Monday, June 28, 2010

What's On Your Top 10 This Week?

I was under the impression that the making of "Top Ten" lists was somewhat of a recent phenomenon, but today I picked up the December 2009 issue of The Writer from my stack of magazines which proved me wrong. In it was an article entitled, "10 Habits of a Successful Writer." Upon closer examination, it was an Archive article that was originally published in January 1992! So much for my mistaken thought that David Letterman and/or the TV channel that carries Hollywood's Ten Best had dreamed up the category when I became an occasional member of the pop culture-viewing audience a mere couple of years ago.

But I am straying from my purpose: I need to sort out some disjointed thoughts that would constitute my current list of priorities, which I will enumerate for you.

#10: I will stop scanning the TV guide for something to watch when I know very well that all my favourite shows had their season finale two months ago. As the numbers get progressively higher (in importance), I will appreciate the importance of this one.

#9 On these lazy summer afternoons, when it is either too hot to be out in the garden or there is a thunder storm with a downpour of rain (all of which has been alternating hereabouts lately), I will substitute a book from my accumulating pile of to-be-reads for said television viewing.

#8 The gable where I write is becoming cluttered to the point where I can't find anything. I felt guilty when Janet envied me my little nook, because she wouldn't be impressed if she saw it right now. Connie's description of her basement could be transposed to my gable and not be far off the mark. Must get organized ... gives me more momentum!

#7 Reading the article I referred to above, and others in the same issue, e.g. "Make Your Novel Agent-Ready," by Elizabeth Lyon, "Smart Writing Goals, to make 2010 your best year ever" (remember this was the December issue), made me want to subscribe to this excellent writing title again. Take a look at the website and click on back issues to view the topics covered each month. Currently, I pick up an issue once in a while when I'm in a city bookstore, but I would love to have something on writing land in my mailbox every month. A subscription costs less than buying all 12 issues from the newstand, and also gives access to a subscribers-only part of the website.

#6 I am going to follow Janet's lead and reduce the amount of time I spend roaming through blogland or idly web-browsing the day away. And how is that going for you, Janet? I will likely set a minimum amount of time per day, rather than cut out any days entirely.

#5 My fifth spot is interesting because it links up with both #9 (read more books) and #6 (spend less time on the Internet). On the CBC program Spark today, the host, Nora Young, was concerned because she has noticed lately that she has a great deal of difficulty reading books, she can't concentrate on a long narrative like she used to. Nowadays she gets easily distracted, wants to check her email, her text messages, Facebook, and Twitter. She wonders if all this electronic content has changed how her brain works.

Go to Spark for her thoughts on this, and to listen to an 18-minute segment where she interviews Nicholas Carr, author of the book The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to our Brains in which he discussed how the brain adapts to the type of activity it is expected to do. Apparently our current habit of seeking small bits of information from a variety of electronic sources has trained our brains to respond in that manner. He says it is not true that our brains have a fixed ability that is set by the time we reach adulthood, but is constantly adapting throughout our life. Early man survived by being constantly aware of everything in his surroundings, and could not afford to focus exclusively on one thing, so our current splintering of attention is not new. He said, in fact, that the book may have come along as a temporary aberration that required long periods of concentration. I don't want that to go away, therefore, my attention to this topic will require that I re-train my brain to do more solid reading. (Confession: I have been noticing the same thing!)

#4 Also related to #9, and thus #5 as well, I will be attending a couple of literary festivals this summer, and I want to read something by some of the authors that will be in attendance. My priority reading list is being developed in my head at this moment. I will make a list asap. Some of the authors: Yann Martel, Alice Kuipers, Louise Penny, Helen Humphries, Jack Hodgins, etc. etc.

#3 Speaking of Jack Hodgins, I was originally going to write my post today exclusively on his well-known book on writing fiction, A Passion for Narrative, but I have just started re-reading it after a long lapse since I last looked at it. Since I will also be hearing him speak on the topic in July (so excited about that), I will save the topic for another day when my knowledge and approach will be fresher.

#2 My writing group is waiting for the next chapter of my novel (and I don't have another one ready!), so this one is obvious. Since this depends very much on the progress I make on #1, I will be filling the gap for a while with short fiction.

#1 Finally, and obviously most important since I have assigned it numero uno, I have made a start on the major re-write of the novel that has been in first draft for longer than I care to admit. It requires more than revision, editing, or polishing because I began to realize there were flaws in the structure and it needed some serious rearrangement of scenes, timelines, etc. A complete overhaul was needed. I am having a great time with it, and will report from time to time on my progress. I hope to have it ready to pitch at the Surrey conference in October!

What would your Top Ten, or Top Five, or even Top Three be right now? Obviously, my list is slightly fluid, and changes somewhat or a lot, from week to week. Except for #1. That one will remain in top spot for as long as it takes.


Joanne Brothwell said...

Great goals, Helena!
I'm curious about the writing festivals - can you share what, where and when?

Helena said...

Yes, indeed, Joanne. The first one I am attending is at Moose Jaw. Called the Festival of Words, it runs from the 15th to the 18th of July. I've gone the last seven years or so and never been disappointed. I am also taking in the workshop on Narrative offered by Jack Hodgins, and The Great Big Book Club discussion of Helen Humphries's book Coventry prior to the start of the festival on the 15th.
For the lineup of presenters, go to

The second is at Seychelt, B.C. held from the 12th to 15th of Aug. It is called the Sunshine Coast Festival of the Written Arts, and the website is at

Thanks for popping in so early in the day!

Karyn Good said...

Your top ten sounds like a great plan for the summer.

My top two plans for the summer:

No. 1 Cram in as much summer fun as possible!

No. 2 Write in the early mornings and possibly in the evening, when not out having summer fun.

Helena said...

I'm all for summer fun, too, Karyn. Hope you get lots of it. Some of my fun is built into the priorities I've noted, because I enjoy all these things I've planned to do! How's that for cheating?

Seriously, nothing beats the fun of meeting authors you admire, and socializing with them to boot! Reading always has been at the top of my list of things to do ever since I learned to read. Writing is a discipline as well as pleasure, but nothing gives me a greater thrill than spending a couple of hours lost in a world I am creating. It stays with me for ages after I come back to my real life.

I think your summer plan is great!

Jana Richards said...

Hi Helena,
I'll give you a couple of my "Top Ten" list:

2. Finish and send off a short story to Chicken Soup for the Soul about Christmas foods.

1. Finish and send off my high school reunion story (novella length).

And like Karyn I hope to have a little summer fun as well, with golf and barbecues and a little traveling. Time for reading would be great too.

Good luck with your top ten and have fun at your festivals!


connie said...

Hi Helena -

Numbers 1, 5, 7, and 9 for me - especially 9, which means 8 has to wait (as it has since the 1983 move into this house)

I too have one aging manuscript to totally revamp and HAH Janet, I know where it is.

What is summer? I actually have all the flower planters propped on their sides to drain out the excess rain water!

I am all wet!


Helena said...

Jana, you always come back with such specific intentions, really SMART! More power to you because you always accomplish what you've got your sights set on, too.

I find that summer -- maybe because it's so intertwined with fun -- is an inspirational, or refuelling, time for me. Maybe it's because we are in the midst of the growing season,too.

Good luck with your plans, and do have lots of summer fun!

Helena said...

Glad I hit a few notes in common with you, connie. I didn't tell you that you must clean up your basement. I always resented anyone implying that my spaces needed attention. Proof of the pudding, I could always find any document anyone ever wanted -- just don't disturb the piles of paper!

Good luck with the readin' and the writin' and hope to see you some time over the summer.

connie said...


I didn't think you had told me to clean up the basement. There are allegedly three men on horseback down here. Let them do it!

I also plan on summer fun and a pile of books to read while I laze on the porch swing - which is on the (screened in) porch. Take that you four engined mosquitos!

Hoping we can get together over the summer. Have fun at the festivals.


Janet said...

This is a great "Top Ten", Helena! And it's doable (always important when making a top ten list). Good luck - and I expect a follow-up report ;)

I loved the bit about the brain changing depending on what we expose it to. I've been spouting off for years on the issues facing our kids (students) in school - how the changes in our world have created the attention difficulties we see at school. How can we expect a student to sit for hours - engage in something for longer than 5 minutes - when they have no practice at it. They are wired for short stints - followed by commercials or a totally different activity/media. And I see it happening with me - so glad I'm not the only one with reading concentration problems!

Very interesting and I could chat all day about it - but I won't.

Internet-less days are going well. Sundays and Wednesdays - so far, so good. Don't think I'm actually accomplishing anything though - but at least I'm not surfing the web!

I love that you've given yourself summer goals - I think I may have to look at that. And isn't Jana fabulous - she's so organized and sets those goals and checks them off. I admire her for her diligence. Connie - I'm sure you can find the manuscript, I'm just saying that I can't live like that - way too obsessive/compulsive.

Here's to Summer and checking off those goals :)

Helena said...

So glad you could weigh in today, Janet. I was counting on your input on what's happening to our brains. As an aside, I think there is a real onus on parents to instil the habit of reading in their children, reading to them and listening to them read aloud. That goes a long way to having part of the brain become accustomed to the type of activity that requires concentration.

Yes, I believe I will inflict some kind of progress report on you. Funny how these 'thoughts and topics of interest' turned into goals. I guess it's a good sign when one wants to incorporate interesting ideas into ongoing activities.

Good to hear your web-free days are working for you!