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Building a Work of Art

My grandfather is one of the partners in a big land development company and he takes great pride in showing us his projects. A couple of weeks ago, I had the privilege of spending the day with him, visiting his company’s various construction sites. At the end of the day, I was surprised to discover how much I had learned about writing. Today, in honour of Father’s Day, I’d like to dedicate this post  to him, and share some of the things I learned.

To me, the realms of reading and writing — my interests — and of construction and land development — his interests — had previously seemed quite mutually exclusive. This notion of their disparity had been heightened by my grandfather’s interest in the numbers and financial aspects of building. Numbers and such tend to elude me, so while I love spending time with him, I tend not to understand about half of what he’s saying.

But it now occurs to me, perhaps our interests are not as disconnected as I previously imagined. Because, what is constructing a building if not making something that wasn’t there before? And isn’t that the same thing as writing, but merely in another medium? If so, then there is so much that I, and any other writer out there, can learn from this man who has been in the business of creating for the past fifty or sixty years.

Whenever we go on these outings, my favourite parts of the day are seeing the finished products. The high rise condos, already built up to the penthouse and their stunning, fully decorated lobbies. Even just the sales centres delight me, with their high tech demonstrations and beautifully coordinated decor. However, my grandfather always drags me to see big gaping holes in the ground, ‘oohing’ and ‘aahing’ over the contraptions put in place and techniques used to dig out the dirt.

Image from because my iPhone makes my grandfather nervous, so I didn’t take any pictures.

On last week’s trip, he explained to me that this is what he’s interested in, the progress and process you can see and look at from a bird’s eye view. Once the building starts really making headway, and gets (literally) off the ground, you can’t really see what they’re doing on the inside and for him it becomes boring. The same goes for the finished buildings. Once they are completed, furnished and sold, he loses interest.

This can be seen as metaphoric for the writing process. Just like I prefer looking at the finished, fully decorated buildings, I also prefer looking over my finished, fully developed writing projects, rather than taking greatest joy in the writing itself. I prefer editing later, more complete drafts over writing the first.  My grandfather on the other hand, would be someone who sees the value in writing the first draft. Like the digging stages, it takes the most time, but nothing can happen until it’s done. And that draft is often most difficult — or at least it seems that way when you’re at the stage — but it’s in that draft where everything begins to happen, and everything else you do for that projects tends to stem from that draft.

I think that this is an incredibly valuable lesson. This was very relevant when I spent the day with my grandfather, because at the time I was trudging through the messy stages of my Camp NaNoWriMo novel, desperately looking forward to when I have a completed draft in my hands. Now that I’ve abandoned that, because it just wasn’t working for me, I still find that I’m struggling to find the motivation to write as regularly as I would like. Lately I’ve been writing even when I don’t feel like it, because that gets me to the later drafts. But perhaps the rough writing, though more difficult, can also be more rewarding in itself, in part because the progress is very visible. Hopefully this new insight will help me not only keep writing (on a regular basis), but enjoy the writing itself as much as the final product.

Getting Back on the Horse


When I was small, I was literally almost thrown from a horse. Luckily the lady who worked at the horse riding place (would that be called a stable?) caught me, so no damage was done. This was before I had developed my fear of animals, so supposedly my response was something along the lines of, “next time, I’m riding a pony.” My mother, trying to avoid the development of an animal-phobia, insisted I get right back on the horse. So the story goes, I did and lived to tell the tale. Regardless, I somehow managed to develop that fear of animals. I have a few theories that explain this phenomenon, but those are for another time.

That’s always what I think of when I have to figuratively get back on the horse. Now, that horse is this blog. I fell off during the last couple weeks of school, so I could ‘focus on exams and final assignments’. I planned on writing far more frequently once school was over, when I would have ‘so much more time’. But then I felt stressed to write a really impressive, partially explanatory I’mmm Baa-ack post, which I ended up procrastinating for a while (a while being a week or so). Then, I decided to jump  into Camp NaNoWriMo, my post about which you can read over here. Since I was working towards a goal of about 2000 words per day on my ‘novel’, I felt that I could take another little break from blogging, posting less frequently, if at all.

And then, a few days ago, I decided that Camp NaNo wasn’t working for me. So I stopped. I don’t look at this as quitting, so much as making a decision to spend my time on other things which I’d rather be doing, like blogging. Since then, I’ve been trying to post something, anything, but it just isn’t working out so well. I tried writing one about my choice to duck out if Camp NaNo early, in attempt to justify this decision to myself and others. That post got abandoned after a few forced paragraphs, because I had already worked through those feelings in my head (and with my mommy) and had convinced myself that it was the right decision, so writing about it and thus analyzing my choice further just felt stale.

Then I tried to write a post about the fact that I’m re-reading Northanger Abbey  by Jane Austen, but I had too many things to say about Jane, her novels, irony and re-reading that the post was just a long, rambling, tangent-y mess. I felt the way I do when I start making an outline for an English essay: I had too many thoughts and I needed to work on streamlining them. However, writing blog posts should be more fun than writing essays for English class, so rather than bothering to streamline, I just saved it as a draft and left it alone.

But look at me!  I’m back on the horse! And it wasn’t that hard or that scary! Maybe tomorrow or the next day I’ll try riding it around a little. Perhaps I’ll even share my theories as to how my fear of animals developed (if I can make it entertaining enough — otherwise it’ll share the fate of the other two aforementioned posts). Or maybe I’ll streamline and publish that post on Northanger Abbey. Of course, by then I’ll probably have several thousand new ideas that need streamlining, but now that I’m back on the horse, hopefully I’ll stay up here for a while — there’s a great view.

Is anyone else in a beginning-of-summer blogging rut? How do you combat blogger’s block? How about you in the back? Any thoughts?


Who on earth would attempt to write a 50 000 word novel in 30 days?

Obviously that answer to that question is me. I’d do that. So would the tons and tons of other crazy people who participate in the various National Novel Writing Month (or NaNoWriMo) challenges throughout the year. The official and original NaNoWriMo is in November, but apparently the idea of spending a month chained to your notebook/laptop/other place to write appealed to a whole lot of people, so now they have month-long writing challenges several times a year.

On Saturday night, I got a tweet announcing the start of Camp NaNoWriMo, the summer edition, where you write a novel in either June or August. June started on Friday, I jumped on the bandwagon Saturday night, started writing on Sunday, and the rest is, as they say, history. Although it’s really more like present, as I’m in this for the long haul — or at least until the finish line on June 30.

So, clearly I came a little late, which is kind of tragic, but I’m kind of breaking the rules by using the very beginning of a novel I started (and left to die on the street corner) months and months ago. The way I see it, this balances out the first two days that I missed, and even with my head start on words, I’m still about two thousand words behind where I should be. I just hope the kind (and pretty — flattery will get you everywhere, right?) people at NaNoWriMo headquarters would see it in the same light. You know, if they knew… You’ll keep my secret, won’t you? Please, oh please don’t send the writing police after me!

Part of the idea behind this challenge is quantity now, quality later. The reasoning being this is that everyone’s going to write a novel “someday” and “someday” never seems to come. Plop down a big, red deadline and make charts showing how much progress you should be making, and “someday” finally arrives.

On the official Camp NaNoWriMo website, there’s this “stats” page, to make sure you know that this month’s “someday” has an expiration date (or so to say) and it’s coming soon. This page tends to be terrifying. I’m sure that its sole purpose in life isn’t to scare the living daylights out of me (because if it was, that would just be cruel) but regardless of its intent, that’s just what it does. There are a number of reasons for this.

Exhibit A — Numbers

As is implied by its name, the statistics page uses numbers, and a big scary graph. Numbers and graphs are math and owing to this alone, that page makes me break out in hives and tends to lead to “shortness of breath”. It seems as though I may have a slight allergy to numbers and especially statistics. Note that this was heightened by the Data Management course I took this year. I used to think charts were pretty cool. Now I sincerely believe that they were sent by the devil to steal my soul. Or something like that. Whatever the devil’s supposed to do. Turn me into a witch? I should probably go re-read The Crucible, instead of trying to decipher the evil graphs on the Camp NaNo site.

The big, bad stats page. The bars are my progress, the line is how much I SHOULD be progressing… Does anyone else feel their throat constricting? No, just me?

Exhibit B — What the numbers are trying to tell me

The graph is there to demonstrate how much progress you are (or aren’t) making, comparing that to how much progress you should be making. If these two coincide on your graph — yay for you, now go away. For those of you that have your progress bars higher that the “where you should be” bar — nobody likes you, you’re making the rest of us look bad. You’re the person who makes a whole freaking diorama when all the teacher asked for was a stupid Bristol board.  Please stop, it’s just unfair and you’re messing up the entire curve! For the rest of us (or at least for me) this line, which NaNo calls the “par line”, is just cruel. Rather than be ecstatic that I reached 6000 words today, I’m acutely aware that I should be at at least 8000.

Of course this page is also a great motivator and it helps me stay on track and figure out word count goals for myself. It also keeps a fire under me, ensuring that I actually get work done. What about you? Does writing using set goals, time lines and deadlines help keep you on track? Or do deadlines and charts leave you curled up under your desk in fetal position? Or maybe you’re a little bit of both, like me. Share your thoughts in the comments, I’d love to hear from you!

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