Now we wait

Well, I did it. I submitted my writing for the CBC Short Story Prize. It was a process that involved taking a 7,500-word excerpt and simmering it down to a 1,487-word short story. It is a brick in the path to achieving my dream of being a published novelist. It is wholly exhilarating and terrifying to have my work out there in front of readers and judges and I’m torn between wanting it to get lost on the way to someone’s desk and winning.

What am I saying? I REALLY want to win! 😉

It’s also November, the month of NaNoWriMo, otherwise known as National Novel Writing Month, which is actually an international movement of aspiring writers who scribble furiously for the month of November in an attempt to complete a 50,000-word novel.

Image courtesy of National Novel Writing Month

Image courtesy of National Novel Writing Month

It’s extreme writing, where content doesn’t matter as much as word count, and completion trumps coherence, but at the end of the crazy period you have a novel where before there was none.

Last year alone 310,095 participants in 595 regions in 6 continents wrote furiously, trying to attain the elusive and grinding goal of completing their book.

Is this particular writing process useful or effective?

Some could argue that it’s not, that it doesn’t allow you to think, edit, ruminate, let characters evolve ‘naturally’ and it’s a lot of time spent on writing crap versus spending that time crafting actual art.

Others argue it’s a brilliant exercise, used to strengthen the writing habit by getting you to write every day, by forcing you to jump in with both feet whether or not you’re ready, instead of sliding your idea into the back of the filing cabinet for when you ‘have time,’ and it’s exciting when at the end you’ve finished something. As someone who’s never finished writing a novel and is currently on her fourth year of writing this one, finishing a book sounds divine.

And some NaNoWriMo books actually get published the traditional way, like the bestseller Water For Elephants by Sara Gruen, and one of my favourite and oft-recommended books, The Night Circus by Erin Moregenstern. According to the NaNoWriMo website, there are over 250 books that were written in the dismal month of November under the word-count stress that have been published. That number alone is enough to give hope to anyone willing to put their fingers to the ink-stained grindstone for 30 days (and then countless days revising afterwards).

So will I be NaNoWriMo-ing? Probably not. Because I legitimately don’t have a lot of time and I’m already torn in three bagillion (a real and accurate number, I tell ya!) directions. Because I’m working steadily and at a pace that doesn’t drive my anxiety through the roof. And because I’ve given myself a more realistic goal that has nothing to do with November and everything to do with the end of 2014. My goal is to finish my book, the first, rough, horrible, not-rushed draft of it, by December 31. 

I feel like this will give me time to rework it and massage it and get it ready to be submitted into the big bad world of publishing (it’s only big and bad to me because it’s unknown and terrifying…I’m sure it’s actually lovely and everyone is super friendly and there’s no pressure whatsoever) (YEAH, RIGHT) by the fall of 2015 when I have more babies in school than at home and more time (HA!) than I have right now chasing a preschooler and a toddler during the day. I’m full of hope. And delusions.

But to everyone who is writing away right this second, who is watching their word count climb, but never fast enough, and who are going to question their sanity multiple times over the next few weeks, especially if they take part in the overnighter where, you guessed it, you write through the night into the next day with other like-minded (read: CRAZY) NaNoWriMo-ers: good luck! I wish you high volume and a solid first draft by December 1.

To those who also submitted their short story for the CBC Short Story Prize, also good luck! I hope I win, but I also hope that the right story wins.

Now, to get back to tinkering with my tome of nonsense. Who knows? Maybe four years won’t have been a waste of time.

~ Julia

P.S. Kim asked for an excerpt of my short story and I really wanted to oblige! I was going to publish the whole story here as my post today, but then I reread the contest rules and that would count as my story being published and therefore automatically disqualified. You’ll just have to wait until next year. If I get shortlisted, my story will be published online and I’ll post the link! If I’m not, I’ll send the story to people still interested. Until then…fingers crossed!

I have a dream

It’s a silly thing. A frivolous thing. A thing that’s for no one else but me.

A dream that is selfish, self-indulgent, navel-gazey, and nonsensical at the best of times.

A dream that I’ve said out loud so many times, but don’t really believe, don’t really believe in.

A dream that looks darn right ridiculous next to the poop, the demands, the finances, the stay-at-home-momness, the small life I live, the dishes, the piles of laundry to be folded, the minivan I drive.

A dream bigger than myself, yet one that I just can’t shake.

The dream of being a novelist.

Sure, sure.

Sure, sure.

I have been dreaming this dream since grade 4. And I know it’s been since grade 4, because that was the year I got to go to an enrichment course away from regular school and write stories.

I didn’t even know people did that.

I mean, I read books (lots and lots and lots and lots and lots of books…too many, according to our Dad), but the idea of the person writing the books, the man (or woman) behind the curtain, if you will, was brand new.

I wrote this really sweet (read: juvenile) story about flowers that could talk. They lived in a garden and each flower had her own personality. I’m pretty sure the rose was the most popular, most beautiful, most snobby flower. Poor, Rose.

Writing, after that three-day enrichment experience, became part of my life.

It became the thing that made sense, the thing my brain just naturally put together, the thing that I feel the most comfortable doing.

Ask me to add up a bunch of numbers, complete mathematical problems, figure out complicated equations and my stomach knots and I get nervous and have zero confidence. I can do it, but I’d really rather not.

This sounds about right. Trouble with math? Wait until your father gets home, kids.

This sounds about right. Having trouble with math? Wait until your father gets home, kids.

Ask me to complete the last line of a poem that has cadence and rhyme, ask me to spell something, ask me to come up with a slogan, ask me to sell a portable coffee mug (this actually happened in an interview), ask me to proofread something, ask me to dream up a story…I CAN DO IT. My brain whirs nicely, the words flow easily, and there are very few knots. Some nerves (I hate disappointing people), but generally, this is where I shine.

The novelist dream, though? Really? Who the heck am I to think I can do what this incredible woman does, or this talented fella, or this hero of mine?

A dreamer. A dreamer who is not afraid of hard work.

So, I’m working on it.

When I was pregnant with Lillian, I took a six-month writing course with Miriam Toews, the brilliant writer behind A Complicated Kindness, and more recently the Giller-short-listed novel, All My Puny Sorrows, which was just a thought, a question, a need she had to fulfill during the course, and now it’s a bestselling, award-nominated book.

Read it. LOVED it. Aspire to something that won't entirely wilt in its presence.

Read it. LOVED it. Aspiring to something that won’t entirely wilt in its presence.

During that course I started the novel that has been bouncing around in my head for YEARS. A book about people who are connected in a seemingly inconsequential way. The book will be made up of 4-5 stories of 4-5 people. I’m on story number 3, and I can’t believe that I’ve written so many pages and so many words and that this idea, this simple idea, has bloomed into characters that have been living in my head for 4 years now. Seriously. It’s a little wild.

Me reading an excerpt from my BOOK on my due date with Lillian...she was kind enough to wait another week and day so I could finish the course.

Me reading an excerpt from my BOOK on my due date with Lillian…she was kind enough to wait another week and a day so I could finish the course. Ben was my devoted chauffeur. Something about not wanting me to go into labour in Toronto alone. Weirdo. (Handsome, knight-in-shining-armour weirdo.)

That course gave me a huge confidence boost towards my lofty, lofty dream.

First, I had to be accepted into the course, which was advertised in the Globe and Mail, tweeted about by Margaret Atwood…

…and applied to by dozens. There were 15 spots. Eleven were filled. I was one of them. Seriously.

Second, during that course I got actual feedback on my writing, including a comparison to Alice Munro, winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature last year.

And third, I know of two giant successes of those 10 classmates that I spent 6 months with, every Wednesday night, and one Saturday a month.

Meet Shawn Syms:

Me and Shawn Syms, PUBLISHED author

Me, the belly, and Shawn Syms, PUBLISHED author

He just got his first collection of short stories published, Nothing Looks Familiar, in September, although he has been published widely in his 25 years of writing.

Nothing Looks Familiar

 

I’ve just finished reading the collection. It’s amazing. It’s incredible. It’s…inspiring. Seriously. I knew him when.

Meet Pam Smith:

Me, Pam (WONDER WOMAN), and Shelley (OTHER WONDER WOMAN)

Me, Pam (WONDER WOMAN), and Shelley (OTHER WONDER WOMAN)

Mother of FOUR with a full-time job outside the home, Pam is now hobnobbing with the likes of Sarah Selecky, Giller-nominated short story genius of This Cake Is for the Party, writing teacher, and writing prompt guru. Pam has since launched her own writing business on the SIDE of her life, and when I’m done my book, I’m definitely going to try to get her eyes on it.

justwrite-pam

Dear Pam, I want to be you when I grow up. Love, Me

So, this is THE dream. And it’s huge, yet not impossible. And it’s what sits in my head, pushing buttons and demanding attention all. day. long. but at this point in my life, in this season of mothering littles, it’s not something that I can give a lot of consistent time and energy to. But I am working towards it.

I’m going to enter an excerpt of my book as a short story in this competition, all the while dreaming of the prize, which not only includes money, but a 10-day stay in The Banff Centre, “the largest art and creativity incubator on the planet,” as it shyly admits on its web page. SERIOUSLY?! Ten days away in Banff to do nothing but WRITE? Sign me up. Please. Now.

And I’m going to keep sneaking in writing whenever I can (currently, I have a dog-eared print out of the bare bones of the competition piece that tags along with me, my tiny laptop that I use to write on while getting slept on, and the “Writing” folder on our BlackBerry for any thoughts that pop into my head wherever I am). One day, when more babies are in school and more babies are sleeping through the night, I’ll add writing to my daily schedule, but today, in this time, the hodge podge method is what I can handle.

And this dream? This unwieldy, giant, larger-than-my-life dream?

Well, as my good friend J.R.R. Tolkien says, “A single dream is more powerful than a thousand realities.”

Who can argue with that?

~ Julia

PS. Buy Shawn’s book here or here!