Everybody Needs a Strategy…

…at least if they’re going to get through NaNowriMo.

In defiance of the gremlins in my head that tell me that writing about the process of doing NaNoWriMo will jinx things, I thought I would at least share that I plan on doing Camp NanoWriMo this July. I’ve got some delightful buddies to take the journey with: the unconventional and ever-magnetic M.D. Dragon, and Victoria Feistner, myth crafter extraordinaire, who I have published and, God willing, will publish again. M.D. and I have even made our own little cabin– the Creepy Campers.

If there is one thing that past NaNos have taught me, however, it is that cameraderie and public postings in the name of ‘staying accountable’ are not terribly great motivators for me. In fact, extrinsic motivation gets me nowhere fast. The funny thing is, I have definitely written 50k words in a month before. It was just never during NaNo. Now, that’s easy enough to write off in November because Christmas is coming and things are getting busy. But July is nothing but time and sun and watching people’s dogs while they go on vacation. It’s prime writing season.

The good news is that I have figured out a strategy that works for me. Over the past six months or so, I have been working really hard at reclaiming my professional work ethic and getting consistent daily word count in. That has meant a lot of trial and error, listening to myself and my motivations, and learning how I actually work best rather than how I tell myself I work best. And the answer I came to, is that

I work best in a total vaccuum.

That’s right. No critique. No discussion of how things are going. No comparison, and absolutely no scrutinizing my word count every two seconds to figure out if I have made the goalpost for the day. I set down a time to write, and then I put my butt in the seat and write until that time is done. I do not criticize what I write. I do not compare how I write or how much I write. I get totally short circuited by comparison with others and outside opinions. I have to set aside a time, be quiet, and listen to the little voice that sings in my heart.

In my life, often listening to my own heart was let’s say, heavily de-incentivized by those around me. I think a lot of people have the same experience growing up. In my case, I responded by becoming a perfectionist and an approval addict. But my inner writer cannot be an approval addict. She has a voice to speak with, and because I have not always given her the time and attention she needs, she cannot yet compete with other voices speaking over her.

For me, writer’s block is the paralysis of ‘everyone is doing better than you so why try’ and ‘if you write this people will see how terrible you really are’ and ‘nobody really wants to listen to someone like you anyway’. I kick the butts of those overly loud voices in my head by cultivating quiet. I play flowing, meditative music to carry all of those thoughts away so I can focus. I ground myself and remember that no matter what gets done or remains undone, no matter whether I am a success or failure, I am enough.

Because I am enough. And this month, I am going to kick NaNo’s butt. I’ve already done the rehearsals, and now it’s time for opening night.

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All the News That’s Fit To… Keep in a Drawer and Submit to Agents.

In my previous post, about what’s going on with me and Pop Seagull, I alluded to something else. If you were wondering, the answer is yes, I have temporarily returned to the ‘dark side’ (said with a healthy dose of humor). I am trying the traditional publishing route again for my own work.

I think my post on the parts of this decision that have to do with Pop Seagull were elaborated quite well, so I won’t go into them again here. But, I think another post about my decision to return to traditional publishing is in order. I was a very staunch member of the indie camp for a long time, but I now feel, after all of the experiences I have had, that I have a foot in both camps. I thought it might be helpful for other people to hear my story, as I have found a balance between the two that is quite wonderful.

It is all a classic story of age and experience, really. I came into my twenties, all full of piss and vinegar and ready to start my career NOW. I had a lot of ideas, a lot of confidence (most of it warranted, some of it not so much) and some newfound professional writing experience under my belt that had proven to me that yeah, I was actually that good. I am also a very entrepreneurial sort, and not the type to let conventional thinking or the fact that something hasn’t been done much get in my way.

I was also, truth be told, a little frustrated with the traditional publishing industry. Despite it being the late aughts, most submissions were still snail mail, and it seemed like venues for publishing were shrinking all the time and becoming more and more dependent on the kind of ‘platform’ that no normal broke person has any chance of amassing. Furthermore, I had a strong feeling that most publishers, especially the big ones, were just not releasing or buying the kind of work that I wanted to read and write. I have always had a driving interest in seeing my place in the world represented, and encouraging works that are essentially fun and interesting before they are literary or preachy. I have a very punk rock sensibility about things that not everyone gets.

Enter a perfect storm of summer unemployment, a wonderful grant program looking to give money to young entrepreneurs employing new technology, and a lot of ambition, and I found myself in the shoes of a publisher. I had so many teachable moments and setbacks in those first one to two years as I navigated an industry that, at the time, was very opaque and hard to learn. Most of those adventures are documented on the Pop Seagull blog. There were so many times that I thought I could not go on, and then did. I begged and borrowed, never stole. But the most important experience for me personally was when I began releasing anthologies and put on my editor hat.

You see, a side effect of ambition and drive and outside-the-box thinking is often the propensity to be extraordinarily hard on yourself. When you see everything as your responsibility and within your control, rejection is especially hard. You see a rejection and think ‘I should have been so good they couldn’t say no. I didn’t do this well enough and that is why I failed.’ The equation of rejection with failure is a mental morass worthy of its own blog post, but I digress. It is also really easy to think ‘I know this was good. Good=Acceptance and Bad=Rejection, therefore they just don’t know what the reader wants’.

I know now that this thinking was absolutely wrong, and I want to tell every writer out there that is dealing with rejection: It may be about you. But it is far likelier that it’s not. Reasons I rejected things included:

  1. There was something just like it that I had already accepted, and the other story was only very slightly better for a very aesthetic reason
  2. I really really reeeeally liked it, but it did not fit with the theme
  3. I saw the merit in it and hoped someone else would buy it, but the style was not for me
  4. It was too long and I couldn’t afford it
  5. It was too short and I was trying to limit the number of authors and vary the pacing in the overall book
  6. The message did not resonate with me as a person
  7. It verged too far into a sub-genre that I’m not a fan of
  8. There just wasn’t any more space or budget, and the rejected story was #16 of a possible 15.

As an editor, I finally saw what the submissions process looked like from the other side, and the empathy and knowledge I gained finally killed my fear of rejection. I finally got the message that it is just part of the business. Suddenly, going back to traditional publishing did not seem so scary anymore, if it ever suited me to do so.

With this new revelation in mind, I picked up my manuscript for Distant Early Warning, my super Canadian, scary/emotional/adventurous ride through the wilderness with monsters at every turn, and submitted it to the Gollancz open submission contest last year. I waited a very long time, until I almost forgot about it. And then, two months ago, I got something incredible in the mail that I intend to frame.

It was a hand written rejection from the editorial team. I had been in the final 20 or so submissions, out of many thousands. Maybe, I thought, it might just be time to start producing more manuscripts, and getting those manuscripts out to some agents.

I guess, in the end, I’m still a little punk rock at heart. I encourage anyone to take the indie route if they feel it would be best for them, because I learned so much, and it was so good for me in so many ways as an artistic professional, that I could never tell someone not to do it. Hell, I built a business that I fully intend to turn into a phenomenon in good time. People learn and grow in different ways, and sometimes you just have to take the bull by the horns. But I would also say that if you ever change your mind, it doesn’t mean it was all a mistake. Both indie and traditional publishing can live in harmony and be fruitful parts of someone’s career, and sometimes, as in my case, one even turns into the other.

Feeding My Film Addiction at The Zoetic

This past Friday, I hung out with time travellers at the Zoetic Theatre. They had a DeLorian and everything.

No, seriously, I have pictures.

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Now, I’m not an easy person to impress, and I’m definitely not one of those people who jumps around like a total fangirl at every movie prop or costume from a franchise I enjoy, but this one got me. First of all, look at that craftsmanship. Compare it to stills of Back to the Future. That took some serious time and effort. The thing even has a believable flux capacitor inside!

There’s nothing like driving around the corner of Upper Wentworth and Concession to see a DeLorian time machine, gull wings open, people flooding into the street to take pictures in the growing twilight under an old-fashioned movie theatre marquee… it was pure magic. The Zoetic Theatre’s classic movie nights are getting better and better, and people are flocking to the theatre to enjoy their old favourites.

I know, I know, you’ve got the movie downloaded. You have it on DVD or Blu-Ray. Why pay $10 to go see an older movie at the theatre?

There are a ton of reasons why these events are so much more fun than sitting at home, but since I’ve been there since the beginning of the series, perhaps the best way to explain would be to tell you all a bit about my experience with the Zoetic, and why it’s meant so much to my friends and I.

I first noticed the Zoetic when I was returning from one of my many walks to the park on the Jolley Cut. Since Robin and I are hopeless film fanatics, I was intrigued that something that looked like an old movie theatre was still hanging out in a strip mall in the year 2014. As I drew closer, I realized that it was an old movie theatre… one that we could walk to! A poster in the window advertised a screening of Raiders of the Lost Ark, which is a mutual favourite of ours.

I was so excited that I power walked home, and told Robin that we were going. You see, being of that generation that worships eighties movies, but was just a smidge too young to see them in the theatre (I was an infant when Raiders and Back to the Future came out) I always kind of felt like I was missing out on something. DVD and Blu-ray, as nice as they are, just couldn’t make up for that experience of seeing these movies, for the first time on a big screen, and sharing that experience with a bunch of other people.

The night came, and we walked down to the Zoetic, expecting to find your average, run-of-the-mill older movie theatre. Nope. This place is an architecture buff’s dream. Art deco mouldings. Tin ceilings. Old-fashioned ticket booths. Plus, they’ve done some really nice renos as well. The bathrooms are wonderful, done up in daring art deco style, and the ceiling in the lobby twinkles. Top it all off with a smattering of eccentric Victorian furniture, and it’s really quite the destination in and of itself.

The screenings are distinctive too. Costumes are encouraged (and get you discounted tickets) and every film is preceded by a fun and immersive film history lesson and trivia contest. Our group has won sour patch kids and concert tickets so far, but we’re aiming for a new car, of course.

The movie started. We cheered. We laughed. We… didn’t cry so much, but the sour patch kids might have gotten us halfway. Seeing Raiders on the big screen really put the film in a whole new light for me, and I started noticing details I hadn’t seen before. For instance, in the chase scene where Indy is hijacking the trucks, through the desert, why do they end up on a giant cliff all of a sudden which doesn’t appear to be anywhere later in the scene? And later in the movie, I noticed something cool, something shocking even, that I had missed every single time watching Raiders on VHS or DVD. In the scene where Indy is pointing the rocket launcher at the Ark, when Dr. Belloq does that monologue telling him he doesn’t have the guts to pull the trigger, the dude eats a fly in the middle of his monologue, and keeps going. Dude. Eats. A fly. Seriously, and they used that take! We were talking about it the whole way home.

We often get a lot of flack from relatives for noticing these details in films. People take our attention to detail as a criticism of the films we love, but for film people, it is just the opposite. We love these films so much that we want to get up close to them, dissect them, and get other people close to them too. And that is precisely what we did. The next movie night, we showed The Wrath of Khan to my friend who is obsessed with the new Star Trek.

The movie night after that, we took our twelve-year-old nephew to see Alien. At the end, when Ripley realizes that the alien is still in the escape shuttle, Robin and I peeked over at the little guy, and he was on the edge of his seat, eyes glued to the screen, so completely taken in by the story that he couldn’t see his Auntie Liz and Uncle Robbie exchange a knowing chuckle. Oh, and miracle of miracles, he actually looked up from his phone for a full minute to take in the twinkly ceiling.

That’s the magic that the Zoetic has going on right now, and I urge anyone who wants to have an amazing night out with the family, with friends, on a very special date, to come out and experience these films the way they were meant to be seen. Come and get up close and personal with classic films, and the people who love them. Maybe you’ll notice something special too.

http://www.thezoetic.ca

Click above to see their upcoming film schedule!

*Photos taken by Leonard Doxtator. I don’t know the people in these photos. If there are any photos of you in this post and you would like them taken down, please comment or email me at lizmclean.artist@gmail.com and I will gladly take them down. Or, if you like them, I can email you a copy.

And now for one of the great ideas of history…

Yesterday, while driving home from work, I watched someone tailgate a mini truck with a full septic tank and porta-john hanging off its back, supported only by a couple of lengths of canvas strapping.  I wish I was making this up.

Driving has provided so much additional entertainment to my day. If only rearview mirrors were equipped with cameras. 🙂