Happy Friday! It’s the end of my first full week at the new job. It’s also the first week where I’ve been able to work on the novel every day after work.
Those first few weeks were like resuming an exercise routine in January after taking the holidays off. In a word: rough 😅 Each day was good , mind you — the team I’ve joined is a great one, and the work’s interesting — but being slightly out of practice meant I finished each one ready to sink into my comfy chair and turn my brain off for a good while.
This week I turned the corner. I’ve been finishing out the day with more energy, enough so that I can carve out an hour (or two) after dinner to work on the novel edits. After dinner being the very important thing there; having dinner first (and watching/reading something) gives me some mental space from work, and a physical boost to let me focus on the words without rushing.
As a result, I’m now two-thirds of the way through these edits. The novel’s grown from 79K words to 85K and counting 😳 At this rate, I might end up with less of a 60s-style short novel and more of a regular 21st century tome. Which is great! It’s like I’ve discovered a whole section of my book that was missing, and am gradually adding it back in.
All thanks to the critique group, of course. They’ve been simply incredible with their patience and their feedback, pushing on to keep reading even in the face of missing physical descriptions, missing setting info, even missing scenes!
I hope wherever you are, you’ve found a group of writers to help and support you in your work (and that you support them in turn). It’s a lonely art we practice; fellow travellers are a must 😊
Ye gods! Just one chapter edited tonight, but it was a doozy. Needed to rework most of the action, and add about a third more pages of description. But it’s behind me now 🎉
Two more novel chapters edited after dinner tonight.
Steady as she goes. 🚂
Woke up to snow!
Trying to do novel edits after work was like pushing a boulder uphill today. But I got another chapter done, by the grace of the writing gods.
Oof. Ten more novel chapters edited; another big push. 💪 😅
Toronto recently used an AI tool to predict when a public beach will be safe. It went horribly awry.
The developer claimed the tool achieved over 90% accuracy in predicting when beaches would be safe to swim in. But the tool did much worse: on a majority of the days when the water was in fact unsafe, beaches remained open based on the tool’s assessments. It was less accurate than the previous method of simply testing the water for bacteria each day.
There’s more examples of AI prediction model failures in the linked article. I guess the junk being spewed by ChatGPT and Bing Search isn’t a fluke; it’s more like failure is the normal mode of operation for these learned models.
In case you missed it, Turkey got hit by two more earthquakes in the same region that was struck earlier this month.
For my fellow Canadian residents looking to help, Ottawa pledged to match the first $10million donated to the Canadian Red Cross' fund.
Ten whole chapters edited today! It’s amazing what you can do with an extra day off 😅
…and that’s another five chapters edited in the novel 🎉
Time to celebrate with some Cat’s Quest on the Switch 😊
Happy Family Day! Hope you’re getting to spend it with your loved ones.
Now that the dust has settled, so to speak, from getting my permanent residence, I wanted to talk about the timing of the very last step: getting confirmation of my PR status. Which I found out, to my confusion and — I’ll confess — frustration, is not the same as approval.
You see, I got an email from IRCC on the 22nd of December saying my PR application had been approved, and that because I was already in Canada, I’d be allowed to use the online portal to confirm my permanent residence. It asked me to reply with some basic information about my wife and I (another form!) and then they’d create an account for me in the portal, where I could upload a recent photo (yet another form!) and then they’d send me my PR card.
At first I was ecstatic. Here I was, barely four weeks into waiting for my PR to be processed, and they’d already approved it?! And right before the Christmas holidays as well. What a present!
I dutifully sent off the requested info that very day, and settled in to watch my inbox, waiting for the account creation email.
Weeks went by. I started to wonder if I’d replied to the wrong address. When I’d reassured myself that I’d replied correctly, with the right info, to the right address, my mind next turned to fraud. Maybe I’d been too hasty to reply, and had accidentally sent my info to some kind of identity thief? All sorts of scenarios went through my head.
Because throughout this time, when I logged into the ExpressEntry site, and checked my application status, it still said they were reviewing my information. Not “approved” or “waiting for confirmation.” It was basically in the same state it’d been in since I first applied.
Finally, on 10 January, I got the email from IRCC with account credentials (username, temporary password) for logging into the account they’d created for my in the PR confirmation portal. Again, a celebration on my part; this was the last step! I logged into the portal — using Firefox, because IRCC does not support Safari — filled out the deceptively simple web form (“just a checkbox, an address field, and a passport-style photo? easy!”), and sat back, expecting to hear something within the week.
…yeah, that didn’t work out. Over the next four weeks (!), I got in the habit of logging into the portal every day to check its status, because I encountered a bug (though I didn’t know it was a bug at the time) in the web portal: periodically, when I logged in, my photo would vanish.
I mean really gone, like I’d log in, go to my status page, and it would just have a blank entry where my uploaded photo was, and it’d be asking me to upload one. But when I did try to upload a new photo (I had three separate sets of photos taken, because at one point I thought this was IRCC’s subtle way of rejecting my photo as unacceptable), I got an error: “File Did Not Upload”. And then I’d refresh the page, and there my photo would be, as if nothing was wrong!
This bug drove me absolutely batty. Because there was no way to get feedback on the status of my confirmation. Calling into IRCC got me automated responses. Checking my ExpressEntry profile showed it as still under review, as if the confirmation process hadn’t started. Emailing IRCC meant a response might come in three weeks, if ever.
And this whole time, I was in a legal limbo. You see, I had a new job lined up after getting laid off, but because my work permit was tied to Elastic, I couldn’t start the new job without some proof of the legal right to work in Canada.
Originally they were just going to get a new work permit for me, so I could start on 17 January. But as a theoretically approved permanent resident, I wasn’t eligible for a work permit anymore. Meaning I had to wait for the entire PR process to complete, so I could get my confirmation of PR status, and then give that to my new employer as proof of the legal right to work.
Which meant every week in January I had to call the (incredibly patient) onboarding person at Cisco at tell them that no, I hadn’t heard anything from IRCC yet, so can we push back my start date another week?
I got so worked up I paid for a phone chat with an immigration consultant, to get some advice on what to do here. He’s the one that told me what I was experiencing was a bug. He also said I wasn’t the only one to have these kinds of frustrations, but that however long it took, once I was in the confirmation stage, I was almost certain to get my eCOPR (electronic confirmation of permanent residence). I just needed to be patient.
He also explained a very important distinction that I’d missed: that I wasn’t yet a permanent resident, even though I’d gotten notice of approval. Until very recently, what would happen is a PR applicant would get notice of approval, while outside of Canada. Then they’d have to let IRCC know when they were coming across the border, and at the border they’d have to talk to an IRCC agent and get their official PR papers there. That date would be the date that they became a PR.
Since I was doing everything electronically, I wasn’t technically “landed” even though I was already in the country. So my PR wouldn’t officially start until I had my confirmation in hand; the date they issued that would be my equivalent “landed” date.
Once he’d explained things to me, I calmed down. I stopped trying to contact IRCC. I still checked my status every day, and re-uploaded a photo when it vanished, but I stopped worrying about whether it might affect the process.
Still, the day (3 February) I got the email that my permanent residence was confirmed was a huge, huge relief 😅 I was finally done!
Now, I'm not writing this to complain about IRCC, who have been put under a lot of pressure to admit more immigrants while dealing with a massive shift in how they operate due to the pandemic. I’m writing all this down in the hopes that it helps someone else keep their cool when going through this last bit of the process. For basically two months I had no feedback on what my PR application’s status really was, or how long each step would take, or what to expect. If I’d known on 22 December that I was looking at six weeks or more of waiting, I would have been a lot less frustrated.
So if you fall into the same legal limbo that I did, just hang in there! You’ll get through it, eventually.
Started the new job this week! Which means I’m suddenly wondering how in the world I ever had time to write while working full-time 😅
I’ve made it about halfway through the first editing pass on the novel. Well, I made it halfway as of Monday, but the rest of the week I’ve wrapped work feeling simultaneously too drained to be creative and too stuffed full of facts and process (from the company onboarding) to get anything done.
It doesn’t help that said onboarding consists of four hours of back-to-back meetings, which is hard on this introvert. I’ve not had the Zoomies in a while, and this is definitely it 😬
I’m telling myself to be patient, though, rather than beating myself up about not making daily progress. The onboarding will finish, the meetings will drop away, and I’ll eventually work those extrovert muscles enough to handle a 9-to-5 again (and be able to write after the work day is done). Plus, there’s always the weekend. And there’s a long one coming up, so I can carve out some time (and spoons) to play catch-up.
The title of this post is going to crack up anyone that lives somewhere with a “real winter,” like Yellowknife or Winnipeg or, really, any other major city in Canada (and large swathes of the northern US).
But for me, having grown up in West Texas (where the high today is a balmy 18C) and then lived in Southern California for over a decade (today’s high: 15C), I had some concerns about being able to make it through the winter up here (currently 0C with the wind chill) 🥶
Would I ever go outside? Would I get worn down by dark, dreary days? Would I be forced to walk around inside the apartment with every article of clothing I had in my closet (like the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man brought to you by LL Bean), just to stay warm enough to type?
I’m happy to report, then, that the answers turned out to be: Yes, No, and Not At All 😊
We’re halfway through February — a month so terrible they knew we could only stand twenty-eight days of it — and so far, with the exception of a couple of cold snaps (one the week of Christmas and the other checks forecast right now), winter’s been kind of great, actually. A little rainy, often cloudy, and yes, colder than I’m used to, but not bad. I still go out for my daily walks along the harbour, or down to Beacon Hill Park. I go out for my groceries and errand runs like always, though with one extra eye on the forecast to avoid the most blustery periods. And yes, I’ve got my heat set to 21C inside, but that’s, um, totally because the radiators are inefficient 😅
Granted, it helps that I arrived with some cold weather gear. Regular trips to the East Coast in November and December over the years had already pushed me to get a decent coat. And during a pre-move shopping trip I grabbed a wool tuque that has proved to be indispensable. Ditto my camping boots, which I originally got for trips to Joshua Tree and Anza-Borrego, but turned out to be waterproof, and have been wonderful to have in the cold and rain.
And I’ve had to supplement since then. Blankets and a small room heater for indoors, when the outside temp drops to freezing or below. Along with a handful of flannels and a wool pullover, so I can layer up when needed. Finally, new gloves, because the thin things I brought up from California were not even close to cutting it.
Looking over that list, I guess the saying is true: No bad weather, just bad clothes. I’m lucky that I came with a lot of what I needed, and could buy the rest. And that I’m not anywhere much further north, where — for example — you have to both bundle up and beware of sweating, because your sweat can freeze!
All that said, I’m looking forward to spring next month. It’ll be nice to see things in bloom again 😀
As you can imagine from my last post (and lack of posting through Nov, Dec, or Jan), absolutely nothing went as planned, writing-wise, over the last three months.
NaNoWriMo? Sure, I got 16,000 words into it before crashing and burning. Now I have two incomplete novels sitting on my laptop, waiting for me to pick them back up 😬
The TCF? Dropped it. Okay, I delayed it first, then dropped it. There was simply too much else going on, between racing to get to the PR finish line and interviewing for a new job. And the holidays. I’m still studying French, mind, but I’ve had to let go of the idea of getting tested on it, for now.
Ditto the Clarion West classes. I attended a few sessions of the mystery-writing one, but the homework (a new story every week) overwhelmed me, and the lectures + feedback turned out to be less valuable than I thought. So I backed out of the other classes, too, freeing up time in my schedule to deal with everything else that was happening.
I did get two new stories out of the class, though. True, one of them I didn’t finish until January, and then only by ignoring the parameters of the original assignment. But still. One of them I think might be a trunk story, but the other (the January one) I’m really rather fond of, and plan to polish up for submission…later 😅
On the good news front, I did keep up with my critique group (bless them for putting up with me), and we’re almost to the end of the prison-break-in-space novel I wrote a few years ago (fourth novel completed, second sci-fi book, prior to the two unfinished novels were started). So I’ve gone back through their feedback up to this point, distilled it to a set of edits to make, and have started in on actually making those edits.
I know, this is what you’re supposed to do with novels, yes? Write a first draft for yourself, do a second draft for others to read, and then edit, edit, edit based on feedback and your own reads before sending it out to agents.
Well, I’ve got the first part down — four novels in first draft stage — and I’ve done the second (for this book, anyway), but I’ve never gone past that point. Always started a new book rather than revise the last one.
But not this time! I’m going through the thing, chapter by chapter, editing as I go. Most of the feedback I received concerned physical descriptions and layout, so that’s what I’m working on first. Which means, oddly enough, adding material instead of chipping things away. So the book’s getting longer, not shorter, as I work on this revision.
If all goes well 🤞I think I’ll have the edits wrapped by May. Which is not that far away, all things considered! Then it’ll be time to compile a list of possible agents, and start shipping out query letters.
What about you? If you did NaNoWriMo, how did it go? If you didn’t, have you made any writing goals for 2023, and how are they coming along so far?
Bonjour, hello! Apologies for the radio silence since November. Things have been…a bit chaotic and uncertain these past few months. It’s all worked out in the end, but getting here has meant many weeks of stressful limbo.
I’m not even sure where to start, tbh. Since November 2022, I’ve:
been laid off
filled out a ton of additional paperwork for IRCC as part of the ExpressEntry PR process
interviewed with half a dozen companies, one of which was interrupted when my wife called to get troubleshooting help with our EV so she could make a medical exam appointment 200km from our house as part of the PR application
got a new job
was told my PR application was accepted but not confirmed so I couldn’t start said new job
flew home for the holidays
came back to Canada to fight with the web-based PR confirmation portal over my uploaded passport-style photograph
pushed back my start date by one week every Thursday for four weeks while waiting on my PR confirmation
I’m leaving out…so much. But that should give you some sense of everything that’s gone down in the last few months.
In the end, it’s all worked out, thank goodness. As of last Friday, I’m officially a Canadian permanent resident!
I have my eCOPR (electronic confirmation of permanent residence) in hand, which I’ve passed on to my new employer (Cisco) as proof of my ability to legally work in Canada. That means I can go back to work, and finally end the weird forced sabbatical I’ve been on since getting laid off by Elastic (they cut 12% of their workforce, so it wasn’t just me, those tech layoffs really are going around).
I’m still processing everything that’s gone on, tbh. Been so focused on immigration issues that I’ve neglected other things, like my writing (NaNoWriMo did not go well), my friends (I kind of dropped off the grid there for a bit), and projects for back in SD (there’s a mountain of paperwork my wife needs help with in regards to her mother and younger brother). I’ve got a lot of catching up to do.
But at least now I have the mental head space in which to do it. With the PR behind me, I can focus on settling into my new job, helping my wife, and actually planning for the future (I’ve been unable to see past “get my PR” for so long).
So, happy (belated) new year! May your 2023 be more stable than my 2022, and give you the space to breathe and work to accomplish your goals, whatever they are.
“But,” I hear you say, “you’re already studying for the TCF in December, trying to put together the last pieces for your permanent residence application, taking three classes from Clarion West online, and supposed to be finishing those short stories you started over the summer. How are you going to also write 50,000 words in a new novel?”
And, well…I have no idea.
But! I want to try, for three reasons:
I’ve noticed lately my writing output has slowed. A lot. Used to be I could crank out 500 words a day, no problem. Now I’m struggling to get even a hundred words down. I need something to kick me back into gear. NaNoWriMo can act as that something.
The short story I’ve been working on — the sci-fi story that started as flash and then grew to 8,000 words in a second draft — has grown even more. I don’t know what the word count is, because I’ve been writing it out by hand. But when I stepped back and wrote up an outline, it looked very much like one of my novels. Not a short story. And if I’m going to be writing a new book anyway to finish this out, what better way to get it started than during NaNoWriMo?
Failure is an option. All of this is voluntary, with the exception of the PR application (fingers crossed I get invited soon, and can get my paperwork together in time). I can drop out of the Clarion West classes without any hassle. And if I don’t hit 50,000 words this month on the novel, so what? So long as I push towards it, spend more time writing, and make progress on a new book, that’s enough.
Number 3 there is really important to me. I don’t want this to become a source of stress. I want it to be motivating; a challenge, not a directive. So I’m letting myself be okay with flubbing the first two days, when I only cranked out 400 or so words. Last night I put in over a thousand, and it felt great (I rewarded myself with some leftover Halloween candy). If I can keep that pace up, and do a little extra on the weekends, I’ll make the goal. And if not? Well, at least I’ll have a solid start to the next book.
If you want to follow along with my stumbling progress, my username is mindbat and my project is here. Hit me up, and let’s be writing buddies!
Big news from last week: They approved my application for the British Columbia Provincial Nomination Program!
waits for applause, hears nothing
Ok, let me explain.
Canada uses a points-based system for immigration, handled via the ExpressEntry web portal. You create a profile, filing in all your personal details, along with your job history, occupation (which must be mapped to one of their NOCs, which could be a whole other post), education, language test scores (yes, you have to take an English exam even if it’s your first language), and whether you’ve got a job offer already.
They then assign you points based on that profile, total them up, and that’s your score. All candidates in the ExpressEntry “pool” are ranked by that score (higher is better). When the government decides to issue a call for applicants, they look at the top X ranked candidates, and send out invites to apply for permanent residence. That last bit is key: You can’t even apply for permanent residence without getting a high enough score.
The scoring system is transparent, you can have a look here. Basically the system is skewed towards folks who are young (20-29), highly educated (a bachelor’s alone will net you 120 points), bilingual (50 points for french fluency as a second language), and employed in a highly paid profession (nurses, engineers, programmers, etc). The maximum score is 1,200 points.
Back in September, I finally got all my paperwork together to submit an ExpressEntry profile. I knew my score would be lower than it could be next year, after getting a year of work experience in Canada, but the profiles don’t expire, so I thought I’d put mine in and see where it came out.
My result? A relatively meagre 348 points. Especially when the lowest scores being invited in the last few draws are in the 450-500 range.
It’s actually really good I submitted my profile now, because while next year I’ll get more points for having a year of work experience (40 points!), in the same month that clock hits 1 full year, I’ll also turn a year older, and I’m already at the low end of the chart. So while I’d gain 40, I’d also lose 11 points, for a net gain of just 29. Ageism: It’s a real thing, you know?
So I’ve been hunting for ways to boost my score. I discovered you can get more points for two bachelor degrees, which I have, though I only went through the certification process for one of them. Cue another payment to WES to update my credential evaluation. And I decided to double-down on my French studying and scheduled a time to take the TCF in December, for a chance at those extra points, as well.
Finally, I decided to go for British Columbia’s Provincial Nomination Program. Each province has a PNP; it’s their way of signalling to the federal government what kind of immigrants they want. Which makes sense, right? Canada’s a big place, and it’s sensible for each province to want to tailor what kinds of occupations they need. I could see Alberta needing more geologists, for example, while BC might want more film crew.
Anyway, if you get nominated by a province, you get an extra 600 points added to your score. Almost no matter what your other qualifications, if a Canadian province gives you the thumbs up, you’re probably going to be invited to apply for PR. They don’t make it easy, mind you; I had to basically fill out all the same info for ExpressEntry again, and get a half dozen different docs from my employer’s HR team (shout out to Elastic’s Global Mobility folks), and pay $1,000, all within thirty days after they invited me to apply (oh, forgot to mention that: just like ExpressEntry, you have to first ask for an invitation to apply, and then apply).
That’s why my getting the nomination was such a big deal. Not only was the turnaround much faster than I thought (average time is three months, they approved mine in three weeks), but my ExpressEntry score’s now 948 points! I have a very good chance of being invited to apply when they do the next round, which means if all goes well, I could have my PR sometime next year 🤞
It’s Truth and Reconciliation Day today, in Canada. A new holiday, for an old injustice. Not that old, in some ways; the last residential school only closed its doors in 1996, meaning while I was going to high school and going on my first dates, native kids were still being taken from their families and forced to get “educated” in a system designed to destroy who and what they were.
I’m going to the ceremony later today, in remembrance of the many — too many — children taken, and children killed, as part of this program.
And while I know this day is not about me, and shouldn’t be, I did my own little part in digging up the truth this week. I finally researched the old story my parents have always told me, about how my dad’s grandmother was Blackfoot. Said she was born on the reservation, that she had long, perfectly-native-straight black hair that she used to unwind at night to brush out, before bundling it all back up again. Mom claims she has a picture of two “relatives,” dressed in Native garb, outside a teepee that’s been erected in my great-grandmother’s yard.
Well, thanks to ancestry.ca, I now know that’s all BS.
My paternal great-grandmother, Mattie Vera Franklin, was born in 1903, in Texas. Not on a reservation. Her parents, Jason Pope Franklin and Maggie Ann Ussery, were also born in Texas. And their parents. And all of them were white.
There’s no mention of any of them in the Dawes Rolls. No ‘In’ in the race column of the Census docs. Instead, there’s Social Security cards, draft cards, birth and marriage and death certificates. All proclaiming over and over again that all my ancestors that far back were US citizens. Settlers. Colonizers.
I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised. What’s one more lie my parents told me? But this one I thought might actually be true. My “beard” simply won’t grow over most of my face, my hair is preternaturally straight, I tan faster than most white people burn, I…I’ve been ridiculously naive about this.
Mom always told me she wanted to get us put on the tribal rolls, but we were just one step too far to be accepted. I never went around bragging about my Blackfoot connection, or wearing moccasins or any of that Pretindian crap. It was just, this little part of my identity, a connection, however slight, to a history and a people bigger than myself.
And it’s all lies.
So I’m going to apologize to the people I passed on this lie to, thinking it was real. And stop spreading it myself. And recommend that if, like me, your family’s white but there’s some legend in there about a fur trapper and a Native “princess,” go do the research before telling anybody else.
Finished typing up the first draft of the new story over the long weekend. Even found time to create a new Ulysses export style based on the Shunn Manuscript Format (the standard for most of the markets I submit to) so I don’t have to manually fix up the margins, etc when exporting to Word (there are existing Styles that claim to be standard format, but are all missing one or more essential pieces).
Not that the story is ready to submit, mind. I typed it dutifully, and edited as I went to make it the best version of this draft I could. But the tonal shifts are still too big to handle in a short story, and the ending doesn’t land with near enough force.
So over the past week I’ve taken a page from literary agent Donald Maass’ workbook, which I’ve used before to edit novels. One of the big points the workbook drives home is the need to look for connections in the story: between plots, between characters, between locations, everything. Strengthening connections can both tighten and deepen the story, making the stakes feel larger because there’s more history — more connection — between the events and characters.
For this story, I had a set of three characters loosely connected. One was the main character, who worked for one of the other characters, and had hired the protagonist to work on a case for the third. There was no prior history, no relationship between the characters other than the business one. As a result, the conflicts were mainly business conflicts: Can the protagonist get the assignment done (extracting a secret from the client)? Will she rebel against it when she finds out what it really entails? Etc. Not bad, but certainly not world-shattering, either.
But what if the three characters were more connected? What if the client was the protagonist’s father? And the person hiring her to dig into his past was her mother?
Now things get more interesting. Why would the mother pit the daughter against the father? What marriage would have that level of conflict? Why would the daughter agree to go along, at least first? And what might possibly change her mind?
This one shift generated a whole new slew of ideas for me, so much that yesterday when I sat down to work on the story, I started writing out — longhand, again — an entirely new draft. New starting scene, new tense, new voice, even (it’s now in first-person).
I’m already happier with the new draft. It feels more assured, like a train engine already running under full steam. I’m looking forward to exploring what the characters do in this new situation, with these new connections between them.
I never could have gotten there, though, without that first draft. And I’m still going to crib plot and structure from it, even if they end up squeezed into new shapes.
What about you? Have you ever done a complete rewrite of a story, and were you glad you did?
Taking the day off today. Thinking of going down to walk the Government House grounds, which should be open (and lovely).
Not much to report on the immigration side of things. I’m still waiting for my employer to write up a letter of support (and trying not to think about the potential implications of them dragging their feet there).
I also found out that if invited to apply for permanent residence, I’ll need a police report from the FBI (!), which they’ll only give out if you pay for it (of course) and provide them with fingerprints. They only take ink-and-paper for folks not currently living in the US (like me), and it has to be in a certain format, on a certain kind of paper…Oof.
Luckily, Canada has (once again) come through. I found a non-profit with a service for taking FBI-standard fingerprints, precisely for people like me that need them to immigrate. I’ve got an appointment there, but not till later this month, which means…more waiting.
So while I’m waiting (and you’re hopefully getting ready to spend Labour Day with family or friends), here’s some shots I took from the top of Mount Doug on Saturday, after hiking up there for the first time.
Finished the first, very messy, draft of the new short story this week. I already kind of hate it, even after writing the last scene like the previous one didn’t happen. Both those scenes, I think, are going to see heavy edits in the next draft.
For now, though, I’m simply typing it up. Yes, typing: I wrote the first draft longhand, in a little notebook, after reading the advice in Chavez’s book on anti-racist workshopping. Her take was that making her students write out the first draft by hand made them more willing to experiment, to scratch things out and rewrite on the fly, without their inner editor getting in the way. And for the most part, I’ve found that to be true; I’ve got scenes that are out of order on the page, with squiggly lines connecting the pieces to each other in the right sequence. And knowing that I would type it all later — and “fix it in post” — made it easier to finish writing the scenes that I knew, even while writing them, that I was going to have to change.
(she also said that writing longhand got her students more in tune with their bodies, but being over-40 myself, I mostly got in tune with how quickly my hand starts to cramp up)
I am making changes as I type. Fixing a phrase here, adding some blocking (e.g., “she sat back and crossed her arms”) there. Discovering I wrote an entire scene in the wrong tense (!), or used the wrong character’s name in places.
But I’m holding off from making any big changes till I’ve finished typing it. I want to go through the whole thing once more, reading and typing, getting a better feel for how it might all fit together. I’m taking notes as I go, on things I want to change (or simply try differently, to see how it reads), so I can come back after this and do a second draft.
My intent — my hope — is to have the characters and basic plot nailed down during the second draft. (oh, you thought I’d have that set by the time I started the first draft? welcome to pantsing) From there, it’ll be much easier to iterate on revisions, including at least one pass where I’ll print it out and then go through it.
Given my current pace, I might have something to show beta readers by the end of the month? Fingers crossed.
So this week it’ll be five months since I moved to Victoria.
Five months! It’s hard to believe. Most days it feels like I’ve only been here a few weeks.
I attribute that — mostly — to the fact that I’m still exploring. I’ve my routines, sure. Groceries every Sunday from the nearest Save-On Foods, weekend pizza from Panago, tacos from Café Mexico when I need that taste of home.
But I’m still learning about all the holidays, and the politics, and even the weather, out here. And deliberately pushing myself to go out of my normal loops, discovering parts of the island I wouldn’t normally see. Like this past weekend, when I went hiking around Elk Lake (absolutely gorgeous, go if you get a chance, the photo at the top of this post is from Beaver Lake, just south of Elk).
Thankfully, to do all this exploring, I’ve not (yet) needed something that would have been critical back in the States: A car.
True, I’ve got my BC Drivers License. And my apartment allots one parking space (for an extra fee). But I came up without a car, partly as an experiment (nothing pushes you to learn public transport like being vehicleless) and partly out of expedience: The Bolt EV I drove back in San Diego is currently under recall, and you can’t import a recalled car to Canada.
Hence the need for an apartment in downtown Victoria, where I knew I could at least get the essentials on foot. What I didn’t know was how long I could go without getting a car, especially if I wanted to take advantage of being close to so much natural beauty (which I definitely do). Or do normal things like, say, head to the mall, or get to the airport, etc.
Back home in San Diego, for example, there’s only one bus that goes to the airport, and it’s on a very short route with an infrequent schedule. So unless you happen to live basically on Harbor Drive (the road to the airport), it’s useless. And the city has a trolley, but it’s designed mainly for bringing tourists from their hotels north of downtown to the downtown district, and nothing else. My wife and I tried living in San Diego without a car when we first moved there, but it was miserable, and we gave up after a few months.
In contrast, here in Victoria — a city about one-third the size of San Diego — I’ve been getting along just fine. It helps that the city itself is rather compact, so I can reach most parts of it by foot.
Now, “by foot” has expanded in scope a bit since my move. Back in San Diego the twenty-minute walk I take to my local Indigo bookstore would be a non-starter. Getting to any mall like Mayfair in San Diego would involve trying to cross a freeway or two, which is not something you really want to do on foot (and that’s assuming there’s even sidewalks to take you there). But here, the walk’s a twenty-minute stroll along a tree-lined street past smaller shopping centres, apartment buildings, and parks. It’s not a chore. It’s pleasant.
But what about reaching the airport? I’ve had to do this twice since moving here, and there’s multiple options. One is to fly out of Vancouver, which means taking a bus (there’s two routes that go from Victoria to the ferry terminal, running every fifteen minutes or so most days) to the ferry (which is awesome) and then connecting to YVR.
The second is to fly out of Victoria’s own airport, which means taking a bus (again, pick one of several routes) and then walking past some fields to the airport. No car required. (and if you don’t want to bother with changing buses, etc, there’s a reasonably-priced BC Ferries Connector that can take you all the way from downtown Victoria to Vancouver airport).
Getting to Elk Lake, which is a good 13km north of me, was again a matter of just hopping on a bus (there are five routes, at last count, that can get me up there) for a short ride north. I’m looking to hike Mount Doug next, and that’ll again be a direct bus ride out to the park.
Granted, I don’t have children; needing to ferry them around to school and activities might push me to get a car. And I live in the city itself, not one of the suburbs, like Langford.
But still. In the States, no city this small would have even a fraction of this kind of public transportation. No city this small would be this walkable, either. They wouldn’t bother building the sidewalks, to start with, and they wouldn’t be as safe (cities in the States actually get more dangerous, statistically, as they shrink in size).
So I’m happy to be car-free. We’ll see if I can make it the full year, though (because winter is coming).
This week I’ve been focusing on finishing one, just one, of the story first draft I’m in the middle of. I carefully plotted out what scenes were left at the start of the week, and spent each day’s writing session chugging along, setting them down.
Only when I got to the second-to-last scene, I made it halfway through before coming to a screeching halt. Despite all my well-laid plans, I was suddenly out of track, for two reasons.
One, I’d decided to have the main character expose her boss as a fake, by flipping open the many file boxes her boss has strewn around and showing them all to be empty. Very dramatic, fun scene, in my head. Only I forgot to come up with a reason why the boxes were empty.
So when I got to the part where she opened them up, and I needed to show her boss’ reaction, I had nothing. No idea. Nothing to see here folks, the muse has gone home for the day.
Two, even once I’d spent some time brainstorming ideas for the boxes, and started back in on the scene, I realized the tone was completely wrong. I’d started the story off as a meditation on memory and purpose, with a protagonist gradually realizing she wants to do something else with her life.
Emphasis on gradually. Not big-d Dramatically, or in some blaze of glory, but over time, like the tide receding from a beach. And here I had this high-volume scene right towards the end of the story. It doesn’t wok, and I knew it wouldn’t work as I was writing it.
But I finished the scene anyway. I’ve been told too many times, by too many authors more experienced and skilled than me, that stopping to edit in the middle of a draft is an excellent way to never get anything finished.
And once again, they’ve turned out to be right! Because in finishing the scene, and chewing it over once I’d done it, I realized moving the scene earlier in the story — with some tweaks — will give it all the things it was missing before: a ticking clock, a purpose behind the boss’ actions, a push for the protagonist to make her life-altering decision.
I’ve got one more scene left to write in this draft, so I’m going to take another page out of their advice, and write it like I’ve already made the change I’m thinking of doing in the next draft. That way, when I actually write that draft, this final scene won’t need as many edits (and I’ll have a completed draft, which is an accomplishment on its own).
What about you? Have you ever had a scene (or a story) that you thought you’d need to throw away, and instead it became the spark that set off something even better?