Back From Canada, and Back Up Your Files

I returned from my vacation yesterday. I’m ready to get back to the grind, but I still find myself thinking of all the places we visited in Halifax and Prince Edward Island. The views were beautiful in both sun and rain. I loved the red sand beaches, green cliffs, lighthouses, and wildflower fields (yes, I’ll post pictures).

I also had a small adventure that reminded me of a credo I oft repeat, and will do so here: back up your files. Even if you’re not a writer, back them up, and back them up in multiple places. If you write in a journal, make photo copies. If you type your stories, save them to various firmware, and also the cloud if you can. Back them up every which way, because you never know when one of the pieces holding your stories could be lost.

I emphasize this point because my somewhat tedious back-up practice was the only thing that kept me from melting into panic my first day in Halifax. I rode a taxi from the airport to our hotel, and realized fifteen minutes after the taxi left that I’d left my messenger bag in the cab. It held my iPhone charger, two books, and a cross-stitched bookmark I’d made a few years ago. It also held my laptop, which has all of my stories and associated files.

I’d kept my taxi receipt (I also recommend keeping receipts whenever possible, even if it’s just for a few days), but none of the numbers on the paper were a phone number. We called the airport, but they didn’t recognize the cab company name, and had trouble locating the car I’d been in. As the hours ticked by, and one day became the next, I resigned myself to the fact that my laptop was lost. My laptop was lost, but my files weren’t — because I’d backed everything up before I left.

So, I repeat — back up your files. Save them to firmware. Save them to the cloud. Email them to yourself, or even a trusted friend. But back them up. It takes five minutes, and saves you a lot of heartache when one source of your files disappears.

I am happy to report that my messenger bag’s Nova Scotia adventure has a happy ending. Once I got in touch with the ground transportation manager at Halifax Airport, she volunteered to check the security cameras; and within fifteen minutes, she found my taxi driver. The driver had found the bag and kept it safe, thinking I’d call him — he didn’t realize that I didn’t have his phone number. So, he brought it back to the airport, and I picked it up on my way home yesterday between my connecting flight from Halifax to Montreal.

Everyone at the airport was very kind, even when I spoke to them with the intense panic I get when I’m trying to solve something (it’s a polite panic, but it’s intense all the same). They also remembered me when I called, even if I hadn’t spoken to that person previously. “Oh, are you the woman who left her bag in the taxi?” “Oh, you’re the woman who lost the Bob Marley bag!” (Another tip — travel with a unique bag that makes you readily identified by airport officials)

Both the airport officials and the hotel concierge were exceedingly kind. I only found the number of the relevant airport official because a wonderful concierge at the Prince George Hotel did an intense round of searches for the right number to call, even when the first few tries came up short. His manager remarked that he had the wrong profession — he should’ve been a detective. He went out of his way to help me, the airport officials went out of their way to help me find the bag, and the taxi driver — whose name I wish I had, so I could thank him — was nice enough to keep my bag safe for the two days he had it before the airport official located the taxi. When I got my bag back, everything was fine. I had my files, I had my books and bookmark and laptop, and I had a sense of happiness knowing there were many people who wanted to help one tourist find her lost bag.

As happy as the ending is, it’s also a lucky one. So, one last time: back up your files!

As promised above, here are some pictures from the trip. I highly recommend visiting both Halifax and Prince Edward Island. Take a drive to see the lighthouses, spend some time on the wharf, walk barefoot on the red sand beaches, and take a moment to pause and look at the fields and cliffs.

(c) Sonora Taylor
Harbor view in Charlottetown
(c) Sonora Taylor
Lighthouse in the woods at Port-la-Joye – Fort Amherst.
(c) Sonora Taylor
Lighthouse at Victoria-by-the-Sea
(c) Sonora Taylor
Red cliffs and the sea at East Point, PEI
(c) Sonora Taylor
Rainy window view from Panmure Island Lighthouse.
(c) Sonora Taylor
One of many red sand beaches in Prince Edward Island
(c) Sonora Taylor
New London Lighthouse, just off the red sand beach.
(c) Sonora Taylor
Beautiful field near Green Gables (yes, that Green Gables) in Cavendish
(c) Sonora Taylor
The Lake of Shining Waters
(c) Sonora Taylor
Field view of grass, trees, and wildflowers; outside of our cottage in Kinkora
(c) Sonora Taylor
Harbor view at sunset in Halifax
(c) Sonora Taylor
View of Halifax from Dartmouth

Progress Report: Northward Bound

August has been a little quieter on the blog. As I’ve worked at my day job, worked on my next writing projects, and worked on preparing The Crow’s Gift and Other Tales for publication, I’ve had a little less time for blog updates. I anticipate a return to my normal twice-weekly schedule in the coming weeks.

I wanted to drop in with a quick hello, and a quicker progress report. My novella is still moving along. It’s moving very slowly, and I think it’s because it’s more serious than most of what I write. I always feel like I’m taking a deep dive when I write it, and hitting Save is like resurfacing and taking a big gulp of air. I can only write like that for so long a stretch.

On the lighter side, I have started working on Suds, which I first mentioned when I attended the Craft Brewers Conference back in March. It took me awhile to get going on it, as I was having trouble connecting to the characters and getting into their story the way I’d connected to the characters in Please Give. I’m still not quite there, but I find myself wanting to write, and subsequently learn, more about Kim and Laurel, and how their brewery road trip will go.

It’s fitting, as I myself am about to go on a trip. I’ll be in Halifax and Price Edward Island for the next few days. I’ve never been, and look forward to spending time on the water, drinking some Canadian craft beer, and spending time with my friends. If you have any recommendations for things to do there, please leave them in the comments!

Have a good week, everyone.

Progress Report: Hello, August

July just seemed to vanish, didn’t it? Time has flown this summer, but that time has been filled with good things overall.

I’m still working away on the projects I mentioned before. Most of the work has been what is getting closer and closer to being my next novel. It’s over 60,000 words now, and still doesn’t include half of what I think should be in there. That’s where self-editing comes in, of course — as well as the knowledge that something can always be cut.

The hardest thing for me to remember is to wait to do that cutting until after the writing’s done. I’ve made some cuts, but true to advice I see all over the writing universe, bogging myself down in cuts, edits, and perfection while still writing only makes it more difficult to finish. I find myself having to repeat this mantra: Don’t let perfect get in the way of good. 

It’s a good mantra for both writing and publishing. As I prepare to publish my short stories, I find myself getting bogged down in the details, proofing over and over and trying to account for every way it could be viewed so that it will only look perfect. However, as most articles on self-publishing will tell you, there’s only so much that can be done, especially once the file is in an individual e-reader. I suppose this is why writers prefer to let their pieces go once published. They can’t think about all those details if they want to accomplish their main goal: writing and sharing a good story.

I do look forward to sharing stories with you, especially The Crow’s Gift and Other Tales. It’s still on track to be published on September 5th. I leave you with a picture of a fitting group that has taken up residence near my apartment complex over the past summer. I hear them every morning, and while they’re simply looking for shelter and food, I use their presence as a reminder to keep moving forward on The Crow’s Gift.

Summer Reading: ‘The Girls’ and ‘The Disaster Artist’

In between writing, my summer reading is moving along. I do find that reading in turn helps the writing. My sentences form more easily when I’m stuck on a passage than when I’m not reading on the side, and I get inspiration for how stories can be told — or how I can choose not to tell them.

I don’t just read so I can write, though. Reading is fun. I like moving through stories and being in another world while I ride the metro or exercise. There are so many stories to tell, and I want to read as many as I can.

Last week, I finished The Girls by Emma Cline. It’s a story of a young girl who finds solace from her troubled parents and crumbling friendships by spending time with a cult that’s reminiscent of the Manson family. Reading it was an interesting experience, because it was a book I couldn’t say was wonderful or even great, but it’s stuck with me in ways that better books have not. I find myself considering it as both a story and a piece. There were lines that when they fell flat, they fell hard; but when they struck, they struck like lightning. It was also a good story, albeit larger than I think the pages, the publisher, or perhaps Cline allowed it to be in its final draft. I recommend it, though I’d tell people reading it to be aware that they may be confused as to why they want to keep reading it. I recommend they do, though; and that they finish. I look forward to Cline’s next book.

Now, I’m rereading The Disaster Artist by Greg Sestero and Tom Bissell. The book is a memoir about the greatest bad film ever made, The Room. The Room is one of my favorite cult films — I used to go to midnight screenings regularly, and even cosplayed as Chris-R a few times. The book tells two stories: one of filming The Room, and one of young actor Greg Sestero’s budding friendship with an odd man named Tommy Wiseau. Wiseau is, of course, the writer, director, and star of The Room. It’s an excellent book, especially if you love The Room, but also if you’re a fan of cinema, cult cinema, or stories of odd yet persistent friendships. Sestero could’ve easily made the book an insulting tell-all, or treated everything like a joke. And he makes no bones about the fact that the movie was bad and that Wiseau had oddities that were neither quirky nor charming. But, he also writes as Tommy’s friend, and humanizes both the production and the man behind it, both of which are treated by the film community at large as just a bad film and just an odd character, respectively.

What are you reading? I’m always looking for recommendations to add to my always-growing list of what to read next.

Progress Report: Short Stories on the Way!

It’s been a hot and busy week. The humidity makes me want to sit inside with the AC, listen to music, and type all day. Good thing a writing hobby is conducive to all those things!

The Crow’s Gift and Other Tales is getting all the closer to publication. Right now it’s getting formatted, and there are pieces being added that make the collection feel so much more real than it did in Microsoft Word, like a table of contents and a title page. Check out the illustration that will go on the title page:

The Crow's Gift and Other Tales. Art by Doug Puller
Art by Doug Puller

Like the cover for The Crow’s Gift and Other Tales, the artwork was done by artist and friend Doug Puller. You’ll also see his work on the covers for Please Give and All the Pieces Coming Together in the coming weeks.

On that note, I’m excited to announce that All the Pieces Coming Together will be released as a standalone short story. I anticipate having it ready by the beginning of August. You’ll be the first to know when it’s available. I look forward to sharing it, and hope you all enjoy it!

Have a good weekend, everyone. Stay cool — and if writing, stay productive!

All the World’s a Writing Space

Like many writers, I prefer to sequester myself in a room and write alone. It’s the best way to punch out a longer passage and really gather my thoughts. It’s also useful if I want to do the odder aspects of working through the writing process, like talking out the dialogue or acting out the motions. My one-woman performances of my stories are something to behold.

Some say that writing alone is the only way to write, or at least, the only way to write well. It’s preferred, for sure. I also think it’s unrealistic, especially when so many of us write on the side. As such, I think the emphasis on writing alone limits potential writers from getting into the craft. If we emphasize solitude and writing nooks, the fabled desk lit only by sunlight as the author hides from the world she writes about, we’re only giving her one way to write. I think that’s a disservice.

There are many times throughout the day that the story I’m working on pricks at my fingertips. I have access to my spare bedroom where I type on the bed because the desk is full writing corner during few of those times. When I was first starting to write, I’d make myself wait until I could both be alone and be alone for a solid chunk of time. I thought that’d be best for me and for the work, since that’s what others encouraged.

In waiting for the best space to write, though, I found my stress increasing. I’d try to remember things for later, along with everything else I had to think about throughout the day. I’d finally get to my writing corner, and I’d be juggling everything and trying to decide what to write down first, and how to get it down during my Designated Writing Time. This didn’t seem like the productive hour(s) of seclusion that was deemed best for writing — especially on the days where I just didn’t have that chunk of several hours.

I did, however, have minutes — pieces of time here and there that could be filled with smaller bursts of writing. So, I began to write in bursts. A free moment between work tasks, riding the train on my commute, waiting in line at Starbucks, flying on a plane surrounded by passengers — if I had a moment, and I had something to write, I’d write it. If I ran out of time to finish the passage, I’d either stop or leave myself a bracket note. It wasn’t the ideal of having a carved set of time in a carved piece of space, but then again, I think any moment where one can write is an ideal one. I think it’d be a better service to writers, especially writers today, if we emphasized that over finding the perfect time and space.

I’m not saying one should never write alone, or never try to find time to write alone. One absolutely should — and, if living with someone else, asking for that time alone is healthy and should be encouraged. But writing alone isn’t the only way, and may not necessarily be the best way. At the end of the day, the best way to write is to write. It’s about it happening at all, not where or for how long.

Outlining: A Necessary Evil

I’m an excellent planner. I remember dates, remember information, and love to be prepared for a project ahead of time. I bring that planning to my writing as well, right?

Well …

Writing is better than planning to write. However, I can’t write everything I’m thinking of at once. I usually keep stories in my head until I’m ready to write them, and at most, write a couple quick sentences and a title so I don’t forget the idea as I devote my head space to other projects. Writing down an idea is almost like giving yourself a pensieve — the idea waits for you while your thoughts tend to other things.

Still, even when my thoughts are focused on one story, I often can’t write fast enough to stop my thoughts from swimming in my head. When I have thoughts on chapters I’m not yet writing, I start to write notes. My notes are usually quick asides, but quickly become passages and dialogue, which is why I prefer to just write the story as opposed to notes.

When a story is bigger, though, those thoughts become dedicated to more than just the beginning, middle, and end. Dates get involved. There are sequences. I need to remember what order things occur in, or when it makes the most sense for something to happen.

And that’s when I realize I need to do something I can’t stand to do: outlining.

I don’t like it. It feels like I’m clamping down the story before it even has a chance to breathe. It’s too perfunctory. I think to myself, “How can an outline help me write? Only writing can do that.” And then I write. And then I stop, because I’m caught up in the details of how the story should occur.

When a story reaches a point where my swirling thoughts on what will occur, and when it will occur, preclude the writing, that’s when I know it’s time. This happened with Please Give, and today, it happened with my novel-in-progress (over 50,000 words now, yay!). I found myself juggling timelines and thinking, “Wait, should this happen here? What month is it?” — and thinking that more than thinking about what to write next. So, I forced myself to write an outline. And sure enough, I felt better afterward, like the weight of a thousand swirling thoughts had been lifted off my shoulders and into a Google doc.

Everyone outlines their own way. My personal favorite is also how I like to plan: in dates. I consult a calendar and write a quick list of what will happen, and designate it by the date. An exact day is preferred, but I’ll write Week Of or Month Of if it’s a general course of action.These dates don’t make it into the book unless relevant to bring up, and are also subject to change — one of the ways I make myself outline is writing a note at the top assuring me that these can change as the story evolves. But outlining by date helps me as a writer to envision the action. It’s how I plan my own days, after all, so it makes sense that it would help me plan the fictional days my characters go through.

How do you outline, if at all?