Tuesday, September 11, 2001 began as a beautiful day. I was on vacation in the Netherlands with my mom. It was a special trip for us, because my mom was born in the Netherlands and had emigrated to Canada in the 1950s. It was our first trip together to visit her homeland. We were staying with our relatives who lived in a small village near the ancient city of Leiden.
I recently returned to full-time work after freelancing for a couple of years. This means I’ve returned to looking forward to the weekend like. I got a rare weekday off. Instead of just sitting around at home, I decided to take off on a mini adventure. I jumped on my bike and spent most of the day meandering along the Panam Trail that runs along Toronto’s waterfront.
I’m not really a “beach read” kind of a person, so I don’t have a typical summer reading list. Actually, I’m not much of a beach person. I’m fair skinned and I don’t really tan – I just burn, peel and repeat. I’m more of a “relax on the patio under an umbrella with a cold drink” kind of a person. By the same token, I’m not really interested in the light fiction reads that get labelled beach reads.
When I was in university, I spent the summer months reading classic novels by Dickens, Bronte and Hardy – serious stuff, but for a political science major who read Plato, Marx and international law treaties during the school year, this was fun.
I don’t usually plan what I’m going to read in advance. I let my interests and intuition lead me from one book to another. But here are a few books I’m planning to dive into over the next couple of months.
When I was a kid I was told repeatedly that I wasn’t physically capable. I was born with a mild form of spina bifida, a congenital condition (birth defect) that usually causes spinal deformities and paralysis. I have some scoliosis (curvature of the spine) but no paralysis and I ran around and played like a normal kid.
If you want money more than anything,
you’ll be bought and sold.
If you have a greed for food,
you’ll be a loaf of bread.
This is a subtle truth:
whatever you love, you are. Rumi
I was insnared by the black and white thinking trap. This type of thinking is about viewing choices in life as two extremes—either I do “this” or I do “that” when in reality there are shades of grey.
Just over four years ago, I decided to become a freelance writer. I had quit my job a few months before in order to have time to write a book and it was time to start making some money. I was quite casual in my decision and thought transitioning to freelance would be easy, I had freelanced in between full-time jobs in the past and had easily landed projects when I wanted them.
I’ve been working on a memoir about the time I spent living aboard a sailboat with my family as a teenager.
My memoir has evolved over several drafts from being a story about a family sailing trip, to my own coming of age story. This is an important distinction as the first story is a collective story and the second is a much more personal story. The first story might have made my family nervous. The second story makes me nervous.
I just finished reading the compilation Why We Write About Ourselves: Twenty Memoirists on Why They Expose Themselves (And Others) in the Name of Literature edited by Meredith Maran.
Here are a few of my favourite passages.
A. M. Holmes on writing her memoir about finding out she was adopted.
“Writing my memoir was unpleasant, like being a doctor examining myself: Does it hurt here? Which part hurts the most? Oops! I made you bleed again.
“There were many points at which I thought, I don’t really want to be doing this. I want to stop.
“What propelled me to keep going was that I felt I could bring to the memoir my experience and training as a writer—finding language for primitive emotional experiences. One of the things that worked about the book was that it gave voice to people who hadn’t found language for their adoption experience.”
Sue Monk Kidd
“Writing memoir not only has the ability to reveal me to myself, it also has the power to change me. I suspect writing memoir is partially about the need to bring about wholeness in myself.”
“Writing a memoir is a lot more welcoming project. It’s like going to the beach or the library. When I think about writing a memoir, I sometimes actually feel excited. First I think, I’d love to read that book. Second, I know it’s doable.”
“The idea of truth in memoir is absurd. Memory is utterly mutable, changeable, and constantly in motion. You can’t fact check memory.”
Cheryl Strayed on using her life in her writing
“The only way I know how to do that is to plumb the depths of my own heart, mind, body, and spirit. So I had to make myself ready for a life in which I share the most private parts of myself with the public. I didn’t learn how to do that all at once. It’s a muscle you work and build over time.”
I highly recommend this candid book about the benefits and perils of writing a memoir from writers who have written, published and lived to tell the tale.
More than four years ago, I left my job in order to spend more time pursuing my writing. I figured I would do freelance copywriting to pay the bills. It wasn’t easy and I came to realize I missed being part of a team. I also didn’t enjoy hustling for work. It wasn’t what I truly wanted to do, so it wasn’t easy.
In The Fire Starter Sessions, Danielle LaPorte writes about letting it be easy.
“Choosing easy is smart, efficient, elegant; a fantastic form of self-compassion; giving yourself a break and getting out of your own way. Choosing easy is letting inspiration be your compass. Choosing easy is allowing for the things that you’ve been asking for to enter your life.”Danielle La Porte
I’ve spent most of my adult life struggling to do everything. Struggling to get into university; struggling to pay for university; struggling to build a career; struggling to pursue my writing.
What if I tried a different approach? What if I tried what is actually easy so I can have the physical and mental space to actually pursue my passions?
It is easier to take a contract job than continue to freelance.
It’s easier to settle on a simple design for this website than trying to create some elaborate design that the online pundits tell me I need so I can “position” myself as a “brand,” be clear on my “target” audience in order to have a “business.”
It is so much easier to pursue my passion for writing when I don’t have to worry about paying the rent or hustling for more paying work.
It’s so much easier to write blog posts and plan upcoming e-courses when I have a design that is simply me, and hopefully a place where you dear reader want to hang out and check out what I have to offer.
I resisted hanging up my freelance hat for a long time because I thought I would be giving up on my bigger writing goals. I’m not living the dream—“quit your job, build an online business and run all the way to the bank with loads of money.”
Guess what? That dream is a lot harder to make happen than everyone lets on.
I haven’t given up my dream to make it as a writer—but I’ll do it while I work a meaningful job with a salary that will allow me to eat something other than the student diet of ramen noodles and Kraft Dinner (mac n’ cheese to you Americans). The student diet is only appealing when you are actually a student and your young body can handle the abuse.
By taking a full-time job, I will actually have more time to pursue the writing I most want to do—writing memoir, personal essays and fiction—the forms of writing that don’t pay as much as freelance copywriting but feed my soul instead.
I’m keeping my dream alive, but I’m just doing it differently.
Let it be easy. It is so much better than making it hard.
You should watch the videos to get all the details, but here is the method put simply.
Write the outline of your novel on a single sheet of 8.5 X 11 paper.
No complicated 50 page treatments. No stacks of index cards.
Just a simple outline on a single sheet of paper.
On that sheet of paper you work out the beginning, the middle and the end. Act One. Act Two. Act Three.
Still on that same sheet of paper, you figure out the narration. How are you going to tell the story? Who will the narrator be? Will the story be told in present tense or past tense? Will you use a continuous story arc or will you use flashbacks?
Then, you figure out the theme. What is the story really about?
Finally, still on the same sheet of paper, you go into a bit more detail about the inciting incident and the climax. The inciting incident will inform the climax, obviously.
You may recognize this as the classic three-act structure for stories that is commonly used in movies. It might seem a bit formulaic but the structure goes all the way back to Homer’s Iliad. Stories continue to be told this way for one reason—it works.
Writing a novel without creating an outline would be like building a bridge without a blueprint–it would fall down before it was half built.
A similar method can be used to solve business problems. A couple of years ago as part of my work in communications, I got to take a workshop with the then Director of Knowledge Management at Toyota Canada. He described the Kaizen way of solving problems on the assembly line. Managers had to describe both the problem and the solution on a single sheet of 11 X 17 paper—the problem on one half of the page and the solution on the other side of the page. If they needed more paper to describe the problem or the solution, then they hadn’t got to the core problem. This meant they were solving the symptoms of the problem and not the problem itself.
So, whether you are trying to plot a novel, or solve a business problem, boil it down to a single page and then get busy!