Monthly Archives: April 2012
I’ve long believed that a good writer entertains and teaches others, but a great writer is always learning and growing themselves. For those who simply want to get a book published to share their story or just to see their name bound on a book, it’s all right to stop learning after the first novel’s finished.
For those of us who want to be career writers, it’s essential to keep learning and developing our craft throughout our lifetimes. A writer who stops growing and learning stagnates. Their novels become stiff and dull and lacking in surprises. People stop getting excited about their next novel, if it even gets published. When you accept that you’ve reached a good place in your writing and you feel satisfied with that, you stop achieving and sometimes you even start going backwards. Creativity is a muscle of the mind, and it becomes weaker when we challenge it less.
If we can learn just one thing during the process of creating every novel, we can keep ourselves from stagnating. The only way for us to do this efficiently rather than accidentally is by intentionally challenging ourselves to become better and to learn more.
There are many ways we can challenge ourselves as writers. Our challenges can come from ourselves, from the internet or from our friends. The internet is one of the greatest resources for writing challenges that’s ever existed–through it you have access to thousands of prompts and group challenges.
If you’d like to shake up your writing and challenge yourself to learn something new, try one of these things:
- Write in a new genre.
- Write in a new format–plays, essays, poetry.
- Write a project without using a specific letter.
- Write about a place you’ve never been to.
- Write a first person piece about someone of the opposite sex or from a different culture.
- Write a persuasive piece you don’t agree with.
Every time you get stuck and you start to feel like you’re stagnating, come back and try one of these challenges. Not only will they inspire you to write something, but they’ll challenge you to become a better writer and help you learn the craft.
For those of you who’d like some structured help to challenge yourselves, I’ve decided to run a 7-day workshop at the beginning of June. I haven’t, on the other hand, picked a topic for the workshop. I’ve had several ideas bouncing around in my head, and I know which ones would be most fun or useful for me, but I want to make sure that I pick the one that will be most useful to you.
Please vote for the workshop you’re most interested in–and in the comments, if you’d like, please tell me why that workshop interests you the most.
We all have different memories of our families, and most of us have physical mementos, objects by which we remember those we’ve lost. These physical objects–jewellery, books, anything once loved by our loved ones–sometimes become as precious to us as the people we represent.
My grandmother spent Tuesday night digging some of these mementos out of my old room at my mother’s house. She returned to me some of the most precious books I own: special edition fairy tales from my dead aunt, guide books I got on my trip to Scotland, old notebooks I haven’t looked at in years.
Today I’d like you to write about these mementos. Not about your mementos, but about your characters’ mementos. You can learn a lot about a person by walking into their room and looking at their most precious objects. Today you’re going to find out exactly how much.
Write a scene in which your character is contemplating at least one of their most precious mementos.
Please post your first sentence in the comments.
My first sentence:
“I was taken away from everything I love at the end of my childhood. Unlike normal kids, my childhood ended abruptly one day when my mother told me we needed to hide from the Gods.”
The mountain of biology homework I’ve been slowly climbing out from underneath may or may not have driven me completely off the deep end. In order to dig my way out from under the mountain, one of the things I had to do was research Toxoplasmosis, a lovely parasite spread by cats with world-wide influence.
Somewhere along the line, as I was wrapping up this research, my highly caffeinated brain went ‘aha! Writers are like parasites!’
Now, before you call me crazy, here’s my reasoning:
1. Writers take inspiration from other people. Just like parasites feed off of the organisms they live inside, writers feed off of the society they live inside. How many writers do you know who have based novels off of a sentence or phrase they heard in passing? Writers take their nourishment, in the form of inspiration, from others, sometimes directly and other times indirectly. Continuing with the biology analogy, fanfiction writers are like viruses, which cannot survive on their own because they can’t make their own food. These writers, more so than any others, need access to other writers’ playgrounds in order to flourish.
2. Writers cannot survive without society. I can almost feel your resistance on this one. You might be thinking ‘hell, if the apocalypse came tomorrow I’d be fine, I’m prepared’. Perhaps I should have said that writers cannot thrive without society, because that’s more honest. Without society, there is no one to read our work. Without society, there is no one to listen to our stories. Without a host, parasites die–how long it takes varies greatly from parasite to parasite, but they all need hosts. Writers, like parasites, cannot be completely independent. We need the readers to provide us with income and reviews, and we all live for the moment when a random person comes up to us and says “hi, I read your book and I loved it”.
3. Writers are all different. You might not realize it, but there are hundreds, probably thousands of kinds of parasites. Each one has its own unique features and lifespan. Different parasites prefer different hosts. Just like parasites, there are all different kinds of writers. Writers can be divided along the lines of genre, then again along the lines of sub-genre, and sometimes even along the lines of sub-sub-genre. Writers also come in all different shapes and sizes, ages and genders. Finally, just like parasites, each of us has our own unique quirks, in our voice and our writing process as well as in our more general lives.
Finally, a writer is like a parasite because it’s one tiny individual in a much larger world. A parasite may be one out of every hundred cells; a writer may be one out of every hundred people. While sometimes we think we are the most important people in the world, we need to remember that we’re just one part of the big, clinking machine that is society, and even more importantly that we’re just one part of this world. Parasites probably think they’re important too–and who knows, maybe they are.
The less obvious lesson I’d like to leave you with is that analogies can come from anywhere. Blog posts can come from anywhere. Novel ideas can come from anywhere. So the next time you’re buried under a pile of paperwork, look through it and ask yourself “how can I use this experience in my writing?”
I’ve always been proud to be Canadian. Maybe it’s because Canadians are polite. Maybe it’s because Canada’s really, really pretty. Maybe it’s just because at least our politicians, while not the most intelligent or trustworthy, aren’t warmongers.
Whatever it is, I’ve noticed that Canada isn’t really given the recognition it deserves. Many of the best modern musicians, actors, artists and especially comedians, are from Canada. Here in Canada the arts thrive, aided by hundreds of grant programs, government-funded arts education programs and library-run creative programs. We may not have the same level of control over the mainstream media as the Americans, but with a tenth of their population, how can we be expected to?
More importantly, us Canadians like to do it ourselves. With a fondness for literature and a do-it-yourself attitude stolen from the pioneers, Canadians have created hundreds of magazines, dozens of which are specifically looking for fiction. Over the last year or so I’ve discovered many of these markets for writers, some of which pay small fortunes.
Today I’ve decided to share with you three not-so-famous Canadian magazines that will pay quite a bit for your fiction.
Descant Literary Magazine is a Canadian magazine, coincidentally run by the same people who run Now Hear This, the literacy company I worked for last year. They accept short fiction, short essays, reviews and poetry, and they pay $100 flat for accepted works. They prefer paper submissions and they do mention that it could take a long time to get a response and to go from acceptance to publication.
FreeFall Magazine is a quarterly Canadian magazine accepting poetry and prose. They also run occasional contests. FreeFall will pay you $5.00/printed page for published works.
The Fiddlehead claims to be the oldest literary journal in Canada. I can’t tell you for sure if this is true or not, not being well enough educated on the history of Canadian literary magazines(maybe I should do some research…) but what I do know is that they’re looking for short fiction up to 6,000 words and poetry. The other thing I know is that they’ll pay you $40/printed page when your work is published.
On my journey to discover Canadian literary culture, I’ve learned that Canadians tend to give fiction and poetry quite a high monetary value. Some of these pay rates made my jaw drop the first time I found them. I dream of someday being published by one of these magazines–maybe you should make it one of your goals, too.
If you’d like a more comprehensive list of Canadian literary journals, you can find one here.
I’ve spent most of my weekend doing homework and quite a few hours trying to figure out what to write for my blog. Some days the posts just come to me and I make notes for five or ten posts and write two or three drafts. Other days I struggle just to get one idea down on the page.
Of course the answer was right in front of me–in the form of a little red-headed knitted doll. Her name is Jeanie Stuart, and she’s one of the main characters in my friend Karen’s novel, Angel of Death(which you can look at here). She’s an Irish gal with quite the attitude, one of my favourite characters in Angel of Death–or in any book, really.
Karen knitted up several dolls of not just Jeanie but two of her other main characters as well in order to promote her new novel, a sequel entitled Shadow of Death. I ran into her at last year’s Word on the Street festival and told her how much I loved the little dolls. She told me people had been coming up to her all day asking about them. I admired them for some time, but, not having any money, I had to move on.
That same day I went to the Pagan Pride Day celebration here in Toronto, where I participated in the Bardic. A Bardic is basically a talent competition. It is open to storytellers, poetry readers, singers, dancers and musicians of all kinds. The number and kinds of both prizes and contestants vary from year to year, but the feel is always the same and it’s a fun challenge.
One of last year’s prizes was a little knitted doll donated by Karen, an active member of the Pagan community and leader of the Pagan Pub Moot, the oldest gathering of its kind in Canada. I won third place and ended up taking her home, bringing her to sit on my desk for future inspiration.
We can all learn three lessons from this little doll.
1. Everything can be a marketing tool. Can you sew? Knit? Draw? Do you know how to work with clay? You’d be surprised how helpful those other creative endeavours can be when trying to market your novels. You can make little replicas of your characters, paint landscapes from your novel, create live replicas of jewellery or vases in your book. Not only will these draw extra attention to you at book festivals, but you can sell them to your fans and even random people who enjoy the aesthetic feel of what you’ve created, creating an extra stream of income for yourself.
Jeanie cost $15 at Word on the Street, and I know for a fact that Karen managed to sell most of her knitted dolls. With how cute they are, and the number of hours she spent making them, I think they’re worth the price.
2. Good things come to those who wait. I probably could have convinced my boyfriend–or one of my friends wandering around the festival–to buy me one of Karen’s little knitted things, but instead I decided just to go to the Pagan Pride Day celebration. If I’d convinced someone to get me one as a present, or if I’d had money and decided to buy it for myself, it wouldn’t have been special when I won the doll. I’d already have one, so it would be cool, but it wouldn’t be awesome.
Instead, I went on about my day and managed to stumble upon a little knitted thing anyway–an exciting way to end my day.
3. Always perform your work when given the opportunity. If you’re going to an event where you know there will be an open mike at some point, bring a short piece of your work with you–even an inspiring blog post can work. If it’s a competition, spend an hour practising your piece aloud. Actually, it might be helpful to do that anyway. You want to have a feel for how the piece sounds going in. Knowing how the piece sounds will help calm your nerves.
Performing your work out loud gives you the opportunity to make connections and to really see people’s reactions to your work. The only way to really understand how awesome it is when people clap for work you’ve taken the time to write and then read to them is to live through the experience.
Perhaps the most important lesson that can be learned from this little knitted thing is this: there’s a lesson in everything around us, if we’ll only take the time to look.
Where have you found your most unexpected life lessons?
Happy Friday the thirteenth! Originally today’s prompt was going to be based off of a single emotion, but in celebration of the fact that it’s Friday the thirteenth, I decided to go for a more… morbid prompt:
Write a story beginning with a character sitting at the very front, looking out the front window of a train when someone jumps in front of it.
Please post your first sentence in the comments.
My first sentence:
I’d always joked about seeing a jumper, so when it finally happened my first thought was ‘hmm, I thought the splat would’ve been louder’.
A couple weeks ago I experienced my first live critique session with the Toronto Street Writers. The Toronto Street Writers are a group of youth who get together each week and participate in workshops run by published authors. Each year the group produces a zine, and we’ve just started working on the pieces that will be in the zine. I only joined for the most recent year (the program runs October-June) and so far I’m pleased I did and wondering why it took me so long to find the group.
Today I am sharing the experience with you in the hopes that it will encourage you to go out and find your own real, living, breathing group of writers.
Not only was this my first live critique session, apparently it was run in a manner our program co-ordinator, Emily Pohl-Weary, had never tried before. The circle of chairs we usually sit in became five circles of chairs, each one surrounding a table with several copies of a participant’s writing. Writers who donated work to the first critique session of the year got to sit at the table where their work was posted, and everybody else was divided into five groups.
The five groups then made their way to each of the writers, stopping at each station for twenty minutes. The writer read one piece out loud, got comments from the group, then read the next and got comments from the group. Each participant got a copy of each piece of writing to mark up while standing at their station and a red pen. After marking it up, they left the piece with its writer and moved on to the next one.
This wasn’t really what I expected from my first live critique session, but it seemed to work really well.
Getting my first live critique was nerve-wracking but well worth it. The feedback I got from readers was mostly positive for both my pieces, and the readers were all gentle with my ego and my work. I managed not to get defensive or upset when people made suggestions. When I first signed up, I thought that I’d probably be even more sensitive to face-to-face critique than I am to online critique. Apparently I was wrong.
The overall feel of the workshop was great, too. It’s hard to organize a critique session with a large number of people so everyone gets the most out of it. Twenty minutes did feel awfully short to fully discuss a story or topic, but with the mini-group set up it was easier to get comments from each individual than it would be in a bigger circle. The set up also allows us to ensure that everyone gets a turn to be critiqued, since there are only so many weeks the program runs for.
Well, I don’t feel like my ego’s been bruised, I had great conversations about my work, and I’ve got a little more than a dozen copies of two pieces I wrote covered in red pen. Some people wrote all over my work, some people didn’t mark it up at all. There’s one person whose writing I’m still trying to decipher. I haven’t had a chance to edit the stories yet, but I already know the advice I got will come in useful. As an added bonus, I got to practice reading my work out loud, which is always fun.
The internet is a great place to find other writers and critique partners, but every writer should try to find a group of like-minded folks who they can meet up with and seek advice from face-to-face. Whether it is a critique group or a broader writing group, the face time is important, and you learn a lot when you sit in a room with twenty other writers and discuss craft every week for two hours.
Have you ever participated in a live critique session? How did it go?