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.

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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?

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?

Fortunate

I am very fortunate.  Those of you who follow me on twitter are probably well aware from my retweets that there was something bad going on in my city.  I live in Calgary which is on the banks of two rivers.  On Thursday/Friday, both rivers experienced a 1 in 100 year flood.  The results are devastating and left downtown, our zoo, and the Stampede grounds completely flooded, twenty four (I think was the final total) communities evacuated for over 48 hours.  Mine was one of the communities evacuated and it left me three days to think several very long thoughts.

 

I am incredibly fortunate that I have so many people who love and care for me.  Mark and I stayed with his parents, but my aunt and uncle would have taken me in and I had three separate sets of friends offer their houses as a crash pad.  Mark’s parents were in the process of moving, and weren’t really set up for guests, but they made every effort to keep us comfortable and happily fed.  It was actually a pleasant, if busy, weekend helping them move.

 

I am fortunate that my house was undamaged and didn’t even lose power.  There are many people in my city that weren’t so lucky.  Mark, the cats, and I were all fine, but I worried all weekend that the aquarium would lose power or that my basement would be ruined (since insurance doesn’t cover overland flooding).  Some of my fellow Calgarians (and southern Albertans) lost everything.

 

I’m fortunate that I live in a city where people who wanted to volunteer had to be turned away because there were too many of them.  And supplies that were donated weren’t needed, because there were too many of them.  I’m amazed that, of the 75,000 people displaced, only about 1,500 needed to use the evacuation centres, because other people, sometimes complete strangers, took them in.

 

I’m fortunate to have been able to watch as Telus offered free local and long distance calls to victims, Shaw opened up their usually locked WiFi points so that people had free WiFi, UHaul offered free storage, and too many restaurants and businesses to count offered food to evacuees and clean up crew.

 

My city will survive, and so will the people in it.  As far as I know, nobody from Calgary was injured or killed in the flood and the emergency management team was amazing in ensuring that.  There’s still a lot of cleanup left to do, but with the number of people already volunteering to help, I think that it will take less time than they forecasted.  “Come Hell or High Water” the Stampede will start on July 5 and the city will endure.

 

And we are fortunate to be able to say that.

On Friends and Family

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Image from PublicDomainPictures.net

 

Yesterday I had the distinct pleasure of attending my very first engagement party.  As in, the first one that I’ve ever attended.  It also happened to be my own engagement party.

 

My future in-laws hosted it and they did an amazing job of it.  There was the perfect amount of food for the humblingly large number of people that showed up, and some of our favorites were there.  There was even a cake to practice cutting, the color of which matched the decorations they had set up.  There were toasts and speeches, and a few laughs and tears shed.  And it was wonderful.

 

But the one thing that stuck with me the most is that we are both amazingly blessed to have so many people that love and support us.  Family from as far as three hours away drove out to be with us, and friends that we hadn’t seen in years.  The two families seemed to get along very well and the friends, as usual, had a great time.  I was busy running back and forth between the two or three groups that always seemed to develop but I managed to chat a little bit with almost everyone.  I guess it’s good practice for the eventual wedding.  But I am amazingly thankful that so many people made time in their weekend to come celebrate with us.  I love them all and I’m so very lucky.

Hello world!

Hello everyone!  Here I am, writing my first ever blog post.

 

You are probably wondering a little bit about me.  Well, to start off with: I’m a writer.  I have been writing on and off for at least the last decade and, as I became more and more active with NaNoWriMo, I’ve decided to become a little bit more serious about my craft (more on that later!).  I love NaNoWriMo so much (both because of the enthusiasm and friendliness of the people there and for the dedication and focus it’s taught me) that I have volunteered as a Municipal Liaison in Calgary for the last two years, and am only enjoying it more and more every year.

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Writing at a NaNo Event

In order to pay for a computer, internet, and warm home in which to work on my craft, I work full-time as an engineer with a small engineering firm in Calgary.  It’s interesting work, sometimes a stretch of my skills (and sanity), but I’m growing ever more confident and respected.  It certainly does pay the bills!

 

I am owned by two cats and one honourary nephew.  Most days it’s tough to tell who’s cuter.

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Saffron (left) and Socks

That’s really about all that I have to share about myself (I try to save all of the excitement for my writing, after all), so I’ll be signing off now (and posting this, just to make sure it works!).

 

Stay tuned for much, much more.  See you again soon!