A Solitary Activity

Writing is a solitary exercise. I may write with people around, I may enlist their help in reading and editing and giving feedback. I may talk over story ideas, but when it comes to putting the words down, I’m on my own.

For the most part, I’m okay with that. I’m not the kind of person who’s bothered by being alone. I’m more bothered by the days when I don’t go outside at all, but fortunately that hasn’t happened once this summer. In fact, living on the beach means I want to be outside all the time. I hate being inside with my computer many days.

We’re on another house-sitting gig, this time in Davis Bay, so yesterday morning I took myself, my notebook, and my pen to the beach by the Davis Bay Pier. This was my view as I wrote.

Wednesday morning, the beach was quiet. A few walkers. A few fishermen at the end of the pier. The bobbing head of a seal, stealing fish from their lines as they checked their crab traps. A change of scenery can be the most productive thing to do some days.

Yes, I write most of my first drafts on paper. Paper that blows around on a breezy beach.

A chunk of driftwood came in handy. I always have done my first drafts with pen and paper and it seems to be the way I write best. From there I’ll type it up, editing as I go (my first drafts on paper are very rough and – at times – illegible to anyone but me). I add to the story, take things out, flesh out details and characters. I like that typing it up forces a second draft. I’ll edit it on the computer and then I’ll often print it out and edit it again by hand, making notes and crossing bits out on paper. Sometimes from there I’ll go back and type it all up again as a new document. Generally, this is around the time that I’m ready to show it to a trusted reader. After that, more editing. I spend more time editing than I do writing, but I enjoy both processes.

Most writers, I think, have trouble knowing when a story is finished. We all want to write the perfect story and we all know that what we have written is not quite it. It might be very good, it might even come close, but it’s never perfect. That’s when you either have to leave it for a while, let it ferment, and come back to it later with a fresher eye. Or you have to simply let go, hope you’ve done the best you can right now, slip it into an envelope and send it away. I’ve come to like the distance that sending out a story gives me. I put it out in the world and I don’t think about it much. I let it fight its battle and I wait for the report. Then, if the story returns to me rejected, I look at it again. I can usually be more objective at this point. I can admit (sometimes) that that scene I truly love doesn’t really belong to this story. Or that piece of dialogue is cliched. And so I hack at it again and, hopefully, make it better.

A couple of weeks ago I was honestly excited to get a hand-written rejection letter from an editor. I think it’s the second-best thing after an acceptance. I re-edited that story with some of this editor’s suggestions and I sent it back into the world. We’ll see what happens.

I think this pier in Davis Bay might be the most photographed spot on the Sunshine Coast. At sunset in the summer you’ll see people stopped all along the water, taking pictures. They back up slowly, right into the road, trying to get the best angle. And by the road, I mean the highway.

Another great thing about Davis Bay…the free pile on the side of the road that  Peter and I drove by this morning. Obviously we pulled over to check it out. (Living in Victoria turned us into connoisseurs of the free pile). I plucked out a wooden coat hook to hang on the wall and another row of hooks that is probably for keys but I plan on using for jewellery. As I turned back to the car, Peter called out, “Unicorn mug! Unicorn mug!” The free pile also displayed a number of glass figurines, including a unicorn, and I thought this was what Peter was waving at. Hoping that he wasn’t becoming someone who collects glass figurines, I took a second look. We brought home this beauty:

I realize how entirely not a germaphobe I am when I have no problem drinking out of a mug we found in the street. (Yes, we will wash it first.)

Tonight I’m going to the Sunshine Coast Festival of the Written Arts. I’ve been wanting to go to this since I first heard about it, about five years ago. Very excited.

Coming tomorrow, my latest book review. Right now? I’m going to the beach.

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