Snow! (also, the residency is going really, really well.)

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It’s been a really good day. I slept really well, and felt quite a bit better today. Woke up to quite a lot of snow, too – the landscape is quite changed by it. You always have the sense that Sulphur Mountain is covered by an awful lot of trees, but when they are covered by snow, in turn, it becomes quite striking.

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I had a great day of writing, too. The revisions are coming along, and yesterday’s aha! moment kept its momentum and carried on into today. I went for a walk in the snow (chilly!), had a nice lunch, and did some laundry. And wrote a lot.

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I also had a great dinner – the food was lovely (brisket, baked potatoes, and zucchini that the chef made just for me because what was out on the buffet had red and green peppers in it) and the company was great. A group of writers talking and laughing and lingering after eating…it was just what I needed.

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Tomorrow? More writing. I’m going to take a side trip into town to buy a book I saw in the Whyte Museum gift shop last week, but I’ll be working on chapters sixteen through twenty, I think.

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The residency is going really, really well.


The aha! moment.

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It started snowing just after dinner. Lots and lots of it – and it’s just been building up all evening. Quite beautiful.

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I had a discussion, via email, with my writing coach extraordinaire (she is quite fantastic). I spent the day revising and working through the manuscript, and I’ve reached the halfway point. There are some scenes that I will need to write in (maybe tomorrow, I’m thinking?) and some that I’m writing as I go. But it’s going very well.

And there was an AHA! moment this afternoon, when plot started suddenly falling into place. Unexpected but most welcome, and I’m quite delighted to see how it’s going. It makes up for the awful insecurity over whether or not the manuscript is any good. (I so want it to be good.) It sounds awfully corny, but it feels like such a gift when those ‘aha!’ moments emerge – when the story really starts to come together in a good way. It makes me feel quite lucky.

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Pizza for dinner, as I was too hungry to wait for the buffet dinner. I’m mulling whether or not to book a massage tomorrow or Friday…the desk chair assigned to me is shedding screws and a bit wobbly, and it’s not as comfortable as I’d like. Getting up and stretching has helped a lot, but I have a stiff and sore back by the end of a long revision session.

We’ll see. There was a book in town that I wanted to buy that would cost as much, and I think I’d rather have the book and just take a hot bath…


Plugging along.

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Lovely roast veal (not white veal – Alberta veal is not cruel veal) in a thyme sauce for dinner last night, and then quite a lot of pretzels watching the election. The veal was a very good idea. The pretzels were not (when will I ever learn??).

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The writing is progressing. I’m averaging about two chapters a day, but will need to start increasing the pace for the rest of this week, as I’m expecting to hit larger sections that need substantially more rewriting. So far, it’s going quite well, though it’s oddly fascinating to observe how insecure I feel about the manuscript. And how I flip back and forth from thinking that it’s quite a good story to wondering if it’s no good at all. I suspect that’s common? Must ask some of the other writers (there aren’t many here at the moment, though – lots and lots of musicians, but only a handful of writers).

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Snow and rain today, too…the forecast is about to take a turn for the cold.

All is well. Work progresses.


The revision process.

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‘Creativity’ is one of those words, or concepts, which seems plain enough, even simple, till you start fixing your eye on it. Then, like ‘innocence’ or ‘internationalism’ or ‘love,’ it begins to swell up like a cloud into something that fills the whole sky of meaning, and darkens it, and comes to signify everything or nothing. For it’s almost impossible to think of a human being who isn’t functioning creatively at all times, in order to stay alive. Even when we flake out into sleep, we’re busy spinning fantasies, each unique and different, inventing situations for ourselves and solving them in totally original ways – in order that, when we wake, we can cope with conscious life. And conscious living is the process of apprehending the changing world of our sense at every moment, and reacting by instinct and by thinking to whatever the immediate situation is, in order to eat or plan or make love or walk to the corner store. It requires us constantly to invent, to fashion always new patterns of gestures, or words, or movements, out of whatever kind of a mind and a set of muscles each of us possesses. The outer world is never the same for any two people; and it never stays the same for anybody; we are all originals and forced to be creative to exist. (Earle Birney, ‘Reasons and Unreasons for Poetry’)

Today was quieter. I slept well – finally; thank you, over-the-counter sleeping pill – and just managed to make the breakfast cutoff. I’ve been working steadily on the revisions for the novel, and by the end of the day, I managed to finish revising chapter five. I have a feeling that there will be several revisions, but the goal for the residency is finally falling into place: to make it through the first round, all the way to the end of the book.

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Revising is hard. I’ve revised short stories and term papers, sure, but they’re short and self-limiting. Part of the problem is that I put the manuscript away after finishing last year so that I could focus on finishing the MA. And while that was a very good thing, I think I might have a little too much distance from the original effort. So I’m having to move back and forth through the manuscript to make sure that I’m keeping details and facts straight.

Of course, if I didn’t have that problem, I don’t know that I would have worked out this revision method: I’ve got the document open on the computer, a printed manuscript at my side (I liberated an end table in the room so that I have an L-shaped workspace now). A notepad to my left, and a pair of pencils. The writing is done on the computer, but I’m using the commenting feature in Word to make side notes to myself about things to check, the first use of a term or an important concept, and highlighting some key passages as ‘things to think about later.’ Using the comments thing in Word is actually working quite a bit better than I would have thought…it’s not usually something I like to use, but it seems to be perfect for manuscript revisions.

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I suppose it’s the equivalent of using sticky notes on the printed manuscript. And I have been, but I ran out today – horrors! – and there are no sticky notes to be had on campus. If you want them, you have to walk down into town and find the stationery store (apparently under the movie theatre?). There’s a roll of tape in the writer’s lounge but I think I’d feel funny about bringing it back to my room. So digital sticky notes are being used instead, and it’s working.

Dinner tonight was beef tenderloin with a sauce, pesto shell pasta and fancy carrots. I went right at 5:30 on the dot and ended up eating alone. Which I felt kind of funny about at first, because I decided not to bring a book with me because I thought there’d be a full table. I sat there regretting the lack of a book to read as I ate my fancy carrots. I’ve been reading a book from the Banff Centre library – lectures given by Earle Birney – and I would have liked to have read it with dinner.

Lesson learned. I’m bringing a book to EVERY meal from now on.


Day three at the Banff Centre.

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Time change today. Community Services put up signs all through Lloyd Hall, reminding us to turn our clocks back on Saturday night. And I did. And I was up far too early, realizing with no small amount of horror that I’d have to wait an hour for breakfast. Horror. It was truly horrible.

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Last night? I went to a talk by Wade Davis called ‘Into the Silence.’ It’s about the Mallory’s trip to Everest, but it’s not a travel book…more a book discussing the motivations and the personalities of the men who went, and the impact the First World War had on them.

As for today…well, writing. A walk around town, and a trip to the library when I got back. Time spent at the desk I’ve set up for myself.

It’s quite fantastic. The day went well. I’m easing into revisions on the novel, and I’m discovering that revising the first draft is actually quite a bit harder than writing the first draft. I met another writer at lunch, and then had dinner with Suzanne Steele, who is quite fabulous and very interesting. We’d been talking about the writer’s lounge on the third floor, and how we didn’t have the code for it (there’s one of those old-school punch code locks on the door). After dinner, we went down and tried combinations until we hit on the one that got us in, scooted inside, squealed, and used the printer.

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We writers know how to have a good time.


The second day.

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The room I have is quite enormous.

Banff Centre room.

The bedroom is actually down a short hallway in the suite, so you can close the door. It’s great – little to no hallway noise. It was so quiet that I got up and turned on a fan for some white noise. I slept well (well enough for the first night in a strange bed) and had a nice breakfast. Ate bacon. Watched the sun come up on the mountains. Went for a walk. And then settled down to start writing.

The workspace.

I’m slowly transitioning into writing mode. There is a lovely desk, but I appropriated the dining table and have set it up as a writing table. I went down to Community Services yesterday afternoon and printed off the draft of my novel – it’s nice to have a paper copy to flip through as I’m working on the laptop. I’ve been alternating between working on the laptop and writing with pen and paper.

On that table is the lovely purple surprise flower arrangement sent by friends, and also a flower arrangement I sent myself. I did that the last time I was here, and really enjoyed having the fresh flowers. And to have two vases of flowers? Luxury. Absolute luxury.

(also luxurious: being able to leave flowers on a table overnight without worrying about somebody eating them and then sicking them up in the hallway.)

Tonight I’m going to a talk by Wade Davis, a National Geographic ‘explorer-in-residence.’ He’s going to be talking about the post-WWI attempts to climb to the top of Mount Everest, and apparently the talk will be about the men who tried – what motivated them to do it. I’m especially interested to hear this…I did that reading course on explorers and exploration this year, and though I was working more on the sense of landscape in exploration narratives, I found that I spent a lot of time thinking about what motivated people to head off into the great unknown.

Early morning.
So a start was made on the writing, and I met some musicians at lunch and ate some wonderful strawberry and chocolate chip ice cream. A good start to the residency, I think.


Giant spider in my studio.

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The continuing saga of a writing residency. The writer professes her love of a bookbag. Other writers disclose troubles with flies and ants. The writer confesses to a giant spider in her studio.

Rundle.

Upon on Sulphur mountain.

Lots more writing today. The temperature has been dropping – warmish this morning and afternoon, with the sun, but the wind is picking up and the forecast is calling for cloudy days and some rain. There’s a community canoe trip planned on Thursday for the artists (me! that includes me!) but I’m not sure if I’ll go….will have to wait a little while to see how the weather turns out.

Rundle.

There was a Blue Rodeo concert last night, and I came back to my room just as the concert – in an outdoor amphitheater – was wrapping up. Strains of ‘Lost Together‘ floating towards me as I unpacked my ‘go’ bag from the studio – it’s my Melville House Press bookbag, which is quickly becoming my beloved bookbag. I fill it with a notebook, slippers, ebook, and iPod and speaker before I leave my room in the morning, and pack it back up and schlep everything back in the evenings. Not that I mind in the slightest.

Saturday morning.

With the cooler weather approaching – and with me forgetting a down vest at home – I nipped down to the town to buy a vest I’d seen in the western store. It’s doing the trick nicely.

Saturday morning.

Also interesting – almost overnight, the stand of birch trees just outside the studio have started to turn for fall. Now I have splashes of yellow just out the corner of my eye. Very pretty. No sign of the pine marten today. Too windy for him, I suppose. There’s been a warning sent out about aggressive elk, though nobody has seen one yet. When Fred and I were out horseback riding last week, he was a teensy bit disappointed not to have seen any wildlife. I didn’t have the heart to say that I was quite glad that we didn’t!

Cascade.

The timbre of our dinners has changed with Fred and Hugh (mathematician and poet) have left. Gabe and I have met Arturo Vallejo, who is also here in the Leighton Colony. He’s a writer from Mexico, working on a new collection of short stories. We’ve been talking about our studios. Arturo’s seems to have a lot of flies. Gabe has carpenter ants. I have an enormous spider – which, truth be told, I haven’t seen for several days. But trust me when I tell you that it was huge. It really was. I think it’s still in here, and I’m not going to go looking for it.

The sunset.

Out for a walk.

Hard to believe that I’m entering my second week at the Leighton Colony. It’s so surreal: this incredibly beautiful cabin studio, a little round house that reminds me of something you’d find in Hobbiton (it’s even built very close to the side of a hill, though not quite in it). The privacy and the space to work, the strange feeling as I walk by a sign that says ‘Leigton Colony – visitors by appointment only,’ cross a small wooden bridge, and then step out onto a gravel path that winds through the pine trees.

Sunset.

Morning.

It is the perfect place to be writing a fantasy novel. It is. I feel incredibly lucky to be here, in this studio.

Mountain.

Even if there is an enormous spider somewhere in here with me.

Such a view.

The meals:
Breakfast: bowl of cereal and yogurt.
Lunch: Lemon cous-cous, ham with peach (not a combination I’d have tried, but it was nice), cooked carrots.
Dinner: an enormous hamburger (and fries) at the Maclab Bistro (it was good to escape the communal dining room for an evening).