Tag Archives: non-fiction

Just Before the Muddy Middle

The path to completion is never easy…

Approaching the muddy middle… never a fun place to be. Photo by Holger Link on Unsplash

There’s a stage in every writing project where the first draft seems unfinishable. For me, that point is usually somewhere between the 50–75% mark. By then, I’m usually frustrated by how slowly things are going, feel like I’m never going to finish the first draft, hate most of what I’ve written, feel that either I’ll never have enough to say to finish a whole book or that there will be no possible way to wade through all the resources and rough notes to and whittle them down to a reasonable number of words that will fit within the target word count. By that point, I’m usually feeling bogged down by all the reading I’ve done and physically am buried under stacks of printed out articles and teetering piles of library books. The number of tabs open in several different browsers are slowing my poor laptop down to prehistoric speeds.

It’s all rainbows and unicorns around here at the moment. I wish I could hang onto this feeling of lightness and optimism as I approach the book-writing equivalent of the doldrums. Photo by Austin Schmid on Unsplash

But just before I get to that dreadful muddly middle where it seems there is no realistic chance I will ever finish writing the first draft, there’s a lovely stage of enthusiasm and ease that lasts up until about the first third is done. I’m nearing the end of that blissful stage in That Deforestation Book and I thought I’d take a moment to pause, reflect, and enjoy the fact that things are going well.

There are loads of resources out there and I’ve sunk my teeth into several (though finished reading none). I’m finding my research is actually fitting quite nicely into the fairly detailed outline I set up in Scrivener. I’ve been told by my editor to be careful because Scrivener and Word (which is how I’ll eventually need to export the draft before it goes off to the editor) don’t always play nicely together. For the moment, I’ve decided not to worry about that too much because I’m finding Scrivener to be quite helpful and a good fit for the chaotic way in which I write. I jump all over the place in a manuscript when I’m starting out and only later go back and get all methodical and chronological about the material. That’s when I realize just how big the gaps are that I’ve left to deal with later…

Faulkner It May Be Bad IMG_7225 2

For now, though, I am merrily inserting ‘look at this later’ comments to myself when I discover I don’t know as much as I thought I did about specific details (like the percentage of forests in BC that are clearcut each year and how that number has changed over the past 50 years). On the other side, I’m finding resources like the FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN) document, Global Forests Resource Assessment 2015 which is available as a free Kindle download and which provides an interesting overview of global deforestation (and replanting) numbers over the past 25 years.

Basically, I’m still feeling optimistic and happy about how things are going. I’m approaching the 30% mark in terms of word count and am easily finding material to slot into the various sections. What I also know is that this feeling of ‘I’ve got this’ is about to turn into ‘What the hell was I thinking?’ as I approach the halfway mark and the beginning of the muddy middle.

Wish me luck!

Also reading: Breakfast of Biodiversity: the Political Ecology of Rain Forest Destruction by John Vandermeer and Ivette Perfecto [and various other titles procured from the library — love my library!]

Word Count (cumulative): Just shy of 3000 words

Suggestions? How do you deal with that terrible place in the middle of a first draft where things slooooooow right down and it seems like you’ll never reach the end?

Haven’t bought the last book yet? Here’s the link to Christmas: From Solstice to Santa

Christmas is Here!! (Day 8/365)

Guess what was waiting for me in my mailbox after we got home from the BVI?

IMG_3071.jpg

It’s the Advance Reading Copy of the newest book!! Christmas: From Solstice to Santa will be out in September, 2018 – in plenty of time for stocking stuffer season…

 

IMG_3072

That’s a somewhat younger version of me sitting on Santa’s knee… 

 

As always, the book looks lovely thanks to the hard-working team at Orca Book Publishers! Also, a special shout out to Dani, co-author, daughter, and Christmas-lover who came up with the idea for the book waaaaaaaay back when… it’s so cool to see this inching toward final publication!

IMG_3073

Also waiting for me once I was back in regular contact with the virtual world was a message in my email in-box. What a relief to read the wonderful note from my editor, Sarah, who says the first draft of the book about medical assistance in dying is in reasonably good shape. By this I mean, it doesn’t look like I need to go back to the drawing board and completely rewrite everything, which is most excellent news. Of course there are all sorts of issues to have a look at, some things to move around, and a few gaps to fill, but overall, we are off to a great start with this book about our ultimate ending! (Tentative title: When the Time is Right: Choosing to Live, Choosing to Die)

All of that’s fine and dandy, but let’s get back to Christmas… and, art – which, if there’s going to be an over-arching theme to the posts over the coming months, it will likely be that… Art, I mean… not Christmas…

 

moses christmas-at-home.jpg!Large

Christmas at Home by Grandma Moses

 

grandma moses

In case you have always wanted to know what Grandma Moses (1860-1961) looked like, there she is… Her full name was Anna Mary Robertson Moses and what is most inspiring about her is that she didn’t get serious about her painting until she was 78!! Which means I have decades in hand if I get my finger out and start doing some visual art now…

 

IMG_3074

I can’t say this is really art, but it probably counts as a decorative element  in my journal (or, a doodle). And, yes, we did get stuck in the Puerto Rico airport for a bit as a result of an unfortunate ticketing error that had us boarding a plane bound for Tortola while we were still in the air travelling from Chicago… Obviously it all worked out ok because I’m now back in Canmore, but we did have some sweaty moments while trying to sort it all out! 

 

I’m a bit too jet-lagged to write much more today (if you didn’t clue in based on the rambling incoherent  somewhat disorganized nature of this post), but it feels good to be back, unpacked, laundry done and looking ahead to what’s coming at me over the next few weeks. Hint: more sailing, some school visits, climbing, the Camino book, art-related projects, and a bit of Shakespeare… Stay tuned!

 

calendar-1902 Theophile Steinlen

Calendar – 1902 by Theophile Steinlen

 

Note: What the heck – given I’ve now passed the 40-days-needed-to-create-a-new-habit mark, I’m going to set my daily blogging goal at 365 days and see if I can keep this streak going. Though, I wasn’t actually going to count the blog posts in April. If I counted the AtoZ posts, that would make this #38 and not #8. But really, who cares? I feel like this is the start of a new challenge embarked upon without the benefit of the inherent structure of the alphabet… and that, for some reason, feels quite daunting.

W is for Weary, Work, and the Wonders of the Web

 

Martiros Sarian april-1947.jpg!Large

April by Martiros Sarian, 1947 Oh, April – what a speedy month you have been! In, out and yikes! May is just arond the corner!

 

Wow. What a month! It looks like I might just make it to the end having made my goal of a post a day, but sheesh – it’s been touch and go! I suppose I should have known better than to try to combine a big book deadline with much of anything else, never mind a daily blogging challenge and a trip or two!

 

Lesser Ury woman-at-writing-desk-1898.jpg!Large

Woman at Her Writing Desk, by Lesser Ury, 1898 Yep. That’s pretty much where I’ve spent the month of April. 

 

I can’t really complain. I’m so lucky to be able to do the work I love and even more lucky to be able to do it from pretty much anywhere in the world, as long as there’s an internet connection available. I don’t know where I’d be without being plugged into the web, I must say.

This book I’m working on now, for example. It’s about medically-assisted dying (euthanasia, assisted suicide, mercy killing, murder) and all the many medical, ethical, legal, moral, and personal considerations that lie behind the decision to live or die. The Internet has proven to be a rich source of raw material. From documentaries and news clips to lengthy articles in mainstream newspapers to scholarly dissertations in all manner of obscure academic journals, as well books and audiobooks, I’ve been kept busy plowing through more sources than one could hope for in terms of finding lots of background on the subject.

 

Albrecht Durer 1510 death-and-wife.jpg!Large

Death and Wife, by Albrecht Durer, 1510 In a strange way, Death has been my companion for the past many month and thousands of words… 

 

I’ve also been talking to people online – through texts and emails but also through online ‘phonecalls’. I’ve been able to use an online transcription service to record and then transcribe some of those conversations. Even ten years ago, such a wealth of information would have been much more difficult (impossible?) to access. I’ve been working on this book for 18 months or so, reading, researching, thinking, listening, watching and learning in Paris, Spain, the Rocky Mountains, the Caribbean, and on the west coast. I’ve downloaded books and articles onto my phone so I can read while I’m standing in the lineup at the grocery store or while trapped in waiting rooms or getting from here to there and back on planes, trains, and automobiles. I’ve dreamt about death. Thought about it pretty much every day since I took this project on.

 

Edward R Taylor birmingham-reference-library-the-reading-room-1881.jpg!Large

Birmingham Reference Library, the Reading Room by Edward R. Taylor, 1881 I bet this library had a card catalogue. I must be among the last humans on the planet to have been taught how to use a card catalog. Computers were creeping in everywhere when I was at university, but to find a book at the library, one still had to thumb through the soft-with-use cards.  

 

The problem isn’t really ‘can I find the information’? it’s, how on earth do I distill all this, organize it well, and then shoehorn it into what is actually quite a limited word count, considering the vast quantity of information I’m starting with?

Whenever I think, impossible! I need to expand the manuscript! I need more words! I think of something my mother once told me. She said that you don’t really understand a subject properly until you can explain it to your grandmother from another country. By which, I think, she meant that if you really know your stuff you should be able to explain anything, even the most complex of topics, clearly and succinctly to someone who has absolutely no background or understanding of the subject.

 

richard diebenkorn scissors-and-lemon.jpg!Large

Scissors and Lemon by Richard Diebenkorn Cut. Cut. Cut. That’s what I’m doing next. Which seems a bit odd since what I’ve been doing for months is add. Add. Add. Write. Write. Write. 

 

The other lesson I learned early (in my capacity as a copywriter at a radio station) is that you should be able to convey a complicated idea (in that case, usually about a business, product or event) in very few words. A thirty-second spot can’t last 35 seconds. Concise. Precise. Economical. Those were buzz words back then, and that early training has made me aware that cutting and paring are more fun if treated like a puzzle and a game. Just how many words can you take away and still tell your story?

 

death-of-the-countess(1).jpg!Large

Death of the Countess by Alexandre Benois, 1910. This might just as well be named, Death of the Writer as this is a pretty accurate likeness of me at the moment. 

 

With that in mind, I’m going to embrace my next couple of days of slicing, dicing, chopping, and cutting as I whittle away at what is currently a too-long draft. I have 72-hours before the deadline. I can do this. I can.

Two Book Birthdays in One Week!

When it rains, it pours, as they say… As if having one book come out this week wasn’t exciting enough, the latest in the Orca Origins series arrived today! Birthdays: Beyond Cake and Ice Cream is a collaboration with my talented daughter, Dani. Dani and I also wrote Take Shelter together and, in fact, have another in the works for the Origins series (about Christmas).

 

dani-birthdays-img_7705

Dani checking out our new book at a Starbucks where we like to work together…

 

Birthdays was a lot of fun to research and write in part because it meant we were able to dip into those big boxes of family photos in search of family birthday memories. Not that we have to wait until we are researching a book before we dig around the archives. The reality is, though, we have a LOT of photographs (my mother was a professional photographer) and it’s a bit overwhelming to open those boxes and go exploring. It’s easy to lose hours and hours traveling back through the time machine of family photographs.

nikki peter birthday magic 15875135_10157964105550364_4577374677000110276_o.jpgThis photo was taken in about 1970 during our first year in Canada. My brother, Peter and I shared a birthday bash that year as we had a magician come out from Calgary to perform at our party in Banff. We invited everyone from both our classes at school and had a party we both remember well even now.

I posted this photo on Facebook not long ago and a friend who was at that party reminded me I had fits of giggles every time the magician handed me his wand which, to my delight and confusion, refused to stay rigid whenever I touched it. The wand’s inevitable collapse each time I took it left me in hysterics. I had forgotten that part of the party but remembered that the party favors included boxes of Lucky Elephant Popcorn.

lucky-elephant-15872000_10157964142735364_5240448138764147197_n

Bright pink and sweet, that candy popcorn was one of my favorites when I was a kid! Apparently, Lucky Elephant is a Canadian treat, so if you live elsewhere and have no idea what I’m talking about, that’s why.

Though our infamous magical birthday party didn’t make it into the book, lots of other family birthdays did. Dani’s 20th in Japan (wearing a fancy kimono), my dad’s 80th (holding a certificate from our then-newly-minted PM, Justin Trudeau), and my fifth (holding onto a very fuzzy white pony in Australia) are all in the book along with a whole lot of things about birthdays I didn’t know before we started writing.

 

Birthdays Cover.jpg

Happy Birthday, Birthdays!!

 

For the past several years Dani and I have been working together on one book or another, so it’s a bit strange now to be in the phase where we are tossing ideas back and forth and considering what our next collaboration might entail. We have a few thoughts that might have legs,  so stay tuned. You never know where our inquiring minds might take us next!