Visiting my parents is often so much like a ready-made writing retreat. The house is quiet, softly lit, often sleepy. The TV returns seven channels and there is not much in the way of distraction. I sit straight up, I do crosswords from the paper, I write hundreds of words at the kitchen table I carved my name into at age eight.
An oil lamp from Istanbul, a present from my brother. In the background are buttons with the Berlin “walk/don’t walk” symbols.
My old Goose on a Moose print and various old photos of my mother and Finland.
I’m not really a fan of Doris Lessing’s fiction, but I love her as a writer. If she catches me not writing, she shakes her finger at me and tells me to get moving.
A dusty plant given to us by friends, and an old monster made by Suzen a long time ago.
This 1945 penny was in my change from the grocery store a few months ago. I’m not really a monarchist, but I love history and I like to imagine the way the world was when this coin was new. It’s also fascinating to me to have a coin with a different monarch on it (it’s been just one all my life). Remind me to bore you one day with the story of why George VI is facing left.
Until I took these pictures, I never noticed how I’d unconsciously grouped things together – items that remind me of traveling; items with the same colours; items from friends. I also feel a small amount of shame at how sparse my writing area is, especially my four corkboards. The fourth one has just one thing on it! I need some inspiration, I think. So many of the blogs I read are by people who produce tangible things – illustrators, artists, photographers – so their spaces are always so obviously visual. I suppose I could put up things that evoke feelings or ideas – and to some degree I have, but I’m wary of things ending up corny.
There is no greater excitement than starting a story. Finishing a story is satisfying, but in a different way – it’s a worn-out, bleary-eyed kind of happiness. You almost don’t even care. You don’t really remember the thrilling beginning, the new idea becoming a narrative with real, live characters.
Today I took myself and my laptop to a coffeeshop. I opened my Word doc called “Ideas and Beginnings” and picked something at random. I copied and pasted it into a blank document. And suddenly I had a story. I can’t even explain how it happened – and it would probably be boring if I tried – but suffice it to say I spent the next hour solidifying a story that had been in my brain for quite some time. It finally found something to stick to. Very exciting!
I will say, however, that naming characters will always be, for me, the very hardest part of writing.
I also discovered the Taddle Creek Archive and spent some time reading some amazing short stories. Here are some of my favourites:
My husband J and I were sitting on our bed in the dark, our dog snoring on her own little bed a few feet away. I was sitting with my chin on my drawn-up knees and trying to put into words why I’d had such a frustrating day. It was hard, partly because you can’t actually speak too well with your chin on your knees, but also because it’s so difficult to talk about writing, about that vague internal process Doris Lessing always referred to as “wool-gathering.”
One of the only things I was able to put into words was a moment I’d had earlier that day, sitting low on the couch, on the extra-squishy middle cushion. I had an idea for a story. A tiny wee one. It was good. But it was quite complicated. And for that reason I brushed it out of my brain with an old, spiky-bristled broom. And I knew it was a stupid thing to do. When I told J this story, his reaction was, as it always rightly is, “You shouldn’t dismiss your ideas so quickly.” But my problem is – I’ve been doing it for so long! I am an editor by trade and the urge is strong in me. So strong that it could probably be classed as an instinct, like coughing. It happens as I’m writing and even before I’m writing. It’s been happening for years and my brain is a tangled mess of Inner Editor. This is great for my freelancing clients, but not as great for me.
This week, such as it is, I vow to just write anything, even if it sucks. Especially if it sucks. I promise I will not let my inner editor even get out a peep. I might not even care if I spell words wrong!
I’m sad to report that I can no longer remember the story idea I’d had yesterday, though.
There are certain sounds that will be comforting forever: slippered feet on that creaky floor, early morning radio debates, water being poured into a kettle, screen doors sliding open. I stretch and kick the metal footboard as I had done every morning, and before I am fully myself I forget the last nine years have ever happened.