• Creative Writing,  Creativity

    Stairway to Writing: Or What I Learned From My Brother About Guitar and Writing

    Is writing every day the best thing to do?

    When I studied English Literature at Trent University I told my Irish Drama professor that I wrote in a journal.

    “I want to be a writer,” I said. “So I’m writing a lot. Every day.”

    He had a gorgeous Irish accent and a brash tell-it-like-it-is approach.

    He replied, “Jess-i-ca, my dear. It doesn’t much matter if it’s all bad writing.”

    Every time we put a word on the page, whether it’s genius or garbage, our brain to page connections are exercised. The act of writing is happening. It’s like muscle memory, training the mind to connect to the pen or keyboard, practicing the movement of transposing something from inside to outside, developing expertise in changing the abstract into the concrete.

    When I write every day, my writing is better. I’m more connected to the work. My learning goals evolve more rapidly. The work’s voice is stronger.  After a long break from writing (a couple of months or more), I find it helpful to write a lot, to write often to recharge the connections.

    During a big project, I write every day to ride the momentum, the upward spiral of energy swirling the work into being. Daily writing keeps the words and story focused, alive. Any time I’ve taken a break from a project, it’s died. The energy had moved onto something else.

    In Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear Elizabeth Gilbert writes “Ideas of every kind are constantly galloping toward us, constantly pass through us, constantly trying to get our attention.” She also explains how when we don’t give the ideas attention, they move on.

    The place to improve the writing is during the revision process. The first step is just getting it on the page, giving ideas a place to grow.

    How is writing practice like guitar practice? What I learned from my brother!

    My brother Colin learned how to play guitar when he was in high school. Every time I walked by his room, he lounged on his bed with his acoustic guitar, playing the same songs over and over—“Stairway to Heaven” by Led Zeppelin and “More Than Words” by Extreme. At first it was hard to distinguish between the songs. It took regular practice for the chords to become music I could recognize. Colin played the same songs for hours a day. By the time he graduated from high school he could play a number of songs skillfully, effortlessly.

    After a summer trip with my mom to Nashville, Tennessee, I decided to learn how to play guitar. The idea of being a singer-song writer appealed to me. I love to sing. I love to write. I just needed to learn about how to play guitar.

    The day after we get home from Nashville I go to the local music store and buy an acoustic guitar, tuner, picks, and a case. I’m ready to learn.

    At home, I sit on the couch with the guitar, placing my fingers to make a G-chord and gently strumming. A couple of times a week I sit and strum a G-chord for fifteen minutes.

    Ten years pass. Now I can’t remember how to even play a G-chord.

    When my brother learned to play guitar he practiced for hours. Colin had specific goals and looked for support from guitar experts. To develop mastery he needed to practice daily, to get to a place of automaticity, a place where his hands could automatically play the songs with limited thinking or focus.

    Over twenty years have passed since high school…

    We sit on the porch at the cottage in a circle. Feet tap. Heads bob. The family singsong slips out the open windows, across the silent bay. After fifteen minutes of practice, Colin plays “More than Words” and “Stairway to Heaven” on his guitar with the skill he had as a teenager. To play new songs he will need to return to regular practice again.

    This connects to writing practice too. Sometimes we show up to the page and write for writing’s sake. Yet, the guitar shows me that focus and intention can make a big difference in both productivity and the final product.

    So this morning I reflect on why I write. What are my goals? How can setting an intention support my process for better focus and more impact?

    I’m going to start with reading this interview with Natalie Goldberg about the writing life.

  • Life Lessons

    Meet Felicity Sidnell Reid

    Live your questions now, and perhaps-2When the student is ready…

    We can learn from each person we meet. Teachers are everywhere when we are willing to be students. For years I’ve been a stealthy student watching and listening and reflecting, my mind a people-powered repository. Every day I reflect on my learnings: ideas and insights from experiences, conversations, and encounters.

    People can teach us valuable lessons about various aspects of life, but we need to listen well, we need to pay attention. Learning is everywhere and in everything.

    For years I’ve wanted to begin a blog category that celebrates people who influence and inspire others through their example. To influence is to have the capacity to affect character, development, and behaviour. “Influential teachers” are those who change the people and culture around them. They may be famous or they may be in our family or they may be the person at the grocery store. We choose our teachers and that’s the best part: every person we meet has the potential to be a teacher and to influence us–it’s our responsibility to catch their light and to learn.

    Each month I plan to feature an influential teacher, sharing with you what I’ve learned from this special person. In most cases, the person is not an educator and the learning has happened informally through events, observations, and reflections. I want to do this as a way to thank the people who influence me and to share my lessons with you.

    Catch the Sun

    Felicity Sidnell Reid
    Felicity Sidnell Reid by Gerri’s Photography

    About Felicity Sidnell Reid

    I met Felicity through the Spirit of the Hills Writing Group. She is our generous leader, organizing and chairing our monthly meetings. Over the last five years our paths have crossed at writing breakfasts, book events, and library events.

    I know Felicity as a local writer, editor, and radio host. She was one of the editors for both volumes of Hill Spirits (Blue Denim Press). Some of her publishing credits include pieces of memoir in two anthologies: Family Ties (Hidden Brook Press edited by Elizabeth Kimberley Grove) and Grandfather, Father and Me (Hidden Brook Press edited by Donna Clark Goodrich). In 2014, The Ontario Poetry Society included two of her poems in their 2014 anthology Scarlet Thistles.

    Felicity is also a Sunshine in a Jar Press writer with a poem published in The Writing Spiral: Learning as a Writer.

    Here are some other interesting details about Felicity’s life, work, and writing:

    • Graduate of University of London, King’s College
    • Lived in New Brunswick for 7 years
    • Then lived in Ontario: Peterborough, Toronto, and now Colborne
    • Taught Grade 5 students to University students in Canada, England, and Thailand
    • Taught English, History, Drama, and ESL
    • Worked as Vice Principal at Harbord Collegiate and Northern Secondary in Toronto
    • Mother of four children
    • Poet
    • Master of Arts in Victorian Studies from the University of Toronto
    • Master of Education from Ontario Institute for Studies in Education
    • Education Writer (text books and resources)
    • Volunteer with Cramahe Public Library
    • Co-Host of “Word on the Hills” radio program 89.7 FM
    Felicity and Gwynn, recording for Word on the Hills
    Felicity and Gwynn, recording for Word on the Hills

    Felicity with one of her granddaughters, Summer 2014.
    Felicity with one of her granddaughters

    Five Things I’ve Learned from Felicity:

    1. Fortitude: Felicity exudes a peaceful strength. Her optimism and resiliency shine through her confidence and kindness. She is assertive, but not aggressive. She teaches me to be self-reliant, strong, and connected to community.
    2. Humility: Felicity gently puts others first. She finds ways to share moments, to build confidence in those around her. She is a natural teacher and “invisible” leader. She teaches me the impact of using our gifts to support others.
    3. Patience: Everything has its time and even when her schedule is packed, Felicity is fully present. She teaches me the value of careful planning and the benefits of committing to each moment of the day and each person I meet.
    4. Generosity: Felicity leads our writing group with a generous spirit, making space for our diverse personalities and sometimes disparate voices. She teaches me the art of facilitation and the gift we can give others by quietly leading without expecting anything in return.
    5. Focus: Intentionality seems to ripple beneath the surface of my observations of Felicity. She seems to know what she wants, how she wants to spend her time, and focuses her attention on what’s most important to her. While she juggles a number of priorities, she teaches me how to attend to each ball with laser beam focus and with a clear understanding of intention.
    Felicity and I reading our conversation in poetry at Word Northumberland, 2013. Photo courtesy of Cynthia Reyes.


    Live your questions now, and perhapsQuestions in a Jar

    Felicity answered three questions pulled from my 50 Questions in a Jar so we could get to know her better

    Q: If you could fill a piñata with your favourite candy, what would you put inside?

    Felicity: “In my pinata I’d like to find chocolate roses, sugared violets, silk flowers and butterflies.”

    Q: What do you like thinking about?

    Felicity: “What do I like thinking about?! Such a huge question—I like thinking about my family, walking in the woods with my dog, sitting b the sea and watching the tide come in– or out– and, of course, writing, and what I am reading, since I have been an obsessive reader all my life.”

    Q: What is the greatest love song?

    Felicity: “My favourite love song is Burns’ My love is like a red, red rose…


    Felicity’s Next Big Project

    Alone: A Winter in the Woods by Felicity Sidnell Reid with illustrations by Jirina Marton

    A story for all ages, Alone: A Winter in the Woods quickly engages the reader in thirteen year-old John Turner’s adventures. Forced to grow up quickly, while left alone on the family’s land grant in a virtually unsettled township, in the winter of 1797, John has to overcome devastating isolation and loneliness. With only a couple of oxen, a pregnant cow, a handful of chickens and his dog to keep him company, everyday tasks become ten times more difficult than they were while Pa was still with him, building their tiny cabin. Meanwhile John’s mother has adopted the orphaned Joséphine, who keeps a journal recording the life of the Turners and her own experiences. The family waits for Pa to return to Adolphustown to escort his wife and young children up the lake to the new settlement once spring allows water traffic to start up again. This tale explores the differences between family life and expectations in the eighteenth century and the present, as John and Joséphine reflect on what home, family, and friendship mean to them and struggle to find the courage, determination and faith needed to face the future.

    Alone: A Winter in the Woods
    Alone: A Winter in the Woods

    Additional Details:

    • Published as part of Hidden Brook Press’s North Shore Series with six more books in this series.
    • Launch party on October 4, 2015.
    • Alone: A Winter in the Woods will be available online from: Amazon and many other e-stores around the world; Local bookstores (Northumberland); May be ordered from any bookstore in Canada by giving them the title, ISBN number and contact info for Hidden Brook Press: writers@hiddenbrookpress.com
  • Creative Writing,  Family History Stories

    Does Your Writing Pass the Bechdel Test?

    Collage by J. Outram

    Since the Oscars in February the video about the Bechdel Test has been passed around on Facebook, Twitter, and via email. A couple days ago I told a friend of mine about the test. He teaches film but does not have Facebook.  Since then the Bechdel Test has been on my mind.

    To pass the Bechdel Test a story needs to have at least two female characters with names who talk to each other about something other than a man.