A Tolerable Isolation

The wish I hear most often from fellow writers is for a secret lair where the only legal entrant is themselves. The most wistful of these wishes I heard from a Scottish tweeter who wanted a hidden door behind a bookshelf that led up to a secret attic room. Does that not conjure up some wonderful thoughts?

Aah… smell that steaming hot chocolate warming your hand as you skip that last creaking stair on the way up to your hideaway. Victory! Nobody knows where you’ve gone and they’ll never find you. You cosy up in your cloud-like chair by the porthole window, overlooking acres of wild, unpeopled landscapes. Your favourite snacks and pens line the drawers of your desk. You may never leave — save for that darn doctor’s appointment in the middle of the day. ARGH!

So I find myself now faced with an incredible offer to write, for the first three weeks of February, in a small cottage overlooking a lake in the hilly lands of the Nova Scotian valley. The only thing is, I’m beginning to doubt whether this is actually a tolerable isolation.

Do we actually want complete isolation? For three whole weeks?

I suspect that what we really want is for those in our lives to give us space, time and the control we need over our own brains – to create that secret lair metaphorically. We need to be able to enter and exit as we choose, to be fed and watered and pampered for a few minutes and then wander back off to Neverland to see what happens next.

For most writers, this is a pure fantasy and perhaps why so many of us dream of isolation. So that nobody CAN get in the way. And we don’t have to feel guilty when we say to our loved ones:
“Ever hear of knocking?”
“I’m sure your sock will turn up.”
“It’s there, on the bottom shelf. Just LOOK, would you?”
“Okay, enough already. I am not here. I do not want to hear that you are here either. Do not breathe.”
Or simply: “Please go away…”

I wonder, though – in my second week of isolation, will I wish someone would knock on the door with a sweet little paw, whispering:

“Do you want some soup?”
“How’s it going?”
“You look tired, why don’t you take a break?”
Or simply: “I love you.”

Anyway, it will be an experiment of sorts. I will report back with Tales from the Valley of Isolation. I may surprise myself and never want to leave, but I suspect I’ll be looking out the window, not always at the one overlooking unpeopled landscapes, but the one overlooking the driveway, wishing my sweetheart would turn up, uninvited.

We shall see!

Phew! (How I began Again… this time)

If you’re anything like me, you stress a lot about beginning a project but once you get going, you’re fine. This has been the bane of my existence since my teenage years, when suddenly I learned how to distract myself with things that weren’t good for me (those confounded hormones!). And it’s been all I can do ever since to try and get back to the free-wheeling habits of my childhood, when I was a fearless creator.

It’s true, I didn’t expect Book 2 to be an easy writing project (see last post), but I was beginning to think over the last two weeks, as I attempted to delve into the world of The Stowaways again, that I had ‘lost it’: lost my mind, lost my muse, lost my passion, lost my nerve…

But I had an inkling, and this is only from the experience of having written a novel before, that somewhere inside me I would find whatever it was I needed to begin again.

The thing that helped me get over the hump this time around is a piece of advice that my friend Jodi learned from a mentoring session she had with author Madeleine Thien. Apparently, Madeleine spends the first part of her day reading rather than writing. At first I thought this would be way too distracting for me, but since I was getting nowhere by acting on Things I Thought Were True About Myself, I decided to give it the ol’ “Costanza”: a Seinfeld term I use when considering doing the opposite of what I usually do, in hope of a wildly better result.

So this week I have been allowing myself to start my day by reading. I read for as long as it takes to relax the fear in me so I can sit down and write the 1,000 word daily goal I’ve set.

So far, it’s working. By the time I’ve read for 3 hours, I’m tired of holding the book up and I’m ready to change chairs and put into words the scene I’ve conjured up while reading. (If anything, I think more clearly about my own book while I’m reading someone else’s – sometimes I have to re-read a page of a novel several times because I’ve gone off the page and started fantasizing about my own book…)

So why not give it a try if you are having difficulties getting started on a daunting project. Read until you can’t help but write. For me, it’s a much nicer way to spur myself into action than the usual self-loathing guilt trip.

Bonne chance!

P.S. Madeleine Thien is an incredible writer – check out Dogs At The Perimeter – and a lovely, generous person to boot. If you have the opportunity to attend one of her workshops or readings, do it!

Vision Boards are Scary. Scary Good.

(The following blog is actually from December 1st – I didn’t publish it on WordPress at that time).


It’s Week 6 since my first novel was released in Canada by Pajama Press. But it took six years to make that happen.  Originally, I had the idea that it would take ten years for things to happen. So how did I skip four years?

I think it was my scarily effective vision board.

Six years ago, I started to dabble with the idea of The Stowaways. At the time, I envisioned it as a life-long project, complete with a series of books and toys and a movie and this and that and… I am grateful to be on that road, though I laugh at myself when I realize how naïve I was back then, am probably still am.

However, the one thing I know I did right was building a vision board. I look at it now as it hangs over my writing desk and I think: the power of suggestion is very strong. Nearly all the images I tacked on there were alien to me – a book spine with my name on it, me in my own house, garden, and studio, part of a writing community – I had not even a whiff of those things when I made that vision board, not even a paragraph written!

But somehow, it all began to happen.

I can’t tell you how it happens, it just does. Maybe when I looked at that board every day before, during and after I wrote, its images became part of my DNA – “Do Not Avoid”. Because you can’t avoid your dreams, when they stare you in the face dozens of times a day.

Now it’s time for a new vision board. The old one is stale, the magazine cut-outs have yellowed and curled, and my goals have grown claws and begun to crawl on their own. I need to catch up, re-align, then slow down, and begin again. Writing book two is going to be just as hard as book one, if not harder.

The images I tack on my new vision board will reflect new goals, but the underlying theme will always be the same, and I won’t change the core image. It’s a photo taken through a studio window, looking in on a woman who is painting, surrounded by walls of her own artwork. I’ve altered the woman in the picture to look like me – brown hair, pulled back – so when I look at that woman, I see myself: focused, peaceful, concerned only with the art itself.

They say be careful what you wish for, because you never truly know where the road will take you. But if your vision includes that centrepiece, that image that grounds you, you will know that whatever happens, you are still you, your work is your work, and you are a limitless creature, regardless of the world outside.

A Walking Mantra

While waiting for sleep to overcome me last night, I was fretting about beginning my next novel: Will I be able to write another one? Am I a one-book-wonder? Am I losing muscle mass by sitting ten hours a day? Will I turn into a jellyfish? That sort of thing. I’m good at fretting, especially at 2am. It feels right.

The thing is, I’ve done so much fretting in my life that now I handle it much better. I know it’s worse after midnight, and I know it can often be mixed with unforeseen, hopefully brilliant ideas. So I now let the fretting run rampant, and trust that eventually the latent creative energy (which I believe causes my worries) will surface into some new idea.

Last night, my fretting suddenly jogged a memory of a mantra I used to repeat. When I was writing my first novel, The Stowaways, I would take a twenty minute walk every day to clear my head, usually when I had reached that point in the day where it felt like the cells of my brain were glued together with gelatinous oatmeal. With each step on the path, I would chant one syllable of the following mantra: “I-will-write-the-best-nov-el-that-I-can-and-I-will-acc-ept-what-ev-er-out-come-I-re-ceive.” That wasn’t the exact mantra, because I forgot it after finishing that novel, when it no longer mattered. But that was the gist of it. With every step of my walk, the oatmeal hardened and cracked off, and a bit of dialogue I needed to drop in and fix that plot hole would suddenly come to me.

For me, a mantra must encapsulate letting go of expectation to allow the natural path of creativity to evolve. I don’t believe my writing comes entirely from my own mind, you see. I believe it partially comes from allowing the universe to pitch a tent in my brain for a while, trusting that it knows how to tell a great story over a campfire. Then I just write it down as best as my skill allows me. The universe, after all, knows a lot more about life than I do.

My next novel’s mantra will be a little different. There are new pressures and circumstances in my life that I didn’t have before. I own a house now, I have others I am responsible to, and much less time to play with. So my walking mantra might go something like:


If you had a walking mantra, what would it be? Meg_Low_Resolution-19

The Birth of “The Stowaways” : complete. Motivation: multiplied.


I’ve finally launched my first book in my hometown of Halifax, Nova Scotia, so I think this now makes it official – I’m an author. Ooh, I still get all bashful when I say that. I’m beginning to understand that it’s a slow process, mentally switching from unpublished to published author.

But if there is anything that can cement the concept of being ‘published’ in one’s head, it is 100 people showing up for the book launch, and lining up to have them signed. I was bowled over by the turnout – old friends I hadn’t seen for ages, new ones I’d just made, co-workers, friends of friends and children and husbands of friends. I was not expecting that! I can only liken it to a wedding, but instead of a marriage ceremony, there was a reading of fiction about a family of audacious mice (so different? Maybe not).

My mother likened my debut book launch to the birth of a grandchild for her, to which I quickly replied: “I hope this book lasts longer than a human being.” It may not have been the most sensitive response, comparing the joy of a grandchild to the legacy of a ‘classic’ children’s novel (as it is so categorized in the big box bookstores), but she nonetheless laughed, considered it graciously, and gave me a long, warm hug.

Now I don’t know if The Stowaways will last past 2014, but if it makes my mother feel like she has a grandchild who will spread our family spirit long past her time, then I will do everything in my power to make that happen. That is some serious motivation!