A New Perspective

Being back at work has been interesting and enlightening. I come to my day job with a new perspective and a fresh eye and it’s serving me well right now.

The project I’m on was having some struggles and I was added to the team with the explicit goal of helping. It’s not been easy, because the project has been ongoing for quite some time and I have to get up to speed quickly. I’m trying hard not to step on any toes and be supportive and people seem appreciative of it. But it’s all just a matter of having the time and space to apply some tricks I’ve learned over the years.

It’s also really nice to just sit down for two or four hours and put on some music and really focus on something, without worrying about KRH or whether the dishes are done. I feel much more energized and productive than I was, and I’m even getting some writing in on the bus (I’ve edited 81 pages so far this month, which is the most I’ve done in probably two years)!

We’re still looking for ways to simplify and improve our life. Many of them are deceptively simple! My favourite was going out and buying all new socks. I know that sounds crazy but hear me out! I used to have about eighteen similar, but slightly different pairs of black dress socks. They were a pain to match after doing laundry and rarely ever matched. They were also wearing out and getting holes. So I tossed them all and bought eighteen pairs of identical socks! Now, when I’m rushing out the door and we haven’t folded laundry yet, I can just grab two pairs of clean ones from the basket and be confident that they match. Simple? Yes. But anything to reduce that mental clutter!

Organizing for Creativity

With a baby around, it probably won’t come as a huge shock when I say that I haven’t been creating very much lately. However, this is about to change! Last week, I returned to work, and my handsomer half has taken up the taxing job of being lead parent. I’m happy to be back having discussions with other adults and drinking my coffee while it’s still hot, and he’s happy to be away from the day job for a while. It’s an interesting reversal of roles, but I think it’s going well.

Now that I’m back at work I’ve got about 1.5 hours a day commuting time. I take public transit, so this could, theoretically, amount to creative time! There’s also, theoretically, a few hours a day after KRH goes to sleep. So, I needed to get myself organized.

Over the last eight months (I can’t believe KRH is eight months old already!), life has felt complicated, hectic, and disorganized. My husband and I recently agreed to work on changing that. My new motto for life is “Joyfully Simple” and I’ve spent the last month or so organizing and purging our home to get rid of the possessions that we no longer use and to make sure that everything had a home so that there were no more piles of things by the front door or all over the kitchen counters. As part of this, I finally completed the longstanding goal of turning an unused room in our basement into a sweet little playroom for KRH (and the cats).

That work is now done, and our house already feels so much more open, clean, and welcoming! There’s still work to do, here and there, and the never-ending chores of home ownership, but I feel so much more at peace in our house. Getting rid of some of the things that we no longer use has opened up room for our family to play and grow and be. Another upshot? I’ve found several uncompleted projects that I’ve started to complete – look for those to come up on the blog soon.

Now we just have to keep the house this way! We’ve agreed to spend a few minutes at the end of each day tidying up and putting everything back where it belongs, which is sometimes a feat with a busy little boy. Next on the list: sort out a routine and some habits to simplify our life and make sure that the important things get done while still leaving us time to raise our son, spend time as a couple, and create!

A Different Kind of Creativity

I need to find new ways to be creative, and that’s stretching me a bit.

Let me sum up:

 

We are now three (five if you count the cats), and have been for almost four months now. The time has absolutely flown by in a whirlwind of figuring out this small person (who shall be known as KRH) who has stolen our hearts.

As noted by the title of this post, this requires a certain amount of creativity, but a kind of creativity I’ve not used before. There’s the usual ‘try everything until we figure out why the baby’s crying’ creativity, but also a certain amount of flexibility is required to make our new family work, to give my husband and myself time to do the things that keep us sane and healthy, while making sure that KRH has everything that he needs to grow. Fortunately, we are really lucky that we have a supportive family and community backing us up.

It hasn’t always been easy, but we are slowly starting to find our balance there. It helps that KRH is (*knocks on wood*) approaching something resembling a nap schedule, which leaves me freer during the day to do the day to day stuff of life, rather than relying on my husband for everything (often literally spoon-feeding me in the early days). This, in turn, is starting to free him up to focus on his health and writing.

My creativity is being stretched in other ways, too, to figure out how to entertain this small person for an entire day by myself. KRH isn’t a huge fan of lying down on his play mat for long periods anymore, but can’t quite sit up or crawl yet, so he’s not able to entertain himself very well and there’s only so many times I can make funny noises or faces at him before I get tired. Still, we’re getting out of the house to activities and appointments and, once the weather gets better, I’d like to go for more regular walks and have some outside time.

I don’t intend to talk about KRH much on this blog, but I figured he deserved at least one post, so there you go. It’s not the same as knitting or writing, but he’s certainly stretching my creative muscles!

He’s also growing. A lot. (This picture is already a month old).

Welcome to the world, little guy! I look forward to writing you many stories. <3!

Huh

I have to admit, I’m a little surprised.

Back in… April? (it’s been a while) I submitted two short stories for a contest. It’s open only to people who are attending a local writers’ and readers’ festival/convention. My amazing husband submitted last year and was shortlisted. He didn’t place in the top three, but he did get his story published in a little chapbook and they did an event at the convention where the top ten writers read a bit of their submission. Afterwards, all the writers signed each other’s books and then the judges announced their overall thoughts of each finalist before finally announcing the top three winners.

They offer a critique of your work whether you win or not, and I figured: why not give it a go? So I polished up two short stories that I’ve had floating around for a few years and emailed them off to the editor for this year’s contest. And then I waited. And waited. And waited.

I’m not very good at waiting. I had some consolation, though, in that two of our friends and my husband had also submitted. I had mostly forgotten about it until it was pointed out that, last year, my husband had heard back by late June. Then the waiting got even harder. Together we checked our email multiple times daily, waiting in agony, asking each other at least weekly whether any of us had heard anything about the contest at all.

Finally, a month later than we expected, we heard something. I found out on Saturday that one of my two short stories was among the top ten! I was pleased, but not really surprised, because I figured both the stories had a solid chance at placing. (And yes, I did jump up and scream and hug my friends and call my parents and all that when I found out).

What surprised me was the story that placed. Of the two I thought that the one that was selected was the weaker, and it was the one I suspected might not be chosen. Lucky for me, I was wrong! I guess there’s a home for every story and the second one might find its place elsewhere. In fact, I’m sure that it will.

But now, I have to write a biography for my first little short story to be published! Let’s hope that it’s the first of many.

Master versus Expert

Some time ago, I stole an idea from my lovely other half (Mark) and started tracking how many hours I’ve spent writing. It’s been said that it takes 10,000 hours (of conscientious practice) to master a task. I’ve also heard it said (although I can’t find a source for it) that it takes about 2,000 hours to become good at a task.

That is to say, many writers can get published after about 2,000 hours of work, although the very best took the 10,000. So, I’ve been diligently tracking away, watching the numbers go up. For a while, it didn’t seem like it was ever going to happen, and then it actually seemed to be moving! (I’m sure you can see where I’m going with this…)

Lately, I’ve been busy working on the final assignment of an editing certificate that I’m taking (more on that later), and I haven’t been looking at my tracking sheet that often. Tonight, though, I was putting the finishing touches on the assignment and decided to add the hours to my sheet (I’m counting the course hours because they are actually helping my writing abilities). As I was doing that, I happened to glance up at the top of the sheet (where my total lives) and saw that I’d finally reached the first magic number.

2,015 hours to date, with more to come!

I’m not totally there, yet, but I’m well on my way to the Master’s level. It’s been a busy few months, and I haven’t been able to work as much as I want on the writing, so it was a pleasant surprise to see that the number had increased so much. Now, of course, I must finish that assignment!

Time Out

I think I’ve mentioned a time or two that I like to knit. I like to keep my hands busy when I watch TV, but it’s still very much a stop and start project for me. I mostly stick to smaller projects (socks), although I’ve knitted a sweater for myself and started one for Mark. I’ve also done baby blankets and am partway through crocheting a blanket that might someday be completed. My biggest accomplishment was the christening gown I knitted for my godson. He was super cute in it too!

Most of my projects get started and dropped (like the four bears I was knitting for babies that have all since been born and are approaching a year old) unless they are for a specific person who can bug me to complete them. Socks seem to be the strongest contenders for getting completed, mostly because a lot of them are for Mark. He loves them and wears them most weekends, which just makes me want to knit him more. In fact, I just finished up his Christmas pair in early March – better late than never – and I always smile when I see him wearing them.

The point to all of this blather was that it’s not uncommon for me to put things aside when life gets busy. Sometimes I even come back to them. It’s rare, however, that a project gets a true time out. Well, that happened a couple weeks ago. I’m knitting a shawl to wear at our wedding, and I started it in mid-March. I knitted away on it quite religiously, and was almost finished (after only four weeks – a personal record) when I realized that there was a huge problem with it.  See?

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No? How about now?

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It took until I was about ten rows from finishing for me to realize that somehow, despite having cast on the right number of stitches, I had one extra repeat of the pattern on one side. This made me somewhat angry (okay, so Mark was nice enough to keep me from throwing the thing across the room, so what?) so I promptly put it into time out for a few weeks. Okay, the punishment was kind of ruined because I took the shawl to Vancouver last weekend to purchase material for the bridesmaids’ accessories, but I didn’t knit on it, as much as I wanted to.

I finally forgave the shawl and re-stared it today. Of course, despite the mistake, the thing ended up being too small, so I would have had to re-knit it anyway, but I’m not letting the shawl know that. No, that would just give it ideas. I have added eight repeats to the pattern, which will hopefully make it just right. It will take longer to knit because it’s bigger, but if I focus on it, it will be ready in time for the wedding.

Of course, that ignores all the other things I’ll be making for the day of, which I will show you another time. I’ve a few projects on the go now, and I only have four months. No pressure, Candice!

I love you, and I forgive you…

On February 24, I had the rare pleasure of listening to Neil Gaiman speak (the event was free, but required tickets and it “sold” out in under a minute). Fortunately, I have a Mark who loves me and managed to get us two tickets. You know it’s true love, because he gave me the first one.

I’d never heard Neil speak before, except on videos on the internet, and I was impressed at both how good a speaker/reader he is, and how funny he is. He read three short stories and three poems, all with a rhythm and fluidity that made me want to listen to nothing else forever (if only his stories weren’t so far onto the side of creepy, I would happily listen to him reading me bedtime stories every night). It’s a style that I aspire to at some point in the future, because it was very easy to listen to.

That being said, some of the best parts were not what he had prepared, but his reaction to audience questions. The one I enjoyed the most was about the second best question he’d ever been asked (the first being “did you ever burp so hard that it hurt?”) by a young child a few days previously. I don’t really remember his answer (it was over a month ago), because I was laughing so hard at the burping. A great deal of what he said had me nearly in stitches, and I wish that there was a recording so I could re-live the event.

Something else that he said resonated with me, though. He had stumbled across some poetry that he had written when he was sixteen, and told us how laughably bad it was. He didn’t share it, but he did say something that stuck with me. He said: “I love you, sixteen-year old Neil. I love you, and I forgive you.”

It came up today at a meeting of our critique group, in relation to something that I started writing around that age, and how much it has changed and grown since then. And I kind of chuckled and self-depracatingly told sixteen-year old Candice that I love her and forgive her.

And it felt good.

It helped that the critique group agreed with me (nearly everything we do as a teenager that we think is great turns out to be laughably terrible), but it made me want to put that phrase on a poster somewhere that I will see it all the time. Because I’m unusually hard on myself, especially regarding past mistakes, but without those mistakes, I wouldn’t be the person that I am today. And that’s worth remembering, because (most of the time), I like who I am and who I have become. So why should I be so hard on the person who I used to be? She’s me too, if a less experienced version of me.

Candice - 18

 

And I love her.

I love you, past Candice. I love you, and I forgive you.

Ooh! Something shiny…

Lately, I’ve found it hard to write in public.  Which is funny, because historically I am at my most productive in public. But apparently I’m not that focused on writing at the moment, because every person that walks by me right now (I drafted this post in an airport while I waited for our plane to arrive) is someone to watch. Not even in the clever, writerly way of trying to guess their life story or looking for something unique to put into my next story… I just stare at them absently. Even writing from our vacation house, in the beautiful backyard, was difficult, because all I wanted to do was stare at the plants, birds, bees, and sky. Because anything has to be better than staring at my characters who seem so bent on disobeying.

I go through creative phases and this seems to be one of them.  Sometimes, the writing comes easily and I can focus completely upon the task that I’m doing to the exclusion of everything else. This is especially true if I enjoy the story, know where it’s going, and can’t wait to get there. But if it’s a story that I feel like I’m pushing, or that isn’t very good, or isn’t coming along so well, then it’s a lot harder to focus.

Right now, I’m pushing this novel along.

Pushing isn’t such a bad thing. Not every day is going to be a day of inspiration, and if I don’t push past those days and write anyway, I’ll rarely write. And after nine years of NaNoWriMo, I’m not even that phased by writing thousands of words of crap that I know I will have to edit or cut. But I’m forcing a story that I’m editing right now and apparently my mind would rather be anywhere but in that world.

I think it’s largely to do with the fact that there’s still a lot I need to fix on the story, and I’m getting overwhelmed. My critique partners have provided a long list of things that still need to/should be worked on.  And they’re right (they’re always right – I only surround myself with people who are smarter than I am, though I’m not sure what they get out of the relationship 🙂 ), but I think that’s part of what’s overwhelming me.  There’s so much that I can do with this story and world that I’m finding it both hard to choose and hard to get everything in. Not only that, but the current forecast has my novel coming in about 10,000 words longer than I would like, before I add in all this stuff.  Not a crisis, yet, but every time I look at the file, it starts to stress me out.

Clearly I need to focus my efforts on just one thing per pass.  Probably plot/characterization (they’re interconnected) for this go-round, followed by a (series of) pass(es) where I shorten/cut scenes and add the details my critiquers are clamoring for. On the plus side, the feedback that I’m getting on the first few chapters indicates that the major plot overhaul I’m in the middle of has been a success.  So that’s something! But I’ll probably have to plot along for a little while longer until this story becomes something that I’m truly happy with. And, as annoying as that is, apparently that’s part of writing.

Recently, a member of my critique group referred to writing a novel as putting together a puzzle, except that the puzzle is completely different for everyone who tries to put it together. I’m still in the process of figuring out where all my pieces go, but I think I’ve got (most of) the edge ones in now!

What do you do when you’re having trouble focusing?

It’s Coming…

Winter NaNoWriMo is Coming!!!

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Yes, it’s that time of year again.  I’ve even been spending more of my daily commute on NaNoWriMo.org than on Twitter/Facebook.  I’ve probably already used up all my data for the month.

 

I guess this means that it’s time to get planning.  I’m worried about NaNo this year, purely because I have been working so much lately.  I have no time for this crazy writing thing.  And we’ve planned even more pre-NaNo events this year to prep for.  Fortunately, I think I know how I want to handle at least some of them.

 

As always, we’re going to try some new things with the region this year.  I’m optimistic that they’re going to work well and make my job easier.

*pause for laughter*

No, seriously!  Okay, we’re experimenting.  But that’s what we do, to see what works for our region and what doesn’t.  I have to be positive!

 

In positive news, we’re in the process of confirming venues and dates and times and such.  It looks like it’s going to be a good turnout this year, and some of the veterans are really stepping up to the plate.  So I’m trying not to worry.

 

I just need to carve out time to work on my novel planning.  Lest I have to write this year’s novel by the seat of my pants.  That could prove interesting…

On Confidence

I seem to write about self-confidence a lot.  I guess that’s to be expected from a writer: we all struggle with it.  I’ve struggled with it for a long time, both as a writer and at my day job, and more so now that I’m done with tangible goals.

 

“Tangible goals?”  You might ask.  “What are those?”

 

Let me ‘splain:

 

When I was in school, my goals were easy: get good grades, pass this year, move on to next.  Life was (relatively) uncomplicated, and I could always find ways to push myself.  Get a better grade on this paper.  Get an A on that test.  etc.  I never had to struggle to find ways to push myself to do better, to be better.  After that came work, where I had many new things to learn and a P.Eng. designation to apply for.  I got that three years ago.  And now, I sometimes wonder what I do it all for.

 

There’s the obvious: money, prestige, awesome suits, a bigger house, a faster car.  But those have never been my goals (except money.  Future Candice has a lot of expensive goals for her life and wants to retire at 45.  50 tops).  But now, I suppose, they have to be.  I don’t plan on becoming super materialistic; I want nice things, but things that will last.  A solid wooden desk, leather furniture that my kids can spill things on and I won’t freak out, a bigger kitchen where Mark and I don’t step on each other’s toes…  Nothing much.  But the more I think about it, the more I realize that I need a goal of some kind, to keep me pushing to be a better person.  And now, I need to find my own goals, rather than having them thrust upon me.

 

Lately, my day job has been… interesting.  I’ve been handling a lot of corporate issues, rather than project ones, and learning a lot/being exposed to the Vice President/President.  Not only that, but my mentor keeps saying that, sooner than I had ever thought possible, I’ll probably be managing some super big project and on my way to the CEO of a huge company.  Now, this particular mentor tends towards exaggeration, but the way that he talks about me, I’m starting to believe that I can do it.  That I can be one of the few women CEOs and make millions and drive fancy cars and write many books in my spare (hah!) time and still manage to be the kind of involved and supportive, but not hovering, parent I want to be, should Mark and I ever become parents.

 

I may be slightly deranged (you probably all knew that, didn’t you?).  But I’m also inspired.  Every new job that I take on (writing or day job) teaches me something.  Every task that I do or time I push my boundaries, I learn something.  I probably do have the ability to go to that level of leadership, if that’s what I decide that I want.  It just takes time, persistence, and a lot of fancy suits (and maybe a fast car).  And that thought, the knowledge that if I wanted to go the distance: I could, has me a little more fired up about the day job than usual.  And that can’t possibly be a bad thing.

 

What inspires you?