How My Writing Partner Broke My Brain (and helped me rediscover my mojo)

Last year was a difficult one for me, I won’t lie. My youngest daughter’s move away from home was fraught with
trauma, and so mine inevitably was, too. I spent the first five months of the year on 24-7 text alert as I tried to keep her glued together, the next month helping her transition home again, and the remaining six months trying to help her heal. Needless to say, it didn’t leave a lot of time or energy—or will!—for writing.

In fact, of the approximately three books I set out to write at the beginning of the year, I accomplished exactly…none. The most I could handle was the editing of a previously written book, Shadow of Doubt, that I released as a serialized novel on Radish Fiction and Wattpad…and there were times when even that task seemed insurmountable. With the arrival of the new year, however, home life was beginning to look more settled, which meant it was time to step back and take a look at my writing career…

It wasn’t pretty.

In fact, if I was objective about it, it was in shambles. It was bad enough that I hadn’t released anything new since 2015 (Forever Grace in April, and Sins of the Warrior in September), but even worse, I’d lost my confidence. My I-can-do-this-iveness” (yes, that’s totally a word 😛 ). My motivation.

Enter my writing partner, Marie Bilodeau, a prolific writer, savvy business person, and—it turns out—quite the ass-kicker. And boy-howdy, did she kick my ass. Which was a Good Thing, because said ass needed kicking. We started off the new year by setting writing goals—tough but manageable ones. We both had deadlines to meet, and I’d run out of excuses on mine (full confession: I’d had a full year to write the novel, but I hadn’t started until December).

I got off to a good start, meeting all my targets and sticking with my schedule for a whole week. Then I got sick. Then I injured my knee. Then I got sick again…and I lost two weeks that I absolutely could not afford. Then Marie and I went on a 5-day writers’ retreat to a cottage. My intention was to complete the novel while we were there, but I needed almost 20,000 words, and I had roughly zero faith in my ability to pull that off.

I hadn’t counted on Marie.

Once we got past the fire incident, she turned into a workhorse. For every 600 words I wrote, she did 3,000. I stopped for frequent breaks. She wrote through most of those, too. Two days slid past. It was painfully obvious to me that I wasn’t going to make it anywhere near my goal. Who was I kidding? I was ready to give up on the book altogether.

Marie kept writing.

Because I didn’t want to disturb her with television (and I’d forgotten to bring books with me for reading), I wrote, too. Slowly. Painfully. Grudgingly. When we did take breaks together, Marie encouraged (bullied? 😛 ) me to keep trying. “Push harder,” she’d say. “Push until your brain stops resisting. Just keep at it. You can do this.”

Frankly, she annoyed the hell out of me. (I love you, Marie! 😀 )

But damned if it didn’t work. On Wednesday afternoon, I settled into my chair, plugged into my music, and set to work. And whether it was out of determination or self-preservation (no more encouragement, Marie, please! 😉 ), I kept at it. For the first time ever, I didn’t let myself be distracted by finding the perfect word or figuring out how to transition to the next scene. If I didn’t have a word, I left a blank. If I didn’t know how to describe something, I left myself a note:

write in stuff: anger. dismay. guilt.

In other words, I didn’t let myself get caught up in details…and chapter by chapter, partial scene by terse note, the story unfolded. At ten p.m. that night, after writing a monumental (for me) 4,444 words in one day, I finished the first draft of the book. I was exhausted, euphoric, stunned, and giddy all at the same time. The last few chapters were a mess. I could no longer string two coherent words together verbally. And something in my brain definitely felt as if had not just given up resistance, but had broken completely…

But. I. Was. Done.#Resist

I’d written another book—and I’d done it in two months flat. That in itself was mind-boggling. But the real takeaway for me? Remembering that I could write. Rediscovering that elusive self-discipline. Reacquainting myself with that critical motivation. I am writer. Hear my fingers fly across the keyboard! 😉

Will I always feel this strong? Ha! Absolutely not. Life will inevitably interfere and knock me off course, leaving me wallowing in self-doubt, or self-pity, or both. But I’ll always remember that I can feel this strong. That it really is about ‘mind over matter’. That my excuses are just that—excuses—because I am capable, and I can do this. (And that if I ever need my ass kicked again, Marie’s my go-to.)

There’s a takeaway in this for you, too: If you’re not working with an ass-kicker of your own, you need to find one, because nothing exposes the weakness of your excuses quite like having to explain them to someone else. That whole accountability thing? It works.

Puppy Love: it’s a Real Thing, folks

When Giant Dog was just a little bit of a guy (yes, I know, hard to imagine!), the very first dog we encountered on one of our many, many, many walks, was a chocolate lab named Mocha. At the time, Giant Dog was about 3 months old, which meant he was still highly energetic, not terribly bright, and had zero manners when it came to greeting others of his kind. Or any kind, come to think of it. 😛

Mocha, on the other hand, was 18 months old and a perfect lady. Like most labs we’ve encountered, she was calm and intelligent, and already well trained. And oh, so patient with too big, too enthusiastic, too too Giant Dog as she rolled around in the snow with him, let him chew on her, and played chase. 1.02

Giant Dog fell hard that day. With every fibre of his puppy heart, he adored her…and he continues to do so to this day, seven years later.

Mocha is more sedate now. She’s had surgery on her hips, there’s a bit of arthritis, and she just moves slower (all except for her tail, of course). Giant Dog, on the other hand, is just a more giant version of the puppy he was when they first met. (I’ve actually given up on the idea he might mature one day. 😛 ) Yet they still greet one another with total abandon. Well, okay…Giant Dog comes down on the side of total abandon; Mocha just uncomplainingly endures his enthusiasm.

We don’t meet up very often–in fact, I can probably count on two hands the number of times we’ve encountered one another over the years, yet every morning when we go past Mocha’s house, we have to stop and stare at the door and window in case we catch a glimpse of her. Say her name at our house, and he runs to the window to look for her. Hope springs eternal, it seems.

And puppy love? Oh, yeah. It’s a real thing, all right.

#Resist

 

 

The Elephant on Social Media: Deciding what to post about in 2017

So here’s the thing. I’ve spent the past few weeks struggling to wrap my head around what’s happening in the world #Resistright now. I’ve been remembering how I learned about all those wars during my school years. I’ve been thinking about how many times I’ve heard the phrase “Never again.” I’ve been wondering how in freaking hell history seems to repeat itself over and over and over again. And I’ve never felt so helpless or paralyzed in all my life.

For the most part, I haven’t shared any of this on social media. In part because I’m not sure I know how to express the heartache, shock, and yes, terror that reside in my core like a churning black pit filled with horrors I’m not sure I’m strong enough to face. In part because I don’t think my voice is strong enough to make much of an impact. And in great part because I’ve struggled with what my responsibility is to the social media community I’ve worked so hard to build.

If you’ve followed me for any length of time here, on Twitter, or on Facebook, you may have noticed that things are generally pretty positive. There’s a goodly dose of humour, a sprinkle of what I hope others find as inspiring as I do, some pet-inspired posts, and a great deal of sharing of the lighter moments in life. Oh, and an occasional self-promo thing, too…but I keep forgetting to post those! 😉

So here’s my dilemma:  stuff is happening. A lot of stuff. Every time I go online, it seems there’s something new. Something more. Something that people need to know about and fight against. So…do I post about it? Share it on my Facebook page? Help get the message out? Or do I maintain a lower profile on the social media activist front? Keep the tone light? Pretend I don’t see the elephant in the room?

It seems to me that both choices hold equal importance. Yes, I want to be a part of the resistance and to signal-boost to get the messages out there to as many people as possible, but I also want to be a bit of an oasis for those who need respite from the constant barrage. I want to fight the ugliness that appears ready to swallow humanity, but I also want to notice that there is still beauty in the world. I want to acknowledge the darkness, but I want to be a light in that darkness, because heaven knows the world can use more of that right now.

 

So after much angsting (much, much angsting 😛 ), here’s what I’ve decided. For the most part, my social media community is going to remain a safe place.  On Twitter, where the nature of the beast is such that it makes for great signal-boosting, I’ll post and repost all that I can on behalf of the resistance. But here on the blog, you’ll still get mostly random posts that mirror my equally random thought-process (because frankly, others are much more articulate than I am when it comes to expressing outrage anyway), and my Facebook page will remain mostly light and fun, because if your newsfeed is anything like mine these days, you need something to make you smile once in a while. And there are still so many things to smile about.

In short, I want you to know that I know the elephant is in the social media room with me. I can feel it sitting on my chest every minute of every day. But I refuse to let it squash the life out of me, or to throw such a shadow that I can no longer see or be a light. I can’t fix the world, but I will do what I can to help (such as donate to the ACLU), and I will continue to spread kindness every chance I get, and I will put boots on the ground to make a difference in my community…and I will continue to entertain and distract you as best I can.

Sound good? I’d like to know what you think, so please do leave me a comment below (or on Twitter or Facebook, if you’d prefer).

And on that note, I’m going to get back to work, because I have a novel to edit for you!

Much love,

Linda

Two Writers and a Cottage: Adult Supervision Required

So this week, I’m on a writer’s retreat with Marie Bilodeau. We both have novels to finish and deadlines to meet, and 1.05so we’ve holed up in a rented cottage, pumped and raring to go. Marie and I being who we are, however, things haven’t gone quite as smoothly as expected. Here’s a snapshot–and remember, this was only our first day! 😛

Sunday afternoon, 4:00 p.m.

We arrive at our cottage rental, unload the vehicle, and put away the groceries. At 4:45, a frozen shepherd’s pie goes into the oven for dinner. We explore the cottage, read the welcome instructions, and settle in.

Sunday, 5:15 p.m.

We decide we should have a fire in the beautiful stone fireplace. There is no kindling supplied, but there’s lots of paper, and the wood is nice and dry. I manage to get a decent blaze going. Unfortunately, I’ve forgotten to open the fireplace damper.

Smoke billows into the room. After a quick but frantic search, I find what I believe is the damper handle. I pull. The handle falls off in my hand. More smoke billows out. Two smoke alarms begin shrieking at a skull-piercing decibel. A 1.03laughing Marie begins opening windows and doors while I try to replace the broken handle and get the damper open. Marie shouts over the alarms to ask if she should get water to put out the fire. I shout back yes.

By now she is doubled over with laughter, and half the pot of water she brings is spilled along the way. She douses the flames, more smoke pours out, she fetches (and spills) more water, and I swear mightily at both the damper and the unbearably freaking-loud alarms. With the fire out, I take the charred and still-smoking log out of the fireplace and stick it into the snowbank outside the sliding glass doors. The alarms shriek on.

Sunday, 5:30 p.m.

We set about trying to silence the shrieks before one of the neighbours hears and we end up with the fire department on our doorstep. The alarms are on the cathedral ceiling, far out of reach, so I find some tea towels to wave at them, and Marie climbs on a chair. After much flapping (and wild giggling), she manages to silence first one and then the other. (I’m laid up with a knee injury, so I handle the swearing while she does the climbing.)

Sunday, 5:40 p.m.

I finally locate the damper control (at the back of the chimney where it had nothing to do with the handle I’d yarded on). The residual smoke drifts up the chimney. One of the alarms keeps up an intermittent chirping, like the signal 1.01for a weak battery. Marie thinks it might be a continued warning, because there is still significant smoke at ceiling height. She does an internet search and reads that it may need to be reset. We find a broom. She climbs back onto the chair and pokes the only visible button, but to no effect.

Sunday, 5:50 p.m.

The alarm chirps on. We conclude that it really must be a weak battery (probably because we wore it out). I call the cottage owner. No answer. I leave a voicemail message. Not knowing how long it will be before we heard back and unable to tolerate the irritating sound, we decide to try to get at it ourselves. Brave (and hysterically laughing) Marie climbs up on the arm of a taller chair. No go.

Sunday, 6:00 p.m.

Plan B. Still laughing, we traipse out to the shed in the dark. The flashlight Marie carries is entirely inadequate. I step off the path into soft snow that fills my boots and begins to melt over my sockless feet. We find a ladder, but it is buried behind too much stuff for Marie to get at, and I can’t climb into the shed to help because of my knee. Back to the cottage.

Sunday, 6:20 p.m.

I mop up the puddles spilled by Marie. She closes doors and windows and turns the heat back on. We’re chilled to the bone. I mention how nice a fire would be. We both laugh some more.

The chirping alarm chirps on.

Sunday, 6:30 p.m.

1.04One last attempt. The only piece of furniture tall enough for Marie to reach the ceiling is the dining room table. We move the coffee table and a chair out of the way, then carefully (oh, so carefully, because our track record isn’t so good at this point) remove the very large glass cover from the table and set it aside. Then, just as we grasp the massive table itself, I realize the chirping has stopped.

After waiting several minutes to be absolutely certain the silence will last, we replace the glass table top and the other furniture.

Sunday, 7:00 p.m.

Pyjamas and dinner (the shepherd’s pie is now crispy around the edges and much drier than it should be)…and another attempt to start a fire.

Four attempts, actually, much to Marie’s ongoing amusement. She has begun texting the saga to her roommate and telling me how entertaining I am and how much fun she’s having.

Sunday, 7:30 p.m.

I give up on the fire at last, and we settle down to do what we’d come for: write.

Of course, that’s when the cottage owner calls.

Despite our assurances that the alarm has gone silent and everything is fine, he insists on driving over (it’s only 15 1minutes, he says) to change the battery so it won’t disturb us in the middle of the night. I am mortified, but short of admitting I tried to set fire to his cottage, I can’t really say no. Marie thinks this is funny, too. We make sure all evidence of our unfortunate incident is cleared away. I close the blinds on the patio doors to hide the charred snow.

Sunday, 7:45 p.m.

The owner arrives, apologizing for having taken so long to get back to us—he’d been at his daughter’s dance recital. If there was a carpet in the cottage, I would happily crawl under it.

He digs the ladder out of the shed, moves a chair out of the way, and climbs up to take down the still-silent smoke alarm—offering, as he works, to light a fire for us before he leaves again. It seems we didn’t manage to erase all the evidence of my failed attempts after all. Oops. On the bright side, however, he doesn’t mention smelling smoke, so our airing-out has been a success. Woo?

As he replaces the battery with one he finds in a kitchen drawer, I clear away the charred log and unburned paper from the fireplace grate…only to realize that the reason my attempts had failed was because it was wetter in there from Marie’s dousing efforts than I’d realized. A lot wetter.

Sunday, 7:50  p.m.

The owner chats away with Marie as he climbs the ladder a second time to put the alarm back in place. I hide handfuls of wet paper under the fireplace grate and sweep aside the ash that has turned to black, dripping goo. It’s worse in here than I thought. As the owner descends again, I know I can’t let him near the fireplace without my arson attempt being discovered.

1.02I stand up too quickly and nearly cold-cock myself on the solid wood mantle above. As nonchalantly as I can, I go to the kitchen to wash the black muck from my hands so that I can rub the enormous lump growing on my skull and, in frantic whispers, tell Marie (who has seen the entire display and is trying—but failing to dissolve into hysterics) that we absolutely cannot have a fire after all.

Somewhat mystified but ever willing to play along, Marie graciously declines the owner’s offer—and then the smoke alarm begins chirping.

Apparently, the battery the owner used to replace the perfectly good battery is weak. As he climbs the ladder yet again, Marie and I pretty much both break down in hysterics.

Sunday, 8:30 p.m.

The owner has gone, taking the two batteries with him. The ladder leans against a wall in the kitchen. The dismantled smoke alarm rests on the counter. The fireplace remains cold, dark, and very, very wet. Marie and I retreat to chairs in the living room with tea in hand and laugh until our faces hurt. Writers’ retreats, we conclude, are great fun.

But in future, adult supervision for the two of us is definitely recommended. 😛

Why I Ditched My Long-term Goals (and simplified my life)

We’ve all heard the expert advice: if you truly want to get ahead in life, you have to have goals. Long-term ones. Goals that you write down, spend time visualizing, and have a plan for working towards.Simplify

And then there’s me.

I’ve tried the goal-setting thing. I really have. Time after time, year after year, I kept at it, because everywhere I looked, goal-setting was touted as the way to success—in books and blogs, by fellow writers and personal coaches…anyone and everyone, really.

And so, in the spirit of getting ahead, every year I’ve written down my goals: long-term, short-term, steps to getting there. I’ve reviewed them faithfully, posted them on my office wall, kept notebooks and agendas, plastered calendars and checklists on my walls…heck, I even set up a vision board once. But life and responsibilities to others and a whole host of stuff kept getting in the way, and time after time, year after year, I kept failing. Obviously, I had to be doing something wrong.

Turns out I was. But not in the way I thought.

I’ve been working with a writing partner for the last couple of years, and this year we had agreed to create actual business plans for ourselves. (I’d tried every other method of goal-setting, so why not this one, right?) In preparation for our meeting, I printed off a strategic plan for writers that had come into my email via another writer’s blog (serendipity, right?), I made a list of all the marketing things I thought I should do over the year, and I bought a new notebook. I even looked into bullet-journaling, the new hottest method of planning, but the learning curve involved made my brain hurt. 😛

But my good intentions ended there, because I just couldn’t summon the enthusiasm for writing down a whole list of things I knew darned well might not happen. Or more honestly, probably wouldn’t happen.

Still, when my partner (the brilliant and funny Marie Bilodeau) and I sat down, I was ready to just do it, because despite indications to the contrary over this past year, I really do want to succeed. I swear. But over the course of our ensuing conversation, my entire thought process underwent a dramatic and radical shift when Marie proposed that, seeing as how my long-term plans kept getting sidelined, leaving me feeling like I’d failed, maybe I shouldn’t set up a whole year’s worth in advance. Maybe I should pick one or two priorities and make them into doable, short-term goals that gave me the flexibility life still required from me. Maybe, just maybe, goal-setting was actually hindering rather than helping my whole process.

Whoa.

And wow.

And eureka!

You know when something feels right, and suddenly the mountain you thought you faced is reduced to molehill size? That. I realized instinctively that Marie had totally nailed my problem (I’ve mentioned how brilliant she is, right?). The more goals I set (and failed to meet), the behinder I got, the more stressed I became, and the less likely I was to even try. (Can you spell procrastination, anyone? 😛 ) And the solution couldn’t have been more obvious: I needed to simplify my life rather than complicate it by adding in more charts/agendas/lists/other fancy organization tools.

And so this year’s ‘plan’ was born. I’m going to write. Every day. Because that is what I do. What I need to do if I want to be a writer. At the beginning of each month, I will choose a project, set a deadline, decide how many words a day I need to meet that deadline…and I will write. Because if I do that, and only that, I will have done more than I have for a very long time. And I will create new works, and those works will become books, and those books will move me forward toward all the other goals I’ve dreamed of.

As for all the rest of it, the marketing and the promotion and the million other details—I’m going to trust that I will fit it in somehow, as I’ve always managed to fit in the things that need to be done.

But first, I will write.

How’s that for a goal? 🙂

P.S. My second post is up on my new blog, Dancing with My Daughter…check it out if you have a chance! 🙂

New Year, New Plan

Hey, everyone! I hope you all had a good/reasonably good/survivable holiday! And welcome to 2017 on the blog. 🙂

You’ll notice I’m starting off on the right foot with an actual blog post. Aren’t you proud of me? Because yeah…I kinda fell down on the blog thing last year. I kinda fell down on a lot of things, to be honest. It was just that kind of year where survival seemed to be the main goal.

On the bright side, I’m happy to report that I achieved my goal. 😀

And I also have a PLAN so that not quite so many things fall by the wayside this year. How smart is that? 😀 😀 😀

What exactly is that plan, you ask? As befitting a writer, it focuses mostly on writing (one of the things that went by the wayside last year, sadly). Lots and lots and lots of writing. Writing with lots and lots of deadlines behind it, because I work best to deadline. Novel writing, novella writing, and blog-post writing. Writing every….single…day. Well, for the month of January, anyway, because MAJOR deadline. After that, I’m keeping a five-day work schedule with weekends off for family stuff (and maybe finally finishing that bathroom I tore apart last year 😉 ).

And what does this mean for you, dear reader? On the book front, erm…not entirely sure yet. I’m currently finishing up my Sekrit Project that my publisher won’t let me tell you about yet (apart from the fact that it’s not like anything I’ve done before, it’s a novel, and it’s a ton of fun!), and I’ll hand that in at the end of January. In the first half of February, I’ll do a final edit on Shadow of Doubt, my romantic suspense, and get it off to copy edit in time for a May release. After that, I’m writing up a proposal for a new urban fantasy series and sending that off to my agent. And after that, I want to (finally!) tackle writing the sequel novella to Forever Grace, followed by the next novel in the series.

So, all being well, you should see three new romances from me this year. Cool? 🙂

On the blogging front, I’m aiming for a bi-weekly post here, along with alternate weeks on my new blog, Dancing with My Daughter (which you should totally check out if you haven’t already!). As long as life remains even semi-sane this year, I think this is doable. But if you want to cross fingers and toes for me, that’s totally cool, too…and much appreciated. 😉

So there you have it. A new year and a new plan. A writing plan.

I have a good feeling about this, don’t you? 🙂

Happy, happy 2017, everyone! May it remain semi-sane for us all. 😀

Linda