Dancing on the Head of a Pen [Book Review]

Of the nearly eight million words that have floated through my head onto a page, some of which have been deemed publishable, I am happy with about four dozen sentences. Four of those sentences I think are especially fine. I weep whenever I read them in public, mostly at the thought of having been lucky enough for those words to have chosen me and for my having been smart enough to say yes to them when they came my way. (80)

Dancing on the Head of a Pen

Dancing on the Head of a Pen from prolific writer Robert Benson is not just a book about writing a book. It’s a book about writing (you know, the action part) a book.

And don’t let the title fool you. Sure, it’s an artful look at the philosophical side of the craft, but it doesn’t stay there. From making decisions to the discipline of showing up and writing every day, this book about writing a book takes the reader on a journey from inquisition to inspiration. Really!

The book came into my life at an interesting time. I had been exhausted for months and used it as an excuse to watch TV instead of write.

I didn’t know what to write, my ideas never went anywhere, no one seemed interested, my day job took the best of me.

My excuses, although true, weren’t the truth. I wasn’t writing because I got out of the habit. Instead of pushing through when things got tough I reverted to thinking about writing, wishing I was writing, and reading books about writing. Then I read Benson’s chapter on staying sharp. “Whether working on a book at the moment or not, a writer should always be writing.”

The book dropped out of my hands and I picked up my notebook. I plotted a short story and entered it into a writing contest. In an instant (understatement!) my attitude turned and my excuses evaporated. He’s right. Even when I’m not working on anything I need to keep writing.

Always be writing

After my breakthrough I picked up Dancing on the Head of a Pen and continued on. It was here I found advice I’ve never considered: don’t share your work too soon.

Too many suggestions from too many directions too early and a writer can be devastated and unable to write for days, certain the work is no good and never will be. Too much talk too soon and the writer gets lost, causing the work to slow to a crawl. (152)

I thought about my short story and recalled a few months before sharing the idea with friends. They laughed it off and I laughed with them. “Yeah, how silly.”

At the time I thought little of the event, the idea was silly. So why did I stop writing? Was this where things derailed? Because I shared my silly idea too soon?

I don’t know if the idea is good or not, I don’t know if I’ll win the contest or if it will go any further. But now I know my story needed to be written.

No matter what, keep on writing. Keep it close, until it’s finished, and then share it with anyone who will listen.

There are stories that must be told and must be heard, stories waiting on you and me to do the telling. (164)

A Visit to Maan Farms [What I’m Working on Wednesday]

Maan Farms Rebuilding Bigger and Better

My latest post on the Mrs. Abbotsford blog about my recent visit to Maan Farms.

A few weeks ago I began a freelance contract with Tourism Abbotsford and I am happy to talk about it now the ink is dry. Maybe I could have brought it up earlier but it felt in poor taste. Now I have something to talk about.

The plan is for me to post periodically on the Mrs. Abbotsford blog. First of all, I love the concept. Mrs. Abbotsford is this hip lady who has lived here all her life and her passion is to share her “City in the Country” with everyone she meets. Her blog is for residents and locals alike, to help us explore her city and get the most out of our time here.

I’ve lived in Abbotsford for the past four years but I’m not as acquainted with what happens in Abbotsford. In fact I’ve been known to wonder if there’s anything to do here. Maybe I’ve even wondered this aloud. Maybe.

If you’ve ever wondered this same question I have great news! My new gig is to explore and discover Abbotsford and then write about it!

My first assignment was to visit the newly-burned Maan Farms to see how they’re getting on. I wrote all about it over on Mrs. Abbotsford’s blog but here’s a quick summary: they’re doing well. The fire was tragic but it’s not slowing them down. Plus they just opened the corn maze!

Corn in the sunset at Maan Farms

Farmer Amir toured me around the week before it opened to the public and attempted to teach me how a corn maze comes together. Unfortunately Farmer Robyn needs to learn a few things about planting and farming in general before she’ll be able to grasp the complexities of corn mazery. He was gracious…but I know how it is. City girl, wondering how on earth this brilliant maze comes into existence without the help of chainsaws.

It’s true. I’m ridiculous.

The good news is I believe I have enough information to successfully create a maze of my own one day. If I ever move out of this condo. And have a field I don’t care to farm, yet want to plant corn upon and then create a maze within.

It could happen

Wind-swept corn field

There’s one section of the maze, which was destroyed by a wind storm. It was so creepy, there in the middle of the maze. Farmer Amir told me they would have to incorporate the destruction into the design because it would be weird to make it all the way to the middle for there to be a wide-open space.

I agreed. But I didn’t know how on earth they would prop up all that corn carnage in time for the maze to open.

Turns out they were thinking of making a crop circle. GENIUS! Even though I’m an insider and know the hard workers at the farm would be the ones creating the UFO brand…I’m still freaked out by the idea. And I’m dying to see how it turned out.

Anyone fancy a creepy trip to a corn maze in the next few weeks?

Love, in English [book review]

Love, in English

Love, in English by Karina Halle

Love, in English is now available! Pick it up on paperback or digital platforms.

My good friend Karina has been writing and publishing books for a few years and I’ve watched her career take off with pride.

Known for paranormal and supernatural stories, this is her first time writing romance.

While Love, in English isn’t a book I would typically review here I am happy to offer four-stars for this emotional page-turner.

And now for the review

With her first foray into romance, self-publishing maven Karina Halle has weaved a piece of her soul into the words and pages of Love, in English for her readers to discover.

Overall I found this a satisfying read. The emotional story, told by 23-year-old Vancouverite Vera Mills, kept me captivated well past bedtime for more nights than I care to admit. And although Vera overuses words like “just” and “totally” I could still identify with and even like her, despite not having much in common with her.

The narrative takes us from Spain to Canada and back to Spain again where we see Vera fall desperately in love with a married man. We struggle alongside as she wrestles with shame, guilt, and lust and empathize as she deals with the complications of inconvenient and forbidden love. Both the back cover and the prologue tell us this so I don’t know why I was surprised when they finally get together most of the way through part one.

I don’t know what I hoped would happen, everything was so complicated. Maybe that’s the point, relationships are never straightforward or black and white. And even the right decision hurts someone. You can’t get through life without a few battle wounds.

One thing I wish was covered more was the idea that choices made to appease guilt are still selfish. Although disguised as selfless all motivation behind the choice is to make yourself feel better. I found the book’s argument that love is selfish interesting as this is the most shallow (although probably the most exciting) form of love. I would have liked to see Vera mature in her understanding of love (advancing beyond lust and selfishness) and relationships.

Love, in English takes on difficult themes and doesn’t rush past the tough stuff. However, the story was a bit unbalanced as there wasn’t equal time spent resolving the problems as there was building up to them. The wrapped-up-in-a-bow ending didn’t feel cheesy (I was ready for the emotional roller coaster to end) although upon reflection it didn’t feel as realistic as the rest of the story. Still, a satisfying read.

Missed Opportunities for Three Budding Writers

A few weeks back I volunteered at a writing event put on by the local university in my city. I think it was called Write for a Living or something.

Anyway, it was really well attended. They were going for 20 and 73 people showed up. The event was free and there was wine so I think there was adequate motivation to fill a room.

It was an interesting event. They had a panel discussion where the attendees could ask questions, then there was a round of writer’s speed dating where small groups of budding writers could pepper questions at a professional writer for five minutes and then move to the next professional writer.

I participated in the speed dating part

Since I wasn’t part of the planning process I wasn’t sure what to expect. I sat down and tried to get conversations going with each group. Some were easier than others. And most were great groups. I met a lot of interesting people and was encouraged by the scope of writers in my city. I had no idea!

But, of course, there were some people who didn’t leave such a good impression. And the bad always sticks in your mind more than the good hey? Even though there were more good experiences than bad.

After a bit of mulling I’ve broken the bad experiences into three personas. These are people who maybe didn’t come to the event for the right reasons.

Why did they come? I can’t say. But I can guess.

  • They were there to flaunt their writing success
  • They came to answer all the questions, without being invited
  • They were there for the food (and the wine)

I’m not trying to be mean but it didn’t seem like these people were there to get anything out of the event. They didn’t have questions, they didn’t want to talk about writing (unless it was about their writing only), and they didn’t seem interested in learning about writing professionally.

After this event I’ve found myself thinking about these people and wishing they had been open to learning from people who have been where they’re trying to go. Maybe I didn’t have advice they could use (don’t worry guys, I realize not everyone wants to be a blogger, although I don’t understand why!) but someone in the room did. The calibre and diversity of professional writers in the room was impressive. I wanted to go around to do the speed dating.

The writer who needed no advice

THE WRITER WHO NEEDED NO ADVICE

The first persona is the writer who showed up to brag about his or her accomplishments.

Example: One woman who sat at my table brought with her a thick paperback and placed it in front of me. I asked what it was and she told me it was her memoir. I asked what her plans were for her book and she deflected by telling me about a launch event at a local bookstore. While it was a nice conversation I couldn’t figure out what I was supposed to do. Congratulate her? Offer to review it on my blog? Introduce her to my agent? Honestly, I had no idea. She didn’t ask me to do anything, actually she didn’t talk to me unless I asked her a question. Since it was off topic and awkward I gave the book back and wished her well.

Missed opportunity.

The writer who thought she was the expert

THE WRITER WHO THOUGHT SHE SHOULD BE THE EXPERT

The second persona is the writer who showed up thinking he or she should have been the one giving advice and was ticked about not being asked.

Example: One woman who sat at my table came with a chip on her shoulder. Towards editors. She had finished her manuscript and was trying to self-publish (I think, that part wasn’t clear because she didn’t know what “self publishing” meant). The publisher wouldn’t print her book without it going through an editor. She was incensed at being quoted $3,500 from a local editor to look at her book (most professional editors would charge a LOT more btw) and her only questions to me were redundant inquiries on how this person could possibly charge so much to edit her “perfect” copy.

This bugged me a lot because no one’s copy is perfect. Everyone can benefit from being edited and should pay for it. If you as a writer deserve to be paid shouldn’t the person who makes sure your words are as good as possible also be paid?

This person was so convinced she had the corner on writing she also proceeded to interrupt all my other conversations with budding writers advising them to self-publish as this was the secret to success.

HUGE missed opportunity.

The writer who wanted a yes man

THE WRITER WHO WANTED A YES MAN

The third persona is the writer who has already decided what he or she wants to do and is looking for support, not advice.

Example: Towards the end of the evening I met a woman who had been directed my way by another writer to get some advice about blogging. Our conversation started off nicely and she asked interesting questions. It seemed like she was trying to decide whether she should start a blog or not about a niche topic. Problem was her idea wasn’t great. I offered a few ideas for strengthening her idea and giving her topic a longer shelf-life (I even offered introducing her to some contacts I thought could help) but I could tell she wasn’t listening. In fact after a few minutes I realized she already knew what she wanted to do and was looking for someone to agree with her. Once it was clear she was only looking for support I stopped offering help and looked for a way out of the conversation.

Missed opportunity.

I’m not saying I had all the answers, or even that I would have been able to help anyone. But I was there, volunteering my time and offering free advice. From a professional, working writer to people who want to be professional, working writers. I handed out about 15 cards that night and am sorry to report I have heard from no one.

This experience made me realize I can be one or all three of these personas from time to time. Because I think I should have this professional writing thing figured out and therefore can’t ask questions to other writers because it would make me seem weak.

Or maybe they would think less of me for not knowing everything. Silly, right? Networking and helping each other out is an important part of community and I joined a professional writer’s association specifically to have a supportive writing community. Yet I’m too proud or timid or whatever to actually be a part of it. Silly.

So as a reaction I decided to take a writer I admire out for dinner and ask the questions I’ve wrestled with for the past however long.

And guess what. She was willing to help me and offered great advice and support. And I got a nice dinner companion out of the deal too.

So thank you writers who missed opportunities. You motivated me not to miss any more opportunities to get better at my craft.

Apparently I’m Normal

Sometime between this week and last I put my back out. And I feel so sorry for myself.

You don’t even understand.

Because my back isn’t just a bit sore.

It’s not something I can take medication for and it goes away in a bit.

No, I actually put my back out.

And apparently this is normal.

The pain kind of built and built until one day when my alarm went off I found I couldn’t sit up. (That’ll learn me never to try becoming a morning person again.) After a couple failed (and painful) attempts I opted to barrel role out of bed. And I did it pretty effectively too, seeing as how I got out of bed and didn’t fall.

From there it has been a downhill slide. The day was horrible and I couldn’t sit down at work. The plus side of that is my desk is high enough to stand at so it wasn’t weird.

The next day my arm went numb. Like, my entire arm.

Think of it folks. I’m a writer. Now I can’t sit and I can’t use one of my arms.

How am I supposed to do my job?

So there was that.

And also there was the confusion over why my body was rejecting me.

So I went to the walk-in clinic. I explained what was happening, the doctor felt a few places in my back and referred me to a massage therapist. He didn’t seem phased about my arm, even though I repeated myself just in case he didn’t catch it the first time around.

Then I called the therapist. After explaining my story I was informed since it was a long weekend I would have to wait five days before I could get in.

Again with the non-concern!

Eyes brimming with tears I booked the appointment and then called every other massage therapist I could get a number for. Over and over I got the “long weekend story” yadda yadda until finally three hours later I got a call back from someone who could take me if I left right away.

“How close are you to the clinic?”

Honestly? I didn’t even know who was calling. The clinic? No clue. So I clarified.

“Uh…in Abbotsford?”

“No Coquitlam.

CRAP!

“Well, pretty far. Like 30 minutes or more”

“Leave now.”

And you know what? I was so desperate I did. I drove 40 minutes to someone who would see me despite the “long weekend.” Someone who thought my arm going numb was cause for at least some concern.

But still, it felt a bit crazy.

Anyway, now the long weekend is over and I did survive. But it has been one of those ones I’d rather not remember. My body hates me, my arm is still tingly, and I’m so far behind in my work I’m sweating just thinking about it.

Funny thing is, apparently most of my issue isn’t my work posture but my stress level.

So I’ve had a lot to think about while stuck lying on heating pads on the floor.