Prov 17:22

A merry heart doeth good like a medicine... - Proverbs 17:22

Friday, October 20, 2023

In Praise of Paper Planners


While I may lag light-years behind my grandsons when it comes to using electronic devices, I do appreciate technology and the conveniences it offers—when it works, of course. Among my peers, I usually hold my own. I’ve had to learn a lot of techno tricks in order to write, publish, and promote my own books and to teach others what I’ve learned.

But one item I can’t see myself ever letting go of is my daily planner. The paper kind. I’d feel lost without its ability to tell me what I need to do on any given day, where I need to be at what time, what bills need paying, what I’m making for supper, and so much more—all in one spot. Sure, they make apps for my phone that would do all the above electronically. Let me flesh out seven reasons why I’m sticking to my coil-bound planners.

1. Writing things down boosts memory. Studies confirm that writing information down by hand makes your brain more able to store that knowledge for later. This means I’m more likely to remember an appointment without even checking my calendar/planner—although I will.

2. Writing things down frees my brain because instead of worrying whether I’ll remember to pay that bill, I can relax knowing my planner provides all the reminders I need. If I relied on my electronic device, I’d fill brain space wondering if my device might die or malfunction at a critical time.

3. Listing my tasks for the day helps me stay focused. One study found we are 42 percent more likely to achieve our goals if we write them down. Getting into this habit also teaches us how much is reasonable to accomplish in a day, which in turn increases our chances of success.

4. Checking tasks off gives me a dopamine boost. If you’re wired like me, you derive such great satisfaction from checking tasks off your to-do list that if you do something that wasn’t on the list, you write it down for the sheer pleasure of checking it off. Your best days end with crawling into bed having completed what you set out to do.

5. My planner inspires me. The last few years, I’ve been using the planner created by Our Daily Bread, which comes with lovely monthly photos and inspirational messages. I’ve used others with daily jokes and some with adorable photos of pets. Some planners come with pages you can decorate yourself with felt pens, stickers, or colored pencils. Indulge with abandon!

6. Referring to my paper planner provides a screen break. We all know the benefits that come with getting off digital screens regularly. If I’ve just spent an hour writing a column on my computer and then turn to my paper planner to mark the task complete, my eyes and brain receive the break they need.

7. My planners provide a record. I’ve got annual planners stored in boxes going back to the eighties. They’ve been used to settle arguments, find birthdays and anniversaries, and to go for a walk down memory lane in ways my digital calendars never would. I enjoy the reminders of long-forgotten trips and events, don’t you?

I know it’s not New Year’s yet, but if you like paper planners—or you’re thinking about using one—now’s a good time to order one for 2024. I recommend anything about 6 x 9 inches, spiral-bound, with one week on each two-page spread so you can see the week at a glance. But that’s just me. Pick what works for you!

(Speaking of calendars, I hope yours is marked for this Saturday, October 21, for my come-and-go book release between 11:00 and 2:00 at the Portage Library. I’d love to see you there!)


Friday, October 13, 2023

Small Pond Syndrome

There’s nothing small about Canada except for its population density. At only four people per square kilometre, we’d come in dead last if not for Nabibia, Australia, Western Sahara, Mongolia, Pitcairn Islands, Falkland Islands, and Greenland. (In contrast, the U.S. has 35 people per square kilometre, even with Alaska pulling the average down.)

I mention this because of something we call Big Fish/Small Pond. The late Canadian actor Larry Mann said, “You can be a full-time garbage collector in Toronto and you’ll be accepted as such. Nobody says, ‘If he were any good he’d be collecting garbage in New York.’ Or you can be a successful doctor or lawyer or accountant. You’re not expected to prove how good you are by moving away to practice medicine or Law or accounting in Hollywood or London. Only in show business [the arts] does this thing exist, where no matter how good you are, none of it counts because you’re doing it here.”

Every time I release a new book, I enter that book in at least two contests. One is the Word Awards, sponsored by The Word Guild here in Canada, which covers all types of writing—fiction, nonfiction, columns, articles, blogs, song lyrics, poetry, short stories, and scripts. The Guild exists to encourage Canadian Christian writers, whether writing for the Christian or general market. Each year, it’s been my honour to win in at least one of these categories. In fact, judges recently chose my novel, Lilly’s Promise, as Best Book of the Year for fiction. While I in no way take this for granted and I deeply appreciate the recognition, I confess to supposing it doesn’t really count.

And here’s why. Seventeen American literary agents rejected that book before I found one who agreed to represent me. She then proceeded to pitch the book to traditional Christian publishers in the U.S. who all rejected it. Eventually, with nowhere else to try, I entered the unpublished manuscript in a contest here at home, where it won a free publishing package and went on to win this additional honour this year.

The other contest in which I’ve entered all my eligible books is with the American Christian Fiction Writers. Although open to non-Americans, and although genres are divided into far more sub-genres, narrowing the competition, not one of my books has ever made the shortlist. There, I am but one small fish in a vast pond of many Christian writers.

Why, you might wonder, did I bother pursuing an agent or publisher in the U.S. when I’m clearly seeing more success here at home? Ironically, even though my stories are set here, ninety percent of my readers are Americans. The U.S. simply has more readers with more discretionary income. Canada does not have any traditional Christian publishers or agents. We only have the kind where the author must foot at least part of the bill in hopes of breaking even or making a bit of profit.

You can see why we Canadians need an organization like The Word Guild. You can see why I’m so grateful for it. You can see why I’m learning to “stay in my own lane” and not worry about losing contests to the fish in the bigger pond down south. It’s enough to know my work was seen and critiqued by professionals in the industry.

I’m sharing this today in hopes that you can see the value of what we have going for us here in Canada, and the advantage our “small pond” sometimes offers. Instead of viewing our smaller population as a drawback, there’s much to be said for living and competing here. Announcing awards on social media and seeing it light up with congratulatory pings provides an encouraging boost that authors more talented than I will not be privileged to experience.

Sometimes success is all about the size of your pond.

On a related note, I’m celebrating my new release, April’s Promise with a come-and-go event at the Portage Library on Saturday, October 21 from 11:00 – 2:00. I’d love to see you there!


Friday, October 6, 2023

Back to Camp

I joined what is now known as InscribeChristian Writers Fellowship (ICWF) in the late nineteen hundreds and attended my first annual conference in Edmonton in 2000. If you don’t count participating online, my second conference was two weekends ago, held at Echo Lake Bible Camp near Fort Qu’Appelle, Saskatchewan. With only four and a half hours of driving time, no cities to navigate, and the camp setting making it affordable, how could I not go?

I recruited Valerie, a fellow Manitoban and long-time ICWF member, to go with me. We didn’t know each other, but we hit it off easily, getting into below-the-surface conversation before we hit the outskirts of town and not stopping for the rest of the weekend.

I confess nothing, but we may or may not have consumed more coffee than is advisable on a road trip. As a result, we may or may not have driven all over Wapella desperately looking for a public washroom and ended up using one in their laundromat. We may or may not have gotten the giggles while trying to figure out how to pump our gas at the pay-at-the-pump station in Grenfell. We may or may not have temporarily lost our confidence when Google advised us to take a gravel road.

If you’ve never made the drive to Fort Qu’Appelle, I recommend it—especially in the fall. Imagine driving along Crescent Lake for twenty miles but with a lot more curves and hills. The bursts of autumn glory in the five-p.m. sunlight took our breath away.

The campus proved lovely as well, although the cabins were everything you’d expect at a camp founded in 1933. Old. Rustic. Smelly. (In retrospect, not as primitive as the camp of my childhood where the bathroom was an outhouse. And showers? What are those? You simply swam in the pool every day, which was nothing but a large concrete box built into a creek, the icy water flowing in one end and out the other. Compared to that, this place was the Ritz, boasting three whole showers for only 40 women and actual electricity.) Not that it really mattered, since I may or may not have forgotten half my makeup and spent the weekend looking like a flu patient.

The highlights of my weekend? Making a new friend in Valerie, having my heart and soul truly touched by Steve Bell’s music and teaching, eating terrific food I didn’t have to prepare, walking along the shore of the beautiful lake, selling a few books, and finding out both Valerie and I won some writing awards to bring back to Portage!

Photo of award-winners taken from Inscribe Facebook page.

The low light? Fatigue. After two nights of little sleep in our wooden beds with wafer-thin mattresses, we felt like royalty checking into the Best Western in Moosomin on our way home Saturday night. Alas, for some reason I still tossed and turned much of the night and came home exhausted.

I learned how much I depend on my hubby on road trips. Sure, I’ve traveled on my own but always by air and always to cities large enough to have airports with shuttles to and from my hotel. Driving demands far more of you. Navigating, keeping an eye on the gas gauge, the speedometer, road signs, and of course, other traffic. Deciding where to park and where to fuel up. Determining whether to obey or ignore Google. Thank God for my passenger!

Having to be a grown-up was good for me. Now if only I could learn to be a grown-up and not require more naps than an infant.

P.S. Local friends, you're invited to my come-and-go Book Launch for April's Promise at the Portage Library on Saturday, October 21, from 11:00 - 2:00.