Before You Submit
Jean, along with Heather Dickson, will be presenting a workshop on the Business of Writing on November 19th. Registration is now full.
Jean E. Pendziwol is an award winning author of books for adults and children. She was shortlisted for the Governor General’s Award and the 2014 TD Canadian Children’s Literature Award for Once Upon a Northern Night. Her children’s books include the critically acclaimed No Dragons for Tea: Fire Safety for Kids (and Dragons), which is an all-time bestseller for publisher Kids Can Press. Her debut adult novel, The Lightkeeper’s Daughters will be published by HarperCollins US/Canada in 2017 and has been picked up by publishers in twelve other countries including the UK, Germany, Italy, China, Brazil, Norway and the Netherlands. Jean's ninth children's book, Me and You and the Red Canoe, will be released in 2017 by Groundwood Books. She lives in the shadow of the Nor’Wester Mountains near Lake Superior and draws inspiration for her stories from the rich history, culture and geography of northwestern Ontario. She has three adult children, a loveable mutt, and a coop of temperamental chickens, all occasionally tormented by visiting deer, foxes, wolves and bears.
Jean is represented by Jenny Bent of The Bent Agency.
By Tessa Soderberg
In 2010 I discovered that I could. I was trying to write a novel about civilians during World War II. I already had half a dozen false starts. NaNoWriMo was about to begin, and I thought why not try it? I've never been a disciplined every day writer. When an idea grabs me I sit down and run with it, leaving the editing for later. First, I get the whole gory mess on the computer.
So NaNoWriMo was perfect: it provided incentive in the form of the daily word count. I was also hoping NaNoWriMo would provide the kick I needed to start writing every day throughout the year. I signed up, filled out my author profile, and registered my vaguely formed idea of a novel. On November 1st I put fingers to keyboard and got on with it. Twenty-five days later, what I ended up with was raw, cliché-ridden, full of spelling and grammatical errors and plot holes you could drive a tank through. But I had done it—50,000 plus words and the seed of a story. This year, after much editing, the first chapter of that story won first prize for novels in the NOWW Writing Contest. My 2014 NaNoWriMo first chapter placed third in the same contest. I've taken part every year since.
Why do it? NaNoWriMo makes me write. Have I become the disciplined writer I'd like to be? No, not yet, but perhaps this year. It provides me with first drafts to struggle over throughout the rest of the year. The online word counter lets me track my progress to see how I'm doing compared to others who are taking the challenge. It's not about having the highest word count; it's about having one and adding to it.
In September I start getting excited: what will I write about this year? I brainstorm, running plots and characters through my head. In October I begin tearing my hair out trying to come up with an idea that will sustain over 50,000 words. On November 1st I sit down with my keyboard, and with luck the words will be there. One then two then three, and suddenly I've got 1000 words. I sign in and put my first word count into the counter. I've begun: I'm a participant once again. Now the challenge is to keep up the momentum.
In November I admit I am slightly distracted. Every waking thought and some sleeping thoughts are about my novel. What will happen next? Last year I agonized for days whether to murder my main character. It would play hell with the tentative ending, but it was an option. I decided against homicide. A wounded and suffering heroine would make a much longer tale than one suddenly dead, with only details of who what when and why to tidy up. Besides, I liked her. I had already done terrible things to her and I felt that murder was going too far. I know, some of you are wondering about my sanity. In November my characters kind of take over the place. So the October question is: “Who am I going to meet this year and what am I going to do to those poor souls?”
The point is to focus on character and plot. Ignore your inner editor completely. Misspellings—you can fix them in December. Write “I am” instead of “I'm” because it's two words and every word counts. I love watching my word count grow from five thousand to the half way mark and then fifty thousand. I validate my word count, and get my winner certificate.
I also enjoy the online contact with local writers. It's nice to see what other writers in the region are doing, thinking, and writing about. We have write-ins—get-togethers to meet, write, and share encouragement.
NaNoWriMo is my excuse to sit down and write. The first draft may be awful, but I've got the whole year to edit it.
By Cindy Morson
Then distractions creep in. Did the contractor for the windows send me a quote yet? I’ll just check my Hotmail quickly. Might as well check the other email account too. But don’t go on Facebook, you’ll never get to work. Don’t do it. Don’t do it. Damn it. You did it. My husband sends a text. Yes, yes, I know, but we’ll chat later. I’m writing. Gulp. Ok, logging off Facebook. I can do this.
I return to Word and, miraculously, my fingers comply with my brain and actually start typing. It’s euphoric. My face relaxes, my mind focuses on the words. Suddenly, my fingers can’t keep up to the evolving stream of consciousness. Characters come alive, shoving themselves in front of one another. Patience everyone, I’ll get to you. They sit with arms crossed, feet tapping, waiting to be heard. I smile. I love them. I’m in my happy place.
The phone rings. I usually ignore it, but I know it’s my dad and I have to talk to him. I just have to. Back to writing. Where was I? My mind takes a few minutes to finish the phone conversation and focus on the text on the screen. Ok, back in the zone. My teenage daughter enters the office/craft room. My fault for combining the two. She starts a sewing project and I remind her to try to not distract me. But she’s there, behind me, cutting, pinning, sewing, and I need to breathe, and focus.
She’s eleven and, being the youngest, demands to be heard.
“Whatever you want,” I respond without looking up.
“What?” she yells back.
“WHATEVER YOU WANT!!! I’m trying to write here!” I yell back. Oh, yes I do.
Type, type, type. My eyebrows crease, as if creating an armour against distraction; I pause to smooth them, to take a 10 second mental break. My sewing daughter jumps at the opportunity to ask me what I think of the crop top she re-purposed out of an old t-shirt. I take a breath and remind myself that the kids are only young once and pretty soon she won’t ask my opinion about anything. I turn and sincerely compliment her work. She’s so happy, validated.
“Mom! We have nothing to eat!” the hungry child yells. I sigh, turn back to the computer, hit save, and exit. I go to the kitchen to rescue my daughter from apparent starvation.
I love writing, and I would love to dedicate my days to the art; to update my occupation status as Writer. The pros say to be a serious writer you need to write every day. Every single day. To be successful, you need to work harder and produce more work than everyone else. Maybe one day I’ll be there. Maybe I’m making excuses for not being there already. Life is busy, but is it really too busy that I can’t write something once a day? I work part time at my day job, so on paper I have the time. Do I let dust bunnies collect? Laundry pile up? The fridge to empty? The answering machine to pick up? For the kids to be ignored, their activities missed? Not exercise or go for walks with my husband? Not read? (Gasp! Anything but that!) Some days, yes. I have to do (or not do) all of these things so I can write. If I go too long without writing, a part of me dies. Overly dramatic? Maybe, but I bet writers know what I mean. It gives me as much purpose as anything else I love. But every day? Can it be done? Is it necessary? Well, my occupation status hasn’t changed, so I can see the point. I admit, I am skilled in the art of making excuses.
My eleven-year-old enters the office where I have stealthily returned to the computer. “Awww, I was going to write my book,” she laments, and sits behind me, waiting in line.
I hit save. I will edit later. Far be it for me to get in the way of an aspiring author. Besides, my chauffeur services are needed for a swimming lesson.
While the characters of our imaginations sit patiently, may our days be filled with balance, happiness, no excuses, and a written word or two.
Cindy Morson is a writer of poetry, children’s fiction, and women’s fiction. She has recently begun experimenting with Dialogue Only pieces and plays. She shares her work with friends and family as she traverses through the forest of genres. She fills her creative addiction through written words, paints, and screwdrivers.
By Doug Diaczuk
Several years ago I drove across the country, from Thunder Bay to Victoria, British Columbia. While the idea to embark on a cross-country trek may have been spontaneous, the planning certainly wasn’t. There was months of mapping out routes, creating timelines, booking hotels, and deciding what to see. We even had a lime green binder full of maps, addresses, distances, and brochures that we constantly referenced while on the road. We knew exactly where we were going, how we would get there, and what we wanted to do when we arrived at the many stops along the way. And while this plan eased the stress and uncertainty that was sure to come with such a journey, some of the more memorable moments that we experienced came from leaving that lime green binder in the car and simply following our feet and our curiosity.
We experienced the power of a prairie thunderstorm in Regina after getting off at the wrong bus stop, we stumbled across the beautiful Mirror Lake on the side of a mountain while hiking to the tea house near Lake Louise, and we stood in the centre of a massive fir tree carved by lightning after taking a random path in Stanley Park. There was the delicious vegan buffet that we discovered in a market square while wandering the streets of Victoria, the delightful fringe festival in Saskatoon recommended to us by a friendly city transit worker, and nearly being attacked by a snapping turtle near Kenora after an impromptu decision to go swimming in a roadside lake.
Our destinations were carefully planned but we never hesitated to stray from that plan every once in a while. I now approach writing in a similar way - I know where I’m going, but always leave room for discovery. Some writers swear by detailed outlines, while others prefer to fly by the seat of their pants. I have tried both methods. I have written several stories that were carefully planned ahead of time with chapter outlines, bullet points, and character sketches. I have also written stories that were completely made up as I wrote them - no plan, just writing. After trying both methods, I find that I lean more towards the latter, though I will admit that a little planning still goes a long way.
Any stories that I’ve written that started with an outline felt too stiff, like I was trying to force pieces of a puzzle together that just didn’t want to fit. The writing was methodical, mechanical, boring even, trying desperately to adhere to the outline that was already established. There was no room for movement because if I strayed too far from the outline, I would never find my way back. I spent more time in front of my notebook than actually writing as I tried to plan plot points in chapter 27, then flip back to chapter 3 to make sure everything lined up. It was tortuous, unproductive, and in the end, didn’t really work. I was so focused on plot that the writing became a second thought. When the writing finally began, there was no sense of discovery. It was like reading a book that already had the ending spoiled, and who wants to keep reading after that?
The stories that I wrote with no outline or plan had a better flow, more attention to detail, and above all, they felt honest. I liked discovering the story as I went, as though it was being told to me and I was simply writing it down. The characters determined the plot, they grew right before my eyes, they set the direction, and I couldn’t wait to discover what would happen next. There was so much freedom. I always had a destination in mind, things I wanted to say or do, but I never let that determine or affect what I was working on in a given moment. I would get there when the time was right and discover new things along the way. But discovery doesn’t come without a price. There were times when things just didn’t work, where the plot just didn’t seem to make sense, if it was even there at all. Despite that, I still feel that these off the cuff stories have helped me grow as a writer more than any stories that were preceded by a carefully thought-out plan. We grow as writers by writing.
The approach that I take now does not involve outlines or any real planning. I don’t want to lose the spontaneity or the discovery that comes with simply writing. However, I still know where I’m going. I always have a destination in mind, however small, be it the next scene, the final words, or even the smallest of ideas. How I get there, though, is something that unravels along the way and sometimes the curiosity, the tangents, or straying can lead to amazing things.
When I think of my journey to the ocean, I wouldn’t change a thing. I’m thankful for that lime green binder because it reminded us of where we were going. But sometimes you have to throw that binder in the back seat and just see where you end up. What you discover might surprise you.
Do you swear by outlines or do you fly by the seat of your pants? Do you have another method all together?
Welcome to our NOWW Blog, made up of a collection of stories, reviews and articles written by our NOWW Members.