Oct 29, 2015 - Literary    2 Comments

Anxiety Pancakes: Writing a Novel is like Building a House (Or Something)


“Wood-framed house” by Jaksmata – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Commons 

It’s back to the drawing board for me. My knowledgeable readers have spoken and said that the story in my novel doesn’t start moving early enough. I accept their views because I did what I said was necessary in my last post: I listened to them and I reread a good chunk of my manuscript myself.

Some writers have to complete each page perfectly before they move on to the next. But for me, writing a novel is like building a house. I do it in stages. First, the note making and research, and filling a large page with the names of some of the characters and a list of some of the scenes. Then I do the first draft on a tape recorder so I have something to work with–a blurt, as I call it. You get the gist. Down goes the floor but oops maybe I’ve forgotten to dig the foundations. And how about that missing roof?

A crucial stage is finding the voice. It took me almost a year to find the right voice for The Dead Celebrities Club. Now it seems I have been confusing the theme of my novel with the story and I need to go back, and streamline my prose so the story isn’t lost in my descriptions. That means throwing out some chapters and extraneous pages, something I find hard to do because I am the loyal type. If I’ve worked on passages until they glisten it breaks my heart to say good-bye although saying good-bye is what I must do.

I’ll put my discarded sections in a file so I can bring them out if I need them. That way these passages aren’t banished forever.

So I’m picking up my hammer and saw and possibly a wrecking ball. It’s time to get down to work.


  • Thanks for sharing your process. Rewrites can be exciting, yes? After the chisel, hammer and (forbid!) the wrecking ball, you can get to what makes your work a one-of-a-kind custom design.

  • Courage.

    Which I need a shot of as well.
    I’ve left my novel languishing for almost a year …. life has knocked me about a bit.

    ALMOST ready to read though what actually exists right now on the page.

    Reading about your journey through TDCC inspires me.
    Thanks for sharing it with us.

    go easy ~p

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Oct 24, 2015 - Literary

Anxiety Pancakes: The Horror of Vulnerability


girlfloatinginairI’m waiting for reactions from two very knowledgeable readers to the latest draft of my new novel, The Dead Celebrities Club.

The experience of waiting is like floating free in a void, as if I’ve been set adrift in the galaxy without a space station in sight. Adrift? Really? Yes, adrift in the sense that my identity seems to be on the line. Do I rely too much on my work for my sense of who I am? I do, I admit it, and I hate waiting for reactions to my writing. It makes me feel vulnerable and edgy.

Waiting on others is especially hard for someone like me. In the personality chart of the enneagram, I’m number eight, the challenger. A prominent trait of this personality type is taking charge of their circumstances. The basic fear of the challenger is being controlled by others. Being vulnerable, in other words. And feeling vulnerable is horrifying.

Yet vulnerability is the link to creativity. Without it, I would understand nothing about myself or my fellow humans. So I’m going to hang there in space and stay open to the help that others can give me with my book. Aren’t I?

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Oct 22, 2015 - Literary    3 Comments

Anxiety Pancakes: When Is A Novel Finished?

anxietypancake--redIn the spring, I said I was finishing my novel, The Dead Celebrities Club, about a white collar fraudster who starts a betting game about old and frail celebrities in a US prison. My dreams told me I was on the home stretch. Well, it turns out there are home stretches and then some.

The first job with a novel is getting the voice of your character right and finding your story. After that, it’s anybody’s guess how many times you will revise your draft. Leonardo da Vinci said art is never finished, only abandoned and Paul Valery said the same thing about a poem. Writers have been talking about the need to abandon and not finish novels for a long time now.

But when is a novel finished? That is, what makes the writer decide it’s time to show it? When I began novel writing, I handed over my draft to an agent long before my book was done. I wanted my agent to find an editor who would help me finish it.

Today I hold onto my work much longer. Most editors are too busy to nurse along a work of fiction so sometimes the agent steps in and helps the writer finish their book before it is shown to publishers.

So when is a novel finished? Here’s a clue: When you show it to a few knowledgeable readers and they don’t say your book needs a lot more work. Key phrase––a lot more. Critical readers will always find something wrong; that’s their job. But if their comments resonate with you and the problems they spot are easily fixable, your novel may be close to being finished.

The other answer is your own reaction. Leave your novel for a month or so. Then go back and read it through. If you find it (mostly) surprises and pleases you, maybe it’s time to show it. Or you can always hug your manuscript close like Alistair MacLeod until somebody pries it away from you.


  • I don’t know if you remember me from the “long past” CBC days, but I sure remember you. I enjoyed our times together so much

    Maryke McEwen

  • Hi Susan.

    You speak of endings and I am finally, finally writing mine! The first years of work I kept editing and editing but it was holding me back. You encouraged me to push forward (Humber College correspondence course), telling me my book will be published, that I will find an agent. I always remember your words.
    Thank you for this blog post as I fear I will polish and polish and never submit!! I need to be reminded to just stop!

  • It takes a long time to release a novel, but, finally, mine is out with a traditional publisher. It really is difficult to convince ourselves that it’s time to let go. It’s been said to make it perfect, but the editors at a publishing house are going to find things to revise anyway, aren’t they? Thanks for your post, Susan.

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Sep 8, 2015 - Literary

Riding through the Waves like Poseidon Scouting Out Film Locations

IMG_4127IMG_4124IMG_4137On Labour Day Sunday, I rode through the waves like Poseidon with my brother John and the young film makers who are making a film of my last novel, The Western Light. It is set in a tourist town on the Georgian Bay.

We scouted out the lighthouse on Hope Island, part of a trio of huge wooded islands off Cedar Point on the Georgian Bay. The blue watery realm is so isolated that the physical experience of being there feels like drifting into a metaphysical dimension. This atmosphere is partly created by the lack of cottages or homes since the islands belong to the band on Christian Island. The film makers Hannah Cheesman and Mackenzie Donaldson took pictures and tried to imagine filming in such a rugged location. Unfortunately, the original top of the 1881 lighthouse had been replaced by a steel structure and light. Hannah is wearing a captain’s hat; Mackenzie is smiling into the camera.

These are Mackenzie’s photos, a taste, she says, of our afternoon on the water. The trip ended with a visit to the Waypoint Health Centre in Penetang, the old psychiatric hospital that is also in my novel. An old Georgian Bay lighthouse is also in the story.

Hannah and Mackenzie were just named two of the 2015 top five people to watch in Canadian film. Their short Boxing is at TIFF this September. The other producer Lauren Grant was home looking after her month old baby. Her most recent feature Wet Bum, which debuted at TIFF last year, was featured in a recent Globe and Mail article.

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