DIY: Vision vs Reality

I have a confession to make. My current novel is woefully neglected and I’ve been trying to map out a path forward for some days, weeks, months now. This not to say there hasn’t been ANY progress, but the progress has been glacial. I’ve solved a few critical plot points and even did some much needed outlining. New words on the other hand have been slowed to a trickle.

I can stand here and make excuses till the proverbial cows come home, but it ain’t going to cut it. I’ve been writing long enough to know that the only sure fire cure for finishing a piece is sitting down and writing. So why then haven’t I done just that?

(For the record what follows are not excuses per se, but rather analysis of my mental state. Just so we’re clear…)

I had a lightbulb moment sometime last year when I realized that procrastination wasn’t a sign that someone is lazy, undisciplined or lacking in motivation. Procrastination can be as simple as an in ability to make a decision and move forward. While my current situation doesn’t feel like full blown procastination, it does have its roots in my inability to move forward.

Earlier this year my wife had some time between contracts and decided that it was the perfect time to give our kitchen a makeover. Not having a lot of money we decided the best course of action was to paint our 35+ year old cupboards and replace the hardware. She had seen examples online of people’s similar makeovers and was taken by how well they turned out. In a heady rush of optimism we bought all the supplies, consulted the various home hardware gurus (who are so willing to tell you they did the same job themselves and how easy it was). Then we waited. And waited. Next thing we knew my wife had got a call back for another contract and the project went on the backburner. It wasn’t until that contract finished did we sit down and discuss our lack of progress.

As it turns out I was deferring to her to start the project. My excuse for not encouraging her was that I couldn’t see her vision of how she wanted to transform it. Her excuse that was she was afraid to start the project because it was daunting and that once she started there was no turning back. For better or worse the cabinets would be forever changed. In the end it worked out and while there was a steep learning curve and many delays due to other commitments, but it got done and was worth it in the end.

Pardon my inelegant metaphor, but writing is a lot like a DIY home renovation. You see other people doing it, your motivated to do it yourself. The process looks challenging, but the end result looks so satisfying. Then you commit and you feel overwhelmed, like you don’t have the skills or the tools to pull it off and that you should have just hired professionals. Except in writing, unless you’re having someone ghost write your memoir, there are no hiring professionals to do it for you. It’s DIY by definition.

So where does that leave me on my current novel? I have the vision of what shape I want this project to take, so no excuses there. I may think I don’t have the tools I need to get the job done, but until I try and find out that I am lacking something, I won’t know. It comes down to that underlying fear of FAILURE. Of messing it up, so royally that you end up questioning your command of the English language. I know that’s an irrational fear. I know its a fear driven by not having successfully completed a project of this magnitude before.

This project has its roots in an idea I started in 2011 for NaNoWriMo. I didn’t start working on it seriously until last year, but even then its been fits and starts. At my age, I can’t afford to be wasting time spinning my wheels on projects. I need to be completing projects and moving on. I get that this will be my FIRST novel and whether it survives revision or ends up in the trunk remains to be seen, but regardless I need to move it forward.

So this is me working it out in my own head and putting it out there in the world that I need to make this happen. I need to commit to the process and dive in and not come up for air until its done. Whether it matches my vision or not, I need to get to the end before I can judge the outcome.

Wish me luck and don’t be afraid to ask me how’s the novel coming. See you on the other side.

Toronto the Good

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Toronto Thunderstorm – by John R. Southern

I grew up in a Northern Ontario town that felt smaller than its population of 75,000 would have you believe. The fact that Toronto was a 7+ hours car ride in one direction and Thunder Bay 7+ hours in the other direction IN GOOD WEATHER made it feel more isolated than it was. When I got the opportunity to move to Toronto to attend university when I was 19, I jumped at it. In my naive thinking of the time I figured it was a great opportunity to experience life in the big city for 4 years while I got my degree before I moved home to start my life as an adult. (Okay you can stop laughing now, no seriously.)

Well probably after my first year of living in Canada’s biggest metropolis I realized that I had no intention of ever going ‘home’ again to live. I spent the next 19 years living in a variety of different neighbourhoods – a basement apartment in Etobicoke,  the student ghetto in the Annex, an apartment in Don Mills, a high-rise bachelor apartment at Yonge & Eglington, an apartment in the Annex (just outside the student ghetto this time), a basement apartment off of the Danforth, an apartment in North York, and finally in my last year and a half in the GTA to a townhouse in Mississauga. Toronto and its neighbourhoods slowly seeped into my DNA (figuratively, not literally although that would be a cool SF premise right there.) In short it became my adopted home town.

Oddly enough the way these things work, I didn’t really feel like I was “from” Toronto until I moved back to Northern Ontario for work in 2006 (albiet one town over from my birthplace). I guess there’s some truth in the old adage that you don’t know what you have until its gone.  Toronto had served as a backdrop in several of my short stories that I wrote while living there, but it never became a character in any of my stories until now.

In my current WIP (translation for non-writers: Work in Progress) I’m trying to distil my memories of Toronto into the story. Writing about a specific place has its unique challenges. On the one hand you’re describing a place that has to ring true to people that live there, but on the other hand you’re trying to describe a place in a way that people that have never been there (and may never experience the city first hand) can relate without sounding like a travelogue. If that wasn’t enough of a challenge, my novel is about two characters travelling between alternate universes, so not only does my Toronto need be “real” it also has to be unreal in very unique and distinct ways.

Toronto’s history has been shaped by it’s weather, geography, politics, art, and above all else the people that have called the city home over the past 200+ years. In the late 1880s Mayor William Howland coined the term “Toronto the Good” in an effort to campaign to clean up the less savoury aspects of the city and paint the town with his own Victorian morality. While much of Howland’s reforms have been forgotten, the nickname stuck with Toronto for a long time in a derisive way, describing the city’s its uptight nature. My challenge now is trying to imagine the Toronto the good, the bad, and the ugly as it were and make them come alive on the page in a way that serves the story.