Friday, October 30, 2009

"WHAT IS IMPORTANT IS THE STORY": Questions & Answers with author Steven Pressfield

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I have been a fan of Steven Pressfield's writing for a number of years now, especially the books he has written about ancient Greece: "Gates of Fire", "The Virtues of War" "Tides of War" and "The Afghan Campaigns" to name a few.

Steve has been generous in his encouragement for me in my own work. He's also been a great mentor to many other writer's. His "The War of Art" Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles" is a popular book with techniques on writing (available on

Recently I was privileged to be asked to contribute three questions to Mr. Pressfield about writing, and he would reply to them. Here's the questions I posed:

How close to the historical facts do you stick? Aside from the initial research before starting a story, how much do you do while the writing is in progress? (I know even the historians have conflicting information and I sometimes have found this really inhibiting when trying to be as accurate as possible.)

STEVE: Ruth, I'm not trying to be lazy but here's a blog piece from the site that's right on this subject. Look for Writing Wednesday #4 "A Single Sheet of Fool's Cap" It tells you all I know.

This link takes you to Writing Wednesday #9 so scroll back to see page Writing Wedensday #4

Read this page. It is full of helpful suggestions and advice. "The more research you do, the less writing you do" and "The answer is 'As little as possible!". "WHAT IS IMPORTANT IS THE STORY!"

2) WRITER'S BLOCK: I find that chapter beginnings and transitions between scenes can often slow me down. When you find yourself up against the wall what is your technique for overcoming 'writer's block'.

STEVE: I never mention that term. It's dangerous to even think about it. I banish it from my mind. Just keep writing. If you're stuck in one part of the story, work on another. Momentum, I've found, is a big help. If you can get rolling in one part of the story, when you come back to a 'sticking point'[, sometimes that mementum will carry you through it. Another trick is to give yourself only so long to lick the problem. Ten minutes. One hour. Something short so you don't get hung up driving yourself crazy. "We're gonna lick this between now and lunch!"

3) THE FINAL DRAFT: I'm almost finished my novel and already know it's far too long. How do you decide what to cut? Do you do the cuts and rewrites and then do the line editing (spell check, etc) as the final touch up?:

STEVE: This is tough. Sometimes you have to split yourself in two: the boss and the worker. The boss says, "Ruth, I want you to get 10% out of this sucker!" This gives you something to shoot for. But there's no substitute for skill and work. I was just working on a screenplay with Randall Wallace, who wrote "Braveheart". He is much better than I am. On the final day, he went through 'my' pages and whacked out massive amounts. To my amazement, everything got better. A lot better. I have yet to try that on my own stuff, without help, but it sure taught me that being ruthless can really work.

I am very grateful for this opportunity to pose these questions to Mr. Pressfield. And I know you will get as much as I do out of following his "Writing Wednesday" blogs. You can read more about him on his website and order his book, "War of Art" from there as well as from

Monday, October 26, 2009


I've been very busy the past weeks with various writing projects. My four stories a week writing for The Planet Eye "Vancouver Guide" ( keeps me on the go with field trips in order to get new story ideas. One real fun trip was to the Pumpkin Patch where I spent several pleasant hours browsing around the fields, plowing through corn stalks and taking photos of lots of pumpkins. This is really a Hallowe'en field trip so the Patch wasn't officially opened, however the farm workers didn't have a problem with me poking around the fields having a look.

It's been quite a bit of fun going on all these field trips and it certainly keeps you alert to what is happening around town. It is time consuming though, and because I have to keep my four-story quota each week, it has cut into some of my novel writing time. Plus I teach writing classes several times a week. But these are winding down for the Fall season so my time is slowly freeing up.

This weekend I spent Friday to Sunday volunteering at the annual Surrey International Writer's Festival, one of the biggest and best in North America. I have been volunteering there for a number of years now. It's a bit expensive for my budget to attend as a guest, but I find it very fulfilling working there as a volunteer as I still get to attend workshops, introduce the presenters and meet lots and lots of writers, editors and agents.

This year I was especially thrilled to be the introducer for Annabelle Lyon, a local writer who has had her first novel nominated for three very prestigious writing awards: long listed for the Giller Prize; short listed for the Royal Bank $25,000 Writer's award and nominated for the Governor General's Award. What makes it especially exciting for me is, her novel is about Aristotle when he was tutoring the young Alexander. ("The Golden Mean" ) This puts historical fiction back on the genre map and brings special attention once again to the story of Alexander the Great (my favorite topic!)
She was presenting a workshop for short-story writing as she's had two other books published of short stories and novellas (plus a kid's book). She was such an interesting speaker and I learned many valuable things from her workshop.

That afternoon I also sat in a workshop by Richelle Mead who writes serials on Vampire themes
and although this isn't a genre I'm interested in, her points about writing were really valuable.

There were a lot of well known authors presenting at the Conference. Some of them, like Diana Gabaldon, come back every year. I always enjoy seeing her as she makes her way around the hotel lobby in her trade-mark diaphonous rainbow coloured crepe shawls. She's a lovely woman and very personable.

Other old favorites are there too, some Canadian writers and several American. I enjoyed Anne Perry's opening talk on Friday. She's a prolific writer from Scotland and a couple of years ago I had the thrill of introducing her at a workshop. There's also the amusing Scottish-Canadian writer Jack Whyte, and a popular crime writer from the States, Robert Dugoni, to name just a few. Of course there are agents and editors there too and you can make 10 minute appointments to pitch your stories, or sit in on blue-pencil cafes with writers and editors. Donald Maass and his wife Lisa Rector are popular Conference presenters. I've got his workbook for "Writing the Block Buster Novel" and find his writing/editing tips extremely useful.

On Saturday I attended for half a day as I had to teach a class in the morning. It ended up that I didn't have much volunteering to do so I sat in on a workshop with Robert Dugoni "Sinning 101". He is such a dynamic speaker and his workshop on the 10 deadly sins of writing was excellent.

Sunday morning I was a timer for the Blue Pencil Appointments. Writers get 15 minutes to sit down with editors/authors who go over their manuscripts first few pages. Then I slipped into a workshop "Scenes that Can't Be Cut" with Donald Maass. It turned out to be a lot of writing exercises to demonstrate how to tighten and improve scenes, which was useful for me but I had expected something different and probably should have stayed in Lisa Rector's "11th Hour Checklist" workshop. At any rate, I got lots out of the workshops I attended and just wish I'd had a chance to see a few more of them. I also miss attending the genre lunches and couldn't afford to stay for the big dinner with the keynote speaker on Saturday evening. Volunteers get a buffet sandwich/salad lunch and we are not given the privilege of making editor/agent appointments which is one disappointment. But perhaps another year I'll be able to afford to pay for at least one day of the Conference so that I can do this.

I do recommend attending these conferences. I'd love to be able to afford to come down for the San Francisco one next February, but I doubt seriously that my bank account will allow it. You get a lot out of just being around so many writers and published authors and most of them are so open to little chats and are very encouraging to us emerging writers.

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Monday, October 19, 2009


Autumn Leaves

It was a lovely autumn day today. I enjoyed a walk through the neighbourhood, scuffing up leaves on the sidewalk. The colours seem more vivid this year and after a few days of rain and gloom, the sun was bright. All the colours looked brighter than usual. And, after a couple of stressfull days, feeling out-of-sorts and very tired, today I felt mellow and calm.

Magic Mushrooms

On my walk, I discovered these Amanita mushrooms growing on the curb. These are poison "magic" mushrooms, just like the ones you see in kid's fairy tale books. I was on my way to take some photos for a story I was writing about the newly restored Vancouver Cultural Centre, "The Cultch", which is a turn-of-the-century former Church, now one of the best venues for the Arts in the city. You can read about it in the Vancouver Guide,

I'm in a habit of taking my camera with me most of the time now to capture the moments. Ever since I took the Field Photography classes during the summer, I'm getting the most out of my camera, trying different angles, subjects, settings etc. And for my weekly stories that I write for the Vancouver Guide it makes me feel more like a roving reporter.

City Scape

Here's a nice view of the city with the autumn trees showing it off. That's a view down the street where I used to live. And that tall, thin building in the centre with the green dome roof is the old Vancouver Sun building where I used to work when I was a copy-runner who had dreams of being a reporter. (Now I'm the 'roving reporter' taking photos around the city.)

This weekend is the Surrey International Writer's Conference. I'll be volunteering all weekend as I usually do, and introducing writers who are doing workshops. I'll write more about it later on. It's always an exciting event and a chance to talk to writers, editors and agents. Unfortunately Shadow of the Lion isn't quite completed as yet, though I had wanted it to be all finished by this time. I was disappointed to find out that being a volunteer meant I couldn't make an editor/agent appointment. So I am hoping I can get to talk to one in the hotel lobby or at one of the workshops, just to send out some feelers about my novel. One thing I'm happy about is that one of the presenters I'm introducing has just had her first novel, a historical, nominated for three top literary prizes. That means historicals are back in the limelight, and that's good news!

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Saturday, October 17, 2009


Me, Junior High Grad. age 14

It occured to me tonight as I was making my way over to the East side to take photos for a story I want to write for the Vancouver Guide, that there are some parallels to my life at this time as there were when I was a kid in Junior High, dreaming of being a writer. Back then, and all through high school, I was more interested in writing my stories than anything else. I didn't usually date boys and all during my high school years spent hours alone in my room typing on the old Underwood typewriter I treasured so much. (It was like the one Ernest Hemingway used and he was my writer hero).

I was on my way to the Latin Quarter tonight, alone. I haven't been there for weeks (either broke or busy) but the last times I was there I felt isolated, and solitary. That's often the way I felt when I was a teen-ager. I didn't have boyfriends like some of my school mates. I was a dreamer who was always thinking in another space, my mind drifting to other worlds. I was always romanticizing, living in my fantasy world. All I really ever wanted to be was a writer. And I had wanted that since I was a small child.

Me, High School Grad. age 17

I spent my last year of high school writing my first Alexander themed novel. I was captivated by Alexander the Great from the instant I heard about him (briefly) in a history class. I had been writing historical novels since I was twelve, starting with Pioneer stories written in pencil in lined scribblers, to novella sized manuscripts with Biblical settings. I wrote a few plays too, and sometimes they were perfomed for friends at home or church.

My teachers scolded me because my grades were not what they should have been. I dropped science and math after grade 10 because I simply didn't get it and couldn't care less. It was words that meant something to me. Words, and historical facts, and the lives of people who lived in other times.

I lucked out with my first job after I graduated, and went to work as a copy runner at the Vancouver Sun newspaper. I wanted to be a crime reporter; ended up a news librarian. But the writing bug had really bitten me and I was determined.

Then the usual distractions diverted me. Marriage, children, and being removed from the artsy atmosphere of the city that I loved, to another part of the country where I didn't have the same kind of inspiration or encouragement to write. So I quit for awhile and took up dabbling with paints instead. (That made my husband happy as I didn't stay up all night bashing away at the typewriter keys).

Then a few years later, moving back to the Coast and finding myself a single parent, I decided to take a creative writing class at night school. That set my creativity on fire again. I repeated the class for a couple of seasons, long enough to get me writing seriously again.Then, through the writing classes I met other writers and began to get involved in the writing community.

All this time I was working as a daycare supervisor and writing in my spare time. Then I started traveling and found that my journalism skills could be used to write travel articles. I sold the very first one I sent out and that marked the beginning of my writing 'career'. Since that first article in 1982, I have sold many others and ten years later started to teach travel writing for the School Board continuing Ed.

I had started a novel, (My Celtic novel) before I took up travel journalism as a means of getting publishing experience. Then I went to live in Greece and did more writing. And my interest in Alexander was renewed. I shelved the Celtic novel when it was half-way through in order to write a juvenile historical about Alexander's little-known son. But that turned into a major work which is now almost complete. In the meantime, I've had a play produced that I first wrote in 1953 when I was 18 (rewritten in 2000); published lots more travel stories; started my own travel 'ezine ; I write for the web (The Vancouver Guide at And I'm instructing lots of different writing classes as well as editing and critiquing manuscripts. I 'retired' from thirty three years of daycare work a couple of years ago. I am now a full time writer!

I thought all about this tonight as I set off for the evening after a day of editing, attended a life-writing workshop, and headed off to do photos of an event I want to write about for the Vancouver Guide. Then I ended up (solo, of course) at the Latin Quarter. Just like when I was a teen, any 'romance' I have is all in my head. As I sat there sipping my crantini I felt strangley out of place. Guess I've been spending too many hours at my computer, isolated and living in my writer's world. But it's a world I like to be in.

Yes. I am now a full time writer! I am living my dream. My next big achievement will be to get the novel published. And that will be another dream come true.

The thing is, you have to hold on to your dreams and don't give up. Because eventually, they will come true. It takes hard work, patience, and perseverence though. And a whole lot of dedication! And sometimes it means spending a lot of solitary time in that other world you are busy creating.

Me, toasting my contribution to

the Downtown Memory Project at S.F.U. downtown campus

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Monday, October 12, 2009


Me, at the Pumpkin Patch

It's been ages since I've had time to blog anything although I've been thinking about it and missing everyone on blogspot.
I've been busy this Fall organizing my classes, writing for the Vancouver Guide ( North America: Vancouver) and working on my novel. Not to speak of lots of other things.

I am getting ready to post more news about my novel soon. Progress has been sometimes slow, but I'm still accomplishing quite a bit. Now and then I get bogged down with the tangle of threads that I have to stop and unravel so the story can proceed, but I am very close to the end now. Perhaps that's why I've slowed down a bit, knowing that the end is near.

So, look for more news here soon. And I hope everyone out there in the Blog World has been enjoying the Autumn and the Thanksgiving season.

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