Thursday, March 29, 2018

Don't Miss This Opportunity

May 26
10 am to 4 pm
Pugwash, NS

To finally get kickstarted on your story,  
whether it's fiction or non-fiction, fully formed or needing guidance, 
register with Marjorie at

Hope to see you there!

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

No Sense of Direction

Love my new 4H pencils - perfect for editing, perfect motto for a writer.

My text to Field Notes editor, Emily: "Reading a manuscript is excruciating! It takes soooo much time. How do you do this for a living???!"
Emily's reply: "Hahaha THIS is why it takes so long to hear back from us about submissions!"

My experience with Field Notes, and with Emily, didn't prepare me for the tediousness of reading through and editing a manuscript (and by editing a first draft, I mean making notes about sentences and ideas to work on when I get back on the computer). With Field Notes, we had a very tight deadline so I was spoiled by quick responses; also, no thick pile of typed pages to sit with for hours on end.
I want to write that as hhhhooouuuurrrssss because that's how it feels! It feels like my life is slowly draining out of me as I sit in a chair in my office, manuscript on lap and pencil in hand. For hhhoooouuurrrssss.

Also this: I have written a book with a 13-year-old protagonist and my writing style being what it is, it will likely be marketed to that middle-grade audience. I never expected to write a book for this age group (my two other works-in-progress are for adults) yet if we remember my previous posts, this is the book I was meant to write. This is the book that popped into my head in late December and this is the book that flowed out of me for two months. I wrote the book I wanted to write.

But here's the thing about that: I had the same revelation about my teaching experience. Although I trained for teaching high school students, and did my supply teaching primarily at the high school level, my most successful days -- both as a student teacher and as a substitute teacher -- came at the elementary level.
With the middle grades.
I realized only in the last few years that I should have been a middle school teacher, that my teaching style was best suited to ages 11, 12, 13.
I am a ssssllllloooooowwwww learner. I'm going to live to be 117, it takes me so long to learn the lessons my life wants me to learn. So many of them are simple but it appears I can't see the forest for the trees.
I'm the worst for getting an idea and sticking with it despite all indications pointing in another direction. No wonder I get lost when driving! I'm not fully connected to my inner compass. It's like a wire isn't hooked up; I can see the way eventually, after driving in circles for hours (years) and usually by accident (or divine intervention) but by then I'm late.

Too late for teaching, but thankfully, not too late for writing.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Leave No Words Unspoken

The cover story for this month's United Church Observer magazine (for which I write occasionally) is entitled "Last Words". When the call to submit to this feature came out last fall, I decided not to pitch anything; my last words with my father, who died in May 2009, weren't particularly profound -- "I love you, Dad" and "Thank you" -- and I'd said what I'd wanted to say. I had no regrets about something I didn't say.

So I was struck by what one of the contributors wrote about how, even when we know we are going to lose someone, we refuse to say what we really want to say. We don't want to get upset, we don't want to be upsetting, but how is that worse than the regret of not speaking those thoughts to the person we are about to learn to live without? Human beings are creatures of emotion, of tears, of touch yet we deny ourselves these connections because of strange social conventions, and fear.

Our feelings about, and resistance to, death and grief are creating such problems for us. Not one of us is getting out of this world alive -- WE ARE ALL GOING TO DIE -- yet we act as if we can defy death as long as we don't talk about it, as long as we don't acknowledge it. Heaven forbid we actually plan for it.
And so all those things we want to say, those things perhaps we should say, when someone is alive to hear and appreciate them, go unspoken, and that unspokenness haunts us for the rest of our own days.

Why not speak the truth? It's an act of compassion and mercy -- maybe even comfort -- for both you and the person who is dying.
"You were never around for me and that hurts but I love you and your death will leave a hole in my life." OR "You were so good, so caring and loving. I am grateful you were in my life for 20/40/60 years. I will treasure my memories and our stories of you. Thank you."
Surely, whether we are honoured or obliged to be at someone's bedside when they die, it doesn't hurt to find some kind words to speak out loud.

What about simply saying "I love you" and "Thank you" over and over again? That's what life boils down to, isn't it? Love and gratitude. Who cares if we cry? The letting go of those words, the knowledge you aren't holding onto them, is such a weight lifted; as are the tears shed at the time.
"I love you" and "Thank you" are those basic phrases that everyone, especially those whose minds have been affected by dementia, recognize and understand and respond to. What better gift to give someone who is dying than the knowledge they were loved and appreciated. Don't leave it for the funeral.

Reading these stories reminded me of the one time I tried to tell a dying woman how much she meant to me. I'd known her best when I was a child -- her husband and my father were very good friends -- and I wanted her to know how much I cherished their friendship with my parents, my memories of our dinners at their house, and later, her presence in my life when I returned home as an adult.
Her son wouldn't let me in the house. She came and stood behind him at the door but how could I stand on the doorstep with a bag of cookies in my hand and speak past him, say those words I wanted to say -- and get emotional, of course -- with him standing between us?

I handed over the cookies, as if they were the sole purpose of my visit, and walked home, my unspoken words trailing along behind me like deflated balloons.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

The End Is Just the Beginning

So having finished the first draft of my novel, and being amazed at how quickly it happened by grabbing onto that fresh, strong energy of a brand-new idea, I can't stop thinking about this process, and about potential.

As the registrations start coming in for the Simmins/Jewell writing workshop on May 26th in Pugwash, it's more and more on my mind. Not merely how can we tap into our creative potential but how do we know what it is? Okay, that's the process -- sit your butt in the chair and write -- but how do we know what we are "meant to" write. After all, I'm a non-fiction writer, aren't I? Why would I write a novel?

Many, many years ago, when I was dating the man who would become my first husband, I took a bartending course then I started guitar lessons.
"What are you going to do with those classes?" he asked. He meant, how are those going to become a job.
"I'm interested in them," I answered.
"You're a flake," he said.

No, dammit, I wasn't a flake, and I'm still not a flake because I have a half-finished hooked rug in my spare room and I took riding lessons for six months and I'm taking part in the poetry cafe in Oxford in April. It's called HAVING A LOT OF INTERESTS. How else do we learn about ourselves and our creative talents, discover hidden talents and untapped potential if we don't try everything that comes our way?

This is the advice of Estella Rushton, after all, the beautiful and wise 93 year old woman I interviewed during Oxford's recent International Women's Day event. She told all the young women in attendance to try everything, to grab every opportunity to learn and do.
That doesn't make you a flake.

Of course, this was the same man who, a couple of years later, after I'd told him about a novel idea I'd come up with, responded by saying, "You couldn't handle the research needed to write that book."

(I know, I know. Another mistake I learned from. That's why I found a new partner who leaves sticky notes on my computer monitor that say, 'You can do it!')

The whole point of this point is this: What if I've always been a novelist? I wrote my first novel ("novel") when I was 12; I wrote three more between the ages of 26 and 34. Now I've written this one at a time when its arrival feels different, more necessary and more time's-a-ticking-away-ish.
What if I've always been a novelist?
Do you know how that question makes me feel? EXCITED. Not regretful, not fearful, not beaten, and definitely NOT FLAKY. Because I'm aware now, I'm still able, and I've done it. I've written the first draft of a book that has as much potential as I do. Being older and wiser (and wrinklier and arthritic) is an awesome stage to arrive at.

You are never, ever too old or too late to discover what you've always been, and always wanted to do. 

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Capturing the Magic

I finished the first draft of my novel on Friday, March 9, two weeks ahead of schedule, but this is the earliest moment I've had to sit down and write about that unexpected experience.

What is done is just a first draft. There are inconsistencies, underdeveloped characters and unnecessary exposition (one chapter goes on forever because I couldn't figure out how to end it). There are 22 chapters but they probably need to be shorter, so there will be 40 when the editing is completed. And I might return to my original idea for the ending, which didn't seem plausible at the time I was actually writing it. Fixing all that stuff is hard work but I also think of it as the fun stuff; it's when every character becomes a living entity with their own voice and the story truly takes off -- perhaps even in a direction I hadn't originally considered. 

The truly significant accomplishment, however, isn't finishing a novel in two months; it's learning from my mistakes: those mistakes of not working on an idea as soon as it came to me.
In 2015, Elizabeth Gilbert published Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear and in the section on 'Enchantment', she writes about how ideas show up and the ways we can respond when they do. What hit me as an A-ha moment, and encouraged me to say, "Yes, right now!" to my post-Christmas novel idea was what happened to an idea she'd neglected: "The idea had grown tired of waiting, and it had left me."
She'd had the idea, and written it down, but life had intervened and she'd ended up writing another book, and when she finally headed back to the novel she'd been planning - and had a contract for - it was gone. Not only that: It found a home with another author who wrote such a similar novel, Elizabeth knew with whom the idea had found a happy home.

I knew right then what I'd been doing wrong for twenty years because THAT HAPPENED TO ME. While I was living on East 15th Street in Vancouver, I had an idea for a novel that I thought about for weeks as I drove to and from work, but I never did anything with it. I  never even wrote it down. Eventually, I stopped thinking about it, and ten years later, in 2009, Gayle Forman published the idea as a young adult novel entitled "If I Stay".
Yeah, the best-selling book that was made into a movie. The idea I ignored until it went away and found someone who wanted it.

I didn't want to make that mistake again. And let me tell you, I'm haunted by the ideas and opening chapters I've written into notebooks and failed to follow up on. But you can't live in the past, you can't dwell on regrets; you acknowledge the mistake and learn from it in order to keep moving forward in the present, wiser and more determined. (Trust me, you will keep getting the opportunity to learn a lesson until you actually learn it.)

This is what I want to say about this experience of writing a novel in two months: Nothing is impossible. All it takes to accomplish something -- whether it's writing a book or painting a landscape or weaving a blanket or carving a tree spirit -- is doing it. You start and you keep at it until it is completed. Whether it takes two months or six or twelve months, whether it takes one year or ten. I had allotted three months, and thought it would be a push, but this book wanted to be written and it poured out of me because I'd grabbed onto it when it was new and powerful and ready to go.
That's the kind of creative energy -- fresh and bright and sparkly -- that I wish for you.

When it shows up, welcome it. Say hello, say thanks for coming. Ask it to stay awhile. If there is something you want to do, start thinking about it, and when it hears you and responds by showing up, please grab it. Do the thing. Set aside an hour a day to do only that thing. If it's something you want to learn to do, find someone who can teach you. If an idea comes to you, if an urge to create strikes you, please don't ignore it. Forget the grocery shopping (if they want to eat, they'll go), forget the laundry (if they want clean clothes, they'll do a wash), forget the fear and self-doubt masquerading as excuses. Be brave, be courageous.

Ask for help. If someone wants me to do their grocery shopping or their laundry so they can paint or write or dance for an hour, I'LL DO IT. I have my support team who did these things for me for two months; let me do it for you. I even fold fitted sheets! You don't have to do this alone, and you don't have to ignore your creative urge.
[Edit: I realized the flaw in this offer! Create your support team; you deserve it -- just one hour to tap into your potential.]

In the opening chapter of Big Magic, Elizabeth Gilbert wrote, "The universe buries strange jewels deep within us all, and then it stands back to see if we can find them. The hunt to uncover those jewels - that's creative living. The courage to go on that hunt in the first place - that's what separates a mundane existence from a more enchanted one."

This is what enchantment looks like: Here I am with my manuscript, all 312 pages of mess and mistakes -- and it is such a great feeling to hold it in my hands. I want that feeling for you! I want you to hold in your own hands something you created, even if it's messy and full of mistakes. No one even has to see it. When I told my friend Shelagh that I was done the first draft, she wanted me to email it to her immediately. I laughed and said, "No one sees the first draft." And no one needs to see your first painting or hooked rug or carving or whatever. The only thing that matters is that you start and you complete it and you hold it in your hands knowing you did it, you finally did it.

(But if you want to share your experience with someone, if you want to share your excitement, I'm here for you.)

Friday, March 16, 2018

The Spring Issue Has Bloomed

Although my Field Notes column, and thus my first book, got its start in a newspaper, there's something about a magazine. Even in these e-reader, online publishing times, there's something about a magazine. And I'm delighted to be back as a magazine columnist, particularly in At Home On the North Shore, which features writers, photographers, homeowners and artisans of the north shore of Nova Scotia.

One of the newspaper columns I never got around to writing was called "The Lost Art of Browsing" and perhaps I will devote a future AH Field Notes column to that idea. I just don't understand how online shopping can be more fulfilling than shopping in person; more convenient and cheaper, maybe, but what is lost when everything that comes to us comes via a screen and a click?

I thought of this last night while watching a news story about Toys R Us stores closing in the United States. The story ran with video of children in the store picking out toys.
Hello? Did anyone else catch what that means? I LOVED going to the local toy store or the toy department at our local (yet relatively small) department store when I was a kid and looking at all the toys before choosing the one toy I could take home with me. 
Sadly, a Dollarama toy run isn't the same as spending an hour in The Toy Shoppe.

Which is not a digression, as much as it appears to be! I can hold the spring issue of the magazine in my hands. I can send a copy to my best friend in Ontario. I can leave it lying on the coffee table. It will last forever. We can go to the farmers' market and meet the growers and bakers and creators. We can talk with the woman who owns the clothing store or the bookstore or the shoe store; we can be remembered when we show up the next time. Humans are a tactile, face-to-face species; we are denying ourselves so much essential interaction by limiting ourselves to computers.
People says, "Everything lasts forever on the internet," but that's not true. Things get lost on the internet, things get forgotten. A book, a magazine, a toy lasts forever -- but more importantly, so does the memory of the experience.
Like the memory of my father coming home with two stuffed animals for his two daughters -- an unexpected treat when money was tight -- that he chose himself while standing in a toy store and walked home with one under each arm.

To subscribe, call Lorraine at 902-485-1990, Ext. 1435 (Advocate Media)

Monday, March 12, 2018

Writing Workshop in May

Click on the picture to enlarge it and be able to read the words.

I'm delighted to be co-presenting this writing workshop with Marjorie Simmins, an accomplished writer and teacher. This one-day workshop at the Thinkers Lodge in Pugwash has become an annual event for her, and this year, she's invited me to share my experience with and my advice for facing fears and making space for truth and joy.

Having participated in Marjorie's 2015 workshop, I highly recommend this day. I came away with not one but TWO breakthroughs -- one of which I'll be sharing during the workshop. If you want to become inspired and motivated and encouraged -- empowered! -- this is the place to be. 

The workshop takes place on Saturday, May 26 beginning at 10 am in Pugwash, Nova Scotia.
The cost is $150, all in, and that includes the opportunity for either Marjorie or me to read 10 pages of a manuscript prior to the workshop (consider that a professional editor - like Marjorie - would charge $150 for that task so great deal!).

There are accomodations available in Pugwash (at the Thinkers Lodge and at a B&B) if you want to come up the night before, and I can't help myself: I'll be bringing my famous heart-shaped oatcakes for tea/coffee breaks!
For more information, contact Marjorie at mls @
Please register early because we are only offering 12 spaces.

Thursday, March 08, 2018

International Women's Day 2018

This is the fifth year for the International Women's Day event in Oxford, NS, so we're making it a celebration (if only the weather cooperates!). While I'm the planning committee, I also participate in the event by having a conversation with a local woman with an inspiring story to tell.
Here's a look back...

2014: Alia Kamarreddine shared her experience of coming to Canada as a 19 year old newlywed unable to speak any English. She talked about being a female business owner in the area. She now plays a key role in helping new immigrants (arriving through  the refugee program) settle into our community.

2015: Rosemary Donkin spoke of the challenges of raising a family and working when she went back to school to become a nurse. I remember best her story about doing her homework during hockey practices and 4H events!

2016: Trish Stewart shared her experience as the first female mayor of Oxford. Afterwards, we realized we didn't talk about the scrutiny women's clothes and hair get, and the pressure to wear new outfits all the time.

2017: This was a panel on women's friendships featuring lifelong friends Marilyn Williams and Janice Varner, and mother-daughter duo Haillie and Janelle Tattrie. This fabulous photograph is courtesy of Dave Matheson at the Citizen-Record newspaper.

2018: This year, I'm "in conversation with" Estella Rushton, who is 93 years young, and she'll be sharing an "equal pay for equal work" experience and as well as a few tips to staying young at heart.

(Estella loves to read, and I noticed Field Notes on the bookshelf but I was so caught up our pre-event interview, I forgot to take her picture holding my book!)