In the middle of writing a key scene in my novel this morning, I decided I needed a haircut. Of course this was simply a ploy from some twisted part of me to stay away a while longer from my computer. I really dread writing this scene.
I lingered in front of the mirror, bemoaning my wrinkly forehead and arched eyebrows (which I plucked twenty years ago in another procrastination effort, and they just never grew back), and I decided I could use some bangs.
These are the moments when I wish I’d posted “Get back to your book” signs all over the house.
Did I call my hairdresser? No – that would have led to an appointment for another day, which would mean I’d have to return to my computer and finish the damned scene. Instead, I reached for a pair of scissors.
I thought I planned it out nicely. I combed out a patch of locks at the front of my head and separated it from the rest. I pulled it snug to keep it in place. I opened the scissors just below the spot I wanted my bangs to hang (i.e., covering the wrinkly forehead and eyebrow arches). But I didn’t account for the poofyness of hair. When you pull it down in front of your face and hold it tight to cut a straight line across, it poofs up much MUCH shorter than expected. And the result is something like this:
“That was a bad idea,” I said aloud the moment I saw what I’d done. I cracked up for a bit – because it is the sort of haircut only created by five-year-olds or desperately procrastinating writers. But I stopped laughing when I remembered that it’s almost Christmas and I’m about to visit friends and family I haven’t seen for ages, and they are all going to take one look at me and wonder how I managed to mangle my bangs so badly without even hiding my eyebrows or wrinkles.
I tried tucking it behind my ears — worse. I tried a pony tail –much worse. I tried a hairband — truly moronic. And of course I snipped at the bangs hoping they might morph into beauty — not.
Finally I hit upon a solution: my husband’s hair gel. Ah, back to normal (with a whole hour wasted!).
Now you can barely tell that I have bangs. True, my forehead looks extremely wrinkled an my eyebrows look perpetually surprised, but at least I do not look like my youngest son cut my hair for free.
And hey, I came out of the whole thing with a stocking stuffer to add to my wish list: hair gel. Plus I milked the episode not only for its own waste of time, but for the additional procrastination value of writing about it on this blog.
A procrastination risk well taken, I’d say.
If you’ve ever done moronic things while trying to avoid writing your book, I’d love to hear about them.
I’m not the only writer with 18 books in progress, am I?
I love a story when it’s still in the bud and bursting with potential. I most often write picture books, which are very short and take up little file space. A few of my PBs-in-progress are first drafts, but most are mere outlines and premises, some with research notes or character sketches, all with the potential to be brilliant and charming because I haven’t quite written them yet.
I have a few easy-readers-in-progress (they started out as picture books but spilled beyond the scope), plus one almost-finished chapter book and four middle grade novels at varying stages of completion. And those are just my books-in-progress. I’m not counting the five finished books sitting in my “polish and submit” file box. Nor am I counting the other dozen sitting in editorial in-boxes across North America.
I take my writing messy, like my home improvements and quilting projects. The idea stage is so much fun, and all the other stages are so much work, it’s too hard to start and finish one thing at a time. As long as I get around to finishing them eventually, I am happy with my work.
Picture books are easy to write in stages because their worlds are small enough to fit several in my head. I can easily pick up the thread when inspiration hits for plotting, rethinking, researching, revising, polishing.
Novels are much tougher because my brain can’t hold too much information. I only flit between novels in the early stages of research and outlining. When a novel is ready to write, flitting away from it will spell its doom. I’m now two-thirds finished a novel. I won’t glance at another unfinished book until I’ve drafted that last third.
But oh, how I want to! Jotting down ideas and pacing the room working out plotlines is great fun, whereas writing is a total drag. (I don’t feel like sewing the border on my nearly-done quilt, either, and I dread hanging the doors back on the kitchen cupboards I just painted.)
Finishing anything requires hard work, there’s just no getting around it. With writing, I’ve found that outlines help. If I fully outline a novel, I have something to focus on when inspiration runs out — and it will run out. I don’t have to be inspired to write today; I just have to look at my outline and do what it says. It’s like exercising to a DVD. I just follow along.
Some days I zip through several scenes of my outline, totally engrossed in the story. Other days I drag myself through an hour of writing. What matters most is that I make progress toward completion and keep the story alive in my mind. Finishing the book then becomes inevitable.
I like to have many projects on the go, but I’ve come to trust that new ideas will always arise. I can write my books-in-progress and still have many new stories in the bud. Slowly, I’m developing a habit of finishing things. I will hang the cupboards doors this week, and I will stitch my quilt border while watching mediocre movies, and I will sit down every day and flesh out my novel outline to get that last third drafted.
Then one day soon I’ll have a gorgeous kitchen, a gorgeous quilt, and another gorgeous book!
Children’s books have brought me some great times this month. Sure, I’ve had fun with my own, Walking Backward–which received another notable mention this past weekend in the National Post’s children’s book round-up. But I’ve had much more fun with other people’s.
Mid-month, I went to the launch of Dunces Anonymous by Kate Jaimet. This is a great book for tweens, all you holiday shoppers. It’s funny and charming, with memorable characters and hilarious scenes that will take you back to grade school (where you’ll want to join the Dunces Anonymous club).
At the launch, while Kate read an excerpt and signed copies for her fans, I helped young book-buyers make their own dunce caps. (My 7-year-old ate enough cookies for me to count this as a paid job). It was great fun. Kate signed my son’s copy of Dunces, “Don’t always do what your mother tells you.” I have to admit, that’s probably good advice.
A little later in the month, my youngest son and I watched Barbara Reid demonstrate the plasticine art techniques for which she’s famous. In her newest picture book, Perfect Snow, the colourful plasticine pictures are complemented by black and white panels of ink and watercolour paintings. Lovely. Gorgeous. And even better in person than on the page–there’s a depth and vividness to the plasticine that can’t be captured by a camera, and I’m so glad I got to see it in the flesh.
That event was topped off with the opportunity for young book-lovers to make their own plasticine art–a real treat for my son. (Not as tasty as cookies, but still a treat.) The kid is cleaning up on my newfound love of book launches, especially through his growing library of books signed by their authors. Ms. Reid signed his copy of Perfect Snow, “Let it snow.” (Also good advice.)
Now we’re patiently awaiting the next event. (Either cookies or art opportunities would be appreciated.)
I know I said I wasn’t going to read any more Walking Backward book reviews, but fellow author Kate Jaimet sent me an email this weekend congratulating me on my review in the Globe & Mail, so I just had to check it out. (I was wary of opening the page, but Kate’s congratulations spurred me on.)
And…wow, it is amazing! It’s a long and thorough look at the book that ends with the words, “…a wise, rich novel, wonderfully compelling for children and adults alike.” What a glorious sentence for an author to read about her first book! My husband has been quoting the review all day, calling everything I do “honest, charming, wise.” (As in, “Good coffee, Cath. It’s honest, charming and wise.”)
Strange, but my first thought was, “I wish my mom were alive so I could send her a copy.” I will have to settle for showing my children, but it’s not the same.
I’m going to post a copy of the review on my motivational corkboard. That should push me through at least another 20 pages of my novel-in-progress.
For now, I promise my next post will not be so self-centred. I’ll write about the fun I had at Kate Jaimet’s launch of Dunces Anonymous and Barbara Reid’s art demonstration/book signing of Perfect Snow (just as soon as I take the photos off my camera).
A friend of a friend has gone into the same large bookstore three times to request my book, without any luck. The store had two copies in October–each store in the chain seemed to receive two copies of my book–but when those were quickly sold, they didn’t order more. The clerk who received this woman’s third request for Walking Backward responded with, “No we don’t have any more copies, but we’ve had quite a few requests for it.” End of sentence. The woman said, “I want to buy it! Are you going to get some in or not?” But that issue seemed beyond the clerk’s sphere of influence, and all she got was a shrug.
I did not expect my book to be in store windows, or even on the shelves with the cover facing out. But I did expect customers to be able to buy it if they asked for a copy. As if it’s not hard enough to write a good book, then find a good publisher, then get a bunch of good reviews, the book stores have to add a whole new level of difficulty to the process. And if friends of friends can’t find it in stores, what are the chances that total strangers might browse by it? Slim.
So that’s a brand new disappointment that a first book can bring… I hope any new authors reading this have better luck with bookstores.
On the other hand, I have been absolutely blown away by a brand new motivation that my first book has brought me: readers! My daily life is suddenly peppered with praise.
Take this weekend. On Sunday my youngest son had a group of friends over for a pizza party. While arranging the drop-offs, one mom said, “I finished your book and I just loved it.” (True, she is a friend, but she really meant it. She teaches high school and hopes to introduce the book to her class.)
In the middle of the party, a neighbour stopped by with a card that praised my “beautiful book.” (She has passed it on to her teenage grand-daughter, who is an aspiring writer.)
Then at the party’s end, a young teenager who came to pick up his little brother said, “I’m halfway through your book. I like it a lot. By page ten, I was laughing out loud. Is there going to be another one?”
Wow. This never happened before. The best I had was, “Still working on that book?” by the few acquaintances who knew I wrote fiction. I never got the feeling that anyone was eagerly awaiting my next story. But now I do. And it is the greatest motivation I’ve ever known.
I am blazing through my new book, anxious to get to the computer each day and tell my story as best I can.
I’m going to send a word of praise to every author whose book I’ve loved. I’ve never done that kind of thing–but I will from now on, because I know it will encourage those writers to keep writing. It will make all the discouraging roadblocks seem pretty flimsy.
Now that I’ve had my first book launch–which everyone tells me went very well, though I was so nervous it’s a bit of a blank–I thought I’d pass on three bits of advice for future launchers.
First, you need more set-up helpers than you think. Bank on unforeseen delays. (It took me half an hour to cart everything from my car to the party room.) These delays will leave you twenty minutes to set up a room for a party of sixty people. Not good for stress levels.
You don’t want to have to choose between laying out refreshments and hanging up decorations. You need extra pairs of hands so that you can do both. Over-preparing works well–with several activities for children, a variety of refreshments, lots of things to read and admire on the walls–but it requires a lot of set-up time at the venue itself, not just at home in the days beforehand. Ask several friends to come early.
Second, you will be stuck in the book-signing chair for pretty much the entire event. This does feel special, but it means that you’re not out in the room mingling with your guests. Don’t think of this as a regular party where you can pair people up and introduce friends with common interests and catch up on things with your old colleagues. Forget it–you’re in a chair absolutely clueless as to what else is going on in the room. Your great-aunt who takes a pottery class may or may not meet your neighbour who teaches a pottery class. It’s out of your hands. Plan on an after-party if you want to make this a social event for you.
On another note, though, don’t feel bad for those guests who came out of their way to your launch but never really got a chance to talk to you. (If they buy your book while they’re there, they can talk to you in your book-signing chair.) It’s the nature of book launches. A quick hug and “thanks for coming” before you’re tied to the chair is all they can expect.
Third, this is definitely a social event for everyone you invite and, as tends to happen when people are not paid for their labour, the friends you assigned duties will forget about them entirely once they’re having a good time meeting people. Your cake-cutter will be flirting while your cake sits intact and uneaten. Your photographer will crack jokes with the camera around his neck still in its case. Children will help themselves to coffee (double doubles) while your server catches up with an old girlfriend. And whoever you put in charge of the kids’ table will be on the opposite side of the room while stacks of colouring pages and mazes lay undiscovered by the crowd of children.
And, strangely, it’s all good. It will all sort itself out. Someone will eventually beg you to cut the cake. Someone else will take a couple of great photos and email them to you later that evening. The kids will be so happy drinking coffee they won’t care that they missed a few activities. The mixed CD you forgot to play will be the perfect background for cleaning up. And you’ll realize that those few things you’d planned to do but totally forgot weren’t really that crucial after all. Everything sorts itself out.
Then you’ll go home feeling high. A few hours later, one of your guests will call to tell you she just started reading your book and she loves it. The next morning you’ll get an email from another guest who read it all the way through and loved it. You’ll run into someone in the grocery store whom you didn’t even know was at the launch and he’ll tell you what a good time he had and how he loves your book.
And you’ll feel satisfied, and ready to finish your next book.
I’ve been taking my time planning the launch of Walking Backward, to be celebrated at my local library on November 1st. Take note, all budding authors: don’t try it alone. It’s a surprising amount of work, so get as many people to help as you can.
My publisher, Orca, designed beautiful invitations, saving me from having to cut-and-paste construction paper and break out my stencils. The invitations look gorgeous–if I could figure out how to add pictures to this blog, I’d prove it.
My local bookstore, Michabou, is coming to help with book sales, saving me from carrying a cash float and pestering guests for change for a twenty. They’re passing flyers onto their customers in the days preceeding the launch, too, to help spread the word.
The library is giving me a gorgeous room for the launch party, saving me from having to clean my house. They’re also inviting councillors and other municipal movers and shakers to come (true, it’s unlikely the mayor will come, but it’s nice to ask him and I’m too shy to ask him myself).
My talented friend Anni Preslawski, a local singer-songwriter, will perform two songs at the launch, including one she wrote at the passing of her beloved aunt. It’s a great song, sad and haunting, and it fits well with the feelings of grief in my book. Fortunately, Anni will sing a second song after it, giving me time to dry my tears and get a grip on myself before I have to sign any books.
For refreshments, we’ll have fruit, cookies, coffee, juice, and a giant snake-cake. (That’s a cake in the shape of a snake, not a cake made from snakes.) My sister Sharon will help with coffee and tea; my teenage son will cut the cake. My younger son Daimon is in charge of bookmarks. And my husband Geoff will take photos and clean up any spills.
I’ll have the room decorated with posters about phobias, quotations about walking, and paintings from kindergartners on the themes of “what scares me” and “what makes me happy”. (These are not random themes; they relate to the book.) There will be markers, crayons and paper for guests of all ages to draw their own pictures. We’ll have background music and party games including a phobia quiz and name-that-walking-tune.
The only thing I’ve yet to figure out is what I’m going to say. But since I have so much help in other areas, I guess I`ll have to take that on myself.