I begin to get excited again about the possibilities of those ideas truly flowing from head to heart to hand in just that physical way.  I actually dug out one of my hard-backed journals and did some writing practice.  The ideas did flow – but the unfortunate result was a severe hand cramp.  So, I’m back at the computer this morning as I embark on two months of writing.

There was a tie when I’d do a ten-minute timed writing as Natalie suggests every morning before I stared what I considered to be my real writing.  To me that’s a bit like sitting meditation before beginning work: something I should do but often neglect.  Like my return to my daily meditation, perhaps writing practice on paper is something I should get back to.  My only question that still remains though is what to do with all that paper!

I have a list of half- and quarter-completed writing projects, and one that isn’t started but has to be finished by August 1 (only 1500 words for that one, so no problem).  So, pe or keyboard, I better get at it.

What are your thoughts on pen and paper for writing practice?