The Writer’s Studio

The Writers Studio Class 2019. Photo: Creative Writing Program Simon Fraser University

It took three months, an essay, an application, a resume and 20 pages of my own work, published or not, finished or unfinished, and works in progress. A month after the deadline, I got the email I hoped for:

I am very pleased to inform you that you have been accepted into The Writer’s Studio Vancouver at Simon Fraser University Continuing Studies for the 2019 year. Welcome and congratulations on submitting a successful application!

There was a large and talented pool of applicants this year and each of our mentors read all the applications to select who they were most drawn to work with in the coming year. You were accepted in the first round.”

This was a program I’d been eyeing for a few years – a year-long curriculum tailored for writers and working people to allow them to complete and receive a university credited creative writing certificate, and work with a mentor to guide them through their projects and/or writing life. It’s an exceptional program in that it not only focuses on structure, grammar, and genre but incorporates bi-weekly workshops that force us to write on a deadline for submission and have our work reviewed and critiqued by our peers. While there’s always something to learn in the obligatory classes, it’s in the workshop setting where I will face my deepest fears, find my audience, discover how to shape my work and grow as a writer.

I don’t believe that college or university is required to be a writer – after all, I’ve written and published the last six years without the coveted university degree, but I sometimes find being a student very inspiring. Over the years I’ve taken individual classes and writing workshops, and I always came away from them with new ideas and fresh motivation.

Writing is often thought of as a very solitary occupation, but I don’t believe that. I think we need a writing community, whether it’s through school or joining a local writing group. I think we need to be able to share our work, play with ideas, talk things out, discover new friends and resources that will help us become better writers. A scholastic setting is just one of many ways to connect with my community.

The Writer’s Studio promises to be a stimulating and exciting component of my writing journey. I look forward to uncovering what the year will bring and sharing my insights along the way.

Until next time, happy writing everyone.

A Summer of Reading

Write every day. That’s the advice we are given when we start writing – to make it a habit, to incorporate it into our daily schedule, to just write. And for the most part, I do. But during the summer, my writing work slows down. Most of my deadlines have passed, the days are warmer and longer, and the call to spend time outdoors is more powerful than hiding out in my writing room soaking up rays from my computer screen. Summer is the time to catch up with friends and family, swim, hike, walk along the beach, go on road trips, attend BBQ’s, relax on a patio with glass of wine, and soak up life and ideas. Summer is also a time for me to indulge in the writer’s most valuable ally – reading.

I love to read, and I read everything – well, almost everything. The romance genre has yet to peak my interest, but I’ll give anything a chance at least once. I started this summer reading a book by one of my favorite authors – Secret Windows, by Stephen King, a book of essays on writing, and as it turned out, it was the perfect book to build my summer reading list. As King ruminates on certain writers, books and stories, it stirred in me an inexorable desire to read those stories, and, as fate would have it, I have most of those books on my shelf – The Haunting of Hill House and The Lottery by Shirley Jackson; Bram Stoker’s Dracula; Tess of the D’Ubervilles by Thomas Hardy; Charles Dickens, Great Expectations; Something Wicked This Way Comes by Bradbury – just a few of the classic stories I am devouring this summer.

My summer of reading is just as vital to me as my writing time. Reading inspires, entertains, and recharges my battery, so when the seasons change, I can return to my writing room, turn on my music, snuggle up to my fireplace and get back to work while the raindrops pelt against the window and the wind howls through the trees.

When the writing slows down, when we hit those blocks or just need a break, pick up a book, get lost in a story and remember why you wanted to write in the first place.

Happy New Year 2017

It seems like New Year’s resolutions are made to be broken – at least that’s what it feels like for me. Every year I envisioned these grand sweeping dreams and every year those dreams floated away from my reach, bursting like delicate soap bubbles.

Lost in the shadow of my grand promises, however, I somehow achieved a cluster of small goals I failed to recognize as accomplishment. In fact, as it turned out, many of my finest moments and triumphs in the last year were due to the surprising result of broken resolutions.”  – J.G. Chayko, The Old Lady in My Bones.

Sometimes we accomplish more in a year than we realize. I hope that everyone can take a moment to celebrate the small victories hidden in the pages of our lives. No matter how big or small, every achievement should be celebrated. I look forward to picking up my pen, gathering my notebooks, opening a new word document and rediscovering the triumphs waiting in another year of broken resolutions – one day at a time, one word at a time, one story at a time.

Cheers to all for a very happy, healthy and creative New Year in 2017. dsc_1495-2-3

 

I Write, Therefore I Am…

20160811_164147When do you call yourself a writer? This seems to be a complicated dilemma for many. Some people feel they can’t truly call themselves a writer until they’ve received some sort of exceptional endorsement for their work. I disagree.

There is no test, no exam, no screening method, no extraordinary circumstance that suddenly makes one “a writer.” When people ask me when I called myself a writer, I tell them I called myself a writer the first moment I picked up a pen. Before my first publication, before my first meager payment for a short story, I was a writer. A publication or a payment should never define you as such – short stories, poetry, memoir, novels, essays or blog posts – quite simply, if you write you are a writer. All you need to do is do it.

 

 

Catch and Release

FB_IMG_1455473428860The day is spent. It’s time to wind down into evening, to slow the constant buzzing in my mind, and most nights I can do this with a good book, a hot bath, and the occasional indulgence of a sip of bourbon or wine. It never fails that almost every time I lower myself into that hot bubbled water, a new door opens in my imagination and a flood of words pour through my head, tumbling over one another so fast I can barely grasp what they are saying. Some of my best writing ideas come when I am in the tub, at work, on the bus, in a meeting, on stage or out walking. It is often in the most inconvenient places when inspiration is ignited – being prepared to catch it when it is released is one our jobs as writers, but sometimes it’s not always meant to be.

Inspiration strikes at the most inopportune times and through our writing journey, we have to learn to be crafty enough to grab it by its tail and hang on – if it’s meant to be caught. There are always times when an idea hits and I am unable to snag it. Sometimes hours can pass before I have an opportunity to write it down. If the idea is sturdy and robust, it will be trapped in the creative net of my imagination, patiently waiting for me to claim it; if it’s weak and fragmented, it will slip through the webbing, leaving me with an empty awareness of what could have been.

I have come to accept that if the idea was strong enough, if it was meant for me, it will always be there waiting – if I don’t remember it later, it has moved on to someone else. The world is bursting with ideas, and I take comfort in knowing that if one of them escapes from me, another one will soon come to take its place.

 

Writing My Life

Screenshot (12)“Is there a blanket ban on writing about my life if it involves anyone else?” – Brooke Wyeth, Other Desert Cities by Jon Robin Baitz

I began writing stories in my childhood. It started with writing in my diary, then graduated to the more intricate skills of writing poetry, essays and short stories. I wrote about anything my imagination could conjure, but when I look back now, I see most of those stories and poems evolved from moments in my daily life. My characters were shaped from the people I knew. Plots and stories evolved out of the things I observed. Real life seeped into my writing whether I was aware of it or not.

My first real introduction into the surprising and complicated world of creative non-fiction was about five years ago. I published my first story about my great-grandmother’s farm and the struggle to keep it out of the hands of developers. I found it was easy to write from my memories, enjoying the challenge of painting a picture from a possibly bland topic. After I was diagnosed with RA, I created a blog that described my journey through the day-to-day management of living with chronic illness. From those stories arose the desire to expand and write more about other aspects of my life, and I discovered that it’s sometimes impossible to write my own truth without grazing the lives of others.

It’s a complicated business writing about other people. We own our stories, but we don’t own the stories of others. I have a responsibility to be as honest as I can in my work, but I need to know where to draw the line. No one else can see my truth, just I can’t see someone else’s truth. In my fiction and poetry work, I draw on my own experience and borrow behaviours and personas from the people I meet, disguising them in a hybrid of my own imagination, but in non-fiction, it can be difficult to disguise them. I know that without them, my story would be dry and colorless, so I need to tread carefully, and find a way to respect them without compromising the strength of my work.

It’s a fine line to tread and full of controversy – whether writing about our life or the lives of others, we face the possibility of encountering criticism and objections in how our version is presented. It is the risk we must take as storytellers. We can write the truth or create our own, but we must do it with responsibility and integrity.

A Celebration of Words

DSC_2563It’s that time of year when summer is slipping silently into fall and I am slipping into the world of writing festivals. I have attended two festivals every year for the last five years, soaking up extraordinary days filled with all the passions of a writer’s heart – author’s, books, inspiration, revelation and workshops.

Tucked away in the arms of an intimate park on the sea-kissed Sunshine Coast, is the Sunshine Coast Festival of the Written Arts. An outdoor stage patiently waits for the clusters of people who gather each year to meet their favourite writers or discover new ones. Familiar faces flow through the crowds, nodding at one another as if we are old friends, drawn together by the love of words. For four stimulating days writers eagerly share insights about their current and future projects, their process, their struggles, their triumphs, what motivates them, and what inspires them. It’s a perfect time to let my work simmer for a few days while I savour the captivating philosophies of others, learn from their experience and envision the day I will be up there on the stage to talk about my work. Between presentations I meander through the book tent, scooping up stories to chill out in – sometimes I have already read an author’s work before I see them, sometimes it is their presentation that compels me to buy their book.DSC_2574

Every year I take my notebook, prepared to write down a fresh writing secret, a wise quip, the name of a book; often in the midst of their dialogue I am struck with a new stimulus I can apply to my own projects. More often than not, it is something completely unrelated that sparks and idea – a random gesture, an electrifying word – it’s one of the many joys of writing festivals.

At the end of the day I sit outside beneath an inky sky with a glass of wine, a bag full of books, and my pen hovering over an empty page, relishing these moments of comfort and simplicity drawn from the heart of the challenging and demanding work we have as writers – and I would not trade it for anything.