As we welcome autumn/fall with its brilliant colour metamorphosis across the landscape, we begin to think of cooler weather and a new space to write. We transition from writing on the deck, in a beach house, or a lakeside cabin to a cozier study or quiet room with a view or flickering fireplace. The seasons affect our mood and in turn our writing. These seasonal changes can also add to our content.
If we are on the cusp of a new project, we can use the crisp mornings and evenings to walk in nature and percolate ideas. We can watch the flames dance in a fire-pit or the leaves dancing on the wind or crunching beneath our feet. Why not take day trips to a wine festival, a corn maze, a pumpkin farm, immerse yourself in the season and its special harvest of smells and sights.
Let your imagination experience this new season and bring your idea to life. Ask yourself what your new project’s genre might be.
Is it an autumnal romance?
A spooky horror?
A ghost story?
A contemporary ‘change’ of scene narrative?
If you are in the midst of a project use nature as an example and lose any extraneous content, edit with the thought that the project will be renewed, fresh and improved. It is a reorganization, much like changing your clothing to suit the cooler weather. The autumn/fall scenery can inspire more descriptive language – colour, scents, mood and more.
With the change to autumn/fall, we can utilize the season to promote a book that reflects it. For me, I begin to think about my little monster, Rumble, and his Halloween adventure. I will be looking at a specific promotion for this children’s picture book.
My friend, Linda, and I have been on so many road trips for writing retreats, attending books fairs and writing events in the last eleven or so years, that we have the preparation, planning, and execution of them down to a fine art.
This particular road trip, we are virtually attending When Words Collide as presenters, but it will be a fully literary trip, as we work on current projects, visit local libraries and bookstores, too. There will be day trips for exploring, watching wildlife and finding inspiration as always on the back roads.
We organize our trip, for the most part, in the same way each time. It is a tried and tested practice for us.
Road trip journal
Bird identification book.
Blankets, emergency kit, shovel, trolley.
Chargers, camera, sunglasses.
A bag for trash.
Plenty of water bottles.
In addition there are Sammie essentials:
Water and food bowls
A peaceful and beautiful location.
Options for where we can write – so a desk (or two) and two comfortable chairs, and a nice view.
Comfortable beds, ample lighting, space to spread out our things and a good shower.
A microwave, fridge and storage for food. Luckily, we both like the same foods.
And tea! (So there must be a kettle).
Notebooks and pens.
Current writing projects
Chargers, extension cord and power-bar (there are never enough power points).
New for this trip headphones with mic’s for the presentations.
How do you plan for a writing retreat and A road trip?
I am lucky to have fellow writer/author and best friend, Linda, who loves road trips as much as I do. This friendship has led to numerous road trips over the last twelve years or so, giving us the opportunity to explore my new homeland and Linda’s home. We have several essential items that we pack or insist upon in our accommodation, a companionable routine for the driving and exploring, as well as the writing, editing and reading portions of our trips.
We do not ride the highways but back roads, trails and secondary highways giving us time to stop and watch wildlife, take in the scenery and explore hamlets and ghost towns. We have been inspired on multiple occasions to create but also to decompress and relax. We have encountered numerous animals, witnessed fabulous scenery and found little known corners of Alberta, Saskatoon and British Columbia.
For the driving portion of our trips, we leave early knowing we will be taking the long way to our destination. This has culminated in more hours added to a trip than maybe we should admit to! (Case in point our last ‘day road trip’ took fifteen hours.)
Our in-car essentials are:
My road trip book to write down the road numbers, towns and counties we travel through and Linda’s map book to mark out the roads we travel. A bird identification book, blankets, emergency kit, shovel, trolley, chargers, camera, sunglasses. Also a bag for trash and water bottles.
Our accommodation requirementsare:
A desk (or two) and two comfortable chairs, a nice view, and a kettle! (I need my tea). Comfortable beds, ample lighting, space to spread out our things and a good shower.
Our trip essentials are:
Lap tables, laptops, notebooks, pens, current writing projects, reading material, chargers, extension cord and power-bar (there are never enough power points), cell phones, camera, back-up drives.
Comfortable clothes (layering is essential), warm socks, jackets, walking shoes/boots, slippers. These change dependent on the time of year of course. Eye glasses and ear plugs, a bottle of wine & snacks, easy meals and tea bags (Okay I’m English teabags are a must!)
Neither of us needs noise so silence reigns unless we are discussing our day or writing projects.
Over the years our routine has evolved into a well oiled machine. We are comfortable in silence and respect each others creativity and time to just create and enjoy the wonders we encounter.
Having time to let our writing Muse gather and cultivate new ideas, allows us to start, progress, or even finish writing projects.
What road trip essentials do you need?
When was your last road trip/ Where did you go? What did you do?
That’s a great question and I don’t know if I have a single answer. I love the challenge, the process, I love the chance to connect with readers and other authors. As a reader, I love the feeling of falling into a good book, the kind that makes me forget time and space, forget where I am, and as a writer, the chance to create that type of experience for someone is just too cool an opportunity to pass up.
2. How long how you been writing?
Oh, gosh, on and off through school. I also wrote in university as self-care & a break with the course load. In 2006, I got serious—taking classes, attending workshops, reading books on craft—so I would count that year as THE year I began to write.
3. Why do you write, primarily, with female protagonists?
In every story, an author has to ask themselves, “Who is the best person to tell this story?” Sometimes, the voice that has the most authority is a female voice (as in the case with In the Key of Nira Ghani), sometimes, the voice will be male ( as in the case with Thicker than Water).
Stories should also reflect different experiences, which is why my characters can be BIPOC (Sleight of Hand), sporty (Nothing But Net), and/or come from cultures & families that aren’t based in North America (Maria and the Plague).
4. What messages do you want to convey in your stories?
Hmm, there’s a two-pronged answer to this question. I hope, when it comes to my writing voice, readers know my stories will have themes/messages of positive resolutions (though not necessarily happy ever after endings), optimism, resiliency, and strength in self. However, a story is subjective. We might all read the same book, but we won’t read the same story—our backgrounds, values, and pet peeves will come into play. To that end, my goal is to create a space that allows readers to feel and interpret as they see fit and enjoy the journey as they go along.
5. What is your writing style – planner or panster?
A bit of both! I like to have an outline, but I like to have freedom. To me, it’s like having a map. I’ve marked my route, but that doesn’t mean I can’t stop at Points of Interest or change the route as I go along.
6. Do you have a favorite place to write?
I have an office where I spend my days writing and editing. Final read throughs might happen in the family room.
7. Tell us about your latest book?
Maria & the Plague is part of the Girls Survive series from Capstone Books. Each story focuses on a girl living through an important (and often, a dangerous) time in history and her battle to survive against all odds.
In my book, “years of bad weather and natural disasters have choked Italy’s food supply, and the people of Florence are dying of starvation. Breadlines are battlegrounds, and young Maria has to fight for her family’s every loaf. Adding to the misery, the Black Plague is rapidly spreading through the country, killing everyone in its path. Maria has already lost her mother and sister. Will she be strong enough to save the rest of her family before it’s too late?”
It’s an eerily timely book, given our current pandemic. The similarities and hardships between Maria and today’s readers continue to astonish me. And like today’s circumstances, hope, kindness, and personal strength twine together to help Maria survive.
8. What made you write this particular story?
At the time, it was a chance to go back into history and learn about the Black Plague. And I loved the idea of having a strong, female character who was resourceful and clever, finding her way through one of the scariest times in history.
Looking back, I had no idea I was doing a rehearsal for COVID-19! But from wearing masks, travel restrictions, people choosing selfishness over kindness (and vice-versa) what the people of 1300s Florence went through is very much like what we’re going through, now.
9. Your new book is part of a series, can you tell us more about the series and what to expect?
10. Has your background influenced the subjects you write about?
The short answer is, “yes.” For all of us, how we view the world and how we write about it has deep roots in how (and where) we grew up.
11. How many pets do you have? Are they a help or a hinderance?
Our home has two cats and one dog, and they are of vital help with the writing. They keep me company during the late nights and early mornings, and hang out with me in the office during the day. Without them to remind me to eat (and—cough—share my food), take a walk, take time to cuddle and have fun, where would I be?
Argh, I don’t know yet—I’m flirting with a variety of ideas and “what if” scenarios, and hoping something will stick, soon!
Guyanese-Canadian author NATASHA DEEN writes for kids, teens, and adults, and enjoys visiting libraries and schools to help people to find and tell the stories that live inside of them. Her novel, In the Key of Nira Ghani, was a Most Anticipated Novel for both Barnes & Noble and Chapters-Indigo, nominated for the MYRCA Award, the R. Ross Annett Award, and is a Red Maple Honor Book and a 2020 YALSA Pick for Reluctant Readers. She is also the author of the Lark Ba series and the Guardian trilogy (Moonbeam Award winner, Sunburst Award Nominee, and an Alberta Readers’ Choice Nominee). When she’s not writing, Natasha spends an inordinate amount of time trying to convince her pets that she’s the boss of the house. Visit Natasha on Twitter at @natasha_deen and at http://www.natashadeen.com.
We have all felt disheartened as writers. It can manifest itself in a variety of forms. Lack of impetus, illness, stress, unrealistic comparisons, self expectations or stumbling over a particular section in a writing project. Some call it writers block. In truth it is just life.
Firstly, don’t beat yourself up, you are not alone. Every writer, whether novice or any of the top 100 authors, have doubts about what they are writing. We question ourselves – is it good enough, over and over. This can only spiral us downward into self-doubt. There are ways to give yourself a pick you up. I hope these help.
1. Focus on enjoying telling your stories. Do it to the best of your ability.
2. Remember you are building an inventory of your writing but also learning your craft.
3. Lessen your expectations, don’t be so hard on yourself. Yes, we all want a certain quality to our work, but with patience it will come. There is no quick fix.
4. Don’t compare another writer’s finished work against your in process drafts. You have no idea how many changes they made.
5. Remember you get to rule over your own creative process. You choose, shape, mold, and create whatever you want.
6, Your words will, in time, sway minds, move hearts, and touch the lives of dozens of people you will never meet in person.
7. Your words, your stories are your legacy.
8. Do not take rejection personally. Think of it as a learning tool.
9. Take a long-term view of your writing career – no-one is ever an overnight success.
10. Participate in supportive writer groups. Share your work with encouraging friends.
What have you found works for you when you are feeling disheartened?