Summer Arrives in BC

It’s too damn hot to want to do anything, really.

Just when you think you’ve adjusted, some internal thermostat finally clicking over to “This is Fine,” the humidity kicks up another ten percent or the breeze you were depending on just to be able to breathe drops away or the thermometer slides up another degree or two. And then you’re right back where you started, standing in front of the floor fan with your shirt raised and the blinds shut tight to keep out the traitorous sun. Waiting. Wondering what’ll give up first, you or the heat.

And you think fondly — yes, fondly, now! — on early spring, when buds were just starting to poke shyly out from the trees and the sky was still dark and cold. And wet. God, you remember rain pattering against the windows and wind rattling the panes but you were safe inside, weren’t you? Not breaking out in a sweat just from crossing the room.

You do not, ever, think of winter. Winter was worse.

Going Native

So I’ve decided to apply for permanent residence here in Canada.

I know, many people apply for PR first, before they upend their lives and move thousands of miles. But I went for the work permit to start, since a) It was faster, and b) I didn’t know if I’d like it here.

After my gushing last week about how much I love living in Victoria, that second reason might sound silly. Canada’s safer than the US, with a smaller prison population, more public transit, and (generally) better health outcomes. What’s not to like?

And yet I worried. I’m 43, well past the age most folks immigrate. I worried I’d be unable to adjust to a new system, and end up clueless how to take the bus, or rent a car, or handle my finances. I worried I’d encounter a version of the ice-cold reception I got in Seattle, and never get a chance to meet new people. I worried it would be too cold, or too rainy, or cloudy, for me to ever dream of going outside the apartment.

I worried, in short, that Canada would reject me. Spit me out like a bad piece of gristle, sending me back to San Diego on the next plane.

But — so far, at least — that hasn’t happened. I have had to depend entirely on the kindness of strangers in order to navigate the various bureaucracies here, but so far, that help has been forthcoming. From the ICBC clerk who told me exactly how and where to send over my driving record to lower my insurance premiums, to the librarian who quietly reminded me that my “password” for using the self-checkout was probably the final part of my phone number.

It’s only been two months, and already, I want to stay.

So I’m assembling the pieces I’ll need to apply for Express Entry. The first part was an assessment of my college degree, to see if it meets Canada’s standards for university credit. That’s done (and my degree passed!), so now it’s on to the next piece: Taking an internationally-recognized test of English skills to verify my fluency. I’m not too worried about the test, but I’m going to take some practice exams anyway, just in case.

Once that’s done, all I’ll need is a letter from my current employer that they intend to keep me on for at least a year after I get PR status. I certainly hope they’ll be okay providing such a letter!

At that point, I’ll be able to apply. But I’m going to take one more step: Take an exam for French proficiency.

I studied French for two years in college, and I’ve brushed it up every now and then. It’s been good enough when I’ve needed it, on trips to France, so that I could get by without English. I’ve never kept up with it enough to get fully fluent, though. That’s going to change.

I found out that in 2020 they changed the rules in Canada. If your main language is English, and you test well in French (thus proving you can communicate in both official languages), they’ll give you an extra 50 points on your application. To put that in perspective, the current cutoff for getting invited to apply for permanent residency is just 66 points. So if I do well on this test, I can boost my application up and really increase my chances of getting through.

So that’s what I’m going to do. Submit my initial application as soon as possible, and then study, study, study, for the French exam. I’m hoping to be ready to take it sometime in October, which means I’d be able to update my application with the results before the end of the year.

Wish me luck!

Keeping Score: 17 June 2022

Gender-flipping one of the characters in my new short story turns out to be the best decision I could have made. Whole new story possibilities have opened up, and I’m following through on them as best I can.

Which is to say, I haven’t made any progress on the horror story I started last week.

I’m basically back to draft zero on the sci-fi piece (now gender-flipped). The story’s going to need to get longer, much longer, in order to capture these new ideas. Somehow I’m going to need to pull off switching POVs inside the short story form, which is usually a no-no.

And it might still be! But I won’t know for sure until I try it out. Maybe switching POV between scenes will be a disaster. Maybe I’ll read the new draft through and find it’s a horrible mess. But then again, maybe I won’t.

So I’m trying to give myself the freedom to explore. I’m still forcing myself to sit down at least 15 minutes a day and work on a story, any story. But I’m not judging the output of those fifteen minutes. If it’s character sketches, great! If it’s brainstorming possible plot twists, also fine. Just so long as it’s effort spent on the story, in whatever form that takes.

This weekend I’m hoping to carve out some time to do some drafting based on the notes I’ve put together over the week. It’d be nice to have a finished draft together, however messy, that I can start editing next week.

Hope your own writing is going well, and that you’re avoiding the trap of judging your work by anyone else’s standards.

Three Things I Love About Living in Victoria

When I made the move from San Diego up to Victoria, BC, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I’d never been to British Columbia before, hadn’t even been to Canada except for a brief trip to Toronto in 2019 (which was great, despite it being November and thus cold as hell). I’d heard good things from people who’d vacationed on Vancouver Island, but stopping by in the place for a night or two is one thing, living there is altogether different.

So two months in, I’m happy to report that I love it here. I feel like I really lucked out with my choice of apartment and city; if anything, I’m kicking myself for not moving out here sooner.

Here’s three of the many reasons I’ve fallen in love with Victoria:

The Size

Even though it’s the largest city on Vancouver Island, Victoria is incredibly walkable. From my apartment (which is on the edge of Chinatown and Harris Green, near North Park, aka nowhere particularly interesting in and of itself, and outside the core) it’s a ten minute walk to the Save-On Foods, there are two coffeeshops within two blocks, and the Parliament Buildings (where the BC provincial government meets) are just twenty minutes hike south.

It’s not just the distance that make it walkable, of course. There’s gotta be sidewalks (check), bike lanes to keep the walkways free for pedestrians (check, there’s so many people biking around town), and cross-walks clearly marked plus lights so getting across the street is safe (check!). One of the main bridges between Victoria and West Victoria/Esquimalt has about one-third of its width dedicated just to pedestrians and bike traffic.

So far, I’ve only found one place in the entire city (and I’ve been walking 10-20 km every weekend, exploring) where the sidewalks end, and that was in a super-ritzy neighborhood on a one-way street heading down to the beach. I’ll forgive it. All this infrastructure and density add up to a city where you not only can walk everywhere, you kind of want to, because…

The Outdoors

It’s gorgeous out there!

Seriously, I swear there’s a park every few blocks. And most of the streets are lined with trees as tall or taller than the buildings. And they’ve lined most of the coast with public parks, so you’re never far from being able to see, hear, and smell (not always pleasant, I’ll grant) the ocean.

I grew up in West Texas, where the deserts of the Southwest meet the central prairies. Trees were few and far between; you were more likely to see briars and thorns growing in a yard than grass. Forests were things I’d read about, but never seen.

So to be dropped onto Vancouver Island, a temperate rainforest, is like a kid’s dream come true.

In one of my first weekends here, I grabbed a locally-written book about walking/hiking trails in the area (from one of the five (!) bookstores within walking distance) and I’ve been working my way through it. Granted, these are all managed parklands — no wilderness trails for me, yet — but hiking through them, I feel like a little kid again, exploring the fields around my house with a backpack and a compass.

There was a point last weekend when I was hiking through Highrock Park where, towards the top, I came to a stop in a little clearing. No one else was up there. It was just me, and the trees, and the rain. I couldn’t hear the city. No traffic, not even a dog bark. Simply glorious.

Not that I mind my fellow Victorians, though, because…

The People

They really are nicer!

One of the many things I worried about, moving up here, was that it would be like Seattle. I found Seattle to be absolutely dreadful; unlike Portland, no one at Seattle seemed to want to acknowledge my existence, let alone my humanity. I visited the library, and in that hall of cold glass and stone I made the mistake of trying to take the elevator between floors. When the doors opened, there were a handful of people in it, all spread out to occupy the whole space. When I asked if they could scooch in so I could get inside, they just stared at me, vacantly, like they could not even contemplate making way for someone else.

Brrr.

Thankfully, my experience in Victoria has been the exact opposite. Everyone’s been welcoming, and they don’t seem to mind that I’m from Southern California (another thing I worried they’d be cagey about). The folks at the bank actually seem to want to be helpful, which is a revelation after decades interacting with US banks. Even the people at ICBC — the equivalent of the DMV here — went above and beyond to help me out, giving me advice on how to get my complete driver’s record transferred so I don’t have to overpay for car insurance (!). And after just a single meeting of the Victoria Creative Writing Group I found a writing circle to join.

Conclusion

I’ve only been here two months, true, but so far I’m very, very, glad I made the move. If you’re thinking of making the change to Canada, have a look beyond the big cities of Vancouver, Montreal, etc. Maybe you’ll find your own perfect spot to explore.

Three Things You Should Do Immediately After Moving to Canada

Getting to Canada — securing my work permit, opening a bank account, finding an apartment — turned out to be just the start of the things I needed to do in order to settle in here. Besides learning the ins and outs of my new apartment building and trying to find — emphasis on find, supply chain problems are everywhere — furniture so I didn’t have to sleep on the floor, there were a few more bureaucratic hurdles I needed to jump through.

I’ve picked out the biggest three below, in the hopes that someone else might be able to plan for them better than I did.

Change your health care

I talked about this one before, in that you should not expect to have health care coverage when you first arrive. That said, one of the very first things you should do on arrival (you can’t do it before you’re here and have secured a Social Insurance Number) is sign up for health care in your province.

I say province, because Canadian health care is administered differently by each province. There’s no one-stop federal service to sign up with, and they don’t auto-enroll you when you get a SIN. Depending on the province, you’ll be able to sign up online; the website for BC is here.

Note that there’s normally a wait period before your covered, which could be 60-90 days. Which is why you should sign up as soon as you possibly can. This is the first thing I signed up for when I got here, and it was the last card to arrive.

Change your driver’s license

Even if you don’t plan to drive in your province (like me), if you have a driver’s license, you should swap it out. For one thing, Canadians use their driver’s licenses a lot as their primary means of ID, so getting one means you can stop carrying around your passport everywhere. In addition, it’s often illegal for you to keep your old out-of-Canada license past a certain point (in BC it’s 90 days), so the sooner you take care of it, the better.

Unlike the California DMV, I found going to ICBC to actually be delightful. I made an appointment online, got seen immediately, got my eyes tested (they’re stricter here, and won’t let me drive without my glasses, which made me feel oddly safer), and took an oral “test” where they asked me what I’d do in certain situations, and then corrected my answers as I gave them. That is, instead of the test being a way to filter me out, it became a way of bringing me in, of letting me know some of the key differences in driving in BC versus the US.

The picture was still terrible. I think that’s just a law of the universe, though.

Change your phone number

This one seems trivial, but don’t ignore it. Not only did I rapidly get tired of having to give my country code out everywhere, my cell service was terrible for any local call, and I hit my roaming data cap really fast.

Your cell number affects your credit, as well. Remember how you won’t have a credit history when you move here? Well, without a local phone number, you can’t even apply for some of the credit cards you could use to build that credit history. You’ll be stuck going to your bank, hat in hand, begging them to take pity on you and “give” you a credit card.

Since I plan on going back and forth to the States for the next year or so, I got a separate phone for my Canadian number, and I’m thankful I did. Calls don’t sound like staticky garbage anymore, and I have a local, properly Victorian number I can hand out. I even went the extra step of setting up a localized (Canadian) Apple Id for the phone, which has also helped clear up some issues I’d been having with using my debit card (but that’s a whole other post).

Conclusion

So: phone number, driver’s license, local health services plan. Get ’em switched over as soon as you can after moving, so you can actually start to relax, explore, and enjoy your new home.

Three Things They Don’t Tell You about Banking in Canada

So last week I tried to pay a bill from a US company using my Canadian accounts.

Big mistake. Huge.

And it’s a legitimate bill! One I want to pay. The company that helped me get my work permit has finally charged me for their services. I want to pay them as soon as possible. They deserve it!

And yet.

I went into the bank, spent about half an hour there, and in the end still wasn’t able to send the money. Why not? Well, let me share some of the things I discovered…

Nothing is Free

Back in the States, I was used to — spoiled by — all the free banking services available. Free checks! Free accounts! Free credit cards!

Not so in Canada. Canadian banks are apparently unable to tap into Wall Street’s billions to make them solvent, and so they actually charge for things.

There’s a monthly charge just to have an account. Any account. For each account.

You want checks? Yeah, those will set you back $50CAD just for basics.

Pulling money from an ATM? That’ll cost you, if you’ve gone over your transaction limit.

Yes, transaction limit. There’s a limit to how many times you can use your account, before they start charging you more fees.

So when I went down to the bank naively thinking I was going to wire the money, they sat me down and explained that each wire transfer (I needed to send three) would cost $50 to send. Not $10. Not $20. $50. A piece.

Needless to say, I did not end up sending the money by wire!

Nothing is Simple

My bank in the US was entirely online. Need to send a wire transfer? Fill out this web form, submit it, done. Need to pay a bill? Add the bill’s account info to this list of payees, choose how much to send, done. Everything, and I mean everything, was done via the online interface.

In Canada? Not so much.

At first, I thought it was much the same. I was able to open an account entirely online. Even managed to put money in it, once I’d figured out how to send an international wire (again, without having to go into a bank anywhere).

But then I got a notice that my account(s) would be closed if I didn’t present myself, in person, to a bank in Canada by X date. Said date was a full month before I was planning on being finished packing and moving up from California.

So I had a bit of a scramble to get everything packed and shipped from the US so I could get up here in time to walk into a bank and prove that yes, I am a real boy.

That turned out to be just the start of the things I needed to do in person.

Opening a credit card? Go in to the bank, because you don’t have any Canadian credit.

Sending a wire transfer? Go into the bank, we don’t trust you to do that online.

Need a debit card? Go into the bank and have them print one for you, because we’re not going to send you the one we promised.

Need that debit card to actually work? Hahaha, oh my sweet summer child.

Granted, every one I’ve interacted with at the bank has been lovely. Not rushed, genuinely interested in helping, just great people. But the fact that anything beyond giving my account information to other companies so they can auto-deduct money from my account requires at least three steps, one of which is always going into a branch, really slows me down. Speaking of which…

Nothing is Fast

Okay, I take that back. If another company has your debit info, they can take money out of your account very quickly.

But anything else takes lots and lots of time.

My credit card application took six weeks, seven tries, and an hour-long visit to the bank to be completed and approved.

The checks I ordered to pay the US bill will take two to three weeks to get here.

The debit card I was supposed to get when I opened the account never came.

Sending money back home to my wife takes a week (not the promised 48 hours).

Conclusion

In short, banking in Canada requires a lot more patience and time than I’m used to. Not that I can’t get used to it, mind you, and I know I should be grateful that — so far — everything has worked out, just not in a timely fashion. Things could definitely be worse.

But again, something I wish I’d known before moving here, so I could have better prepared myself for it.

You Can’t Ship That to Canada!

I have a love-hate relationship with Fedex.

On the love side, when I was searching for the best way to send books and clothes up to Canada, they quoted me an incredibly cheap price — less than $300USD — sold me boxes, and helped me re-pack some items. My first five boxes spent a week going through Customs, but they made it here safe and sound.

On the hate side is…well, everything else.

After moving into the apartment in Victoria, I went back to San Diego for a couple weeks, to pack up my remaining books and personal items (ok, I’ll admit it: toys). I ended up with seven boxes this time, which barely fit into our little EV. But I managed to get them downstairs, into the car, and then into the Fedex store — the same one I’d used before — to ship out.

The total was quite a bit higher this time — $800USD — but I paid it, confident that these boxes, too, would be treated well and arrive soon. Got on my flight the next day, feeling proud of getting that big thing done before I left.

So I was shocked and dismayed when my wife sent me a photo— as I was crossing from Vancouver on the ferry — showing those same seven boxes, stacked neatly outside of our house in SD, with no explanation from Fedex as to why.

I checked the tracking info for the shipment, and sure enough, it said they had been delivered (!) to San Diego, having been rejected by Fedex as soon as they picked them up from the store. The reason? “Improper Shipment.”

I confess I may at this point have uttered several curses which are not appropriate to type. With one stroke, Fedex had turned my accomplishment — getting my office cleaning out to make room for my wife’s family — into one more burden placed on my wife, who now had to deal with seven very heavy boxes.

This is the part of the story that, were this a movie, would be told in montage. Scenes of me on the phone with Fedex, alternating between tapping my foot as I wait on hold and raising my voice in frustration to the poor customer service agent on the other side. Scenes of me tapping away at my computer, hunting for information online that Fedex itself did not seem to possess (the one explanation they came up with — “your shipment was missing its commercial invoice” — was easily disproven when my wife found the commercial invoice taped to one of the boxes).

Finally, finally, we would get to the good part. I found an employee at the local (SD) Fedex who dug around enough to find out what really happened: It turns out you can’t ship your stuff from the US to Canada via normal Ground shipping. You have to use Express.

This is mind-boggling, to put it mildly. How does it help Canada to make me pay more to ship there? They’re going to hold onto it anyway, to inspect it at Customs, and I’m fine with that. Please, open my boxes and gaze upon my reading selection! Just…don’t make me pay $300 a box to ship it, huh?

But! This Fedex employee said as a way to apologize for the hassle, he could re-ship the boxes for me, Express, without charging me anything extra. The one condition was that he couldn’t have someone pick them up, my wife would have to bring them in. On a weekday. Before 6pm, so he could be there to process it.

And my wife came through! She had a Friday off, so she scheduled a contractor to come to give us a project quote, and had him load the boxes for her. Then she spoke with the Fedex employee about what to do, drove them to the Fedex store, and dropped them off! She sent me a photo of the receipt with one word: Done!

…Only it wasn’t done.

Because the very next day, I’m Facetiming with her, and what do we see? A Fedex truck pulls up to the driveway. Starts unloading seven very familiar looking boxes.

Confused, I had another look at the receipt she’d sent me. And sure enough: They’d shipped them Ground again.

At this point, our little movie would be no dialog, just a series of bleeps.

Somehow, my wife convinced the Fedex driver not to leave the boxes with us. Somehow, he said he’ll take them back to the warehouse and they’ll ship them Express this time.

So my books and speakers and keepsakes are…somewhere, right now, in a kind of shipping purgatory.

The moral of the story? If you’re moving to Canada, and you want to take more stuff than you can pack on a plane, just get a moving pod. It’ll be cheaper, and a lot less hassle.

Keeping Score: 20 May 2022

Writing slowed this week, but didn’t stop. I got through “Draft 1.5” of the new short story, which brought it to a healthy 2k words, inching out of flash territory.

I already have three areas I want to touch up next. The ending, in particular, I think needs to pack more punch. But these will be smaller changes, so I’m letting the story cool on the shelf, so to speak, before coming back to make them.

Meanwhile, I joined a critique group! After a meeting of the Victoria Creative Writing Group, one of the other new members put out a call for folks to join in critiquing each other’s writing on a regular basis. We had our first meeting last night, and I think it went really well 🙂 It’s a small group (there’s just four of us total) but that means we each get plenty of time to give and get feedback. At the end of this first session, we even had time to do a 15 minute writing exercise, and I got another flash piece out of it!

I feel so lucky to have been accepted into the group. Many thanks to the organizer, and to the VCWG for bringing us all together.

Written with: Ulysses

Under the influence of: “Never Let Me Go,” Placebo

Why Victoria?

Vancouver, Toronto, Montreal…These are the big, bustling, Canadian cities that most folks have heard of, the ones that most new immigrants head for.

So why did I choose to move to Vancouver Island, instead of Vancouver?

To be honest, after living here full-time for just a few weeks, my reasoning is already shifting. As the Oracle says in the Matrix:

…you didn’t come here to make the choice, you’ve already made it. You’re here to try to understand why you made it.

But! I’d like to set down my original reasons for picking Victoria, in the hopes that my research can benefit others who might be contemplating a move to Canada.

Our Requirements

My work is remote, so in theory we had the whole of Canada to pick from. In practice, though, we had several constraints on where we could live.

No-go Ontario

Our first, oddly enough, was our dogs. We have two of them, one a German Shepherd/Lab mix, the other our “pocket pitty,” a 45-lb pit bull mix.

It’s the latter that gave us the constraint. You see, the province of Ontario has banned pit bulls, full stop. You can’t breed them, you can’t bring them into the province, you can’t keep one as a pet. If they think you’ve got a pit bull, they can seize it, and make you go to court to prove it’s not a pit bull. If you fail, they kill it.

This is a ridiculous law, and I hope it gets repealed soon. Most dog bites are from small dogs, who (obviously) are more likely to feel threatened by people and thus lash out. Pit bulls themselves were originally bred as “nanny dogs,” to watch over children. Children.

Anyway, since we’re looking for somewhere to live long-term, even if we weren’t going to bring the pups up immediately, there’s no way we could settle in Ontario. So Toronto, Ottawa, all those communities were out.

Non, merci, Quebec

Ok, so what about Montreal? Or Quebec City? The home of poutine, what’s not to like?

Here we had two more constraints, both related to my wife.

The first is that she’s got Central Auditory Processing Disorder (CAPD). Basically, the words you say aren’t the ones she hears. It’s like she has an autocorrect constantly running in her head, and it’s just as inaccurate as the one on your phone. So the prospect of having to brush off (and perfect!) her high school French was daunting. I speak French, so could help her out, but who wants to live in a city where you have to depend on someone else all the time to get basic things done?

The second constraint was simply the weather. I know, everyone knows it’s cold in Canada, and my wife’s no wimp. But she had major jaw surgery twenty years ago, and still has metal screws in her face (under the skin, goodness). In cold weather, those screws hurt.

So Quebec was out.

The Rent is Too High

That left British Columbia. I know I’m skipping over the Maritime Provinces — see the problems with Quebec, above — and Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba — ditto, with a side of “I’m from Texas, I don’t need to live in Canada’s version.”

We looked at a couple of different cities. There’s Vancouver itself, obviously. Further east you’ve got Kelowna and the Okanagan, and Kamloops north of them, both regions that are supposed to get less rain than the coast without the severe winters of the eastern provinces.

All three were enticing, but here again, we had constraints that narrowed our options for us.

For one, the plan shifted from both of us going up at the same time to just me, so my wife could stay behind and move her mother up to San Diego (that’s a whole other blog post). Naturally, she would keep the car, not only so she could get around San Diego, but also because our vehicle — a 2021 Chevy EV — is currently under recall for battery issues. And you can’t bring a car into Canada if it’s under recall.

No vehicle ruled out anything that’s not sufficiently urban to have a walkable downtown core. So Kelowna and Kamloops were both out, as being too car-dependent.

That left Vancouver, and though I’d heard good things about the city, I soon discovered one thing everyone said was completely true: The rents are absurd.

Not so absurd that there are a lot of places available, mind you. I started checking rental sites — a half dozen or so — multiple times a day, looking for units in areas where we thought we’d want to live. If anything came up at a reasonable price, it was usually gone by the time I contacted the building manager. Anything that lingered was out of our price range.

We had an extra set of constraints there, because we wanted to keep the house in San Diego (so my wife’s mother could live there). So we had to be able to afford both the place in Canada and the house in SD. Our already tight budget got tighter.

I was starting to despair of finding a place in time, when I got the idea to look at Victoria.

The Obvious Choice

And I’m glad I did. Victoria ticked all the boxes: Walkable downtown core, where I could get all my chores done on foot. Reasonable rental prices in modern buildings, so we wouldn’t break the bank. Available units, so we could move in when we wanted. Close to Vancouver, so in a pinch I could commute to network up there. And far enough south that it’s the only weather station in Canada to record a winter without going below freezing.

So Vancouver was out. Victoria, and Vancouver Island, were in.

Better All the Time

In hindsight, the choice was obvious, but at the time we fretted. We’d never been to any part of British Columbia, so we were judging everything from other people’s reports, scouring Google Maps, and watching video walk-throughs sent to us by building managers.

Since coming here, though, I’m glad we picked Victoria. Vancouver is gorgeous, but so big and expensive. Everything feels so accessible here; I can walk out my door and fifteen minutes later be in a park with bright flowers and tall trees, where the sounds of the city vanish. Or go down to the coast and gaze across the Strait at the Olympic Mountains. Or pop into one of dozens of coffee shops for a warming cup.

So if you’re looking to make the move to Canada, I urge you to do your research. Have a look at the laws of the province, to see if any are going to rankle. Set a strict budget for renting, and stick to it. And have a look at cities outside the big ones; you might find something smaller fits you better.

Keeping Score: 13 May 2022

I’ve written a new short story!

Last Saturday I turned a corner, mood-wise. After not being able to write for six months, I sat down and hammered out the first draft of a new flash piece. The story is something I’d been mulling over for a while; I had the genre (noir/crime) and a line of dialog, but that’s it.

But Saturday morning I sat down and told myself to write something, anything, even if it was crap. And the whole story came tumbling out of me.

It’s a huge relief, to know that I can still do it. Even if the draft is terrible, it exists, it’s mine, and that means I’m not hopeless as a writer just yet.

I’ve spent the week since working on a “Draft 1.5”, as I’m thinking of it. I’m still too close to the story to properly edit it into a second draft, but as soon as I was done with the first draft I started seeing areas where I needed to go back, add depth or look for a more creative angle.

In particular, the motive for the crime bothered me. The one in the first draft felt too pat, too cliché. Not real enough.

So one morning I took out my little notebook and went through the characters in the story, one by one, and wrote a description — personality, circumstances, and appearance — for each. I had only vague ideas of the characters when I started, but by the end of the exercise I had them firmly fixed in my mind, along with a better motive, and plot changes to reflect that.

Thus I’ve begun another draft to incorporate those changes. I know there’ll be more drafts after this one, including a proper second once I’ve let the story sit for a couple weeks. But for now I want to make this first draft a little stronger.

If you’re struggling with writing, and not sure you can hack it anymore, let me reassure you: You can! You might just need a break, or to try a different genre, or a different format. Me, I needed all three, including permission from a writing instructor to drop my current project altogether. It’s scary to contemplate, but liberating in the end.

Go forth and write messy drafts, write bad dialog, and create some one-dimensional characters. Whatever it takes to get the words out, to get your mind working on the story. You can always, always, clean it up later, but you can’t do anything without that first draft. So get to it 🙂

Written with: Ulysses

Under the influence of: “Model Citizen,” Meet Me @ the Altar