(We should take a moment to note that The Awl receives the most pitches from the people who pitch the most—the same people who flood every open submissions box on the internet: dudes. Mostly white ones who are young but not that young, probably already working in the media or possibly in grad school, who have been taught from a very young age that not only do their voices deserve to be heard, but that people are waiting for them to speak. [And yet, why so loud, still?] And, sometimes, sure. But, very often, the people who are the most convinced that they and their work are a perfect fit for The Awl should strongly consider why they feel that way; nearly as often, the people who have convinced themselves that they don’t deserve to be here are exactly who should be pitching.)
I don’t think you can expect to keep up your writing routine, whatever that is, when you’re on vacation with other people who are not writers. If you’re on vacation with family or friends, you’re probably crammed into a car or a room with them much of the time, and the times when you’re not they’re going to want you to “do something” with them not “sit and stare at your laptop.” Writing! It’s totally the same as putzing about the interwebs!
When I was a kid, I always used to take my binder of writing projects (mentioned here; all fortunately long-ago destroyed) with me on family vacations—and bring it back untouched. When did I think I was going to write? In the backseat of the car, with my brother poking me? In a motel room with my parents and brother and the TV competing for my attention? In line at an amusement park? It was wildly unrealistic.
You’d think I’d have learned from my youthful experiences, but no. In subsequent years, I kept doing the same thing in whatever its current incarnation was, printing out my current project “to work on” in desktop days, hauling along my laptop in more recent years. Actual writing done on communal vacations: not much.
Back in the day I had the aforementioned binder containing works-in-progress, a journal (my secret book), and my commonplace book. What I didn’t have was what I really needed for those trips: a writer’s notebook.
For a long time, I carried notebooks around with me, but they weren’t writer’s notebooks, they were journals. Journals can be wonderful, but inherent in the format are certain expectations, chiefly, that you will update them on a somewhat regular basis with semi-coherent, narrative entries. Such expectations (even if self-imposed) meant that writing in my journal often felt like a chore at the end of a long day, rather than a respite from excesses of sun and socializing.
I wish it hadn’t taken me so long to discover the beauty of a writer’s notebook. A writer’s notebook contains no expectations, implicit or explicit. You write in it when you want. You write in it what you want. It’s not your work-in-progress, your journal, or your commonplace book—but it might be a bit of all of these, plus your reading log, your to-do list, your address book, and anything else you want to throw in there. It’s a mutt, a messy hybrid. The perfect thing to take on vacation when you know you’re not going to have a lot of time to yourself.
With my writer’s notebook, I never feel stressed about not writing enough on vacation—whatever I end up writing, even if it’s just one word, is just the right amount. After all, you never know where that one word might lead…
Of course, there’s another kind of vacation. The kind you go on alone (or maybe with other writers). It might be a formal writing retreat, or perhaps a solo adventure of another kind, but either way, you get to set the schedule. Which means you can write as much as you want without ever getting the “you’re still on that computer?!” look from anyone.
When I finally finish the dissertation I’m taking a real vacation. Alone. Perhaps I will bring along a story or essay to work on—then again, maybe not. But I will definitely scribble in my writer’s notebook.
All I ever wanted
Had to get away
Meant to be spent alone
(I love how this—the official video—sounds exactly like a crappy old cassette. I mean, how else would you expect it to sound?! 😉 )
The first book that comes to mind in answer to the question “what children’s book changed your life?” is not one of the famous ones. It’s the lost-in-the-shadows-of-A-Wrinkle-in-Time Madeleine L’Engle book, Meet the Austins.
However. There is another book, even more obscure. So obscure that I couldn’t remember the title or author or the main character’s name. This is what I did remember: secret book, Christmas tree farm, root cellar. It turns out that was enough (thanks to Loganberry Books and their Stump the Bookseller archives):
Lyn Cook, Samantha’s Secret Room, 1963. Scholastic Canada. Samantha (Sam) lives on a rural property in Canada and gains a penfriend by tying a letter to a christmas tree. The caravan belongs to a cousin who comes to visit for a family reunion. The secret room is in a root cellar.
The weird thing is the phrase “secret book” is actually in the solution for the book above this one and so far I haven’t found it mentioned anywhere else. So, hmm. This is definitely the book I was thinking of, though, so if it’s not the one with the secret book, I would be perplexed.
Anyway. IIRC, the “secret book” was a journal kept in the secret room, and it’s where I got the idea to start keeping a journal in an ordinary notebook (vs. a diary in one of those dated books with a lock that I always failed at). I even wrote “secret book” on the front of my first notebook. Haha. All it was missing was a “keep out. this means you.” I did not have a secret room. (Sadness. I really, really, really wanted a secret room.) I did not even have a secret drawer in my desk. (Moar sadness. Also really, really, really wanted a rolltop desk with secret compartments.) So yeah. My secret book was kept in my desk shoved underneath whatever else was in there. Not too secret.
But it’s that not-so-secret secret book was the notebook in which I first wrote that I wanted to be a writer when I grew up (which I wrote about here). And I kept writing in that book until I filled it up and started a new book and so on and so on. So that’s why Samantha’s Secret Room is the children’s book that changed my life.
This is everything I could find about Samantha’s Secret Room and the author Lyn Cook:
A review of Samantha’s Secret Room from 1992 (it was re-issued in 1991) in CM: A Reviewing Journal of Canadian Materials for Young People. This review mentions Sam’s journal, but not the secret book:
The story’s events, which are occasionally related via Sam’s journal entries, occur against a backdrop of the daily and seasonal responsibilities of farm life.
The thread tying the book together is Sam’s continuing search for a secret room that belonged to her early nineteenth-century namesake. Sam, whose own secret place to be alone is the root cellar, believes the other hidden space to be located somewhere in their old twenty-room house.
(And now, I’m beginning to think that the secret book is a giant spoiler, i.e. it wasn’t Sam’s book, but the one she finds in secret room #2, and that’s why no one’s mentioning it. I will refrain from mentioning where SR #2 is located, which is something I do remember.)
It has a Goodreads page. (Just added it. Now I won’t lose it again.) There’s not very much information on it, and only a few reviews, all from people who remember reading it as kids. Lots of 5-star ratings, though.
erm, apparently there are people who track “the oldest living writers.” ok. Lyn Cook is on this list, dated January 2014. She was born in 1918.
She’s also on this list of Famous Canadian Women. “May 4, 1918 – Born Lyn Cook (1918 – ) 1st author to have books for youth published after WW ll.”
She’s listed at A Celebration of Women Writers. “Waddell, Evelyn Cook [aka Lyn Cook; Margaret Culverhouse] (1918 – )” That one had links which led me to…
“Lyn Cook” is the short name for Evelyn Margaret Cook Waddell, who was a presenter for CBC Radio in the 1940s and 1950s. Her weekly half-hour radio programme, “A Doorway to Fairyland,” had child actors voicing the parts of characters in the books she presented. The Bells on Finland Street is her first novel, and was followed by a number of novels for young readers. Because her written work includes publications before 1950, she is on the list of authors to be included in the Canada’s Early Women Writers (CEWW) database, part of the Canadian Writing Research Collaboratory (CWRC), being established at the University of Alberta.
…and this post from 2012 about a poem Lyn Cook published in the 1940s (using her grandmother’s name, Margaret Culverhouse):
Only two of the authors our project deals with are actually still alive. … children’s author Lyn Cook, otherwise Evelyn Cook Waddell. I telephoned Mrs. Waddell a week or so ago, as I was flying out to Ontario, where she lives. I was unable to meet with her, as she lives farther than I thought from my destination, but we spoke for quite a while about her years as a CBC children’s radio show host, and her life as a mother and children’s author in the 1950s and 60s.
I thought “A Doorway to Fairyland” might be in the CBC’s digital archives (there is lots of cool old stuff there), but nope. I did run across this, though:
Thursday, April 26, 2012: Singer-songwriter Bonnie Ste-Croix traveled the whole country recording her latest album, Canadian Girl, but she always finds her way home to Gaspé. Bonnie shares a book that was a childhood favourite, Samantha’s Secret Room, by Lyn Cook.
An audio clip seemed like an appropriate way to wrap up this post, but it’s not working for me. Well, maybe that’s even more appropriate for an out-of-print almost-but-not-quite-forgotten book.
If you wait to finish everything else on your to-do list first, it’ll never happen. You’ve got to make time to write. Put in on your calendar!
Speaking of which, TC’s spring writing contest is coming up. The spring Three Cheers and a Tiger Writing Contest is a 48-hour mystery contest and this year runs the weekend of March 21-23. Mark it on your calendars and get ready to write!
The latest issue of Toasted Cheese, TC 14:1, is here! So, you know, go read 🙂
But that’s not all…! I spent most of my free time the past six weeks or so moving the entire journal to WordPress (whew). Since I can make anything about writing, naturally I wrote a Snark Zone about it.
I think this calls for an abundance of dancing bananas.