Shawn L. Bird

Original poetry, commentary, and fiction. All copyrights reserved.

Opinion-Waiting for retirement January 16, 2020

I keep running into people who have big plans for their retirement.  They’re going to move somewhere with less snow.  They’re going to get serious about that hobby.  They’re going to start writing that book.

I ask them what I asked myself in 1998: Why wait?

One Spring Break when I was in my thirties with two pre-teen kids, I’d driven south with the kids to see my parents. I went to Vancouver, and sitting in the Water Street station, I looked around at the blooming tulips and plum trees and pondered the foot of snow in my yard back home.

On our 800 km journey back home, we drove past lots of schools.  I looked at those schools and had an epiphany.  There are teachers working here.  Why wait thirty years to move?  Why not have the life we want to have NOW?

I returned home and had a chat with my husband.  I sent out applications.  He interviewed for a transfer in his government job.  He had a few offers around the province that he turned down.  I was called to an interview in Salmon Arm and subsequently accepted a position. Two days later he was offered a position in Salmon Arm, too.  Serendipity and synchronicity.  Two months later we were living in a beautiful community that actually had four seasons that appeared when they were supposed to on the calendar (instead of two seasons: ‘winter’ and ‘bugs’).  That was twenty years ago.

I dreamed of being a writer, but thought that in my forties, it was too late to start.  Then my school hosted the BC Book Prize tour, and I discovered that every author visiting us had written their first book after fifty.

I started writing just after Thanksgiving and the week before Easter I finished Grace Awakening.  The week after the following Thanksgiving at the Surrey Writing Conference I pitched it to a small publisher, which subsequently offered me a contract.  A dream come true.

This October was ten years after I pitched that first book.  I was offered a table to sell my books at a signing event at the Surrey Writers Conference, alongside some of my author idols.  I am working in my dream job, teaching English & Creative Writing in an amazing school in a beautiful place, WHILE writing books!  It couldn’t be more perfect!

I still have a few years before retirement.

I have retirement plans.  When I retire, I plan to write a lot more books, and visit schools to teach a lot more teens and adults how to bring their dream stories to life.  I will travel and write and read.  It will be awesome.

But.

A year and a half ago, I received a brain injury.  Out of no where, in my own home, BAM: Life changed.

Words swam on a page.  I couldn’t decipher hand-writing.  The computer screen hurt.  Crowds hurt my ears. Lights hurt my eyes.  I had head-aches and eye-aches.  I was dizzy.  I was nauseous. For MONTHS.

I told my doctor that he needed to figure out healing quickly, because I needed to go back to my dream job and keep working on my books!   He said, “Shawn, you might be retired now.”

That scared me.  The idea that I might enter retirement unable to read, unable to write, and unable to teach or travel was horrifying.  What a bleak picture!  On the bright side, I thought, at least I have been able to have this wonderful job, teaching teens to write, and to inspire them.  At least, I have published nine books.

Thankfully, I had excellent concussion therapy and I have recovered enough from my brain injury to work part-time again.   Despite my injury, 6 pieces were published last year.  Some had been written years ago, some were short articles or stories that took me weeks instead of a day to write.  Slow progress is still progress.

My injury wasn’t the end of my dreams, but it could have been.

Wouldn’t it have been horrible to have all my plans completely unreachable due to poor health?  Wouldn’t it have been a hundred times worse if I had saved all my dreams for retirement, and not have the health to attempt them?  I had two colleagues who were in good health when they retired, but were dead six months later.

If you have a dream, don’t wait for retirement.

We only have today.

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writing- 5 escapes from Writers’ Block November 18, 2019

Filed under: Writing — Shawn L. Bird @ 1:15 pm
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Diana Gabaldon once told us that she doesn’t believe in Writer’s Block; she thinks it’s more about Writer’s Inertia.

i.e.

An object (writer) at rest remains at rest.

An object (writer) in motion (writing) remains moving (writing).

So what is the solution when you are writing and come up against a brick wall?  Just because it feels like a block, doesn’t mean it is.  You may need to give that project a rest from your conscious mind and let your subconscious work things out.  To do that, you may need to distract your conscious mind a bit.  You may not need to keep moving forward, so long as you keep moving.

Don’t fret about it or dig yourself into a quicksand state of mind when you’re really just walking on the beach.  Yeah, it may be a bit of a workout, but it’s not killing you.

Here are 5 suggestions to deal with Writers’ Block:

1. Write something else.

Stuck with your novel?  Write a short story, maybe in your novel world, maybe something completely different.  Write a poem.  Write an article.  Writing is writing.  You’re still making progress even if it’s not on your main project.  If you step away, eventually you’ll see something from a distance that you missed while you were too close.

2. Put the problem that’s stymied you into your subconscious.

Before you go to bed, think about the issue you’re struggling to resolve.  Consider each character and what the problem is, and often in the morning you will wake up with a solution.

3. Just write ANYTHING about those characters.

Ignore the main project and just play with your characters.  Conduct an interview with your protagonist, your antagonist, a minor character or two.  Write a letter to their grandmother, their fourth grade teacher, the kindergarten best friend, etc as a way into their psyche.  Bonus!  These sorts of things are awesome bonus material for your newsletter subscribers!

4. Pick up a Writing Thesaurus

These amazing resources by Angela Ackerman and Rebecca Puglisi are fantastic.  Everything is at your fingertips!  Go through the thesaurus, noting character traits that are relevant to the character you’re dealing with and consider how the traits could impact characters’ choices. (I use Emotional Wound Thesaurus. Emotion Thesaurus 2nd edition. Negative Trait Thesaurus. Positive Trait Thesaurus) These seem to always give me lots of ideas to resolve whatever stalls me.

5. Timed write

Set the timer, start writing and don’t pause or overthink.  Put words down for 10 minutes on anything relating to the characters, their living situation, their past choices, their wishes, their families, etc.  Write out possible endings.  Imagine a character telling their therapist about what’s frozen them and why they (their story) aren’t going forward.  Free write in stream of consciousness.  Usually something shakes loose and you’ll get some direction for your project. Oh- and if something comes to mind that you instantly think “NO! You can’t write THAT down!” that is ABSOLUTELY something you NEED to write down!  THAT thing is probably the plug causing all your trouble.  PULL THAT PLUG!!  Write it down!

I think a sense that you’re ‘blocked’ is often your brain falling for the ‘this isn’t good enough’ lie and getting all caught up in getting something ‘right’ on the page.  A first draft is about finishing, not about perfection, so tell that inner critic to shut up while you power through your crappy first draft, and promise to let the critic work out all the issues in the second draft, when you need a critical eye to get things cleaned up.  You can’t edit a blank page.  Even the worst writing can be fixed.  Get writing!

Sometimes it’s okay to realize you don’t know where the story goes next.  This is a common pantser problem! We write ourselves into corners and need some ingenuity to work our way out.  Sometimes we need to erase the trail and go back a scene or two to change direction.  Sometimes we just have to wait in our painted corner until the resolution appears (or the paint dries!).  In the meantime, keep writing.  When you’ve forgotten that troublesome piece, when you return to it, often the solution pops up as you re-read it!  Time is a cure.  Just work on something else while you let that project simmer.  Simmering isn’t a block.  Things taste better if they’ve simmered a while.

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Enough clichés for you in this?  🙂

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Go forth and write.  You’ve got this.

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PS. I’m an Amazon affiliate.

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SiWC workshop notes- Diana’s Managing a Mob October 28, 2019

Here are my notes from Diana Gabaldon’s Managing a Mob workshop:

Diana- Managing a mob

20191027_124025[1]

Diana Gabaldon SiWC 2019

 

poem-ten October 12, 2019

Filed under: Poetry,Writing — Shawn L. Bird @ 1:46 pm
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ten years ago

dream in pocket

breathless

learning to pitch a book

awed by everyone

talent

knowledge.

Wishing.

Today, I pull a bin

to my own author table.

I am awed at everything.

It’s just ten years.

Same space I pitched!

Now,

ten books to spread

for this event.

My words searching for homes.

A blink of time

those dreams

are truth.

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I just realized that this month is the 10th anniversary of my first writing conference.  I bravely registered for one day of the Surrey International Writers’ Conference, took my husband and our exchange student to Vancouver. While they spent a day exploring, I pitched my first book to the publisher who would eventually offer me a contract for it and had my first blue pencil with a professional author (Meg Tilley).  Ten years later, I’ve been invited to sell at a Guest Author table, in the very same room I pitched in, and I will have ten books on my table to sell and sign.  How astonishing.  How quickly a decade passes! How amazing to see what happens when you take the risk!

 

Tangled April 2, 2019

Filed under: Poetry,Writing — Shawn L. Bird @ 11:09 am
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Be tangled in the words.

Weave yourself ability.

Knit a world.

Unravel negativity.

Crochet characters uncurled

Stitch together possibilities.

Wind yourself in words.

 

 

quote-write for kids March 13, 2019

Filed under: Quotations,Writing — Shawn L. Bird @ 10:09 pm
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“You have to write the book that wants to be written. And if the book will be too difficult for grown-ups, then you write it for children.”

~Madeleine L’Engle

How profound is this?  And what a truth!  Some of the most powerful literature is written for kids. It challenges thinking and shines a light on what the world is like, encouraging them to question the status quo and make changes to improve society.

 

Review- Art of the Fold February 21, 2019

Filed under: book reviews,Poetry,Writing — Shawn L. Bird @ 9:16 pm
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A fantastic resource for poets and book artists to make beautiful chapbooks.

I have a writer-artist friend on Pender Island who posted this book that she got for Christmas. I was so impressed that I bought a copy of my own!  With great thanks to Andrea Spalding, I’m delighted to share this book with you.

Hedi Kyle & Ulla Warchol have compiled a variety of techniques in Art of the Fold.  This is a GORGEOUS book! It will teach you how to make amazing folded art books that you can use with beautiful papers to create stunning, one of a kind, art books for your poetry and other special words.  Here’s a video of me showing some of the little practice books I made, while learning the techniques, with a peak at the book itself.

 

The beauty of this book is how Kyle and Warchol give you the bones of the books, but the scope of how you can apply the examples to make your own project is unlimited.  I am SO excited to buy special paper and make some lovely art books to give to special people in my world.  What a great resource for learning techniques of book folding.  I am so excited to use these with my English students!

You can buy Art of the Fold on Amazon, and you really should!

(I’m an Amazon Affiliate, so buying from the link gives me a penny or two for the recommendation).

(My dog decided to wrestle his bed all over the living room while I was recording the video , excuse his enthusiastic growls and brief appearances in the background! lol He finally abandoned it against a chair. Silly boy.)

 

writing-conference power February 19, 2019

Filed under: Writing — Shawn L. Bird @ 8:49 pm
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I’m a huge advocate of the writing conference as a crucial key to a writer’s development.  For many years, I thought they were silly and over-priced.  I figured I could learn anything I needed to know by reading books about the writing craft and business.

What I didn’t understand was the importance of connection.  Writers tend to be solitary creatures. Their creativity happens when they’re alone.  Often our friends and family members don’t understand the stress of having to kill off a character we love, or the trauma of maintaining our words per day quota, or the soul-destroying nature of the twelfth (or hundred and twelfth) rejection letter for a project we adore.

Other writers do.

When you sit in a room with other writers, hear their stories, and realize they have the same kind of feelings and experiences you do, you realize you aren’t the only one. You’re not weird! (Well, maybe you are, but it’s probably a good weird, and you realize there are a lot of weirder people and you thoroughly enjoy being in their weird company!).  You feel like you belong.  You listen, you learn, you laugh, and you long for it to last.

Next March I am going to a new conference for me: Creative Ink in Burnaby, BC.  I see that some of my friends from other conferences (Surrey International, When Words Collide in Calgary, Word on the Lake in Salmon Arm) will be there. How great!

If you’re in BC and you’ve never been to a conference, this one is a good price ($80 for the weekend) and has some phenomenal people presenting and attending, so I already know it’s going to be great.  Learn about the craft and business of the writing life.  Share some weird.  Enjoy some fun.  Buy some books.

If you decide to go, tell them I sent you!

Creative Ink is at the Delta Marriott Burnaby, BC  March 29-31, 2019.

 

Giveaway! Book promo.

Filed under: Writing — Shawn L. Bird @ 5:51 am
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A couple of weeks ago, I did a book review for The Emotion Thesaurus 2nd edition.  Today is official release day, and the authors have an amazing contest going!  

I love their product and I love writing conferences, so I fully endorse The Emotion Thesaurus 2nd edition AND their contest.  Here’s their info:

This second edition is more than a new cover. It’s been been enhanced and expanded to include 55 new entries and double the teaching material. Now we can go even deeper when showing our characters’ emotions!

You can read some of the reviews on Goodreads or find more information here

Also, one more thing to share…a MEGA-OPPORTUNITY to win something amazing!

GIVEAWAY ALERT:

To celebrate the new book & its dedicated readers, Angela and Becca have an unbelievable giveaway on right now: one person will win a free writing retreat, conference, workshop, or professional membership to a writing organization, winner’s choice (up to $500 US, with some other conditions which are listed on the WHW site).

What conference would you attend if the fee was already paid for…or would you choose a retreat? Something else? Decisions, decisions! This giveaway ends on February 26th, so hurry over and enter!

 

writing-talent v tenacity February 16, 2019

Filed under: Writing — Shawn L. Bird @ 12:50 pm
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When I’m speaking to new writers, whether they be young or old, I spend time discussing the difference between talent and tenacity.

When you start, you may be discouraged because you see others with greater talent than you, but if you have tenacity, your dedication will develop talent, your resilience will keep you practising, your perseverence at pushing on doors will get you opportunities.  The most talented person who just holes up in a burrow will stagnate if they don’t work with what they’ve got.  So if you WANT it, you need to be tenacious, and eventually, your tenacity will develop your talent, and you will achieve your goals.

So much success in life relies on simply not giving up.

Caitriona Balfe, the actor who plays Claire Randall in Outlander, said some similar regarding making it as an actor, in a recent interview for The Irish Times,

a lot of it is just having the f***ing balls and grit to stick around and be persistent in the face of a lot of rejection. But I think that also comes from having a belief that if [there is] something you love to do so much, something that feels that it comes naturally, that in some way it has to be what you’re meant to do.

That’s it.  As Dory puts it, “Just keep swimming.”

 

 
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