More Free Writing Workshops and an Editing Booster

Last week’s newsletter promotion has resulted in 155 downloads of my first Casey Holland mystery, The Opposite of Dark, so far, which is great. The downside is that there aren’t nearly as many new subscribers. In other words, people check the subscribe box, download the book, then immediately unsubscribe. But free things rule this year, right? If you had a chance to check out free mystery and suspense novels, you can find the link HERE. Clearly, you don’t have to stay subscribed!

Now for another freebie. ProWritingAid is offering four days of workshops on crime fiction from April 19-23. Presenters include Karin Slaughter, Ian Rankin, and Lisa Gardner among authors. If you’re interested in attending, check out the link HERE. You’ll see a registration button on the page.

The beauty about registering is that if the timing doesn’t work for you, you can view them later for up to a seven-day period. I learned a lot from the fantasy workshops I took in February. Although I’ve been writing mysteries a while, there’s always something to learn.

During the fantasy week workshops, ProWritingAid organizers offered a significant discount on their editing program. I signed up for a year because I was hoping to find a way to speed up my editing process. I’ve been trying it on my mystery novella and so far find I’m finding it quite helpful. It’s designed to assist with copyediting needs and does everything from pointing out overused and repetitive words, to grammar glitches, punctuation errors, passive sentences, overlong sentences, and so forth. The program also gives me a summary report that lets me know how strong some areas of my writing are and where I could use some tweaking. The link to the editing program is HERE, but if you hunt around, maybe you can try it for free.

They also offer a ProWritingAid university program, which I haven’t signed up for, but I won’t rule it out in the future.

A Writer’s Recycling Conundrum

Pexels photo by C. Technical

I’ve been giving a lot of thought to downsizing my home this week. It’s probably because we’re in a hot housing market in our area and three houses on our street are suddenly on the market, one having sold in a matter of days, above asking price, which is a common occurrence right now. Since we’re planning to downsize and move in two years anyway, should we step up our plan? This leads to a more immediate issue. How do I begin to sort and recycle over thirty plus years of paper in my home office?

I’ve been writing since the early 80’s. During my first fifteen years, it was all about submitting short stories, personal essays, and articles in paper form, complete with a self-addressed stamped envelope for an editor’s response. I still have tons of correspondence from those days.

I keep our family’s household records in another filing cabinet, but I’ve been much better at shredding and recycling those. Canada Revenue Agency only requires folks to keep records dating back seven years. So, why haven’t I done the same with my writing files?

Two reasons, I think. One is that I have an emotional attachment to my writing things. All that correspondence, all the paper drafts and final drafts of stories, and all of the notes represent four decades of work. Tossing it away seems counterintuitive. On the other hand, everything I’ve written is on the computer and backed up on flash drives.

The other reason is one of habit. For many years, I’ve printed out a final draft of a book, blog, or review, though I’ve now stopped doing so for blogs and reviews. It took a conscious effort and some resolve to break an old habit.

I have two scrapbooks filled with memories about fun book launches, writing events, and reviews of my work. I also keep a binder containing my publication credits, publishing stats, income and expenditures, and so forth. Maybe that’s more than enough of a physical reminder of those decades, and I should just let the rest go.

I’ve managed to sort and recycle a few things. In a blog last year, I mentioned that I cleared off unnecessary information from my two bulletin boards and I’ve managed to keep them clear. I also went through my collection of articles on writing and began organizing them into binders. I’ve found that it’s a 50/50 mix about whether I look something up in a digital folder or a paper one.

I’ve also renewed efforts to pare down my book collection. Last weekend, I began filling a box of books to give away, but it’s part of a larger downsizing and spring cleaning project that will also involve dozens of cookbooks I haven’t used in years. Sorting and recycling all of my cupboards could take a while and I expect I’ll need to set up a schedule.

For you writers who’ve built quite a collection of notes, drafts, correspondence, and such, what do you do with all of that material? To you keep it in boxes and binders? Is it organized? Or do you recycle almost everything and rely on digital backups?

So, How’s Retirement Going?

Before I start this week’s topic, I want to add extra information I received regarding Access Copyright, which I mentioned in last week’s blog. An author kindly provided a link which indicates that if you are self-published you can apply to Access Copyright as a Creator Affiliate. I’ve provided the link with more information HERE. As my colleague pointed out, it’s not that easy to find the info on their website. But if you’re interested in registering with the program, you can fill out their form HERE.

So, I’ve been retired from my day job a little over nine months now and if you were to ask me how I find it, my answer is that it’s great, except I’m still working full time. It’s just that those hours are spent on editing and the many tasks that go with being a published author.

I’ve been keeping track of I’ve the hours spent on writing, editing, and promotional stuff each week, and was a little surprised to see that I’ve been averaging a 37 hour week from the get-go. Hmm. Am I okay with this? Yeah. It still gives me more downtime than I had this time last year. Did I set out to create a 35-40 hour week? No, not really. It happened because I’m enjoying what I’m doing and I’ve spent a fair bit of time implementing some of the new things I’ve learned in workshops over the past six months.

I start each day, thinking about what I need to get done, what I would like to get done, then head downstairs to my office, and work on what I can get done. I often ask myself how much can I accomplish each day without pushing too hard?

Another reason for the all the computer time is that winter’s kept me from gardening and going for long walks. No matter how bundled up I am, I wind up with runny noses and a cough in damp, rainy weather. Secondly, I’m focused on completing the next round of edits to send my current WIPs to beta readers. Third, I’ll be babysitting Ellie starting in August, which will definitely cut down writing time. We’re also planning to downsize our house (a chore in itself since we’ve lived here over 30 years) and move in 2023, which will likely throw productivity way off course.

I still keep a routine because it helps with productivity and creating more downtime, but I also need some flexibility. Life still involves appointments and unexpected situations. I have no idea what my writing life will be like a year from now. All I know is that I’m enjoying the moment while looking forward to the future. And maybe that’s enough.

January Exuberance, Who Knew?

Not quite that exuberant, but close…

A funny thing happened on Sunday night. I felt wildly happy, exuberant, in fact. The reason was simple. For the first time in years, I was ending the Christmas season without worrying about heading back to a day job. Fretting about the return to work, or in earlier days, getting the kids ready for school, or even my own return to school, always meant that the first weekend of a new year was a downer. Not this time, my friends. I tried real hard not to smirk over the fact that my hubby and son were returning to work on Monday. Of course, I failed miserably, but they understood.

I have no intention of shuffling my way into laziness this month, despite the dark rainy days. I’ve a fairly long to-do list in my planner this week, but it’s my choice as to how much time I’ll spend on each of these tasks. This year, I’m going to give myself more free time on the weekends to try new recipes, read more books, or go for longer walks.

I have two major writing projects underway, and a third, which I’ve put on the backburner but really need to finish. It’s a Casey Holland novella, which was written quite some time ago and has been edited at least ten times. I put it away last spring, but 2021 might be the time to get it publication ready. The first six books in the series had a serious tone, but the novella is a tongue-and-cheek look at the lighter side of Casey’s work as a transit security officer. Once I pull it out of its folder, I’ll tell you more.

It will be a work-filled year. My choice. Productive. Creative. Fun. Stepping outside into the real world might be a little more challenging until most of the population is vaccinated, but I’ll do my best to stay safe. But once they are, that’ll be a happy day!

A New Year Dawns

Pexels photo by Olya Kobruseva

Well, we’ve just about made it through 2020 and that’s a good thing, but we must not forget those who didn’t. I know some of you lost friends and family members this year, and words can’t adequately express my sadness for the many lives lost. Articles, blogs, books, and documentaries have and will be written about this year. These days, I choose to reflect on what I’ve learned and to think about new goals for 2021.

As far as writing goes, I intend to follow through with some of the goals I mentioned earlier this month. After researching the pros and cons, I’ve finally been persuaded that building an email list is a good marketing strategy. Now, I just need to decide which server best suits my needs.

As you might have noticed, I’ve been working on branding and came up with a logo, with my daughter’s help, and finally updated my blog sidebar. I’ve also given my website a new look. There’s always something to do isn’t there? With restrictions still in place in our area, I’ve had plenty of time to work on these tasks after a morning of editing.

About this time last year, I set a goal of sorting through bins of the kids’ old schoolwork and recycling as much as I could. I finally tackled the project this week, which has actually been fun. I’ve been their reading class journal entries from grades three and four. In one, my daughter wrote that she wanted to be a writer. I remember that. In university, she chose an accounting career because she’s incredibly bright and well aware that a writing income doesn’t pay off mortgages unless you’re one of those rare souls. She’s always had an artistic bent and drew beautiful pictures in her elementary school days. Since she’s been on maternity leave she’s started drawing again. In our family, one of the most interesting outcomes of COVID is that my son has also taken up drawing. My husband’s enjoyed this hobby on and off for years but he also developed a passion for photography this year. It’s amazing to see them nurture their artistic side.

2020 definitely had some awesome moments for me, like retiring from the day job and the birth of my granddaughter, but I’ll always look back on it with mixed emotions. Meanwhile, I’ll greet 2021 with the same optimism I usually have when a new year starts. I wish you all a happy, creative, and prosperous 2021!

Thank You

Photo by Raj Vaishnaw on Pexels

It’s been a remarkably busy pre-Christmas week, but not for the usual reasons. My shopping, wrapping, and charitable donations are all done (about two weeks earlier than usual), which is just as well. My daughter’s been suffering from back pain, which reached an excruciating level on Monday, so I’ve been looking after baby Ellie this week while she recovers. Physiotherapy seems to be helping, but we’ll see how she does over the coming days.

This week, I simply want to say thank you to followers of this blog for sticking with me these past couple of years, and give a special welcome to those who have joined this fall. I’m especially grateful for those who’ve taken the time to comment or respond to my questions. I love the interaction I’ve received since joining WordPress and hope it will continue to grow.

Meanwhile, are you on a countdown to 2021 yet? Something tells me that many of us aren’t waiting for December 31st to get the countdown started.

New and Old Traditions This December

Last Sunday, we went for a drive and didn’t head back home until it was starting to get dark. To my delight, many homes already had their Christmas lights up and some were displaying decorated trees in the windows. I totally get it. The need for Christmas cheer is more important than ever this year. Local news reports tell us that customers are buying Christmas paraphernalia, including cards, much earlier than normal.

As is my usual tradition, I decorated our tree this week, as I like to have it done by my son’s birthday in a couple of days. Three weeks ago, I started holiday shopping because I wasn’t sure if our area would have further lockdown restrictions by December. I’m not a fan of shopping online yet, although I’m getting there.

Sadly, many local outdoor lighting festivities have been canceled along with in-person fundraising activities, so I’ve been doing online donations. Christmas will look a bit different for many of us this year. Our gathering will be pared down, though we’re still planning a turkey dinner with all the trimmings. And there will be gifts to wrap, cards to mail, and favorite Christmas movies to watch, so lots of our traditions will be intact.

The biggest and most welcome change to Christmas 2020 is the presence of our little Ellie, who is now fourth months old. It will be awesome to celebrate with a young child again, even though she’s too young to understand what’s going on.

So, new and old traditions merge this month into what I hope will be an optimistic end to 2020. What hasn’t changed is the gratitude I feel for what I do have and the opportunity to give back in a variety of ways. Now that preparations are underway, let’s hope this last month of the year will be the best one of 2020 yet!

Remembrance Day Thoughts

Poppies in a field after remembrance day ceremonies

I don’t have immediate family members who served in any war, although it’s highly possible that distant relatives served in at least one of the world wars. Regardless, Remembrance Day is one of the most important, and certainly most poignant, days of the year for me.

Over the years, I’ve kept every poppy I’ve purchased, except for the many that have fallen from my jacket. Seventeen of them are pinned to my bulletin board among business cards and notes. These poppies are a constant reminder that, thanks to those who served, I have freedoms here in Canada that citizens of some other countries do not. The freedom to choose my own path, though, came with a hefty price for those who fought for this privilege.

Serving in the armed forces must be one of the most difficult, and in many ways, thankless jobs a person can do. Yet, to me, it’s a noble and essential profession, and we need to honor these folks more than ever.

Heartfelt thanks and a big salute to the men and women who served and are serving today. This year, I’ll be watching the ceremonies on TV, with tears in my eyes and poppies nearby, as I always do. Lest we forget.

Thanksgiving Gratitude

Our Canadian Thanksgiving took place this past weekend. It’s one of my favorite celebrations and the perfect time, especially this year, to reflect on all that I’m grateful for.

Me and Ellie at 7 weeks.

The birth of my granddaughter Ellie is a true blessing. She’s just over ten weeks old now and I marvel at how she grows and changes every week. Maybe these photos will brighten your day a little.

Ellie at 2 months

Ellie’s birth is a clear reminder that life goes on and can even flourish, despite whatever else is happening in the world.

I’ve also been reflecting on the fact that all of my grandparents lived through two world wars, the 1918 flu pandemic, and a ten-year-long depression. Once again, I’m thankful for a relatively easy life compared to the things they endured.

I’m also grateful for my health and that since retirement I’ve had more time to balance extra sleep and exercise with writing time. I’m still working on a healthier diet, but hey, it’s a work in progress.

I’m grateful for our warm house, for food on our table, and that I can donate to share with others. I’m grateful for my wonderful family, friends, and a supportive writing community.

I’m grateful that I was born in, and live in Canada, and that my family moved from Ontario to British Columbia when I was seven years old. I’m lucky to live in one of the most beautiful places in the world. This year I learned just how competent and caring our public health leaders are.

For Thanksgiving dinner, the six adults in our family bubble still practiced social distancing and spread chairs out around the room rather than eating shoulder to shoulder at the table. It worked just fine and we’ll do this as long as it takes to keep everyone safe.

By the time American Thanksgiving rolls around, maybe more things will have changed. Maybe they won’t. Either way, I wish that you all have something to be grateful for this year. Happy Thanksgiving.

Those Crazy Creative Phases

It’s been a couple of weeks since I last posted a blog, but honestly this retired grandma has been on an ambitious streak. I’ve stepped up my commitment to various writing-related tasks, as well as my new critique group and volunteer work. I’ve also attended some interesting Zoom workshops lately.

I don’t know about you but my life seems to revolve around internal cycles where I have a lot of energy and ambition to get things done for a few weeks—or even months—and then it diminishes. It doesn’t necessarily involve weather and seasons, although they might contribute.

During the low energy, unambitious phase, writing projects aren’t quite as important. I’ll have little interest in monitoring book sales or networking on social media. I still edit my book every day, but not for as long a period. Over the years, I’ve come to realize that the low energy phase always passes, so I don’t fret about it anymore. It’s perfectly okay to make more time for rest and reading, a lesson that has taken a long time to learn.

I’ve been in an ambitious phase since about the end of August, which means, I’ve finished a fair number of tasks, in and out of the house. Due to the terrible fires in the U.S., I did retreat indoors for several days when Vancouver’s air quality plummeted. My throat became dry, eyes stung, and I started coughing after only a couple minutes outside. My heart goes out to everyone south of the border who are suffering so much through this calamity.

The air improved enough over the weekend to go back outside and continue yardwork, but the rain has now returned big time and I don’t know when I’ll get back to the garden. Meanwhile, the photos below show some of the clearing I’ve been doing in the backyard, plus our first sunflower! We’ve also harvested a couple dozen of tomatoes.

Our first sunflower! We started late this year.
Slowly clearing the weeds. The yard was completely overgrown at one point!

Of course, there have been visits with our lovely little Ellie, who is pure joy and light. She’s adopting a wide range of expressions and sounds and is absolutely delightful.

I don’t know how long my ambitious phase will last—I never do, but that’s okay. I’ll role with it and see what happens. How about you? Does your creative life involve ambitious, or other types of cycles?