Definition: n.pl. 1 the hottest time of the year (reckoned in antiquity from the heliacal rising of the dog star). 2 informal a period of inactivity, lethargy, etc.
I am in awe of writers who sail through the dog days with nary a pause, while the rest of us whimper in the heat, allowing lethargy to take over. I will not attempt to speak for any other writer who is grappling with periods of involuntary inactivity and who is seeking a solution for this unwelcome condition. We have heard from some of you in the recent past, and it is helpful to hear what you do when the juices are not flowing or you cannot make yourself sit in front of your keyboard. If others are not able to do the same, then I say -- blame it on the dog days!
Over the past few weeks, I have been up in the clouds, even over the moon (if you will forgive a couple of clichès) because my re-writing project was going well for a while. Then I hit the depths of despair (another clichè) when I lost my focus and distractions began to creep in. Despite the good example Hayley has set with her goal to have her manuscript ready for the Surrey conference, and the resolution that led Janet to the difficult decision she told us about on Friday, despite all the encouraging words, I seem caught in a down draft. Drat the dog days of summer.
I might as well come clean right now. I have allowed some distractions that seemed legitimate at the time to take over my life. I have been reading more books lately (perfectly valid for a writer to do). I took a chunk of time to attend the Saskatchewan Festival of Words which gave me another kind of high because of the interaction with authors, listening to them read from their work and talk about writing. Very inspiring, but I know I talk about those experiences to excess at times. (And talking is not the same as doing.) Nevertheless, I am currently preparing to go to another festival this week, this time in B.C., which will be the best kind of holiday I can imagine taking right now. But I doubt I will get much writing done for the next two weeks. The last half of the tine away I will be visiting one of my sons and his family. Family always comes first.
Despite my stated intention to concentrate on editing my long-suffering novel to the exclusion of any other kind of writing, I allowed myself to participate in a magazine writing workshop last week. My reasons seemed valid: first, the skills that are required for journalism are transferable to other genres including fiction, and, perhaps more important, it was billed as an opportunity to become more familiar with the world of magazine publishing. Hoping for some insider information on magazines as markets for fiction and poetry, in addition to non-fiction articles, I devoted three days to completing assignments that simulated to some extent the life of a freelance journalist.
After establishing that writing magazine articles is basically writing about people, we went through a couple of intensive exercises that included conducting interviews and writing to a deadline. Insights into what constitutes a good lead to a story (known as the beginning in fiction) proved to be very valuable. Choosing the right scenes to portray the perspective of a person who plays a key role in the story is similar to devloping a character in a novel or short story. The reader is the boss, and the writer, whether journalist or novelist, must decide how to engage his or her attention.
Lethargy and its devious companion procrastination have conspired to block my intended progress this summer, but there might be light at the end of the tunnel. (Oops, I have become so conscious of clichès since our discussion about them at the magazine workshop. Sorry for pointing them out instead of correcting them. Another small confession is required here. I am writing to a serious deadline because a capricious laptop that decides to slow to a halt on a whim has given me yet another setback. A friend has come to my rescue, and I am working on a borrowed netbook. Not a good idea to learn how a new keyboard functions when feeling pressed for time!) Never mind, back to my clichè ... It is now August, the cool winds of fall will soon push back the dog days of summer. Renewed vigour will accompany the feeling that a new season is about to begin. So I anticipate that the goals that have been languishing limply under a hot haze will emerge as crisp as an autumn leaf.
Surrey in October, here I come. And thanks once again to Hayley for issuing the challenge. Let us know if you will also set some new goals to help you shake off the dog days of summer and emerge with energy for your writing in the coming months.