Friday, October 25, 2013

the art of discipline

After successfully completing part one of the Wired Writing Studio -- a two week on site residency in Banff -- I am back home wondering how to continue the writing momentum I had in Banff.

How am I going to keep up with the writing practice I had there? Which was a lot, every day.

From what I have learned, it comes down to three main things:

Showing up.

There were plenty of distractions in Banff like hiking and shopping and dining and elk. At the Banff Centre there were massages and a sauna and a hot tub and rock climbing. They offered day trips to the Hot Springs and Lake Louise.

You could simply sit and stare out the window if you wanted and find nothing but breathtaking scenery in any direction.

So my approach was to employ distractions as rewards.

After a certain deadline was met whether it was a word count, a particularly tough scene, or complete story revision, I would treat myself to a hike up Tunnel Mountain, or a walk into town for a beer at the Rose and Crown.

It worked out to be a healthy balance of work vs. play, discipline at the heart of it all.

Showing up  every single day because the stories weren't going to write themselves.

A few other things that contributed to the success of the residency:


It didn't hurt that I was surrounded with a bunch of talented, like minded artists, all doing the same thing, and all (mostly) feeling the same way: insecure and neurotic about our progress, wondering how we had been chosen for the program, overwhelmed by the generosity and support of our mentors, concerned about withdrawal when re-entering the world outside the protective walls and mountains that surrounded us in Banff.


It didn't hurt that Alice Munro won the Nobel Prize for Literature while I was there working on my collection of short stories. There were cheers at lunch and rounds of applause at our readings. Whispers in the hallways "Did you hear?" and "Did you see the news?"

A short story writer, like me. A Canadian, like me. A woman, like me.

Hard not to take that as a sign, a good omen.


It didn't hurt that my mentor was Annabel Lyon, whose practical feedback and thoughtful insight on my work propelled me forward with confidence and focus, allowing me to have faith in the process and trust my ability to fix the parts that needed fixing, get rid of the bits that weren't needed, and the wisdom to know the difference.

In the words of Alice Munro:

"When you're a writer, you're never quite like other people. You're doing a job that other people don't know you're doing, and you can't talk about it, really, and you're always finding your way in this secret world, and then you're doing something else in the 'normal' world." 

Back at home there are distractions of different kinds that can interfere with discipline. Cooking your own meals and doing your own laundry. Family, jobs, HBO.

So it's back to distraction as reward. Work vs. play and finding a healthy balance between the two.

To facilitate that, it calls for some late nights and early mornings. Taking vacation days to meet deadlines. Few extracurricular activities.

It's everything above combined with keeping the spirit of elk, the magic of the pine forests, and a mountain of discipline at the forefront.

Because the stories aren't going to write themselves.

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