Musings on the Art of Writing

As a child, I discovered fantastic worlds created in books. When I began writing about the worlds of my own imagination, I realized how hard authors work to set their characters free to live for our enjoyment. This blog will explore that weird and wonderful process.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

White Paper

Before the advent of the computer, most words appeared typed or written on white paper.  Perhaps ivory paper was easier on the eyes but rarely did one use coloured paper.  When I began submitting stories, publishers required pages to be typed in pica (12 point) and a font that resembled today's Courier.  Lines had to be double-space with no more than two errors (corrected with White-out or softly erased).  For someone like me who was a poor typist, it took work to get a manuscript to this level of perfection.  Inevitably, my final proof would reveal mistakes which I would ignore in order to get the manuscript into an editor's hands.

Computers changed all that.  One can choose any font of any size and style, colour can be added to any document and, gone are the days when you submit an entire manuscript to a publisher.  Most still require paper versions but only the first few chapters and some will even consider electronic submissions.  And who reads bound books anymore?  E-readers have changed the book industry as much as computers once did.  I, for one, have embraced the idea that I need only pack my Kindle when traveling.

But, when one is writing even on the white screen of a computer, one misses things.  I always print out my manuscript to edit one version with a pencil.  The eye sees things differently when the page is printed.  You can catch spelling mistakes, awkward phrasing, and even glaring repetitions that you don't spot on a computer screen.  It also gives you a chance to be a reader.  I often take a stack of chapters to a comfy chair and edit them away from my desk.  Just a change of scene and sound of shuffling papers can evoke a different mood and allow for better storytelling.

The eye likes white space around black letters.  Why do you think books with dialogue are more enjoyable than those with solid text?  So the next time you write something, print it out.  See how it looks to your eye.  Opening up passages with dialogue, create single sentence paragraphs, allow 'air' to flow around your writing and you'll be surprise how quickly you will see how to improve your writing.

Friday, May 4, 2012


My husband and I love to travel but my body does not.  The older I get, the more it complains.  Today, just as I am beginning to recover fro my cold/sore throat, I must embark on an overseas journey.  I'm excited to see new places and experience a different culture but know I will suffer a relapse.  The last thing I want is to be stuck in our hotel room nursing a more virulent bug than what I'm battling now.

The Netherlands has never been on my 'to see' list.  All I ever wanted from the country was a pair of clogs which my in-laws brought back years ago when they visited.  I didn't really need to see windmills or tulips.  Now I find I'm looking forward to experiencing what Bessie and Jim did.  But unlike then, we are going to a conference which puts a different spin on what one does in a foreign country.

I love writing about our travels.  My first article was about our trip to Panama and then in 2009, I started doing a blog on our travel adventures.  Since I have a notorious weak long term memory, these scribblings help me remember the good times we've enjoyed while traveling.  I haven't sold any of my articles and gave up marketing them when I realized they were for my benefit and that of my family.  Writing one blog entry is far easier than sending out umpteen emails basically saying the same thing.

One thing I try to accomplish with my blogs is educate.  Often what I learn while 'in the moment' can be enhanced by doing research.  This means searching the Internet for links to restaurants, museums, art galleries, and stores.  It also allows me to add to my knowledge of the history or environment of an area.  Anyone interested can explore my links and learn as much or as little as they want.

However, the last thing I want is to repeat what can be found elsewhere.  I try to tell a story of our trip, sometimes it sounds like a diary or travelogue but I want others to know how I felt when I was there.  How the sights, sounds, and smells enhanced the atmosphere of the place.  My sister once remarked on the post I did of our photo shoot in Banff saying it was almost exotic and nothing like how she remembered it.  She lets her photos tell her stories but I must use words.  It is how I view my world and blogging allows me to share my experiences with others.  It's also good practice for writing my fiction for it helps me give my characters a world to live in that mimics our own.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012


I used to cut out newspaper comics related to writing and plaster them over my fridge.  When they became yellowed and tattered, I'd stuffed them into an envelop for future inspiration.  Some, I eventually used to create a workbook for a workshop I ran for elementary kids.  One I remember called Shoe had a cigar smoking newspaper editor asking his reporter (who was looking out the window) why he wasn't pounding the keyboard writing a story.  The reporter's reply was that typists pound keyboards whereas writers stare out windows.

Obviously, every writer must get the story in their heads into the hands of a reader (by pounding the keyboard) but first, they must 'stare out windows'.  By doing this, they can organize the scenes playing out inside their heads.  To those watching, it appears as if the writer is doing nothing but whole conversations could be rattling around their brain.  Snippets of description or complicated plot twists swirl through one's mind when in the heat of 'writing' a story.  Staring out the window can often be the key to sorting out problems before any word is typed.  Sometimes years go by without a single word being written and often writer's families wonder if they are actually working.

Recently, I've found myself in this weird state where I have many ideas on how my next novel will unfold and I've spent a few years researching its background.  Just as I feel it's time to 'pound the keyboard', a tantalizingly new idea erupts or my research leads to another line of thinking.  My novel is stuck at three short chapters and even though I know where I will eventually end up, new ideas have shifted its focus.  However, you will not find me staring out my office window.

I find that I do my best thinking while exercising (see yesterday's post).  This has the bonus in that people don't think I'm crazy when I'm working on a story.  I walk, do yoga, or lift weights.  Each activity is easy enough to allow my mind wander.  Knitting is also good and bonus, you have made something more than a novel when you're done.  Every writer needs these times of calm so their minds can race and their emotions soar with those characters who populate their thinking.  Real life has a way of distracting even the most dedicated writer so if you feel the need to create, perhaps staring out the window (or its equivalent) will help.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Gave Up

Yesterday, I finally gave up my battle with my cold.  My throat was so sore I could barely swallow.  So, I made an appointment to see the doctor although she is not my most favourite physician.  She tends to fawn on my husband and ignore me.  I thought I'd be okay yesterday as I would be alone.

Her diagnosis was quick--I had a throat infection, possibly strep.  She prescribed amoxicillin then asked how Glen was doing.  Actually what she said was "How is that wonderful husband of yours?"  Not "I hope you get better soon" or "This drug will cure you".

I left and continued my walk to Safeway to get her prescription filled.  The pharmacist asked me if I knew that amoxicillin was a derivative of penicillin.  I shook my head.  Why would my doctor prescribe something I was allergic to?  Then I recalled I had amoxicillin before and it didn't make me as sick as erythromycin so perhaps it would be okay.  Reluctantly the pharmacist agreed to give me the pills.  I was desperate and certainly didn't want to return to the doctor.

The walk home exhausted me and I rued my decision not to drive.  Why, if I have a car in the garage did I choose walking?

1) I live by the adage, if you can, walk, otherwise take transit.  When there is no alternative, drive.

2) Walking usually makes me feel better

3) The car in my garage is a 1995 Sonata that requires coaxing to start and will stall at least once on any given trip

4) I'm a nervous driver, imagining accidents more horrific than city fender-benders could be.

One thing I do while walking that I can't while behind the wheel, is work through plotting issues or 'talk' to the characters in my books.  I find an hour's walk can clear my head for writing what may come next.  Unlike some, I don't plot my stories other than have a vague outline in my head.  I know my characters and they pretty much tell me their stories as I type.  However, there are often stumbling blocks along the way and a walk can show me what I must do.  Sometimes it's cutting a scene; sometimes it's going back to foreshadow an event.

Walking is also good exercise and can get the blood pumping which feeds the creative process.  However, I would not recommend it if you are ill.  Your body has enough to do trying to fight your disease, it doesn't need the added strain of exercise.