Tuesday 18 February 2014

Really Secular Writing Weekend

This weekend was a long weekend for me and, with some important deadlines looming, I decided to hunker down for a writing weekend.  I had planned on heading out to my securlarized convent, but the nights available weren't favourable and some surprise expenses last week made me reconsider.

Instead, I tried my first full writing weekend at home since Roomy and I moved to our new place.  Our house is bigger, so avoiding each other should prove easy, but we didn't leave it to chance and we planned ahead.

Now, the reason for my going to the convent is that I can enjoy Story Head for the length of time I'm there. There are no expectations from anyone except the story.  And remembering to go down for meals at the appropriate times.  I love this immersion - it allows me to understand the story in depths that are sometimes more difficult to reach.

So, with my first worry being my "I'm trying to do something, ergo Roomy is the most interesting person in the world right now" syndrome, we planned out each other's space beforehand.

On Friday evening, we had a nice meal and then I started working. Saturday morning, Roomy went out to shop and just get out of my way during the ongoing immersion process.  When she came back, we'd agreed the basement (which is lovely and has our big TV and computer, and her customizing materials) would be her domain.  I would go from the desk in my room to the kitchen table. (Because our kitchen is beautiful and inspiring. It is!)

We did not have to eat meals together, though we'd purchased some quicker options so as not to break the flow of creativity.

There were some hiccups in the plan, of course. I didn't do my laundry as I would have before leaving for the weekend, and that reached critical levels on Sunday morning.  Also on Sunday, since it was New York Toy Fair, Matty Collector (the Masters of the Universe folk) were doing some reveals, so I got distracted checking those out.

But progress was happily made regardless of all of that.  I had given myself a deadline of Monday 5pm to stop working, on the condition that I'd finished my work.  It was a sunny day and I sat in the kitchen, with my ancient tabby (Battlecat) hanging out in a sunbeam with me.  I was immersed and I could feel it.  Roomy's customizing was going well, and she pushed through that, too.

At 5pm exactly, I reached my goal, Roomy came up to start supper, and we had a lovely meal. And then, as a treat, she pulled out the third season of BBC's Sherlock, which she'd bought and hid, to reveal only IF I finished my work.

And that's why weekends at home will work for me. Because Roomy understands how important writing is for me.  She's supportive and that makes all the difference for success.  She appreciated it, too.  She got a lot more done than she would have had I simply left for the weekend.

So, overall, this weekend I managed to write 20,000 words and edit most of it.  I'm happy with this project and where it's headed, and I can't wait to dive in next! I'm already planning my next writing weekend.

Hope yours was a good one, too!  

Friday 14 February 2014

Guest Post - Writing Past the Wall

Today, I get to introduce you all to one of my friends, Jamieson Wolf.  Jamieson and I met in a bookstore, so you know he's good people. He's also a wonderful writer and someone who's overcome personal hardships with and for the love of writing. It's Valentine's Day, and we all need a bit more love. For writers, that often means letting go and pushing forward all at once.  Give yourself some love today - read this blog post, celebrate your own successes and check out Jamieson's works! (Links below.)

I've never had a problem with writer's block.

Sure, I had the odd time when a story or a character was being stubborn, but I've always been able to write. I've written over 65 books of various kinds and I was always writing something. There was always  a story to tell, always words pouring out.

In January 2013, that all changed. I got sick with what was eventually diagnosed as Multiple Sclerosis. I didn't write anything for almost a month. When I started to get better, I found I couldn't write.

I would sit at the computer and stare at it. When I put my fingers to the keyboard, I couldn't get my fingers to hit the right keys. I was stuck. It was as if there was a wall in front of me that I couldn't see through.

It was the biggest case of writers block that I'd ever experienced. There were all these words inside my head, all these stories waiting to be told. No mater how hard I tried to force them out, they wouldn't come and I couldn't get past the wall that was my head.  

I'm a writer. Writing is what I do, the air I breathe, the elixir of life. I needed to find a way to write again, I had to.

I decided to try my hand at poetry. I thought that if artists could do performance art that was silent, perhaps I could write something that would use very few words and still hold meaning for me.

I could only type a handful of words at a time - they were all that was allowed past the wall. I figured that I could string enough of them together to make a poem. I could tell stories again; maybe not the types of stories I used to tell, but I would be writing something. That was enough.

It was slow going at first. The first poem I wrote took me a few days to write, but I got it written. I can't describe what it was like to write that first poem except that it gave me a joy I had never experienced. I was writing again. It didn't matter that it was only a handful of words at a time. I was writing and that was enough.

It took a while, but as I continued writing my poems, my typing became more precise. I was able to write whole poems instead of a handful of words. They may have taken hours instead of minutes to write, but the words meant more to me; though there were few of them compared to what I normally wrote, they had more depth.

The poems were made from the pieces of the wall, pebbles and stones holding consonants and vowels. As I continued to write poetry, the stones were all used up and the wall came down. I had found a way past the wall. I've never been able to regain the speed I used to write at, but the writer's block had lifted, the wall was gone.

By April, I was able to start working on the novel that I had been working on before the MS hit. I continued with another novel and am now working on another. However, more and more, I'm turning to writing poetry.

They gave me a voice when I didn't have one and for that I will be eternally grateful.
Jamieson is  an award winning, bestselling author of over sixty books. He is a poet, a blogger and, above all, a storyteller.


Jamieson is an award-winning, bestselling author of over sixty books. He is a poet, a blogger and, above all, a story teller. 

Jamieson is also an accomplished artist. He works in mixed media, charcoal, pastels and oil paints. He is also something of an amateur photographer, a poet, perfume designer and graphic designer.

He currently lives in Ottawa Ontario Canada with his cat, Tula, who is fearless. You can find Jamieson at home at www.jamiesonwolf.com. You can also read his blog at www.jamiesonwolfauthor.wordpress.com.

Tuesday 4 February 2014

The Iliad - Seeking the Light

Last weekend, right after an awesome book launch (thanks to everyone who came!), I was at a two-day rehearsal of the Iliad (June 14, National Arts Centre).  All 18 tellers gathered, many from our 2012 journey with Homer's Odyssey, and many new faces, as well, joining us on this epic journey.

Producers Jan Andrews and Jennifer Cailey lead us through a series of exercises to deepen our understanding of the story and the characters.  The Iliad, for those of who you haven't read it in a while (or at all), is a very dark tale.  It's the story of the end of the decade-long siege of Troy by the Greeks. The warriors are weary and homesick, the battles are harsh and bloody (and there is lots of tripe), and the emotions are raw. We brought Odysseus home from the fields of Troy last year through the Odyssey, and I think only now do I understand why he was so weary. Not just because of the horrible journey home, but also because of everything that preceeded it.

Homer also intended to drive home the point that everyone on that battlefield came from a home and still had loved ones, somewhere, waiting for them. When the text was chopped, which it needed to be for length alone, they ensured those moments weren't lost. Because, without understanding who falls on the fields of Troy, we can't really grasp the full impact of the story.  It'll make for a lot of memorization of names, that's for sure!

I had a strange moment during this weekend that I shall now ungracefully unpack right here on this blog. I'm the second teller (after the introduction setting up the story) to march through the fields of Troy, so I was done my bit early this weekend. No longer worried about remembering my own part, I immersed in the rest of the story much more fully than I usually would.

There came a piece in the story where Achilles learns of the death of his best friend (and potentially lover), Patroclus.  He's devastated, grief-struck. It's raw and painful to watch this greatest of heroes come undone at the news, guilt-wracked that he was responsible for his friend's passing. The friend who came to give Achilles the news asks that Achilles give him his knife, lest he slit his throat in grief.

The teller told this piece beautifully, but the line didn't jump out at any of us. It's a dark text, so talk of potential suicide wasn't that surprising. Then, Jan and Jennifer asked that the teller understand the depths of Achilles' despair.  To understand the knife as more than an object, but also as a character.

Suddenly, this throw away line become pivotal to the story.  This is where everything could have ended.  This is where Achilles could have marched quietly to the Halls of Hades to join his friend, and left the bloody fields of Troy behind. This was the moment where Achilles fell at his lowest, because he might have taken his own life. The teller was asked to go around the circle of tellers and do various exercises, including convincing us that we, as Achilles, needed to take the knife.

We did lots of exercises like this over the weekend, but this one stood out for me. I rarely have trigger moments - I consider myself a very non-triggery person, overall.  But as that knife was being requested time and time again, give me the knife for I fear you may slit your throat with grief, I remembered a time long ago when I asked the same of a close friend.  Give me the car keys, for I fear you will drive yourself to your death. 

There's more in that line than a request, and I suddenly understood the whole baggage of it. It's not just about taking the knife. It's about a promise, too.  Give me the knife, and I shall take care of you. I'll make sure you see tomorrow, and that somehow it gets brighter.  I'll find out how to help. I'll learn what I don't know, and I'll listen and cry with you, and even should the darkness never lift, I'll still be there. Because I'm terrified of this knife, and of the silence it promises. Because I don't want to know that world where the knife was used.

Understanding of the Iliad becomes raw when you begin to peer into its darkness, and superimpose it with your own. Shades of gray turn to black with little warning. An innocuous force squeezes your heart into tiny little pulp.

But the light is still there.  The light, it's more there because of the darkness.  One teller began describing the new armour of Achilles, given to him by his godly mother who knows it will not save him. She knows Achilles is fated to die on the fields of Troy. But she gives him a better armour, either out of hope that it might make a difference after all, or perhaps as a final gesture of love. We don't know - Homer didn't say. But we can imagine.

And when Achilles donned his resplendent armour, it was beautiful.  The armour captured that beauty, but it was the silence around his actions that made the light shine at that moment.  It was the belief in what he was doing, why he was doing it, and how he still took the time to admire his new armour that would more than likely see his doom.

Even as he dressed for a battle he doubted he would return from, we found beauty and light in that moment.  Because he found it. So, through the characters, we find the darkness and the light, in moments reflected by our own experiences and psyche.

We're working now on finding a way to end this full day of telling.  A moment that brings back the light.  A moment above the fields of Troy, closer to the sun, where listeners will get to remember the beauty in the darkness.

We haven't found it yet, but I've no doubt Jennifer and Jan will. They've both fought their own battles and have always found the light. They will for us again, once more.

Until then, however, I personally don't mind the darkness. It reminds me of the importance of memory and history. Of the loved ones waiting back home, away from the battle. Of the friends still standing on the battlefield with me.

Of the importance of seeking the light, no matter how far we may fall.