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I Took A Year Off Writing Novels.

(Here’s what I did instead.)

Last November I decided to take a year off from writing novels. A Real Somebody was ready for querying, and I thought the manuscript was in great shape, but I’d thought that about my last two manuscripts, and they did not find homes. 

Was this life’s way of telling me I should just move on? If so, I was willing.

But I’d been writing novels every weekday morning since 2006! What was I supposed to do with myself?

Just try other creative stuff, is what I was thinking. Here’s what I did instead.

November to December

I spent the better part of the first two months staring out the circular window in the studio. I didn’t even read very much during that time. I just sat there and looked out at the back lane.

I did send out a few queries to agents in the most desultory fashion. I honestly had no hope left and I did not care. I had written this book for me, and I was simply checking off the “queries to agents” box, so that I could say that I’d tried my best.

I didn’t write a thing, but I did do some collages and art journalling, which was a fun way to pass the time when I wasn’t in the window seat.

January to April

A filmmaker friend posted on Facebook that she had received some seed funding to develop a comedy TV show about life in Nelson. I saw that post and I perked right up. What a cool idea! I kept thinking I should get in touch with her, but I thought – why? I’ve never written comedy. I’ve never written for TV.

The thought was so persistent though, that I eventually wrote her a note and offered to sweep the floors in the writer’s room, or take notes, or do whatever might be helpful, to support her idea and have an opportunity to learn. This led to us having a few meetings and laughing so hard about how utterly crazy it is to live in a town like Nelson right now.

This inspired me to write a series of satirical blog posts about how I see Nelson changing. 

I took up sewing! I learned how to make t-shirts that fit me just how I like them.

I also signed with my new agent during that time, still with a “sure, fine, whatever, I’ve got t-shirts to sew” attitude.

April and May

As spring rolled around, I started working on a medicinal herb garden using permaculture principles. This has been a dream of mine for a very long time, and I got a good start on this multi-year project.

I wrote a blog post, which I’ve been meaning to write for a very long time, about overcoming mother guilt, in order to write.

I’ve long wondered about a project that would tell the story behind the story of A Real Somebody, the novel I’d just finished. A podcast or a live performance that could include my voice, paired with June’s voice from her CBC days. I started researching grant funding and licensing, and had several discussions with someone from the licensing department at CBC about process and fees.

That was all new. I’ve never done anything like that before! Now I know what’s involved and who to talk to, when the time is right.

June to August

About that audio/performance project  — as much as I love the idea, I have very few skills in this area. I decided to focus on exploring performance skills, so that when the time comes for this phase of the project, I’ll be ready.

I started by taking a live storytelling workshop at Elephant Mountain Literary Festival. It was only a few hours long, but I learned a bit about how storytellers go about their process, which is very different from what novelists do.

And, I took a 6-week long scene study class. When I signed up, I had no idea what a scene study was. Turns out, it’s an acting class where you learn and perform a scene from a play. The last night of the class, we performed our scenes before a live audience. (What? Yes! It was so fun. And so completely new for me.)

We took a nice holiday, our first without our children. We went to Ottawa, Quebec City and Montreal, and we had a blast! It was while we were on this holiday that I was offered a contract for A Real Somebody. (Moral of this story? Take more holidays!)

September

September brought a first round of edits on A Real Somebody. A light round (ha!) focused on pacing.

I also started working with a marketing consultant whom I hired, as a way to prepare my author platform for reaching a US audience. I’ve got to say out of everything I’ve done this year, this has been the most challenging. Given my druthers I would write my stories and write a blog post now and then and go out in the garden. Marketing? Who needs it?

(Answer: All writers who want to have a hope of a sustainable career need it.)

October

My year off novels was coming to a close, but there was still one exciting thing coming.

Remember my friend who is developing a comedy TV show set in Nelson? She was putting together a team of Kootenay writers to write the first few episodes, and she invited me to be part of that group. (And no, I did not have to sweep the floor. I even got paid, like everyone else, and if this show ever gets made, our names will be in the credits. Can you even imagine?)

At the end of October, I spent four days in a room with seven other writers. (Yes, we all came out alive.) We wrote comedy for 10 or so hours a day.

The writer’s room ended on October 30, bringing my year off from writing novels to a close.

What did I learn from all of this? That’s a whole other blog post. Look for that one in a few weeks. I will tell you now that one of the other writers in the writing room teaches an improv class, and I have started to go to that. So, even though my year is up, I’m still trying new things!

Have you done anything new and completely out of your comfort zone recently? I’d love to hear about it!

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