I was all geared up for NaNoWriMo – had my story swirling around in my head for the month before and had gotten to the point where I was waking up in the morning (my usual inspiration time) and quickly writing notes on the pad I keep by my bed of new scenes for The Book.

The Third book in a three book series that is currently getting interest from both an agent and a publisher, I was eager to get off the hamster wheel of editing and re-editing the first two books and jump into the last book of the three book series.

Then life happened. My much loved mother-in-law Betty Hudson died the night of October 30th and we were on the plane the next morning for Ontario. It seems petty to even mention my NaNo plans in the light of this event. I am so glad we went and spent the time with the family, but the fact remains on November 11th I was back at home and had zero words written.

Then a funny thing happened. I have always been a serious pantser, starting to write without much or any idea where the story was going, but this time I really didn’t know where the story was going. I had recently read James Scott Bell’s Write Your Novel From The Middle and now I went back to it. He says it works for plotters to, but as a guideline for pantsers, it’s terrific. Short and clear and to the point, his concept of the Mirror Moment clarified a lot about that central turning point for me, and how important it is to have that nailed before or shortly after you start to write. And the idea that the Mirror Moment is internal rather than a big bang in the action also made total sense for the type of books I write, more women’s fiction than action.

Then I realized I really didn’t know anything about the internal world of my two main characters. Sure, I knew Louise was the smart talking waitress at the cafe, but beyond that I really didn’t have a clue. And Blue was the strong silent type, but so silent in the previous books that he was equally enigmatic.

So I turned to The Complete Writer’s Guide to Heroes & Heroines, Sixteen Master Archetypes, (Tami Cowden, Caro LaFever, Sue Viders) and quickly found not only my characters “types”, with some motivations, hopes and fears, in general terms that I could tailor to my characters, but I also found the archetypes they morphed into over the course of the book—i.e. their character arch.

And in the process I’m amazed to find that I’ve morphed into a plotter. Of sorts. I fully expect many secrets to be revealed in the writing process and am excited to get started, but I hope this preliminary work will keep me on track and make the actual writing much faster.

I think this is akin to what Jenny Crusie calls Discovery, something she has been sharing lately in fascinating posts on her blog, Argh Ink .

NaNoWriMo aims at 50,000 words in November. My personal NaNo plan was to
finish 85,000 words by Christmas. Now I’m glad I took this time for my own Discovery though and armed with my new outline, I’m still going to try.

How is your Nano coming?

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Today I stomped grapes for the very first time. We just returned from a trip through the Okanagan Valley, British Columbia’s premier wine region, and Washington state’s Chelan region, so I guess I have wine on my mind.
This morning the sky was a thunderous grey and the weather report said that after more than two months of drought, we would get 2 inches of rain in the next couple of days, so my resident winemaker and I decided to harvest all the rest of our grapes before they split and bacteria got started, and make wine.
We have four different varieties of grapes shading various parts of our property. First to ripen is a delicious, unknown-variety, seedless white, very winy right off the vine. Not knowing we were going to make wine, I gave them all away. (Note to self, next year think ahead.)
Then we have a seedless Rosé variety, also unknown. We got our first crop of them this year, having finally learned how to foil the deer.
Then the tiny Gewerztraminers, also our first, albeit small, crop of real wine grapes. Gewerzt is my favourite white wine, German, spicy, perfect chilled on a summer afternoon. It’ll be years before we get enough (if ever!) to make even a bottle of true Gewertz.
Finally, the amazingly fragrant white Concords, not a well-known wine varietal, primarily used for Welch’s white grape juice, but hey, you work with what you’ve got. And have we ever got a lot of those.
Rosé’s and the Gwertz’s had already been picked so we washed them all together. We don’t spray, but the birds and squirrels had been showing interest, and as well, it flushed out half a dozen earwigs. Then we stemmed them in the kitchen and squashed them in a flat pan with a potato masher, ending up with 2 ½ litres of juice and sore arms. Not a lot, but very tasty.
Then we started on the white Concords that shade our back porch, my summer outdoor writing spot, all summer long. Lately they have been smelling like a heavy sweet perfume every afternoon when the sun hits them, so I knew they were ready.
Much bigger and juicier than the others, there were many more of them. It would have taken too long and too much muscle to mash them by hand, so I decided to do it the old fashioned way. Stomping.
We put them into a plastic wine fermenting tub: they only came up about 8 inches. I had stepped in and grapes popped under my feet.It felt pretty good. They squished between my (clean) toes as I moved around. It was very effective. We’d tried using a juicer once in the past, but you end up pulverizing a lot of the skins and seeds. Stomping releases the juice but leaves the skins almost whole. Perfect. Those Italians really knew what they were doing.
Why “stomping”? I quickly discovered how slippery the whole mess becomes, and could see falling in, like Lucy Ricardo (Amazing how many time in my life I have felt like Lucy!) right into the vat. But if you stomp, up and down, you have more control and don’t end up on your butt in the juice.
How much did it make? We should end up with 8 to 10 bottles.
Was it worth it? I’ll let you know. Anyway, it was a lot of fun on a rainy day.

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Recently, I hosted a group of the women for two sun filled days of painting.

I used to paint, a lot – right up until I walked out of my studio seven years ago and started writing travel articles and later, novels. The why of that would take too long to document here, but before that I’d painted outdoors for years, then started taking classes at the university an hour and a half away, one course at a time. This went on for fifteen years while my children were growing up, first one course then two for a number of years, then finally full time for the last year, graduating after fifteen long years with a Bachelor of Fine Arts at University of Victoria in 2000, as a very mature student.

That was where I met these women, all mature students, majoring in painting, printmaking, sculpture and art history, and in the years since, we have continued to get together for lunch or dinner, usually in Victoria. A well-travelled group, there are two Brits, one Swiss (who sounds British to me), one woman from New York, one Norwegian and me, the lone Canadian born.

For the past few years I have been luring them up to the Cowichan Valley, over the dreaded Malahat Mountain (which to me, after driving it to school for so many years, is a piece of cake), for a weekend of painting and laughing and wine.

I have three empty beds, but one of the women chooses to sleep on my screened in porch instead, bringing her own blow up bed, loving the air and the birdsong that wakes her in the morning. I have been warned there might be a battle for that spot next year.

Everyone brings food and drink and pitches in in the kitchen, but the best part is that it gets me out into my studio again. A large out-building with heat, electricity, and a hose just outside the door, it is woefully under-utilised these days.

I realized this time that one thing I really miss about painting is listening to music. I can’t listen to music while I write, but I automatically pop in a CD when I paint. When my daughter was a baby I would play the same CD every time for years. Bob Marley. It would immediately put me in the zone and I could pick up where I left off, because I might only have half an hour before the baby woke up again.

I had so much fun, I have promised myself to keep it up, even if only for an hour a week. For me it’s a meditative act that is good for the soul, and probably good for my writing. People tell me my writing is very visual, that they could walk right in. Funny thing is, that’s what they said about my paintings.

Do you have a previous hobby or occupation that has worked its way into your writing? I’d love to hear about it.

P.S. If you’re interested in seeing more paintings, check out my painting website.

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One of my favourite blogs is Barking up the Wrong Tree by Eric Barker. Featured in the New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Wired Magazine and Time Magazine, this daily post is followed by 100,000 people, and me, who get the weekly update that recommends the most popular post of the week, and often click in. It’s big on lists, like How To Make Your Life Simpler By Sending Five Simple Emails, or, one of my favourites, Which Professions have the Most Psychopaths?

What I found out about myself in this week’s post, 6 Things The Most Organized People Do Every Day, based on the book The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload, by NYT bestselling author and neuroscientist Daniel J. Levitin, is that I am on the right track in some ways, and fooling myself in others.

This first point rings particularly true to me:

1/ An Empty Brain is a Good Thing.
NO wait! Levitin says:
“Shift the burden of organizing from our brains to the external world… Writing them down gets them out of your head, clearing your brain of the clutter that is interfering with being able to focus on what you want to focus on.”

This is verbatim how I describe it – although sometimes I call the clutter “riff raff” – because you go over it and over it trying not to forget it, and, as he says, this produces anxiety. And who needs that.

My day isn’t structured enough for his next point on setting alarms, although a daily alarm might help me with deadlines, but I do like the next one:

2/ Set Up Filters. Particularly on email.
I have my email program set with many sub-folders to my inbox so that regular mail from webpages and groups get sent to a myriad of sub-folders, so I can safely check my inbox and not get bogged down by a pile of blog posts and group loop notices. Yes, I often get behind on those, but my writing benefits by getting done in my prime time.
He calls it “hide for part of the day”. I love it.

The other tip that really hit home was:

3/ Have A “War Room
Now at first I wondered how this could apply to me, not a CEO but just a lowly writer, then I read,
“Ever seen a picture of the President’s desk? Does it have piles of papers and 1000 random post-its? No.
Research shows a desk that looks like the aftermath of a natural disaster saps your ability to concentrate.”

That describes my desk to a tee. I tell myself (and others) that it doesn’t distract me, that I can sit down and be right in the zone, but how many times do I leave my very messy desk and desktop computer and take my laptop to the tranquility of my back porch to work?
Answer? As often as possible. He says that’s okay, you need different workstations for different tasks. So, something to think about there too.

Consider checking out the post, 6 Things The Most Organized People Do Every Day
the website, Barking Up the wrong Tree, and maybe even the book, The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload .
Like me, you might pick up some tips for adding more focus to your day.

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