Tag Archives: writing life

15 Painful Stages of Writing a Book

Want to know what’s going on in my head during the course of a book’s lifetime?

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Imagine my delight when Orca Book Publishers let me know that Deep Roots: How Trees Sustain Our Planet has been long-listed for the 2017 national Green Earth Book Award, awarded annually to children’s and young adult literature that best convey the message of environmental stewardship. (For more details, visit the official website.)

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The book has had some terrific reviews (including this one at CM Magazine) and was chosen by the New York Public Library system as one of the Best 100 Books for Children and Young Adults in 2016. It’s been nominated for a Silver Birch Non-fiction Award (I’ll be heading for Toronto to take part in the celebrations in May and speaking to students at several school and library presentations), which is pretty exciting.

Of course, I am delighted to see a book is finding such a warm response out there in the world. But on the other hand, I’m scratching my head a bit, too. I mean, I’ve written a lot of books now (30 or so, and counting) and I have never  been able to predict which ones will take off and which ones won’t. You’d think that after spending decades writing I would get a feel for when something is decent and not so much. What actually happens is pretty much the same process for every book. Here’s what’s going on in my head at each stage…

Fifteen Painful Phases of Writing a Book

Phase One: Getting Started

I LOVE this project! This is the best idea I have ever had! I can’t wait to get writing! I can’t type fast enough! My ideas are FLOWING! GUSHING! My life is a string of gleeful exclamation marks! My fingers are dancing over the keyboard! Yipppeeee!! (And, yes, I use words like Yipppeeee! in everyday conversation when I’m in Phase One and never again throughout the entire book creation process).

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It’s all good… in the beginning…

Phase Two: Getting Serious

Hm. This is harder than I thought it would be. I’m not quite sure I’m heading in the right direction. Maybe I should go back and start again. No, that would be a bad idea. Keep going. You can write your way out of this.

Phase Three: Mild Panic

What was I thinking? This is awful! Nobody will ever want to read this. I should stop and start a new project. Where is the paper shredder? So boring. It is agony to sit at my desk. My fingers are leaden and uncooperative. Oh, look – Facebook! Was that a dirty dish I heard calling my name? Yes, I think I need a long walk to clear my mind. Oh, man – I’m so tired after that walk. A nap would be the best thing. I will wake up refreshed and ready to get back to work. I feel like death warmed over. Tomorrow will be a better day.

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The dog days of book-writing… Let me sleep. Let the misery end…

Phase Four: Repetitive Face Palm Syndrome Sets In

I have lost it. I can’t imagine I will ever get to the end of this excruciatingly awful project. What made me think this was remotely a good idea? This is so bad. What a mess. I should retire. My favourite coffee shop has a Help Wanted sign in the window. I was a great waitress back in the day. I don’t even go near my desk. What’s the point?

Phase Five: Resignation

Ok, it’s terrible, but I am so close to the end I might as well just finish it so I can start on a new, better project.

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In those dark, dark moments of believing what I have produced is utter garbage, I bribe myself with the promise of a new project that, surely, will be better than the dreck in which I find myself mired… 

Phase Six: Submission

Well, it’s done now. Be strong. Click ‘send.’ Aggghhh! Off it goes to the editor. Steel yourself for the worst. Start another project.

Phase Seven: Really?

The editor doesn’t hate it. In fact, there are some redeeming qualities. Yes, some editing to be done, but actually, now that I’m sitting down to work on it again, the edits are doable. and there are parts that aren’t hideous.

Phase Eight, Nine, Ten… : More Editing

Ok, this is getting old. I am now more sick of this project than seems humanly possible. If I have to write another draft I. Will. Die.

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May as well take a long walk off a short pier at this point… 

Phase Eleven: Survived!

Hm. I am not dead. The book is in production.

Phase Twelve: A long time later…

Hey! A box of books arrived in the mail! Did I write that? It was all so long ago… Well, I’ll be… some of this isn’t too bad! Oh dear – I’d change that bit if I could. Too late now… Let’s hope someone else out there reads it and doesn’t hate it.

Phase Thirteen: Reviews, or Silence

With any luck, someone will care enough to read and review the book. I try not to read reviews too carefully – sort of skim through them to see if there’s anything really bad and otherwise file them away and try to ignore them. Ditto with lists of nominations – I have done my best and making it onto long-lists or short-lists is completely beyond my control. This is when I put on my best, ‘whatever will be, will be’ face.

Phase Fourteen: Shockingly short timeframe later…

The book goes out of print. Did it ever exist? Does anyone care? Does anyone else miss the book the way I do now that it’s gone?

Phase Fifteen: Return to Phase One

Because, you know… I’ve got this GREAT IDEA!!

(Images courtesy of the talented photographers at unsplash.com)

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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).

 

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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.

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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.

 

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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!

When the Writing Just Stops — Nikki Tate – Author

It’s so weird how this happens. I’m beavering away, have lots of ideas, am all eager to work and then… something shifts. The momentum completely stops. And I find myself drifting about feeling like I have never written anything and will never write again. This morning I was up early, tossing and turning because I […]

via When the Writing Just Stops — Nikki Tate – Author

(reposted from my writing blog… or, in this case, my ‘not writing’ blog.)

N is for Never too Late

I know I started the alphabet challenge waaaaaaay back in, what, April? May? And then I was spirited off to Hawaii and got swamped with work and blah blah blah – the next thing I know it’s the middle of summer and I still haven’t passed the letter ‘N’!

Return to Newcastle Island

I wrote about our first trip to Newcastle Island here. I had so much fun on that trip that I returned to Newcastle the following week to re-join Rosario and Denis aboard their Whitby 42, Counting Stars. 

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This is not Counting Stars. But it is a good example of how not to leave Nanaimo… These guys were all fine – they waited for the tide to return and then floated off… A tad embarrassing, though. This spot traps sailors in full view of Nanaimo Harbour, the cruise ship dock, and Newcastle Island. 

We sailed from Newcastle Island down to Clam Bay (between Kuper and Thetis Islands), where we anchored for the evening.

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A light breeze meant we were able to practice flying the spinnaker. 

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There’s nothing quite like the special calm that descends on a peaceful anchorage in the evening. This is Clam Bay in the Gulf Islands of BC. 

The Sylvester family lives nearby and Craig (Greg?) paddled out to the boat with a selection of carvings, including a hummingbird by his sister, Tamila (I’m not sure if I’ve spelled the names right and some googling is not turning up any further information… If you happen to know the Sylvesters and the location of a website, please let me know…).

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The next morning we continued down to Poets Cove on Pender Island to take part in the Bluewater Cruising Association Rendezvous. Just off Galliano Island we spotted three killer whales moseying along, too far away for photos with my phone, unfortunately.

The rendezvous itself was great fun, with quite a collection of boats showing up from all over the south coast (actually, from as far away as Mexico!) to gather for food, drink, and sea shanty singing.

Here’s our team practicing our sea shanty…

I had a flight booked back to the mountains, so had to leave part way through the weekend, which was a shame because I was having a LOT of fun singing, feasting, and meeting lots of sailors. Alas, much work awaited me…

New Books

Deadlines are deadlines and Dani and I were busy putting the finishing touches on two new books in the Orca Origins Series. Happy Birthday: Beyond Cake and Ice Cream should be out in the fall of this year. Christmas: From Solstice to Santa will be out in the Spring of 2018. Deadpoint, the climbing novel which will be part of the Orca Sports series should be out early in January of 2017. Perhaps the best part of writing these new books has been the research. From digging through family photos to interviewing various people to climbing mountains, reading some very cool books, and stumbling across some nifty corners of the internet, at every turn we learned lots and had fun while doing so.

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Forgive the terrible quality of this photo of a photo – this is my mother and her brothers and sister (and a cousin?) in Germany. Note those are real candles on the Christmas tree! No fire hazard there, I’m sure. 

Hard on the heels of those books are three more, currently in the research and writing stage. One is a biography for kids about Elizabeth May (more on that soon), a handbook for young activists (which will also feature profiles about some pretty amazing kids who are making real changes in the world), and a picture book about climbing. Oh, and then there’s another in the Orca Footprints series which, at its heart, is about love, community, and cooperation. It’s been interesting starting to research this one – my reading has taken me to distant places like the Congo where researchers are studying bonobos in order to learn more about what it means to be human. More, too, on this in a future post.

Also in the works (I may be done with text edits?) is a picture book that’s been picked up by Holiday House in New York. Subject matter? Bricklaying and baseball. And feminism. At the moment the search for an illustrator is on – I’m very curious to see who is selected and how he or she will tackle the artwork. Stay tuned…

I think that’s it for the children’s book projects. Whenever I can, I’m also working away on an adult memoir/popular science/medicine manuscript tentatively titled, The Dissolution of HW, which is about the nature of personality and my mother’s struggle with Pick’s Disease.

In the ‘waiting to see how it all turned out’ department, there’s Scylla and Charybdis, which may be out before the end of the year with Pearson. A retelling of part of The Odyssey, it was both challenging and fascinating to find a way to stay true to Homer’s story but still be accessible to a contemporary audience. Very much looking forward to seeing this when it comes out.

Never too Late

And, finally, in the ‘it’s never too late’ department, it’s never too late to set some crazy goals. I will mention ‘Navigate around the world’ again here just so you know I haven’t forgotten about this project.

leading 5.11a sunshine slabs

Approaching the crux on a pumpy 5.11a at Sunshine Slabs. Missed the clip right at the crux near the top and came flying off, but I will be back! (And by flying off, I mean, I fell as far as the previous clipped bolt… and, because this is a pretty steep, overhanging kind of climb, I didn’t really hit anything – just dangled for a bit until I gathered my thoughts and tried again. Never did make it all the way up on this particular afternoon, though I climbed it on toprope a few days later, which means I can get up there. So, leading this one is definitely within reach… And if I can lead a 5.11a, could 5.12 be far behind?)

And, I’m going to state publicly that before I die I am going to Nail a 5.12 climbing route. 5.12 is a grade of climb that’s decently challenging and which, though I sort of had this as a streeeeeeeeetch goal, I really doubted I could accomplish it until very recently. Two things changed my mind. First, I’ve been going to a physiotherapist and a personal trainer who are working together to develop a program for me to deal with my ongoing shoulder (torn labrum) and elbow (after effects of the dislocation/ligament shredding) issues. The results have been amazing and I’ve been seconding routes of various types in the 11s without suffering any terrible after effects. I’ve also made huge strides recently in the leading department and just last week successfully led my first 10d. Suddenly, it looks like I might get to 5.12 before old age and infirmity get to me. So there you go, I’ve gone and made a public declaration of my intentions! That’s the first step, right?

Dividers, Cabbages, Ravens and Bears

I’m living several parallel lives at the moment. In one life, I am climbing as often as possible, making the transition from ice back to rock as the seasons change. At the climbing gym I’m pushing myself to climb harder stuff so I’m good and ready for whatever the summer season might bring. Down at the playground at the end of the block we are doing some practice crevasse rescue sessions, which involve copious quantities of

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Crevasse rescue practice down at the local playground… 

convoluted knots.

Later this spring there is talk of a trip to the Bugaboos where, I hope, I won’t have to self arrest or haul an injured climber out of danger using my newfound knowledge of Garda hitches and how best to use a pulley strategically placed on a climbing rope to allow little me to haul an incapacitated climber to safety.

In another stream of my current existence, I am writing up a storm, working on several projects that range from a picture book for very young children to a memoir about the nature of personality and my mother’s demise as the result of Pick’s Disease (a bizarre early onset dementia), a handbook for young activists, and a couple of other non-fiction titles for kids. Those worlds (writing/climbing) overlap in a novel for reluctant teen readers about three teens who find themselves in trouble when a day in the mountains goes sideways (coming out next year with Orca Book Publishers).

IMG_1440There’s another life, as well -the one that involves sailing. Preparations are already underway for our trip next year – and that strand of my existence will likely get quite a lot of airplay here over the coming months. Already I am plotting practice courses (using dividers and a chart plotter – on paper charts, just like the old days) and testing recipes that will sustain us on long crossings (Lynn Pardey’s Cabbage Salad from her great book The Care and Feeding of Sailing Crew was on last night’s menu – it gets a pass…)

Back on the climbing side, we are planning a trip to Skaha at the beginning of May, a propos as we met there at the beginning of May last year. The most memorable moment for me from that trip was standing (in a complete panic) at the base of a climb called The Raven and the Bear. I don’t think I ever blogged about what happened, so in the interest of bringing everyone up to date, here goes.

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Last year, after I returned from my glorious sailing trip to the BVI (seriously, I can’t remember a more sustained stretch of fun, fun, fun than during those 6 weeks on the water with my family… except for the heaving, puking crossing-from-hell between Virgin Gorda in the British Virgin Islands and Saba in the Dutch West Indies… but that will have to be the subject of a different blog post…). Anyway, I had to rush back to embark on two back-to-back book tours that took me all over the province of British Columbia, visiting schools and libraries and bookstores, speaking about my books, presenting at the Red Cedar Gala in Vancouver (I was lucky enough to have a book nominated for a Red Cedar Award), and leading writing workshops in various communities along the way. The itinerary was intense – I was on the road for a bit more than three weeks and my only real day off was the day after my birthday, on May 3. Knowing there was a good rock climbing area near Penticton, I had packed my harness and rock shoes and driven there on the afternoon of my birthday after a presentation in another town.

I hiked up to the bluffs and introduced myself to half a dozen parties of climbers who were hauling each other up and down the area cliffs. In each case I asked if they might be willing to let me climb with them the next day, my precious day off. And, one after the other, the groups rebuffed my advances. They were evenly paired already and couldn’t accommodate an extra person. They were from out of town (half of Alberta seemed to be climbing there!) and weren’t going to be around the next day. A couple of groups were participating in climbing courses. One guide, when I asked if he knew of anyone local I could hire the next day suggested I return six weeks hence to join his next outing. I explained I had the next day available and that was it.  He said that was too bad and that every available guide in town was working for him, so I was completely out of luck. To say I was disheartened is an understatement! All those climbers and all that lovely rock and it really looked like I wasn’t going to be able to find anyone to take pity on me and let me join them. I later learned that this kind of strange, forward behaviour is just not done – it’s pretty much unheard of for someone to walk up to you at a cliff and ask to join the fun. Fortunately, I had no idea or things might have turned out quite differently…

So anyway, there I was feeling well and truly rejected, heading back to the parking lot thinking I would have to go on a hike all by my lonely self the next day when I came across a group of three climbers. I was about to walk past them because, you know, even a writer can handle only so many rejections in a single day, but then the guy at the bottom of the cliff (who was belaying his friend) called out, “Hey! How’s your day going?” His huge smile and friendly greeting made me think I should have one more try and when I explained I was looking for someone to climb with the next day he said, “Come climb with us!”

Which is how I found myself in the parking lot at 9 am the next morning, nervous and excited and not having any idea what I was getting myself into. When Fabio asked me about my climbing experience I said I was climbing grades 5.8 and 5.9 in the gym and had not been rock climbing since I was ten. He mis-heard me and thought I hadn’t been climbing outside for ten years – and, apparently, he found gym route grades to be irrelevant because he said the plan was to warm up on a route graded 10a. Which, even if you know nothing about climbing grades, is clearly harder than anything I’d ever tackled. As for basically having no rock climbing experience, well… I suppose things could have gone very sideways. Here’s what was going on in my head as I stood at the bottom of what appeared to me to be a monstrous cliff…

“Oh. My. God. What am I doing here? What do you think you’re doing here? You wanted to go rock climbing – there’s a rock. Now shut up and watch how the others are climbing it.”

Fabio led the way, climbing to the top of a route known as The Raven and the Bear. In the guidebook it says the climb is “hugely entertaining.” Maybe for people who know how to climb. Maybe for people who are not scared of heights. Maybe for people who are climbing with friends and aren’t feeling a bit of pressure to not look like a complete fool… Maybe for people who aren’t absolutely petrified.

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Raven and the Bear – just follow the rope… 

The plus side of being third in line to climb is I had a chance to observe and try to quickly learn what I was supposed to do. The down side of being third in line was I had a long time to develop a pretty healthy state of panic before setting off. Such a state of panic, in fact, that I was convinced I was going to spring a leak and that I would go down in climbing history as “that woman who peed on her belayer…”

The internal conversation continued: “You have nothing to prove! Walk away! Walk away! But these people seem really nice! That guy Fabio seems really nice… and Fabio is up there at the top of the cliff and if you ever want to see him again you pretty well need to climb up…”

So, I started to climb. Legs quivering, heart thumping, mouth dry, convinced I was going to die, up I went. My technique was terrible. At some point Fabio called down, “How’s it going down there?” and I answered, “I’m finding this hugely entertaining!” Which I was, in a horror movie kind of way. I more or less willed myself all the way up to the top, finishing the climb by dragging myself up and over the top edge. This unstylish arrival was greeted with big grins and a hearty, “Well done! Nice belly flop!” Not that I cared. I was exhilarated to have made it all the way up. I couldn’t stop smiling.

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Fabio belaying fro the top of The Raven and the Bear – our first climb together – Skaha Lake in the background

That climb marked the first of hundreds of climbs over the past year, many of which I’ve done with Fabio.  Some have been short and easy, others long and hard. There have been epic multi-pitches on big mountains, short, technical conundrums at various climbing gyms, frozen waterfalls, giant boulders, steep overhangs, granite, sandstone, limestone, basalt – climbs in Nevada, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, BC, and Alberta… The more I do, the more I want to do – and the thought of sailing next year from one climbing destination to another seems like some kind of extraordinary bliss of the type that only happens in wild fantasies!

When I think how close I came to walking right past that last group of climbers at Skaha I shudder. I have no idea what might have happened if I had not tackled The Raven and the Bear. If I had continued to the car park I wouldn’t be sitting beside Fabio right now, taking breaks from writing this blog to chat about whether we should go sailing in Oman or how much leashes will cost for ice tools (I’m worried about dropping a tool on an ice climb and finding myself well and truly stranded – though, not in Oman, obviously). I look back on that day and my ludicrous decision to jump in and try something waaaaaaaay out of my comfort zone and can’t help but grin and shake my head. Having hauled my quivering self up that climb and into a new relationship and a whole new life of climbing and adventure I feel like my limits suddenly expanded another notch. In that moment of belly flopping over the edge I landed in a parallel dimension I hadn’t even suspected existed. Uncharted waters. Untested recipes. Unclimbed mountains. Uncrossed oceans. Exciting times, indeed…