The Great Canadian Novel

I used to be a writer.

Not just a technical writer, but a writer. With every fibre of my being, a Writer.

Of poetry. Of short stories. Of the Great Canadian Novel (perpetually in progress, of course).

I haven’t written poetry in almost 20 years. I thought on my way home from visiting my mother in June that if there was any time to write another poem, it was now. (My mother was my greatest and most devoted fan, as only a mother can be.) But I can’t seem to muster the inspiration to write a poem for my mother just yet. I’m still paused, and I can’t bring myself to write a poem right now knowing that she won’t be able to read it. Some day that will fade and I’ll be able to start. It might be next year or it might be next week. But not today.

So, instead, I’ve been thinking of other writing. I’ve had a number of novels under way for years — decades, even — that I always promised myself I would finish. I have a box full of old ideas, a writing program full of new ideas, a head full of ideas I haven’t even thought of yet…but I still never seem to actually do more than write a page or two, maybe a scene.

Part of the problem is good old procrastination. I start out with good intentions but then something else — everything else — becomes more important than what I should be doing. And I suddenly become narcoleptic, unable to stay awake for love or money (Mr. Procrastination’s version of a roofie.)

Part of the problem is that I am too critical of my own writing. I have problems writing a true rough draft because I keep trying to go back and edit what I’ve already written until it is perfect in my eyes. So much energy is wasted on that that I have little left for writing new words to copy-edit. And by the time I’m ready to move on, I’m so sick of the story that I just can’t stand to write any more and the story gets released into the wilds of my head to go rogue.

Still, I remain ever hopeful. And so I find myself thinking again of the 3-Day Novel Contest, a writing contest in which you attempt to write a novel over the Labour Day long weekend. I’ve taken part in the contest four times since 2005, but I’ve yet to have a complete (even a crappy-but-complete) novel to send in. (Who am I kidding? I haven’t written more than a half dozen pages for any of them, let alone a complete novel.) That doesn’t stop me from giving it as much of a try as Mr. P’s wily ways will allow me, though.

3-day novel contestI didn’t take part in last year’s contest because I was working, but I think I’d like to try it again this year. It’s mad, but it’s also fun in a really twisted kind of way. Most of the ideas I came up with for previous years are still calling out to me so perhaps I’ll pick one of them back up and start it over, give it a fresh shot at life. I think I might even know which one that will be.

I have until September 3 to decide whether or not to take part. Time enough to let the idea percolate for a bit. (Say, I can’t tempt any of you to join in, can I? Misery loves company. You’d have a great time.)


Call me crazy…

National Blog Posting Month - March 2010…but I’ve decided to try to tackle NaBloPoMo (National Blog Posting Month) again. If you’ve followed this blog for awhile, you know that, for a couple of months in late 2008 and early 2009, I tried to blog every day. It can be tough to do, but it’s good for improving your discipline if, like me, you frequently just don’t get around to writing.

So, starting tomorrow, I’ll be attempting to write at least one post every day for the 31 days of March. I can’t guarantee that all (or even any) of them will be brilliant, but I plan to pick through the many, many, MANY half-written posts sitting in my Drafts folder. That’s a win-win for everyone.  🙂

It’s only words

Though it pains me sometimes to admit it, I’m not perfect. Especially not when it comes to the grammar and word choices that I  make in my personal writing. And I don’t expect most people to be perfect, either. I have a couple of friends, for example, who have a tendency to make malapropisms when speaking and writing — you learn to translate them on the fly and get on with your life.

This is not a mobius strip.However, it really annoys me when people who should know better — authors, professors, etc. — make poor word choices. (I think I’ve whinged about that before.) I watched “Nostradamus 2012” a couple of weekends ago and found I couldn’t concentrate for author Jay Weidner‘s repeated mistakes. “Modern science owes its entire allegiance to alchemy.” Allegiance? WTF? And he kept calling drawings from the Lost Book of Nostradamus like the image to the right here möbius strips when they clearly aren’t.

To quote the great swordsman Inigo Montoya: “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

Come on, you want your theories to be taken seriously? Start using the correct terms.

Breaking into freelancing

The hard part about freelancing is finding the clients. Freelance marketplaces like oDesk,, and eLance can be good sources of freelance jobs if you put in the time and energy to figure them out. Main pro? These marketplaces offer a worldwide pool of jobs where your geographic location is generally not an issue. Main con? You’re competing with a worldwide pool of freelancers, many of who can bid very low because they live in countries where the standard of living is lower than it is here and an hourly wage that is smaller than Canadian minimum wage is still considered lucrative.

Getting hired for posted jobs is a twist on the typical “how do you get experience if no one will hire you” Catch-22 — to be hired, you generally need a reputation within that marketplace as a good worker, but to get that good reputation, you first need to be hired.

I’ve been trying off and on over the last month or so to break into the freelancing world at one of these marketplaces. Unfortunately, even buyers who claim they want native English writers with top writing skills will still sacrifice some (perhaps even a lot of) language quality for a lower bid. (Reminds me of a previous employer who insisted that 80 or 90% accurate was good enough for our user guides — “it’s only words”, after all.) Today, I received an interview invitation for one of the jobs I’d bid on, writing a wiki-based help system. I believe I’ve actually been given the job (I say believe because it still says I’m in interview status, despite the buyer saying we were going ahead with the project). It doesn’t pay a great deal — about $350 CDN — but I knew that going in. The reputation that the successful completion of this job will give me is so much more important in the long run than the money earned. I consider it the same kind of investment as working on that Joomla site I just launched — that was resume fodder, this is reputation fodder.

Writing a romance

Watching the BBC Time Shift episode “How to Write a Mills and Boon” (which chronicles author Stella Duffy‘s attempts to write a romance book for Mills and Boon, the UK arm of Harlequin/Silhouette) today reminded me of my days of reading romance novels.

I started reading romances when I was in my teens, nearly 30 years ago. A friend of the family had a pile of old books that she passed on to my mother and I. They were the stereotypical 70s romances: tall, dark, handsome, wealthy, and cynical (always cynical) man, sometimes a widower with a child, meets young, 18-19 year-old virgin who comes to work for him as a governess, nurse, or secretary. Not at all what I was looking for myself even back then but it was titillating reading for a teenager. Later, Silhouette in particular started publishing racier fiction that featured more experienced, stronger women and slightly less overbearing tall, dark, handsome, wealthy, and cynical heroes. At one point, my mother and I belonged to the monthly book club for several of their imprints, going through dozens of books a month. (Romances are light reading.) Some have stayed with me through the years.

I stopped reading romances years ago, when it became apparent that I was no longer in their target audience. I’m not interested in stories about estranged or separated married couples, single parents, babies, children, families, etc. That’s not my life nor is it my fantasy life. But that seemed to be most of what was being published.

I see now that Harlequin again has a number of imprints for fantasy-type story-lines. One of those imprints is Silhouette Nocturne, which specializes in paranormal fiction involving creatures like vampires and werewolves. Another is Luna, which features more fantastical, magical stories. I was quite surprised to see that Mercedes Lackey, one of my favourite fantasy writers, is actually writing a series for Luna called A Tale of Five Hundred Kingdoms.

I had always thought that my history of reading romances and my love for writing would make me a good romance writer myself. Maybe it’s time to consider that more seriously.