January 10, 2013

Writing success = showing up at the page

Some output of the past 6 months
Key advice from and for most writers is that you must show up at the page, if not daily then at the very least more often than not. That's certainly what I have done in the time since I last published a book, From my Mother, in October 2011.

This morning I finished another journal, an A4-sized 192 pages that I began on September 26 (2012). The cover is a beautiful green, following up on a similar one in bright pink that I had filled with my words between July 29 and September 25 (the bottom two in the image).

"The important thing is that keeping a journal is one way, and a well-established way, of developing your writer's muscles and of creating the material (the clay, the ingredients) for the more substantial writing that you want to do," writes Sara Maitland in The Writer's Way.

Many writers keep journals. John Steinbeck wrote his Journal of a Novel as a warmup exercise for working on East of Eden. While Journal of a Novel was not intendend for publication, Steinbeck's notes are full of superb advice.

"Just as it always does – the work started without warning. It is always that way. I must sit a certain time before it happens," Steinbeck writes.

His book inspired me in June to start a new file on my computer titled Journal of a Book. Unlike Steinbeck, I didn't have a specific story in mind, at least not specific enough to my liking, so I hoped that the notes I  kept in this folder would help me find one.

Between June 15 and July 29, about 40,000 words accumulated in that document; I turned it into into a 132-page paperback titled Journal of a Book. It's private, not for publication. I wanted something tangible to show for my writing efforts to keep in my office.

Increasingly, however, I prefer handwriting in a journal, certainly in the stage where I am still looking to translate my thoughts into words on paper, simply a way of grabbing hold of part of the intangible stream of consciousness swirling around my mind and body. It's part of the process, and cannot be skipped.

"[T]he first goal of writing, like reading, is to understand; only then can one make that understanding available to others in writing," according to VA Howard and JH Barton in Thinking on Paper: Refine, Express, and Actually Generate Ideas by Understanding the Processes of the Mind.

Writing in a journal, I always use the same instrument; it's a Waterman fountain pen given to me by a good friend when I left Brussels to transfer as a reporter with Bloomberg News to the Toronto office. The inscribed date reads 20-3-1998; it is a small miracle I have never lost this pen in my many moves since, and it is now a very prized possession indeed.

There's something about the way this pen sends the ink to the page that I love.

I now use it daily, nearly every morning; writing is about practice, and then practicing some more, moving this fountainpen across lined journal pages at the start of each my days. Getting up early on Canadian winter mornings, I have begun lighting candles instead of turning on the light in my office; the warm flickering glow across the page seems to suit both the paper and ink better.

Write, write, and write some more
Throughout 2012, in a separate diary (the red one in the picture) I kept daily notes on my running, which went from my best races to dealing with an injury as I have never experienced before. This diary with a page for each a day is a good record that I am so glad to have kept as it has been helpful in keeping track of what turned out to be my body's best and worst times ever.

From the peak of fitness, culminating in a 3:00:29 marathon in May, to its rebellion six weeks later, followed by months of resistance to various types of treatment and, only just recently, a turn for the better as I am slowly transforming my body into a Bikram-yoga-practicing triathlete. She's completely motivated by the runner who has been locked inside for the past six months, and counting.

Another notebook, about 200 pages and kept more haphazardly, I completed between my birthday in June 2011 and July 25, 2012, the majority of which I wrote in 2012.

And in the 30 days of November, I typed about 52,000 words as part of National Novel Writing Month, which would be a paperback of nearly 200 pages.

Then there are the blog posts I regularly write for this site; I published 96 of them in 2012. That would add up to another 48,000 words if they are on average 500 words each (this one alone is a little over 1,300 words).

I had hoped to complete a manuscript for another book in 2012, but it didn't happen. However, that does not mean I am not writing. Indeed I am writing more than ever as I am searching to create a different book than the ones I have done before, and the quest is taking the time it needs to take.

Hard consistent work will eventually pay off, I am certain of that.

Meanwhile, I keep showing up at my desk, first thing every morning. A mug of steaming coffee, my favourite fountain pen and, tomorrow, a fresh journal, a new page. The output is there, a book will follow.

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