Spiders and storyweaving

Over the last couple of weeks, I have encountered spiders regularly in my bedroom. One spider at a time. It’s been a long time since I’ve lived in a house and so I haven’t really encountered spiders very often in my adult life. (During the emptying of my old apartment in November and December, I found and dispatched a number of spiders from the dark and dusty recesses of the various clutter-filled cubby holes, but that was in conjunction with a whole lot of other multi-legged undesirables; otherwise I hadn’t encountered more than a handful of spiders in my own home in my entire adult life.)

I’m not afraid of spiders — in fact, an old boyfriend had a pet tarantula that I held and let crawl up my arm. (As an aside, if you’ve never held a tarantula, you really should at least once in your life. It’s a most remarkable sensation — their “feet” feel like the hook side of velcro, which is not at all what I expected. And it tickles.) But I don’t like the idea of spiders getting into things they aren’t meant to be in, like my hair. So I have difficulty letting them remain in areas where that is a possibility. I’ve tried to explain to them that there’s an entirely empty bedroom next to mine that they are welcome to take over, but they seem to like mine best. It’s not a good mix.

During all this, and despite the fact that I’ve long considered getting a spider or spider web tattoo, I’ve never considered that perhaps the repeated presence of the spiders might have a more symbolic meaning. My weekly class with Asia Voight last night featured one of my favourite authors, Dr. Steven Farmer. He spoke about power animals and spirit animals and about learning to recognize when the repeated presence of a particular animal brings a message for you. While I was listening, I decided to bring up the Spider card in his “Messages From You Animal Spirit Guides Oracle Cards” iPhone app:

Trust the creative spark you’re feeling, and express it through writing stories that inspire and enlighten.  The pulse of creativity is especially strong right now, triggering a not unfamiliar and compelling desire to express yourself through creative writing. Whether or not the tales you weave are true, whether they’re based on actual experience or the imaginings of your fertile mind, each day sit yourself down and pour out the words that come to you. Don’t ponder each sentence or paragraph; just write whatever wants to be written through you. To inspire and enlighten others, you don’t need a profoundly complex tale. Start by describing a personal experience, one where you gained some insight that may also be useful for others. However, don’t focus on how people will respond to your story; instead, just enjoy the process of writing without judging your work or yourself. […]

Associations: Creativity, wisdom, weaving, balance, storytelling, writing, connectedness, inspiration, femininity, nurturing, communication, imagination, individuality

It touches on two things that have been on my mind lately: blogging and continuing to work on the novels I started for past 3-Day Novel contests:

  • Blogging: I didn’t write much in this blog after Maci died because, well, I just really couldn’t put what I was going through into words. Since the move, I’ve been wanting to write more here, but I’ve been conflicted. This blog has always been my general, all purpose blog. I’ve tried to keep most of my spiritual and writing ramblings to other blogs I’ve created for those purposes, but that hasn’t been working for me so far as it has led only to dozens of half-written and halfhearted draft posts strewn across all of the blogs, with few actually published. I don’t want to split myself apart like that any more so I’m going to reintegrate myself into this one blog. And I’m going to start trying to post regularly — perhaps even daily like I did before. I do have thoughts to share that might well help someone else, and if not, the writing is the thing. If it only helps me to sort things out, then it will have done its job well.
  • Writing: When I moved, I threw away most of the books I’d collected over the years. The relatively few books I kept tend to fall into three categories — spiritual, technical writing or grammar, and creative writing. The technical writing/grammar books I kept because I expect to one day go back into technical writing and many of the books I have are hard to come by today; the spiritual books are relevant to my current intentions for my life; and the creative writing books speak to my long-held and newly-renewed desire to write and publish (even if on my own) a novel. Today, I received my participation sticker for last year’s 3-Day Novel contest and a pretty hefty discount offer for this year’s contest fee (30% off). So I signed up again. Between now and then, I would like to revisit some of the other stories I’d begun for past contests and finally get them written. One in particular — one that speaks to the interconnectedness of all things — seems to want to be written now and so I think I will start on that one. One of my biggest difficulties with past contests is that I lacked the discipline to sit down over a 3-day long weekend and try to write an entire novel. By making a commitment now to write at least something every day, perhaps I will be able to succeed in September. More importantly, the stories already bursting to be finished will be that much closer to completion and release into the world.

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.)

Smiley-enhanced for your viewing pleasure

There’s a certain presumption of civility and soberness in formal communications such as business letters, cross-cultural and known interpersonal issues notwithstanding.

The same doesn’t apply to informal communications such as e-mails, forums, or chats. With those, we tend to let our inner insecurities, life experiences, and preconceptions colour what we read and, in turn, affect how we respond. A benign e-mail or post gets misread and misconstrued until we’re taking offense or presuming meanings and nuances that don’t exist. (Cyberstalking, anyone?) There are no body language or facial expressions to help us interpret the intent behind the words. “Smiley-enhancing” is the bared-underbelly of the writing world — “See, I’m not a threat, you can read me without worry.” It won’t always prevent people from reading you the wrong way (my experience in that online chat yesterday underscores that),  nor does it prevent people from deliberately misrepresenting themselves, but it goes a long way towards circumventing those experiential biases we all have and making the Interwebs a civilized frontier.

My trip to Toronto in April was the first time I’d experienced that in person with someone whose been around me in Real Life™. I won’t go into details (both because they’re really boring and because, well, sometimes the blogosphere has big ears), but I’d never realized before how much someone can completely misread your body language in person. A real smile or wink doesn’t always convince people that you’re being funny (plus they have to be looking at you to see it). You can really laugh out loud but it isn’t as disarming as a LOL.

The whole situation was disconcerting and made me wonder if I’d completely lost my ability to socialize in person. (That’s the downside to being a hermit.) It also demonstrated to me how much I’ve come to rely on smileys and how much I need them in Real Life™. Either that or I just need to practice my socializing skills on, you know, real people…in person. (Not that you’re not all real…well, I presume you are but then I could just be talking to myself.)

(I know. I lied about smiley-enhancing this post.)

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.