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Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Post NaNo Chat

So I made it through another NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), hitting the 50,000 word mark but not quite finishing off the novel I was working on. Ideally, I'll have some time between now and the end of the year to wrap up that first draft and then let it sit for a few months before attacking the second draft.

But, for the Kobo Writing Life Podcast, I recorded a chat that I had with some fellow Kobo staff members: Shayna, Camille and Bessie -- we shared our personal experiences with NaNoWriMo.

Video snapshot from the KWL Podcast NaNoWriMo Chat


You can download the MP3 here, listen online at the Kobo Writing Life Blog, or even subscribe to the RSS feed.

It was a fun chat -- always interesting to hear how different writers approach the same task.


Thursday, December 11, 2014

Playing The Lemons You're Dealt

I was recently up at my Mom's house in Levack. I've been spending a lot of time there lately as I help her sort through some health issues.

Being back in my childhood room leaves plenty of space for introspection. This has been a particularly challenging year with twists and plot turns that I just didn't see coming. So one can imagine how that might lend itself towards engaging in self-reflection and looking back at my life. And, being in the home I grew up in, of course, comes with all kinds of physical props that can stir so many different memories.

But the other day I was fascinated with a particular piece of "art" that I had created when I was in Grade 12.

It was a piece of art I called Second Excalibur.

2nd Excalibur - check out the "signature" of "ML" I used


I chose that name because I was imagining a post-apocalyptic world in which all of our modern technology and weapons are gone and humankind is left with the types of tools and weapons from our past. In the midst of the turmoil and chaos, a new leader who will bring peace and order to the madness will arise, identified (in an Excalibur/Sword in the Stone style manner) by the person who is able to pull this sword from the "stone."

The stone, in this case, is a combination of rubble and a brick wall, representing a world that is partially destroyed, likely by war.

And when I thought back to how I ended up deciding to create this piece of art, I was reminded of the age-old adage of playing with the cards that you are dealt or taking the lemons that life hands you and making lemonade.

Basically, taking an unexpected situation and, not only making the best of it, but making something good of it.

The particular art project, you see, was the result of a mistake, a screw-up I made. We had been mixing the powder and water that would turn into the "clay" for creating a sculpture. I ended up leaving the stir stick in the mixture, left it out and forgot about it. By the time I discovered my error, it was too late and a terrible mess. I had a cup with a rock hard blob with a wooden stick sticking out of it.

My art project was ruined.

Or perhaps not.

As I sat looking at the mess I had made, I thought about what I might still be able to make with it. So I peeled the cup away from the globby rock-solid mess. As I did so, I was fascinated how one side of it was so perfectly smooth while the other was "wild" and jagged and more natural.

So I started to etch a pattern in the smooth side to make it look like a brick wall. I wondered if I could play on the thought of a half crumbled wall. But then I considered the sorry wooden stir stick that I just couldn't pull out. Not being able to pull it out made me think of the sword in the stone. Then I got the idea to carve the wood into a sword and make it part of the sculpture.

And from that, Second Excalibur was born. A piece of art with a bit of a societal back-story to it.

Second Excalibur


It's not a great piece of art, but I think it's a creative one, and evidence that, even when things go wrong, there might be a way make it work, to just go with it and see where that takes you. You might be pleasantly surprised.

Sometimes, when writing you might "write yourself into a corner" and either feel stuck or perhaps end up writing a scene or circumstance (in order to get you out of that corner) that takes you in a completely different direction you might never have thought of in all your planning. And what you end up creating might even be better than if you hadn't made the original errors in the first place.

Life can be like that too.

An unexpected twist or plot-turn might, at first, seem to be a negative thing. But are there things that can be gained as you head down that new path? Do those twists take you somewhere new where you can discover things you might not have been able to see before? 

You, of course, need to have your eyes open and look for those opportunities; inspiration can come from what might otherwise be considered a bad turn.

Having supposedly failed 1000 times at creating the light bulb, Thomas Edison was quoted as saying "I didn’t fail 1,000 times. The light bulb was an invention with 1,000 steps." And Fred Astaire, whose career spanned 76 years allegedly kept the following memo, from his very first screen test:  "Can't act. Slightly bald. Also dances."

Edison and Astaire seemed to have both done pretty good for themselves.


It's partially perspective; partially persistence; partially patience.

Lemonade from lemons. Playing the cards you're dealt.

When life deals you lemons, make playful art. That's my advice. If you're willing to take advice from a man who has been mixing and messing up metaphors on his blog since 2005, that is.