A Writer's Life

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state of emergency

As I write this, my hometown is under a State of Emergency. Yesterday we got hit with a massive, 17-hour blizzard (a Category 2 hurricane that dropped three feet of snow, in addition to what was already on the ground) and right now, a second blizzard is raging.

(If you want to get a sense of the scope of the storm, check out these articles from The Telegram, CBC and NTV.)

My brother-in-law clearing his driveway. The snow is shoulder deep. His car is completely buried.

In the aftermath of the first storm, two things occurred to me. First there’s only one way to tackle a big project (whether it’s clearing the driveway or writing a book) and that’s to break it into small, manageable pieces. (I’ll spare you a full treatise on how shovelling snow is like writing a novel.)

Second, some people, no matter the consequences, won’t listen to experts.

Meteorologists forecasted the storm days in advance and the federal government has free information about preparing for emergencies. When a State of Emergency was declared, officials advised residents to stay home. Instead, some people drove their cars (inevitably getting stuck and hampering snow clearing operations) and in one case, a man decided to walk to his friend’s house without proper clothing or safety equipment, and got lost. He’s still missing.

Me, braving -20 degree celsius temperatures to begin digging out.

Obviously, writing a novel isn’t a life or death situation, but plenty of people do give their lives to it. In my role as a Story Grid Certified Editor, I meet writers who’ve been working on their novels for ten or more years. One person has been working on the same book for 25 years.

There are experts who understand the craft of storytelling. They have books and courses, and in some cases free information, yet many writers don’t take the time to educate themselves. They don’t prepare for their careers, they don’t plan their novels and they don’t listen to advice. They wander into their stories without the tools they need and they get stuck, or worse, lost.

My daughter, Avery, ready to start shovelling.

Human nature is such that we ignore sage advice from people with proven track records. Do we think it’s not necessary to listen? Are we listening to the wrong people? (I sure did when I started out.) Are we unaware of the expertise that’s available to us? (I was and ended up lost in my first novel for years before I found a way out.) Or are we not willing to do the work?

Whatever the reason, we can save ourselves a lot of heartache if we listen to people who know.

For an author, part of the writer’s life is devoted to learning from experts and planning novels so as to avoid disaster. A story can still go sideways, but if a writer does her job right, she’ll be able to ride out the creative State of Emergency without too much discomfort.

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