Saturday, September 26, 2009

True Confessions

I'm working on a talk I have to deliver next week. Until that is behind me, I'm not ready to get back into the novel-in-progress. I need to keep writing, though, and so I'm taking Anne Lamott's advice.

In her book, Bird by Bird, Lamott says that you should write short assignments. It's important to get something down, she says, and to finish it. Write about your childhood; write about birthdays, school, family members, (even) school lunches. There may be only one usable sentence in the piece, she says, or there may be nothing. But it could reveal something interesting about you, your family and the times in which you live.

This is what I wrote yesterday:

My mother didn't like to make school lunches. She never said as much, but all these years later, I know it to be true. I cannot remember her ever suggesting we make our own.

Mom refused to buy sliced bread but preferred hearty loaves which she sliced herself, calling anything like "Wonder Bread" soggy and devoid of any nutrition. "You might as well eat the wrapper it comes in."

No crust was ever removed from Mom's sandwiches, and the margarine would be applied so sparingly that the sandwiches were often dry. How I envied my friend Marja's pretty lunches: sandwiches made of thin slices of roasted chicken breast on crustless, soft white bread. No great leaves of lettuce hanging out anywhere. And real butter!

I especially hated to open my waxed paper wrapped sandwich to discover today's surprise was egg salad. Mom never let the eggs boil long enough to become hard, and there was always some runny yolk inside.

Anne Lamott was right. That piece did reveal something about myself: I too hate making lunches. While I sit scribbling at the kitchen table, the pages of my novel stacked in front of me, my husband quietly makes his own sandwich.

Pity the writer's family!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Keeping a Travel Diary

I've been away for three weeks, on a road trip to Jasper, Alberta. Although I didn't take my novel-in-progress with me, nor the one I'm currently revising, it was not a holiday from writing.

I kept my notebook handy in the car, jotting down the new sights and impressions all along the way. Each morning, while I sipped coffee in our hotel room, I wrote a longer entry in my journal. By then, the events of the previous day had had a chance to seep into my writer's soul. I could reflect on what I'd seen, and I took the time to choose the best descriptive words I could.

I wrote about the brave swimmers bobbing up and down in the choppy waters of Lake Nipissing, how the wind blew our umbrellas inside out in Thunder Bay, how the land approaching Winnipeg flattens out. I'd forgotten that. The trees along the streets in my old neighbourhood in Winnipeg have grown so big that it is like driving through a leafy, green tunnel.

I wrote about the wide skies in Saskatchewan, the fields of happy yellow sunflowers, how you see the cloud of dust coming down one of the many sideroads towards the highway, long before you see the vehicle that is causing it.

As we drive into the Badlands, there are no trees, only sagebrush and huge eroded formations called hoodoos as far as the eye can see. A lunar landscape.

The grandeur of Rocky Mountains takes my breath away. They appear like a mirage on the horizon before we leave Calgary. At Canmore, they come out to meet us, wrapping around our shoulders until we are completely surrounded by them. We drive all day, and still they are on all four sides. A day in Jasper and then, at Hinton, Alberta, we have to stop for one last look at the Rockies fading into the distance behind us.

Happy trails!