A review of my week in no particular order.
I ran into a colleague outside Shoppers Drug Mart.
“I need to rake this weekend,” she said.
I imagined the prongs of the rake crawling along the drowsy grass, gently inviting… Continue reading
Creative living. It sounds like a section in a fancy lamp store. Creative living is about light and design, so maybe the lamp store idea is not too far off.
A creative life is dynamic, purposeful, energized, connected, expressive, and open. To begin a creative life just turn on the lamp, let the light shine on who you are and who you want to be, for at its core a creative life is about you. It is about a deep sense of self and an understanding of purpose. Continue reading
In August 2011 I barely started writing the story of Leilah. While on a writing retreat I spent two mornings exploring story and character. When I got home I put the story aside, too busy with other things to continue. For the last three months Leilah has beckoned me to the page, wanting me to tell her story. I do not really know who Leilah is exactly. She is a lot like me and nothing like me at all. Likewise, Leilah is a woman of paradox.
Leilah, a quiet woman in her late thirties, teaches creative writing in a Community Centre for senior citizens in present day downtown Toronto. I do not want to give too much away yet. Three basic components of the story:
- Leilah is on a quest for a particular pair of beaded moccasins
- Traditional understandings of time and space are challenged
- Leilah’s friends may surprise you Continue reading
We know it as the writing process. When I think about processes I think of a linear sequence, a set number of steps from beginning to end. In the computing world, a process is the execution of a program sometimes utilizing multiple threads of execution at the same time. It implies multitasking. In science a process is a method that results in transformation. For example, birth is a process.
Then I start thinking about writing as a cycle. We began this workshop mining for ideas, hoping to begin a writing project. We cycled through getting the idea down on paper, adding layers of meaning, revising and editing until the work is ready to publish. In Lesson #7 we looked at the experiential learning cycle. It moves through experience, reflection, theory, and action. As writers we can move through idea, reflection, research, and writing. When we feel the writing is done we return to the first phase: idea. The cycle continues rolling as long as we are writing.
I prefer the writing spiral. A spiral is not linear. A spiral does not need to be predictable. A spiral does not risk the monotony of going in circles. A writing spiral twirls and swirls, picking up ideas, revealing layers, going deeper into our craft with each step. Everything is connected. Change is inevitable. When we engage in a writing spiral the energy is vibrant. The writing spiral begins at a central point, at who we are as writers, and progressively winds around our emotions, experiences, and actual work. Continue reading
Does a writing project ever truly feel finished? Sometimes I wish writers could be more like movie stars. Johnny Depp rarely (if ever) watches a film in which he is starring. Depp does not see revisiting the work as serving a purpose. When the filming is over, his contribution to the process completed, Depp walks to the next project without looking back. Depp knows when his work with a film project is done. Depp’s line in the sand is absolute.
My writing projects tend be done-ish when I reach the deadline. There comes a point in the writing process where I step back and allow the work to move on, much like an independent teenager who is ready to enter adulthood. I will have given the work all I can with the time and the resources available. I will close my eyes, make a wish, and blow the work out into the world to meet its fate. Continue reading
When your project is ready, it is time to find it an audience. This is the part of the process where I often get stuck. The process moves from creating to selling. Some writers find the business side of writing to be a drag. Sending out your manuscript to an agent or a publisher takes planning and preparation. It takes time and perseverence.
Some writers are experts at submitting manuscripts. This group of writers sends out daily query letters, weekly follow-ups, frequent pushes at the industry until they find their work a home. They tend to get more work published than the first group.
What is your relationship with the publishing process? Have you found homes for your work? How much time do you give to the business of writing?
So, imagine you have finished writing your debut novel. First, format the manuscript to industry standard. Find an agent. Find a market for your work. Send query letters to publishers. It seems simple but it is a process that eludes me consistently. I need to develop more patience for the business of writing.
Agents help support the business side of writing. According to my research, agents will take 15% from the sale for placing the book with a publisher, negotiating a contract, and in some cases, providing editorial advice.
In the book industry, sales do not indicate reading. Someone may buy the book and never read it. Or, someone may buy the book, read the book, and then share the book with a dozen friends. Continue reading
Inevitably I get bored in every creative project. From singing for an audience to painting with watercolours to acting in a community production to writing a novel or play, I get bored. The work loses its energy and zoom. Distractions appeal to me. I start to lose faith in the work and the process. This is not writer’s block, but a general malaise toward the work.
I have a box of unfinished projects. I started my first novel in the fall of 1998. I was a student at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario. I spent hours researching and writing the story of Tess, a modern rendering of Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the D’Urbervilles. I was fascinated by the idea of a “fallen” protagonist, a hero who is also a victim. I rewrote the first eighty pages for five years and then I put the project in a box. Continue reading
How to use this page:
When we meet as the WriteReads book club we use a list of quotations as our discussion guide. Review the quotations. Decide which ones resonate with you and which ones you oppose. How do the ideas relate to your writing process? Use a quotation as a focus for free writing.
How can books about writing process serve our work? Some say books about writing are procrastination tools, ways to distract or avoid the act of writing. Others say books about writing are sources of inspiration, ways to reinvigorate process or ignite the act of writing.
How do you use books on writing? Do they support or detract from the work of getting words on the page? Which are your favourite books about writing? Do you prefer books that prescribe approaches to technique or books that show glimpses of the writing life or books that offer writing prompts or books that reveal the process of a writer you admire?
What draws you to a book about writing? Or why do you prefer to avoid books about writing altogether? Continue reading
Solitude and community are essential elements of the writing life. Just as a writer needs to spend long periods of time connecting to his/her inner world, a writer also needs to nurture relationships and experience community.
Meaning continually moves from within us to outside of us and vice versa. When we write we translate the ideas ruminating in our minds to the page. The events of our lives feed the ideas and emotions pulsating through our work. Most writers create for an audience. When we give our work to readers they filter our words through their experiences and create a new meaning. A story that grew within us through the events of our lives can become a story on the page that is processed by a reader who interprets meaning based on his/her frame of reference. The work now belongs to both the reader and the writer.
A writer needs a safe community in which to test ideas, to share works in progress, to learn how to communicate his/her internalized vision for the work into an external product. A writer needs supporters who validate the writing process, ensure accountability, encourage discipline, and offer constructive critique. A writer needs to celebrate and commiserate wth like-minded people about the uses for a semi-colon, the intricacies of point of view, the format for submission to contests. Writers are life long learners. Writers need opportunities to learn about craft, process, and promotion.
Writing communities can be large or small. In high school we wrote together a couple of times a month in the computer lab. We worked on the school newspaper. In university we met in darkened lounges to share poetry and whisper book ideas.
When I became a grown-up I decided to become a “real” writer. I read all the books I could find on writing. I scheduled daily writing time. I played with poetry and prose. I kept my writing hidden. It was a secret past-time. Continue reading
My writing process begins simply. I get an idea. I think about it for a while. I try the idea out on the page. If I like the direction it is going in I continue to write until I am done. A first draft of a major story introduces characters and setting, establishes major plot developments, and explores the elements of a compelling story. A first draft of a poem introduces the metaphor or story, establishes a general sense of form, and explores poetic devices. Phase two of my writing process is to revise.
How do you revise a writing project for meaning? How do you intensify empathy? What roles do values play in writing? What benefits are there for explicitly understanding the moral and ethical dimensions of your work?
Some of the greatest stories of all time connect to our sense of justice, reveal the complexity of human nature, and pose moral dilemmas for characters. Through reading and writing we can learn more about what it means to be human.
Have you ever considered the moral development of your characters? If you were to place your protagonist on Kohlberg’s scale where would s/he sit? Do the events of the story ignite a quest that leads to a change in your character’s morality? (Consider Sophie’s Choice). Does your character remain steadfast in the face of adversity? (Consider A Man for All Seasons). Or does your story offer characters with contrasting moral compasses? (Consider To Kill a Mockingbird)
Review the stages of development below and consider how the characters you are working with fit. How can you use Kohlberg’s theory in your work to connect to universal human truths? Continue reading