Tuscan dreams

Tuscany is a long way to go to sleep well, and perhaps it’s the late-night dinners, but I seem to dream well here, too. Last night I dreamt that I asked a woman what she would not want to ever give up. Her teeth, she said. For me, it was my office.


My writing life began, I think, with my first winter in Canada, in Nain, Labrador, the sub-artic. I read a lot that winter—all of Lessing‘s Children of Violence series, Anais Nin‘s diaries, Virginia Wolf‘s A Room of One’s Own. And it was in reading Wolf’s book that I began to dream of just that, a room of my own.


I’ve had desks in dark and crowded basements, desks in the corner of utility rooms. In reading Cameron‘s The Artist’s Way I began to seriously dream of an office I could call my own. I put it on my wish list. For a long time I was considering a tent and then a house-trailer. Then came my first foreign sale and lo—the means to consider the impossible: an office addition to our house.

And yes, my office would be the one thing I would not ever want to give up.

Books on writing


I love reading books about writing, especially when I’m somewhat stuck, or balky. Yesterday I took a load of unwanted books to The Bookstore in Golden Lake, run by my writing friend Jenifer McVaugh. In exchange, I brought home a load of new books, a number of them books on writing. The Art of Dramatic Writing by Lajos Egri is a classic; a number of people have mentioned it. The Practice of Poetry by Behn & Twichell is a book that Jenifer loaned me, a book she recommends, and one I’m looking forward to exploring. The Sound of Paper: Starting from Scratch by Julia Cameron looked interesting. I got a great deal out of her book The Artist’s Way, but haven’t connected with any of her newer books. This one might suit; I don’t know. I’m skimming it—I’m a little annoyed, already, by her predictable list assignments, but, as is always the case with a book by a writer on writing, finding bits that resonate.


The book I started reading right away was (heh) Write Away by Elizabeth George. I like it. It’s nudging me to do things I know I should be doing, like character analysis.

” . . . you cannot bring a character to life in a book unless he or she is alive before the book begins.”


I’ve always been a bit lazy about this, I confess, allowing a character’s eccentricities to emerge during the writing, or during a 3rd or 4th draft emergency analysis.

I like this about setting:

“Your setting should be a place that you want to know about, a place you are interested in exploring, a place you want to describe . . . “

And further:

“But it’s tough to make a place come to life unless you’ve been there . . . “

I find this to be true, and it’s a key reason for my research trips. But it’s not only the sensual experience of a place that matters—for me it’s the deep conviction that something happened, and that it happened here, on this spot.


One thing I like especially is that George heads each chapter with an excerpt from her writing diary.

“I am filled with doubts. Why isn’t Steinbeck filled with doubts?”


Yet Steinbeck was filled with doubts while writing Grapes of Wrath. I suspect that every writer is filled with doubt, most of the time.

As for today: after writing in my journal that I was entirely dry in the scene-creation department, I wrote out (in brief) my allotted 5 scenes. Which pleases me greatly.


And then, on discovering that my reader mailbox was again 3-weeks deep, answered emails: one to the German translator of Mistress of the Sun, whose glowing email I treasure. One to a woman seeking a relative who may be related to Josephine (I get emails of this sort regularly)—I need to do a little research to answer. Several heart-warming letters from fans.


And now: taxes, which I hope to finish today. Beyond that, perhaps a walk on my horse, some research recording, some Q&As to work on, preparation for my European research trip (coming up).

Managing the workload, finding time


I’m giving some thought these days to how to manage my workload: how to carve out time to write. I’m a full-time writer, in theory, and yet … And yet there always seems to be a great deal of “other stuff” to do.

Since I’ve been back from my tour, 11 days ago, in addition to the usual laundry and cleaning, I’ve:

  • Unpacked (noting what got used on my tour, and what did not, for future reference).
  • Prepared the house and cabin for four house guests (making up beds; picking, buying, arranging flowers; moving furniture; getting DVDs for their kids from the library, etc.).
  • Paid and posted a month of bills and bank statements (this isn’t finished yet).
  • Put together thoughts on The Next Book for a writer’s group meeting; went to the meeting.
  • Read/edited a 50-page manuscript and gave feedback.
  • Sent a signed book plate to a fan in Germany.
  • Answered over 140 emails (fans, editors, agents, friends and family), regarding, among a number of things, the new covers for my Canadian edition, tour expenses, setting up promotion, contributing to an anthology, The Next Novel, writing a review …
  • “Refreshed” my To Do lists (this takes a surprising amount of time).
  • Looked into plane schedules for a possible trip to go to my sister’s wedding.
  • Gave some thought to what to get my husband for his birthday.
  • Entertained wonderful house guests from Mexico for two days.
  • Set up the horse field, fixed fences, got my horse back into the meadow, set up his feed.
  • Started an essay for an anthology on ageing.
  • Had an X-ray.
  • Cancelled appointments in Ottawa in order to go to my chiropractor (it’s a one-hour drive to get there): he’s never seen me in such bad shape!
  • Rescheduled Ottawa appointments.
  • Sorted my expense receipts from my 4-week tour, wrote a summary letter, sent them off.
  • Puzzled over an incomprehensible expense fax from my Canadian tour: gave up.
  • Posted to blogs and social-network sites. Updated my website events pages.
  • Looked everywhere, everywhere, for my good reading glasses.
  • Moved out of my new (and fatally flawed) MacBook Pro, back into my old G4. Backed up, erased and packed off the new but flawed one. Received the new replacement and moved into it. (Yay!) Bought extended warranty on-line.
  • Made calls about a reading this coming week; emailed the newspaper a photo and query. Fretted that nobody will come.
  • Reconfigured my 700-page timeline for The Next Novel: this was not easy to figure out.
  • Began reading four wonderful research texts, one in French.
  • Looked into the possibility of hiring a Virtual Author’s Assistant. Began a list of things that a Virtual Assistant might be able to do (it’s not long, unfortunately).

I’ve been feeling that I’m not getting much done, that I’m spinning my wheels, and making this list has been something of an eye-opener. And although it’s hard to carve out time for writing, I’m writing this, am I not?—when I could be writing. But I need this reflective regrouping. I’m pleased to be giving time to research reading, pleased (very!) to have my computer woes sorted out, to have a (magnificent) Timeline all of a piece and functioning.

I’m back from my tour and summer is truly here: I’ve resolved to carve out time for creative nurture, that important recharging—”artist’s dates” as in Cameron‘s The Artist’s Way: get on my horse now and then, reflect and read, read and reflect. And maybe, just maybe, begin to give some concrete (as opposed to misty) thought to The Next Novel. This Sunday morning, I’ll begin by going, at long last, to a Quaker meeting.