Tuesday, November 29, 2011

A Year in Review

This week I am taking some time off from my day job to take back - and revel in - my increased mental space, to make progress on my writing goals (just like a self-employed writer without a day job might), and at the end of each day - satisfied with my increased productivity and sense of calm - rest peacefully and sleep well.

I am on day two of this experiment and it is going well. I have been getting up around 5:30 to allow myself two hours of silence before my children have to get ready for daycare and school. I enjoy the 1.5 hour break as we dress, eat, watch a bit of "The Sound of Music", and then head out the door together (knowing I don't have to then commute downtown!). We sit in the car as it warms up and chant "5-4-3-2-1 - blast off!" before we roll back out of the driveway, at which point my son begins to make rocket ship noises, which sound a little like raspberries or a gushing geyser. Then it's back home by 9:00 am with a longer stretch of day with which to work on those writing goals. Heaven. I am on my own until mid-afternoon, when the after school/daycare chaos begins.

I know when this week is over, I will be mourning its loss. Normally I am not home until 7:00 pm and I miss the afternoon chaos, substituting it with the internal chaos of being somewhere else, and leaving my partner to deal with the kids until my train rolls in each night. We are a happier, more balanced family for having me at home in the afternoon, for having time to take a walk, spell each other off so we can get a few things done, or just be spontaneous. Life was much more in balance when I was on mat leave, and the past two days have confirmed what I've been feeling for a while: that I have to find a way to work from home a few days a week, stat. Not just to focus on my writerly skills (be they proofreading and editing, which I already do on a freelance basis, or writing for big(ger) money), but to get my life back in balance. The tarot says it looks good, so I'm going to believe it because I must.


Since my last post I have taken on a new role as a contributor to Thrifty and Green magazine - an online publication with eco values and tips on saving money. I have enjoyed writing and publishing a couple of articles on the saving money end of things. One is on the subject of bartering, and one is on how to make inexpensive, green (and tasty) Christmas gifts in the form of peppermint bark! The magazine is beautifully designed and inspiring, and I hope to have a few more articles about saving money published on this site by the end of the year. I'm also very pleased that my holiday candy article will be featured in the upcoming digital edition of the magazine. (The current edition of the magazine can be found here). If you enjoy the magazine, you can subscribe to the magazine for free on the T&G site.


Last year at this time I made for myself a schedule of submission deadlines for various publications and contests for 2011, in order to make some writing goals and stay on track with them. Revisiting my list has made me realize that a year has somehow flown by and it's time to make a new one! But it also helped me to see quite clearly the progress I made in one year - the year I decided to take my writing seriously and commit myself to it to the greatest extent I could at this time.

The Official Nicole Breit 2011 Year of Writerly Undertakings

* Wrote "For Tristan: A Meditation on Loss, Grief and Healing" and submitted to the Mostly for Mothers call for submission for a miscarriage anthology.
* Rejection letter from The Malahat Review for a series of poems I submitted in August 2011.
* Submitted an acrostic story entitled "Applying Grandmother's Advice" to the Brucedale Press' annual contest (but didn't win!)
* Submitted seven new poems to Event Magazine
* Published five articles at hubpages.comhttp://nicolebreit.hubpages.com/
* Published three articles at hubpages.com
* Published five articles at hubpages.com
Won hubnugget award voted by readers for "Day Trips from Vancouver, Canada"

* Published three articles at hubpages.com
* Published three articles at hubpages.com
* Published five eHow.com articles for Demand Media Studios
* Submitted my poem "Me, Again" to the Pandora's Collective spring contest
* Submitted my poem "God of Fire" to the Burnaby Writer's Society annual themed contest
* Received an honourable mention for my poem, "Me, Again" in the Pandora's Collective spring poetry contest
* Began work on a collection of poems for the Mary Ballard poetry chapbook competition
* Continued to work on I Can Make Life poems

* Finalized and submitted my poetry chapbook manuscript, I Can Make Life, to the Mary Ballard poetry chapbook competition, hosted by Casey Shay Press
* Submitted my poem "Three Ways of Looking at the Man who Stepped Down onto the Tracks" to the Pandora's Collective summer poetry contest
* Received an honourable mention for my poem, "The God of Fire" in the annual contest hosted by the Burnaby Writer's Society. One of the judges was BC poet, Peter Trower
* Rejection letter from Event magazine for poems I submitted in January 2011
* Launched my website at www.nicolebreit.com
* The Sound of Silence: Journeys Through Miscarriage published
* Received an honourable mention for my poem "Three Ways of Looking at the Man who Stepped Down onto the Tracks" in the Pandora's Collective summer poetry contest.
* Announced as a semi-finalist for the Mary Ballard poetry chapbook prize
* Announced as one of three finalists for the Mary Ballard poetry chapbook prize (winner to be announced in early 2012).

I enjoyed the process of writing every piece I spent time on this year, and everything I learned. While my work wasn't accepted every time I submitted something, all successes and failures amount to the same thing: progress! In the new year my goals are to write more creative non-fiction (and hopefully finish one or two works in progress in time to enter them in CBCs literary prizes, deadline February 1, 2012) - and to focus on a secret project that I hope will be both fun and profitable...

For all of those who also write for their lives, all best wishes for you and your writing in the coming year. I have a feeling it is going to be a good one.

Friday, November 4, 2011

On Being a (Real) Writer

This week I learned that my poetry chapbook, I Can Make Life, was selected as one of three finalists for the Mary Ballard poetry competition. This week also marks a change in my self-perception: I truly felt like a real writer for the first time, and not just an imposter.

The announcement was made on the Casey Shay Press blog on November 1st. I didn't sleep well that night, partly wondering, as I had been the past week, if my book would make the cut - one of many competing thoughts swirling in my mind this past stressful week. I decided to stop fighting sleep, to give up and get up, and see if at 4:00 am PST the results were posted. They were! I prepared for disappointment, scrolled down the post and assumed that the three finalists were listed alphabetically. I saw Mary Stone Dockery's name. Nope, I didn't make it. Scrolled down further and with bleary eyes saw my name - the finalists were listed alphabetically by book title! On the heels of a week of anxiety about failure and success (in almost equal measure), followed by the thrill of being one step closer to a book deal meant I surely wouldn't sleep now. So I worked at my computer until it was time to wake my kids and get them ready for daycare and school.

I learned something about myself as a writer this past week. That the success I've had so far with this little book only adds more feelings of pressure. The phenomenon that applies to bullies can also be applied to artists: the bigger they are, the harder they fall. It was an almost unbearable feeling this past week - certainty that my book wouldn't make the next cut, interspersed with moments of hope, then cut down by knowing that while there was a plan B for the book, it would take much more effort to get it out into the world - and additional energy and time are at an all time short supply these days and the many forseeable days ahead.

I had to ask myself...am I cut out for the life of a writer with all this roller coaster activity in my psyche? I suppose I've never dealt with this type of angst because although I've been writing poems and various types of creative non-fiction for twenty years, until this year I hadn't really shown it to anyone who may accept or reject it. It's a new experience to put something you care so much for out in the world and then let it go, come what may. Even on a relatively small (but no less important) scale.

In a situation where your creative work, filled with your heart and soul, has some potential to bring you some return (and ultimately I believe creative work should be accessible to all but also bring return to the artist - a complicated dilemma fit for a book of its own)...and in times where all resources at hand feel like they are shrinking around you: mental space, time, energy, money - much is at stake.

I am at a point in my life where I have to make really judicious decisions about where and how to spend my time and energy. More poems? A swept floor that, for the love of my family, doesn't look like the floor of a barn? Less satisfying efforts to raise much needed funds to cover daycare and living costs in the most expensive city in the country for the next four years? I feel like a person who has newly discovered herself, her own potential, and found within the flame that wants to keep burning towards that potential - but frustratingly can't to a satisfactory degree for a number of competing and equally compelling factors. There is momentum, but crazy-making obstacles. As always, the timekeeper is there hovering, saying now or never, time is short, this is what you are here for. But my inner accountant, and my responsibility as a parent in particular, keeps asking, "but how, but how, but how the rest?"

So now I truly do know what it is to be a writer of any stripe. I'm glad I'm here along with the rest; I truly feel privileged to garner any attention at all with the words I commit to paper and feel compelled to revisit and rework until they become something more than the sum of their parts. It is an honour, and it is wonderful to finally see myself as one of the pack. A gift I am humbled to accept.

Every day I am finding my way on this path. I had the pleasure of meeting up with an acquaintance I only knew in passing in high school, but reconnected with recently at my twenty year reunion; she is in the word game, too, as an article writer and editor, and knows all too well the balance of trying to make ends meet while pursuing a passion for words. This week I also received my first email via my new website, from the International Women's Writing Guild - an invitation into the fold. The IWWG found me on the list of finalists for the Mary Ballard poetry prize, then my website, and sent me my first official "you are a real writer" email...The world opens up with these new and inspiring connections.

Upon discussing writing and publishing with my highschool friend, a new/old realization this week: that I really do need to pursue my interest in creative non-fiction. There are many opportunities in this emerging genre - a genre which really appeals to me as someone with what the brilliant Margaret Laurence once called "a fiction writer's memory". I have many details to access in my memorybank, many ideas, many stories, and the will to make them become what they want to become. I have written so many poems in the past few years because with time being so short, I can start and finish quickly. Now, though, it may be time to expand, in tiny baby steps, start to finish. So for now, to start, no matter how small a start I can make, and to brave further ahead. Come what may.