Michelle Barker's books on Goodreads
Old Growth, Clear-Cut: Poems of Haida Gwaii Old Growth, Clear-Cut: Poems of Haida Gwaii
ratings: 1 (avg rating 5.00)

The Beggar King The Beggar King
reviews: 8
ratings: 21 (avg rating 4.00)

Tesseracts 14: Strange Canadian Stories Tesseracts 14: Strange Canadian Stories
reviews: 4
ratings: 15 (avg rating 4.07)

Tesseracts Fifteen: A Case of Quite Curious Tales Tesseracts Fifteen: A Case of Quite Curious Tales
reviews: 4
ratings: 14 (avg rating 3.79)

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Scofield’s Wall


For anyone who doesn’t know, Michael Scofield is the mastermind behind the escape in the t.v. series, Prison Break. The show had its moments (some brilliant dialogue and edge-of-the-seat action) but what captivated me most was Scofield’s wall.

Come on, novelists. Don’t you totally covet that wall? That is the wall of a planner. I want that wall for the novel I’m working on. Sticky notes and photographs and articles and blueprints – Scofield had the escape planned to the second. And like most plans, it didn’t always work out the way he’d expected, and he’d have to go back and try something else (sort of like throwing away fifty pages of work you love because you’ve suddenly realized they serve no purpose other than being loved by you). 
I’ve been coveting this wall for so long that finally, this week, I made my beginning. I’ve put up some cork (since Scofield never had to worry about patching the holes in his wall), added photographs of the way I imagine my characters to look, index cards that plot the novel out chapter by chapter, a list of the books I need to read. My wall has not yet reached Scofield proportions (it’s actually pretty sad by comparison) but it’s coming along.
I’ve noticed a couple of things about outlining so far. One, you have to be willing to be flexible. Sometimes what you thought would work, just…doesn’t. Sometimes in writing the actual story you find a way that’s better than how you’d planned it. Sometimes you get those middle of the night anxiety pangs when you realize one major part of the plot is implausible, or worse – stupid. Down come the index cards. You work it out. New ones go up a few days later.
I’ve learned how hard it is to boil your Big Idea down to a couple of paragraphs – or even worse, one line. I’ve learned that if you can’t do these things, your novel has a problem. It might lack focus or be unnecessarily complex. You might not truly know what it’s about yet or what your protagonist truly wants. Kurt Vonnegut famously advised, “Every character should want something, even if it’s only a glass of water.” An outline forces you to find your character’s glass of water (or whatever it is that you’ve created them to want).
I love this process. Never again would I contemplate writing a novel without making this sort of plan.  Next up: Scofield’s tattoo (just kidding).

The Inner Critic

Probably most people are familiar with this little voice in their head. If you write, you will know your Inner Critic intimately. Mine is small and thin and has a yellowing little goatee and wears a permanent sneer. He hates everything, tells me that whatever I’ve just written it won’t be good enough and no one will want to read it anyway, and I should just take up knitting or clog dancing instead.

If you ever want to write, it is imperative that you silence this voice, shut him out(or her – maybe your Inner Critic sounds like your piano teacher). I do it over and over – almost every time I sit down to write.

The biggest help to this process for me has been Natalie Goldberg and her book Writing down the bones. Her advice? Don’t think too much. Keep the hand moving. Go deep. Find the detail. Follow whatever thread your mind takes you on. Above all, don’t be afraid.

Goldberg’s method becomes something of a meditation (which is fitting, given her commitment to Zen). Writing for her is a spiritual practice.

Try it now. Pick up a pen, look out your window, and describe what you see – for 5 minutes, without stopping. Just write.