An American Author in Canada

Authors take vacations, but sometimes they aren’t for avoiding the keyboard. This author travels occasionally with her engineer husband, and most of the time those are working vacations.

What? It’s not vacation if you’re working.

Maybe you’re right. Or not. The third definition for vacation at dictionary.com says: “freedom or release from duty, business, or activity.” In this case, I’m freed from my household duties and my regular activities for a specific purpose: to incite creativity.

Creativity and Canada are a decent mix, I’ve decided.

High Hopes

Sometimes I spend too much time inside my office. The lovely walls with all their inspirational sayings and plaques of my book covers move like a trash compactor (picturing a scene from Star Wars IV here).

Even when the sun pushes back the gray clouds, all I see are the words that need to be rewritten or revised or edited. The list of projects in mid-completion expands to block out everything else.

In short, the creative space I’ve slaved to build in my home office (and on my back patio) works against me.

This is when I need a change of scenery. Sometimes going to the coffee shop works. Or I’ve plugged in at the library.

But in light of the daunting tasks facing me in the months ahead, my muse begged for something bigger.

So when my husband told me he had a conference in Vancouver B.C. and asked, “Do you want to come with me?” I jumped on it.

All I was hoping for was a new view outside my window, a touch of sunshine and maybe a little magic in the air.

Reality Rules

Several people gave me ideas of things to do while I visited this Canadian city. I smiled and nodded, listening but thinking, “I’m not going there for a relaxing vacation.”

No need to rain on their good advice. I even checked into a bicycle tour of the city because that’s something I’ve decided I will do if I go to Europe with my husband on a business trip. It’s a great way to breathe foreign air and glimpse the local sights, all while stretching the flabby muscles in my legs. Sounds like a win-win-win to me!

The weather app (who needs a weather man when you have a smart phone) advised me that it wouldn’t be sunny during my stay. But the first couple days wouldn’t bring precipitation either.

I could deal with that. I’d be able to get outside and walk along the harbor which is only a block from the hotel. Fresh foreign air: check.

Of course, spending time isolated in a hotel room to write isn’t the same as writing in my office. The maid wants to come in and clean. There isn’t food and water close by to keep me fed and hydrated.

And there are no cats to assist me by climbing in my lap and scrubbing their chin over my typing fingers.

The lobby in the hotel has a small area that would work for writing, but it’s pretty busy, and I’m a person who prefers silence during certain stages of writing.

Was this going to be a bust after all?

Expectations Exceeded

Here’s what I wanted to accomplish on this vacation: draft the third installment of my sweet contemporary romance series.

That meant 20,000 words in four days, which is about an average accomplishment for me when I’m in the drafting phase of a story. Five hours of writing per day equals 5,000 words.

Of course, I only had three days in Vancouver. The Monday and Friday of the week were travel days.

Monday was sunny and gorgeous when we arrived. Much better weather than in Portland when we left at 4:30 in the afternoon. My muse perked up her ears and gazed out the window on the cab ride from the airport to the hotel.

Priorities:

  1. Find a place to get coffee and breakfast (sorry, Marriott, I’m not paying $20 to eat breakfast)
  2. Scope out restaurants with great people-watching views for budget-friendly lunches
  3. Set up a snack-stocked writing area at the desk in the hotel room

Oh, Starbucks, how do I love thee? I know plenty of people aren’t fans. Fine. But for less than half the price of the Marriott offering I get a mocha grande (non-fat, no whip) and a yogurt, fruit and granola parfait. Sounds like the perfect breakfast to me.

Better yet? It’s directly across the street from the hotel.

Three blocks down, I locate Waterfront Food Court. Yes, it’s exactly what it sounds like: a mecca of variety in eats and bountiful bodies to watch.

Day one, I enjoy falafel and Greek salad while reading on my iPhone and stealing glances at the people flooding through the seating area. Day two, should I eat salad or grab a slice of pizza?

I love having choices.

I packed healthy snacks in my suitcase, but my husband didn’t want me to starve. So he snagged a bag of pretzels and white cheddar popcorn from the offerings at his conference. (I’m pretty sure the popcorn is for him since I don’t like cheese on mine.)

All three priorities met. Better yet? The walkway along the harbor was better than I imagined. Check it out.

Look! Canadian Geese in Canada.

 

Pedestrians on the left and bicycles to the right. Ingenius!

Yes, there are TWO lanes on the path. One of them is for foot traffic and the other is for bicycles (and a few in-line skaters whooshed by, too).

I wanted to share my thoughts on the city, but my post is getting long. Look! A topic for a future post. SCORE!

Is there such a thing as a working vacation for you? Or does it have to be about relaxing and sightseeing?

The Writing Zone: I’m Loving It

I’m in “The Zone.” Freshly brewed coffee tantalizes my nose. The whir of the espresso machine and drone of conversation fades to background music.

            When the muse visits, a writer’s environment becomes inconsequential.

She sings her siren song. Her whispers spur my fingers to ever higher speeds on the annoying bluetooth keyboard attached to my tablet.

Not a chance I can keep up. Her tempo could challenge an Indy 500 winner. The music floods through me, vibrating in my chest like the deepest notes of a free-standing bass.

Why does she visit me today – in this place? The past few days, she refused to even glance in my direction.

Is she capricious? Did I offend her with my indecision about what project to tackle next?

As much as I’d like to understand her whimsy, there’s no time for interviews. I must capture her warm breeze of inspiration and translate it to words on the page.

My fingers cramp. The low battery warning flashes across my screen. Can I even risk the time it takes to find the power cord? Is there a power outlet nearby?

An ancient interpretation of The Muse
An ancient interpretation of The Muse

Ms. Muse laughs with abandon. A quirk of her fingers warns of her intention to move along. I must keep up or lose the creative spark she lends my story.

Ancient Greeks called her genius. I don’t want the responsibility of such a title. I long for a few dabbles of it in the beginning of my latest work. No agent could reject the writing of a genius, could they?

So, I type on until the red bar in the upper right corner fades to black.

Thankfully, there is this thing called auto-save.

And voice recording. But that requires me to leave the sweet-smelling coffee shop behind.

People stare at me, sitting in the front seat of my car and talking. To no one they can see.

It’s not as easy to catch the words when my voice overwhelms the fading chant of the muse. I press on until the spark fades.

With a sigh, I return to the regular press of writing. It’s my job to put words on the page. I love the creative process.

My sadness spurs from the knowledge that my words pale, lacking the genius of what came before.

Perhaps, my inspiration will visit again tomorrow. Either way, I’ll be tapping away at the keys, content to fill the file with my own ideas.

I’m a writer. I write – with genius when she calls – but more often from the well of my own soul.

    What helps you call up your muse? Do you feel your words are sub-par when the inspiration isn’t guiding you? What keeps you writing – no matter what?

What’s a Muse?

Muse: Statue in Germany
Muse: Statue in Germany

Muse, Greek goddess of artists, gifted her favored ones with inspiration to create fantastic and original works of art: sculptures, paintings, poetry, songs. Actually, lucky for the Greeks, there were nine goddesses.

Greek city states produces creative art, I’m sure.

Often, we creative types like to blame our personal muse when what we write is subpar. Or if we aren’t feeling especially creative. If the toast burns.

Yeah. Ridiculous. What is a muse anyway? Is it a real or imagined phenomenon?

Muse Defined

Aside from the capitalized version referenced above, the noun form of muse means “a source of inspiration; especially a guiding genius” (Merriam-Webster).

With such a broad definition, a muse could be anything. Maybe the sunrise inspires you. It could be a walk that helps your creativity flow. Reading quotes from a literary genius like Shakespeare or a satirist like Mark Twain might incite you to write.

Whatever makes you itch to practice your art becomes your muse.

Real or Imaginary

Artists who depend on the elusive muse to visit them before they can create have made her a crutch. Why cripple yourself? Time to throw away the cane, Tiny Tim, and stand on your own two feet.

Ideas sparkle in the air around us. Open your eyes and ears to the world and you will discover an inexhaustible source of inspiration.

I believe some things I’ve written have been divinely inspired. Other stories emerged from dreams. According to the dictionary definition, whatever inspires us can be a muse.

My Muse

In my case, my muse defies definition. When a story is fresh, the ideas flow. The story becomes my muse.

Often a walk early in the morning causes poetry to flow. Is it nature or exercise acting as my muse?

When you say, “I’m waiting for inspiration to hit” instead of writing, you harelip your muse. I believe the muse is available as oxygen. We only need to open our artistic lungs and inhale her.

What is your personal muse?

What is a Writer?

In the many years since I first began to form my thoughts into stories (age 9) and poetry (age 12), I’ve often vacillated between considering myself a writer – or not.

When I check out dictionary.com, I see there are five separate definitions for the word:

writ·er  [rahy-ter] Show IPA

noun

1. a person engaged in writing books, articles, stories, etc., especially as an occupation or profession; an author or journalist.

2. a clerk, scribe, or the like.

3. a person who commits his or her thoughts, ideas, etc., to writing: an expert letter writer.

4. (in a piece of writing) the author (used as a circumlocution for “I,” “me,” “my,” etc.): The writer wishes to state….

5. a person who writes or is able to write: a writer in script.

I obviously qualify under definitions three through five. I write my thoughts down, have written prose using first person and am able to write. I believe I even fit the second definition, since I’m the clerk for my church.

It’s that first definition that gets me. If it weren’t for the qualifier “especially as an occupation or profession,” there would be no doubt that I am a writer. I have written a few books, many stories and some articles.

Should the distinction be made at “author” rather than “writer”? I write, therefore I am a writer. Until I’m published, I am not an author.

What is the consensus from my readership? Does it take publishing to make you a writer? Or is that what it takes to become an author?