February up and left

Where did February go? Time for a retrospective.

I started off freshly unemployed, and at the beginning of the month I was still riding the high of putting my foot down and making a decision for the sake of my own good. I had tons of free time, perfect for getting lots of writing done!

I feel like I wasted a lot of that time loafing around, but my calendar begs to differ.

I had my first meeting with a new writer’s group, this one comprised entirely of queer men. Since I make up the entire gay section of my previous writing group, I felt the need to seek the opinions of folk who are a bit more familiar with my subject matter. This isn’t to say I’m leaving my first group! I need as much feedback as I can get!

I slayed at my last Shut Up & Write, managing over 4,300 words in two and a half hours. I was buzzing and eager to get home and print up the new chapters and add them to the manuscript pile. I submitted one of them to the queer writing group, with a specific question of how much sexual detail is too much? This rough draft is extra steamy, I’m looking forward to hearing what they think of it.

Then I pitched for next month’s Confabulation, a special challenge as the stories are only two minutes long. My rough draft was shorter than usual, but still clocked in at nearly five minutes. Oops. It’s fun to make big cuts, though, so now it’s under the time limit and I’m ready to rehearse. Not too much, though; I aim to tell a story, not recite a bit of nonfiction.

I also started a new job, so my income woes will soon be over! I want to lament having less time to write, but my chequing account is sobbing, so it seems silly to complain. I’ll just have to include writing time in my schedule, maybe bring my laptop to work and set up in a café for an hour or two once a week. Or come home, fix myself a nice tea, and hole up in the office. There are options.

In fact, I’m off to Vermont next week for work, and my laptop is definitely coming with. Job by day, writing by night. Both of my writing groups meet the week after, though, so I’d best print up the pieces I’ll be critiquing and get to work on them.

I hit a bit of a wall with my French story: I got excellent feedback, then realised that I made the all-too-common error of losing myself in time while telling a story. I wrote out a reminder for the corkboard: what happens in the story is in present tense, what comes before is past, and anything beyond the scope of the story has to be in future. The me who is sitting at the keys and writing now gets confused about that, though.

I got overwhelmed by all of my spelling errors and the daunting task of changing tense for a couple pages of French text, so I abandoned it for the moment and did other things. It’s still there, I know I can tackle it, I just had a bit of a freak out in that moment. It’s fine. I’m fine.

I’m a writer because I write

Last year was amazing in terms of establishing who I am as a writer in my own mind. I have struggled with this identity in the past, especially since any declaration is immediately followed with the question, “What have you published?” It’s a common measure of a writer’s worth; since I have nothing published, I often felt worthless as a writer.

My therapist was the one to suggest that I join a community of writers. This led me to a state of panic; who am I compared to these “real” writers, will they judge me, and so on. I have found support and encouragement and friendship within the Quebec Writers’ Federation, and that has done a lot to fuel my creative drive. Even before I met anyone from the organisation, I threw myself into my work so that I would have something of substance to discuss with these other writers.

I have started a new novel that I have a deep emotional connection to. I have participated in a storytelling workshop and found a new way to create and express myself that is extremely gratifying. I have further solidified in my mind that I am a writer, despite having nothing published, because I write.

So what have I been writing lately?

Work on the novel continues at a satisfying pace. I am nearly at 30,000 words, and I believe I can finish a rough draft by spring. My bid for publication continues as I submit short stories to literary reviews, consequently increasing my body of work and giving me a lot more evidence to present to my impostor voice. I have also kept up writing stories and submitting them to Confabulation; I loved being on that stage and I can’t wait to feel that again.

I’m looking for work, but at least I will be able to use the extra time to my advantage.

Walking

It’s sticky hot in Montréal and I’m already regretting my decision to walk as much as I have today. I had convinced the boyfriend that Home Depot was close enough, that it wasn’t that warm, blah blah blah. We got to sit inside while I applied for financing so we could have appliances delivered to our new apartment, but when it was done and the iced coffee was gone, it was back into the sweltering summer air. We parted ways, and I continued deeper into the Mile End to meet Lisanne for a writing session.

I’ve made it a good five minutes from the store, though it felt like thirty, when I check my phone and get the news that our destination is closed. She’s relocated to la Panthère Verte, which isn’t much further, and I make it there in no time. We greet, I dump my bag, and line up to order. We share a nice meal, me with lots of picking around unexpected mushrooms, and take out our laptops.

The only problem is, the place has filled up a bit and gotten a bit livelier. It’s great ambiance for a date or a friendly debate, but not so much for setting in for some serious writing. No matter, it’s Mile End, there’s bound to be a cozy café we can work in.

We step back out into the miasma and head down Saint Viateur in search of a quiet place. It’s early on Saturday evening, surely folks are having dinner or predrinking before going out. We step into one place, but the vibe is all wrong, there’s bustle and children and noise noise noise. Back out again.

As we walk, we see restaurants and bars, not what we’re looking for. There are any number of cute boutiques, but we’re not here to shop. Before long, we reach Park Avenue (which is always avenue du Parc in my head, #sorrynotsorry) and realise that we’re near where we sat to write last time.

Naturally, we turn left, go back to that same café, and get some solid work done. I broke 10,000 words and nearly finished my sixth chapter. I also had an amazing pistachio chocolatine and a delicious iced mocha, so thanks, Caffè in Gamba! Next time, we’ll just cut the crap and head straight there.

I was so pumped with how much work I got done that by the time we said our goodbyes, I decided to walk the full half hour back home. Fortunately, it had cooled a bit by then, but the bounce in my step wore off before I could make it all the way upstairs. But then I got to collapse into bed and have a very relaxing evening, so it’s still a victory.

Dreams of autumn

I attended my first session of QWF’s Shut Up & Write, which is pretty much exactly what it sounds like. I was able to wrap up the third chapter of Claire and get a fourth out in three hours, including the novel’s first sex scene, which was interesting to write while in a room full of people. I left feeling accomplished and buoyant, and went and spent entirely too much money at Lush.

As I write more of this Louisiana project, I am exploring strange little corners of memory that I haven’t visited in a while. I don’t think my recollections are pristine, and I get a freedom from that to fudge details even further. This is meant to be fiction; the truest parts will be the emotions I felt. I hope I can successfully weave those into these alternate versions of events.

In the vein of digging up my thoughts on the past, I have signed up for a workshop on oral storytelling. I haven’t the faintest clue where to start, and the description specifically mentioned a focus on the difference between oral and written storytelling, so I think I have a lot to learn. I’m excited to see where this takes me.

I’m also looking forward to having a regular schedule to follow. My writing workshop is meeting infrequently enough to feel quite irregular. Part of what is holding me back is that I’m moving in a month and would like to start a routine that I can do at home. That’s not much of an excuse, though. I could treat myself to a nice drink and snack somewhere public. I often look at people in restaurants and cafés with a bit of envy; there’s no reason I can’t be them.

Then once I move and have proper spaces to write in, I can fix myself some tea and put on some good music to work to. The bf is fine with my writing time here, so I doubt there will be any problem once we have even more space to occupy. Meanwhile, we’re sharing a studio with a kitchenette and no bathtub and I’m hunched over my laptop on the bed. My back feels marvelous.

So I have my next meeting with my workshop soon, a brand-new workshop starting up, and a positive change in the home situation coming up. The start of fall is going to be a beautiful time.

Also, people are absolutely shitting on Tim Hortons’ pumpkin spice menu, I’m pretty sure they’re irredeemable at this point. R.I.P.

Of course, it’s been damn hot this week, so dreams of autumn feel slightly out of reach. Here’s hoping there’s a change in the wind soon.

Disrupting my process

I’d like to begin by saying that I feel inexperienced enough to admit that I don’t yet have a good idea of what my process is. The only novel whose roughdraft I completed is now almost five years behind me, still unfinished. However, I’ve already started toying with an idea of doing something differently with my latest project.

I had it from my high school teacher before anyone else: “Don’t edit until your first draft is finished.” This was back when I thought all writing advice was gold and to be taken to heart and never questioned nor ignored. I think there is quite a lot of value in this thought, but I’ve also learned that it’s okay to try new things. That advice is not absolute. That I owe it to mix it up until I find what works best for me.

With Yggdrasil, I completed the entire roughdraft before I showed it to anyone for feedback. With my current project (let’s call it Claire) just beginning, and my writing workshop meeting regularly, I thought I’d try sharing the opening chapter and seeing if I’m starting off on the right foot. Since I think it’s a waste of my peers’ time to submit the very first draft I wrote, I’m revising a chapter before the rest of the novel is written. I’m almost satisfied, and will hopefully get some good criticism; for our meeting after that, I plan to have several more chapters to choose from.

I discussed a bit of it with Lisanne, a friend from the group, when we met for coffee last week. We didn’t get as much writing done as we had planned, but we had a nice time talking about our projects and peoples’ reactions to them, and how much truth was too much to put into a fictional version of events. We shared our experiences, and hopefully mine gave her more insight into what it was like growing up in Southern Louisiana.

One thing that’s easy to represent in my writing now is the heat. It’s been hot and humid here, and I was down south recently enough to recall key differences between summer in Cecilia and summer in Montréal. Despite this, I went for a day in the park with friends in Verdun. I was introduced to someone new, and I talked about my past for the first time since deciding to put it into a novel. I don’t think that necessarily changed what information I share; usually only the essentials for a first meeting. But then, of course, in quiet moments staring up at trees, my mind was going over which parts need to go into the book to tell this story properly.

I’ll be in the park again next week for a picnic with the Québec Writers’ Federation. I hope to meet some new folk, chat about writing, and relax (fingers crossed for cooler, drier weather!). I don’t think I’ll feel any of the apprehension I did about the last social event; I’m rolling right along, and anyway we’re all different, so there’s not much use comparing myself to anyone else. (Tell this to my nervous mind.) It will be fun to meet with like minds and discuss what we like to do.

I am considering adding another project to my plate: a member of the QWF posted about a call for submissions of dragon stories. Just like with my vampyre story, I always wanted to write about dragons (no alternate spelling here), and any new short story is a good way to practice. I haven’t come up with much about it, and an attempt at an introductory scene fizzled out when I realised I hadn’t yet come up with the emotions motivating the main character. If my current pattern holds, it will be something I’ve felt acutely and can portray accurately.

Speaking of feelings, I got a gut punch in the form of disappointment this week. After checking their website daily, I finally got my entrance exam results for McGill. My application has been refused because I “do not meet language requirements.” Eighteen credit hours of French at Concordia University, at least eight years of work experience in primarily francophone environments, and I failed the exam. I had felt so confident about it.

What I suspect is that because I do not read very much in French, I made mistakes that a seasoned reader would not have. I have always meant to read more news articles, novels, even classics; but somehow never got around to it.

I’m not closing the door on translation just yet, but before I schedule another exam for myself, I would like to practice for it. I want to get more comfortable reading in French, expand my vocabulary, gain an understanding for tenses not used when speaking aloud. I want to write in French and have someone experienced to give me constructive criticism. I feel that I severely underestimated what it takes to work in the field of translation, and that is why I got the results I did. I’m still disappointed, but it helps to understand that this didn’t fall on me out of the blue. I set myself up for this.