Morning Pages anyone?

Lately I’ve been rolling out of bed in the morning, and right away – before I shower, do yoga or get dressed – bring a cup of tea to my desk where I put in an hour writing before I launch into the rest of my day. 

I know that ‘good’ morning pagers might deplore my detour to the kitchen to make tea, and there are a lot of good reasons to roll over and write. But I need tea. And I type rather than do my pages by hand, as I can keep up with what’s in my head much quicker with a keyboard.

Before I open my email, check Facebook, or read CBC’s news headlines, I head to the file on my Desktop called Morning Pages, and start writing. It might be about something I dreamed about, or what was on my mind when I woke up. It might be something about what I worked on yesterday, or something I need to get a handle on soon. Very rarely is it about anything in my personal life. More usually about writing projects on the go, or ideas that are percolating.

During this first session at my desk, I often  also write for a while using a prompt.

There are many websites out there that offer prompts. Some are along the lines of ‘WritE about something that happened in your family that no one ever speaks about.” Or, “The blonde man advanced down the pathway, overseen by two cats sunning themselves on the wall.”

These seldom work for me. They are freighted with too much material or with the author’s intent, or would force me to wander to places I’m just not interested in revisiting right now.

I prefer lines and phrases that have a hum, an echo, a certain je ne sais quoi that I can explore, excavate or  illuminate during the writing process itself.

 Two I found in my own notebooks and have used recently are:

  • They moved the bed into the house, piece by piece.
  • I know the joy and danger of angels.

I believe that ten of us could sit down and each come up with something entirely different about either of these.

If you like these kind of random prompts, head over to UK writer Alex Keegan’s blog http://alexkeegan.blogspot.ca/

You can either scroll down through many, many first lines to see what gets your attention. Or before you go, randomly pick a number, any number, then find the corresponding prompt.

Sometimes, the act of using the prompt to warm up my writing muscle, and  explore some new territory is enough. At others, I find I manage to unearth a germ that I will use either to launch a new project, or to include in some way in a work in progress. I write with no expectation or judgement about what will come out of it. But am always curious to see what has landed on the page as a result of this.

Just for the hell of it, I might go for numbers 3, 11, 21, 28, 41, 80 or 93. Which are…. give me a minute while I go and find out…

3. Dollars and cents

11. No doubt the Greeks have a word for it

21. Officially, an accident

28. Love, say it Love

41. Kitchen

80. Hijab

93. This is what happens if you skive off English classes

With my starting notes and whatever comes out of the prompts, I usually end up with 1,000-1,200 words by the end of my morning writing session. This is only sometimes followed by longer, more intentional writing sessions during the day. But at least, if life conspires to keep me away from my computer for the rest of the day, I can say that This Day I Wrote.

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The Joy of Rejection


In the days I was writing – and submitting, and occasionally ‘selling’ – short stories, my practise was this.

  1. Write the story.
  2. Come up with a list of about five places to submit it.
  3. Send it out to the first place on the list.
  4. Prepare an envelope for Number Two on the list.
  5. As soon as it came back from the first place, send it out to #2.
  6. Prepare an envelope for #3
  7. And so on, and so on…

I got to the point – it did take a while – where I could convince myself that I was waiting yeah, even eager   for the piece to be rejected so I could send it out to the next place, and so on and so on.

In this way, I actually felt a bit of positive energy when the piece boomeranged back and I was ready to put it in the mail again.

Those were the days when everything went back and forth by mail, which I know dates me a bit. (In the same way that I can recall the days when at work at the library we used a pen with a little stamp attached to it to date each book as it was checked out! )

 Years passed, times changed, and now many publishers – bless ‘em – let us submit by email or through their websites. Lovely. Write the thing, and hit Send.

But what has also come with the increased use of technology to do almost everything, every step of the way is that note in most publishers’ guidelines that says, “If you have not heard from us in one/three/six months you can assume we are unable to publish your work and you are free to submit it elsewhere.” Or somesuch.

I know there are many good reasons publishers have resorted to this. But it’s a pain.

1. How do we know the piece even got there? Most places also request that writers do not query on the status of the piece, so we can never be sure.

2. We don’t get the letter to ponder between the lines. To check for signs that it was signed by a real person. To add it to the folder that we will use for Show and Tell when we’re rich and famous and giving yet one more presentation called ‘If I Can Do It, So Can You’.

3. Do they REALLY mean three months to the day? Can I keep my hopes up for another month or so, just in case they rediscover my brilliant manuscript under the desk or in a Read Later folder, get a change of editor who realizes the true potential of the piece….

4. It’s like shouting “Is anybody there?” into a deep dark hole and hearing nothing back. No echo. Spooky. Frightening. Leading to the most existential of all questions, “Do I really exist?”

I know very few writers who don’t dislike this practise. Give us a word. A sign. A form letter if you must (even if it is addressed to Mr. L Petersen and shows no recognition that you actually READ the damn thing.) We need the proof that we were brave and hopeful enough to believe, even if for just one halting moment, that someone, somewhere would like what we wrote so we can keep on doing it.

This week I got one acceptance of a teen hi-lo that will be published in the fall of 2015, confirmation that my first picture book My Boots, Your Boots is still on the schedule at Fitzhenry & Whiteside, but delayed until 2016, and a REAL LIVE REJECTION LETTER from a big US publishing company.

Okay. It was email. But it felt like a gift. For which, Arthur A Levine books, I thank you. And am tempted to write back graciously accepting your generous – and tangible – rejection of me. 



 

 

 

 

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Writing the labyrinth

I’ve loved labyrinths ever since I came across them, and attended a two-day presentation by Laura Artress (http://www.laurenartress.com/spiritual-pioneer/) in Vancouver many years ago. The sense of being grounded, focussed, and completely centred was – and continues to be - very compelling

I’ve walked a few. Read about them. And in the past used them as part of my writing practice.

A presentation at this week-end’s Conference of Canadian Creative Writers and Writing Program by Nina Johnson (“Labyrinths and Student Learning: Mindfulness and Creativity Research Results”) convinced me to renew the practise.

Many of us need to find a way to transition from the demands of a busy schedule to making the best of whatever time we make – or presents itself – for us to write. Many of us have a routine – clearing our workspace, making a special drink, disconnecting from the Internet – before we start work.

Using a paper finger labyrinth that lives under my desk calendar, I plan to start each writing session with a 5-10 meditation. I know in the past that starting a writing session with a short meditation worked to ground me, and help me immerse myself in the immediate task at hand. I hope that renewing the practise using this tool will help get me over the hump of the past few months when my plans were big, my efforts limited, and the results almost non existent.

And when I present a workshop to young women in a local learning centre this week, I will distribute copies, mention briefly that it might be an aid to concentration – whatever they are doing – and see how they take to the idea… and the practise.

If you want to give it a try, you can download a copy of a finger labyrinth here http://labyrinthsociety.org/download-a-labyrinth, where you can also find out more about the labyrinth movement.

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How I write #1

Writers’ habits and practices see to be interesting to both readers and other writers. Where? What? For how long? All those questions get asked at author readings and presentations.

With a rather erratic work schedule, some community work and other responsibilities,  and less energy than usual for various reasons, I no longer am able to have a set schedule. Although I do try and put in at least one hour a day, somehow. But on a day like this, when I have a full day ahead of me to do with as I will, this is my usual practice.

1. Up by 7-ish, showered, yoga’d, dressed, fed and watered and at my desk by 8.

2. Make a to-do list. This includes making a note of specific writing plans as well as other practical stuff I have to get to during the day.


Today I planned to work on ‘scene turns’ in my mid-grade novel The Last Elevator. As this book essentially only has two characters, with the story told alternatively from each one’s point of view, I need to make sure there is enough action to end and begin each scene to keep the narrative moving.

3. Clear my desk. I start tidy, (I may even give it a wipe down if the dust has built up), to allow for all the mess that starts building up within minutes. (Why, I have often wondered, do I end up with at least half a dozen pens, pencils and markers strewn across my desk by the end of a working session, when I’ve spent the day typing?)

Ready, set…. my desk at the beginning of a work session.

4. Check email one last time, then close it down.

5. Tune in to CBC Music (usually either the Classical Baroque or Chamber stream).

6.  Start work. If I have a full day to work, I try to work on new writing – active scenes – earlier in the day, and work on rewriting and revision later on.

7. Take a break after about 3 hours, if not before. Today I needed to research a) when sugar cubes were invented and b) the names of some famous 19th century elevator companies, so broke I off from writing to track down that information, and to do a quick tidy up of my apartment after a call from out of town visitors wanting to drop by for 1/2 an hour.

Today’s product – drafted 16 chapter/scene turns, and wrote three new scenes for a net difference of 2,300 words.

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Useful book of writing exercises – FREE shipping

What began as a few pages of handouts in writing classes, grew into the first book of 101 Writing Exercises, and later into the bound 101-and more-Writing Exercises to Get You Started & Keep You Going.

 
ISBN 978-0-9780884-3-9
Use 101 and More Writing Exercises to help you get over the obstacles that stand in the way of putting words on the page.  Get motivated, refine your craft, end writers block once and for all, and accumulate numerous ideas to develop into writing projects.

Bullet112 pages
BulletHow-to articles
BulletWriting and marketing tips
BulletResources
BulletWriter’s lexicon
BulletComprehensive Table of Contents
BulletIndexed

Send a cheque for $10.00 made out to ‘LPwordsolutions’ to Lois Peterson, #206, 1740 Southmere Crescent, Surrey BC V4A 6E4. Send your order by May 15, to receive FREE shipping, anywhere in Canada.

Using 101 Writing Exercises is like going to hundreds of workshops without leaving home.”
Ruth Stewart, student. 

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I’ll read anything I want!

So can you! It is, after all Freedom to Read Week.

I was about 13 or so when I read Harold Robbins The Carpetbaggers. I knew as I read it that it was trashy, and would not meet my school’s or my father’s literary standards, but I read it anyway.

I heard it had “sex scenes”!

I duly wrapped it in brown paper, and read it propped inside my geography text book.

Which my father could see right through, metaphorically – possibly literally. “What are you reading?”

“Nothing.”

“No one reads nothing.”

“I do.”

He went back to his book, I to mine. (You may well ask why I chose to read what I thought would be a forbidden book in the same room as my dad. Because it’s what we did. Read. Everywhere and anywhere. It’s what you did in the living room and dining room and bedroom and bathroom. Even in a house with only one. And we had no TV - (other than during cricket season when he rented one…)

“So what have you got there?” Dad asked a while later.

“My geography homework.”

“How curious.”

(I rarely did my homework willingly. And deplored geography.)

 ”Get me a cup of tea, would you?”

He knew I’d jump to it. Mild-mannered, sweet-tempered and funny as he was, I’d do almost anything for him. He knew it.

When I came back with his tea, miner’s dark and sweet, he was reading my book.

“Haven’t got very far, have you?” He handed it back to me.

“I guess not. You keep interrupting me.”

He laughed. “Carry on then.”

I sat in my chair, watching him over the top of my book.

“How will you ever know what’s good or bad if you don’t read a lot of both,” he said. And went back to his book. Probably Dickens. Very likely Bleak House.

My dad died a week ago. The first thing I’ve always done when I go home to see my parents is to ask my dad what he is reading. I’d be most surprised if there’s not a Dickens still by his chair in the living room, which faces the window where he had the best view of the bird feeders.

If it’s Bleak House, I will take it with me when I leave. Any maybe find a copy of The Carpetbaggers to put next to it on my bookshelf.

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Writes of Spring – 2 bursaries available after March 18

Writes of Spring bursaries

Once we reach ‘break even point’ in registrations, I will offer two bursaries of a 50% registration reduction for the April 12 event. (If you receive a bursary, you will pay $40 of the $85 registration fee – non-transferrable)

This is intended to help writers with very limited incomes who might not otherwise be able to attend.

To be considered, after March 18 (please, not before),  you need to send me an email briefly explaining what you would hope to gain by attending the event. Please mention that you would be unable to attend without the bursary, but I do not need to know details of your financial situation.

Want to help out other writers? Let me know if you would like to contribute to the bursary fund, which might allow me to offer more than two bursaries for this event.

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Writes of Spring – it’s coming together

Details are coming together.
Workshop line-up, so far (subject to change).

Activities will include writing, discussion and generous handouts.

9 to 9:30 am:  Gather and Greet

9:30 to 11:00 am:
‘From Idea to Publication in 10 Steps’ - Presenter Lois Peterson

11:15 – 12:45:  ’Making Good Better: How to Strengthen Your Writing’ - Presenter Maggie de Vries     http://www.maggiedevries.com/

12:45 to 1:15: Potluck lunch        

1:15 to 2:30:  ’(Beach) Walk and Write’ led by Cristy Watson  http://cristywatson.blog.com/
or
1:15-2:30:
  ‘Nonfiction Research Strategies that Work for Fiction and Poetry’ – Lois Peterson

2:45 – 4 15:  ‘The Power of Story in Everything You Write’ - Lois Peterson

4:15 – 5:  Roundtable discussion about everything and anything… Resources, book exchange, etc.

Full workshop descriptions and other info will follow in late February.

Meanwhile registration IS NOW OPEN. Print out this form http://www3.telus.net/345/WritesofSpringRegistration
and return it by March 28 to receive the Early Bird price.

REGISTRATION IS LIMITED.

Questions? Email (after February 18) loispeterson@hotmail.com or call 604-535-1601.

 

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Picture Book Idea a Day – Week Three

Much conspired to prevent me from spending much time on this this week…. including continuing problems with the website where this blog lives. So instead of a-day-by-day breakdown, I’ll share a few approaches I’ve used to coming up with ideas.

1. Keeping my eyes peeled – both at work (I’m fortunate to work in a library, and often pull shifts in the children’s department) and out in the world. Interactions between parents and children often give me ideas for stories, and watching children play with each other or independently provides lots of fodder for story ideas. Which is where I got the idea for A PACK OF PICKY EATERS about animals in the zoo who find a way to vary their diet that satisfies everyone’s particular mealtime foibles.

2. Reading the news… not just the big stories, but the ones that get bumped to the inside pages or lower down on the news station’s website. One idea started brewing after I heard about the pond that disappeared into a sink hole in Latvia (THE POND THAT SAILED AWAY)… a fantasy of a little boy fishing alone on a lake when he and his boat are pulled into the underworld. Another WITH LOVE FROM CHINA after reading the story of the socialite Ruth Harkness who imported the first Panda into North America.

3. High days and holidays. Seasonal books are always popular with kids… although it can be  a challenge to  come up with novel stories with unique twists on old themes. So one day I sat down and brainstormed everything I could think of that connected in any way with Hallowe’en. I came with 27 crumbs ( hardly big enough to be called ‘germs’). As always, the ones farthest down the list proved to be more interesting  than the first obvious ones that occurred during the brainstorming session.

4. Thinking of kids in my life. On his first visit to his grandparents’ in Palm Springs, my grandson Cooper got to sit on his grandfather’s lap to drive the golf cart around their condo development. For months afterwards when he came home, he’d try to clamber into the front seat of the car at every outing, announcing glibly, “I’ll drive!” Thinking about this led to a page of notes for a story with that title.
Also, when he was in hospital in the spring for minor surgery, his dad bought him a bunch of flowers. Now, Coop loves cars and books, which I’m sure he would also have received that day. But it’s rare that a child gets flowers – from his father… and Coop was thrilled to bits. There’s a story that might work, I thought when I heard about it.

5. Random connections. Tara Lazar’s list of 500 Things Kids Love (and 100 Things They Hate) make great story starters (http://taralazar.com/2007/11/04/199-things-that-kids-like/). One particularly uninspired day I randomly selected three items, I came up with a story about a mouse called Picollo whose goal in life is to play in a big orchestra (the promt words were Flute, Backpack and Mouse). This actually turned out to be an echo of another story on a similar topic I had made notes about a couple of years ago, THE MOUSE, THE MAESTRO AND HIS MISSUS.

6. Books on my desk. There’s not much room on my desk, but the three I keep there are THE LORE AND LANGUAGE OF SCHOOL CHILDREN by Iona and Peter Opie, THE MERRIAM WEBSTER RHYMING DICTIONARY and BREWER’S DICTIONARY OF PHRASE AND FABLE. Browsing through these kick-started several ideas that might not have occurred to me without seeing what jumped out at me from their pages.

7. Eavesdropping. This from Cooper, again. He was reciting ‘You get what you get, so don’t get upset’, to himself one day recently, which he told me is something they say at preschool. So I have a title, YOU GET WHAT YOU GET which could get interpreted a number of different ways. Sometimes all I start with is a title. Then later comes the work of mining it for all its connections and possibilities.

With two days to go, I have already reached my goal of 30 story ideas. I’m curious to find out if I get any more by the end of the month. In my final Picture Book Ideas Month
post in a few days, I’ll outline where I plan to go from here with the germs, and look back on what I came up with last year, and how far I got with some of them.

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Picture book idea a day – Week Two


A rough accounting of the ideas generated during Picture Book Ideas Month, and of my struggles to achieve an idea a day.

Nov. 8 – Headed into Week Two to the strains of our building’s terrorist landscapers… using their polluting two-stroke leaf blowers. Which made me think of leaves. And waves. So made a few cursory notes of a story idea that could be called LEAF SURFING . Who knows where that might lead. I had to leave it at that as I had other more pressing things on my To Do list.

Nov. 9 – Took the bus to work today rather than driving so I could have some writing time. Watched a crow attack a garbage at the bus stop. GARBAGE CROW.

Nov. 10 – IF I COULD FLY. Long ago, a wheelchair-bound friend, an adult, told me he no longer dreamed of walking… but he often had dreams about flying. What if…

Nov. 11 – GRANDPA’S BOOTS. A germ of an idea on Remembrance Day… a small boy stomps around the house in the boots he finds in the back of the closet. His parents tell him to put them back, but one day his grandfather takes them from him, and starts to clean them. The MC helps, and in doing so helps in a small way to reenergize his grandfather who came back from serving overseas with PTSD. Attending the RD parade, the boy watches for his grandfather’s shiny boots to pass by.

Nov. 12 - MY HORSE CAN TALK. A child tries to persuade his little sister that his horse can talk.

Nov. 13 - A busy day at work, getting together with an out-of-town friend and a late arrival home after being out of the house for 16 hours… and you think I had time to come up with any ideas? Okay. maybe one. I was at work -you’d think I’d be inundated with ideas at the library, but not always – and was doing some weeding of some of the rattier picture books. So perhaps I could come up with something called TOO MANY BOOKS, although I have no idea what.

Nov. 14 - Spent four days in a writing retreat with members of the Federation of BC Writers. Four workshops and a number of Blue Pencil manuscript consults put all thoughts of my own work from my head. Other than one germ, a throwaway line from a writer talking about growing up in rural Saskatchewan… MOUSE COUNTING.

Nov 17 - a solitary evening after the retreat was over, I was browsing through some pics of my grandson Cooper, and came upon one taken in hospital when he was in for hernia surgery, smilingly showing off the flowers his dad brought him. There has to be something I can do with that!

Nov. 18 – Short of ideas, energy and inspiration, I pulled Brewer’s Phrase and Fable from the shelf… Turning to one page at random I find the word Herring… to another page ‘Pins and Needles.. and a third Skiffle. I fill a page with scribbles and random notes until a very silly idea emerges.

Now, on the evening of November 19th I am about to spend the evening at my desk with only my PiIdBoMo notebook in front of me, some CBC baroque music playing, the computer screen dark, and a pencil. Oh, and of course a cup of tea at my elbow. We’ll see what comes of it.

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