Monday, August 9, 2010

Dog Days of Summer

Definition: 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.


Janet said...

Wow - there seems to be a theme amongst some of us writers this summer, Helena!! Dog days, indeed.

Love the idea of a magazine writing workshop! You are writing - and gaining valuable information and insight into becoming a published/make money author! Give yourself a pat on the back.

Interesting about your waning interest in the WIP. I wonder if, as we grow as writers, that which excited us before, no longer meets the requirements of our writing life? Just thinking out loud - your post today has definitely given me something to ponder.

And I sense you are very much like me - the 'school year' calendar is the one I'm most likely to follow. Come September, I'm hoping for a much more 'scheduled' existance. I blame it on my teaching years!!

Enjoy the conference/festival in B.C. (looking forward to info when you get back) and have fun with the family, Helena :)

Jana Richards said...

Hi Helena,
The best part about my day job, aside from my co-workers, is that when I leave, I do not feel one iota of guilt about any unfinished work (unless I'm really far behind). I know I can finish up the next day. I go home and forget about work.

Unfortunately, writing is not like that. I've been thinking about that a lot since reading Janet's post on Friday. We writers are strange lot. We feel guilty if we don't write. We feel guilty if we don't write enough and fulfill our self-imposed goals. We feel guilty if we don't like what we wrote. We feel guilty if life interferes and writing gets pushed aside.

Enough already! I wish I could flick a switch and turn off the little guilt-o-meter in my head. Unfortunately, I think mine is hard-wired into my brain. Hopefully, Helena you can adjust your guilt-o-meter to let writing be the joy it's supposed to be. Enjoy your family, enjoy the festivals and workshops you've attended (which I am quite envious of, by the way), and write as much as you can. But please don't feel guilty.

At the Sask. Romance Writers private blog, I pledged to finish the first draft of my current WIP. But I also pledge to myself, that if I don't meet that self-imposed goal, I won't beat myself up. A writer must be disciplined, yes, but I don't think a writer can write if she's not kind to herself as well.

Take care,

Janet said...

Guilt-o-Meter - I love that, Jana!

Karyn Good said...

The dog days of summer always remind me of my favorite book, which is, as everyone may know by now, To Kill a Mockingbird. Which has nothing to do with the price of beans. Or is that a hill of beans?

Lethargy and its devious companion procrastination have conspired to block my intended progress this summer.. That about sums it up for me, too! I've made some progress, so all is not lost (oops, that one slipped out). But more diligence is required and I'll be signing up with my own goals on the private blog once September hits, because like you and Janet, I run on the school calendar. Until then I'm going to enjoy the last of those dog days, because why fight it :)

Have a joyous time in BC, Helena!

Helena said...

Karyn, love your attitude. I really hope that you get the most you can out of the rest of the summer. I know you will be ready to hit the road running come fall. (I don't know what it was about this post that begged for cliches, but they sure came pouring out of me. Glad to see you oopsed one as well!)

All three of you made good points about taking life as it's handed to us. We should be able to enjoy what we can make of it without beating ourselves up over what we think we should have written.

Helena said...

Janet, I have never stopped to consider that perhaps we do grow out of or away from a story that we once felt passionate about. I thought it was more about external factors, but maybe it has something to do with needing distance to more objectively look at where the story is going. I thought I was doing that after the novel workshop, because I have made some plot changes (in my head). My recent issues have had more to do with the BIC HOK position. Isn't happening!

I'm hoping a change of scene, the open road, will bring about a fresh approach. Will definitely keep you updated.

Helena said...

I hope you can learn to downplay the guilt, Jana. I wouldn't want that guilt-o-meter of yours to go crazy. If you of all people feel guilty, maybe you need to service the meter. Give yourself some latitude to enjoy the successes you have had, and allow for some refueling to happen.

Maybe one of our faults as writers is that we don't build downtime into our schedule. We should not expect to keep our noses to the grindstone all the time. As you pointed out, the day job doesn't work that way, so why should our writing jobs?

I also like your point about not losing sight of the fact that we do this because we enjoy it. What other "work" is done simply because we want to? Otherwise, why would we bother writing at all? We are the only ones keeping our feet to the fire.

Thank you for helping to clear the clutter from my head, and good luck with the writing that you choose to do.

Helena said...

I've just thought of a real working example of a writer who does work through the dog days of summer, and very successfully, too.

At the Festival of Words, I heard Tony Bidulka speak about his writing schedule. He has been putting out a Russell Quant mystery novel pretty well every year. He usually spends the summer writing. Of course, since he has become a full-time writer, he can put in full days at it as if it were a "job" which I guess it is.

The rest of the year he fits in book promotion and tours, attending festivals, and travelling on vacation to the exotic locations that later pop up in his books as the setting (together with Saskatoon) for the crime Quant has to solve.

Tony's situation may not be too common, but it works for him.

Anita Mae Draper said...

Just a tad busy, are we, Helena? LOL

I have to admit, I'm revelling in the heat right now. I was in Florida at least 3 days before I warmed up and then froze when I got back here. I'm finally warm again. Thriving, in fact.

I haven't been to the SRW blog yet and probably won't get there for a bit because I'm in my cave again. My goal is to finish my ms by the end of August. Okay, don't laugh. But I know I can do it when I buckle down. The little guy and I have gotten into a rhythm and I'm working at it.

It crossed my mind that I should skip the SRW meeting even but no, I can't do that! LOL

Excellent post, Helena.

Anita Mae.