Tolkien to the rescue (as usual)

A confession: I am generally not my Best Self during the holidays. Car trips, visiting, shopping, surprises, small talk, knitting on a deadline, car repairs, cooking for crowds, late nights, baking on a deadline, bored children–none of these are forms of torture I particularly enjoy. Others seem to exit the Christmas season rosy-cheeked and glowing with the memories (although who exactly are those people? No one I know). I start the new year snarling with fatigue and ready to hibernate, not launch a new teaching term.

My favourite part of Holidays 2014 was something that happened by accident, between all the scheduled bustle, whenever my family was too pooped to do anything else. Over 6 or 7 evenings we watched all 3 instalments of the Lord of the Rings.

Oh, Legolas.
Oh, Legolas.

Remember how these were the longest movies you ever sat through, three Christmases in a row, as they were released in theatres? Well, the home media versions of these movies were extended by 30, 45 and 51 minutes respectively. Epic in length as well as scope.

There was more LOTR waiting for us whenever all 4 of us were available to watch TV together for an hour or two (=a surprisingly elusive set of circumstances when you’re dealing with one tween boy, one teen boy, one perennial putterer and one asocial, Grinch-like writer).

For me the real pleasure was watching my boys watch these movies. Son #2 cuddled close and revelled in the (many, digressive) comic Hobbit moments. When poor Sam was framed by Gollum for eating all the lembas bread, I caught Son #1 hunching forward on the sofa, hands tucked into his armpits, commenting, “That’s so sketch!” I believe he may have even put down his iPod a couple of times.

I’ve written before about my adoration of Tolkien–the band of adventurers, the joy of return, the digressive narrative, and how these things feed the (pre)adolescent souls of boys. But lately I’m realizing the extent to which this long- form, archetypal adventure feeds my soul, too. Fortifies me against everyday drudgeries (e.g., small talk, cooking) and helps me dream big, write wild.

A resolution, then, for 2015: READ MORE EPIC FANTASY. Any recommendations?



So I had to write up this synopsis of my book. 1-2 pages including all plot points and the ending.

A little more time-consuming, not to mention torturous, than I expected.

get it on the page


These days I’m in “discovery draft” mode: banging out new material without letting myself think too much about plot arc, character coherence or development, structure, or style. I’m grasping at every trick I know for not stopping, not slowing down, not censoring. For getting Big Brain out of the way so that Little Brain can play.

Little Brain likes lists. She appreciates not having to remember what’s supposed to happen next in the scene or trying to reconstruct the brilliant train of thought she had on the bike ride to the cafe. She also likes check marks and is very fond of pink highlighter.

IMG_0015Oh, and math! Little Brain loves adding up how many words are already on the screen and how many more she needs to produce before she gets to have a croissant, or check Twitter, or doodle some more in the margins.



I’ve written before about the need to warm up the writing “muscles” before getting down to the day’s writing work. At Sarah Selecky‘s “Writing with the Horses” workshop this summer, our first exercise was a warmup: we were to spend a few minutes listing every word we could think of that starts with “H.”

Easy, right? Nope. I ran out of words after about ninety seconds and spent the rest of the seemingly interminable exercise glancing around at the other writers scribbling away and running through my entire standard repertoire of critical self-talk. During the debrief there was lots of laughter as the other writers shared what were, of course, thoughts very similar to my own: “My words aren’t very poetic.” “I’m cheating [e.g., adding suffixes to words I’ve already noted].” “This is only the warmup and I’m already blocked!”

I loved the way this warmup exercise flowed naturally into both an icebreaker discussion for the group and an analysis of the brain’s sneaky methods for censoring creative work before it starts. So now, when I make warmup lists (this morning, all the names of trees that are changing colour in my neighbourhood), I try to note my stream-of-consciousness reactions to the warmup from one moment to the next, too. It’s like taking an internal inventory, much the way I imagine an athlete must take stock of her muscle groups during stretches. Ooh, stiff quads this morning. Lower-back twinge; better watch that.