A Good Place to Start: Writing and the Internet

My first blog that paved the way to my writing life.

“The internet is a dark road to infinity potholed with links” – Rex Pickett, Sideways

I read this quote in Rex Pickett’s novel Sideways and I couldn’t get it out of my mind. Aside from the fact that it’s a brilliant metaphor, it made me stop and think about technology today – technology and its relationship to writing.

A character in this story believed that a true writer does not publish on the internet – he seemed to think he would be labelled a failure by doing so. That may have been the case in the early days when traditional publishing seemed like the only option to share our work, but the world of publishing has changed – just look at Kindle.

Earlier this year I purchased a Kindle. I did so out of pure convenience. I’m on the road a lot and rather than pack a bunch of books, I bring my sleek little Kindle – a small compact unit that holds multiple books. I love the feel, the scent, the texture, and the sound of turning pages from a real book, but the Kindle has quickly become my little technological wonder that brings my books, my research and my stories everywhere, without the extra cost of overweight luggage.

We all covet that book deal with a publisher that puts a hard copy of our book in our hands, but today we have so many other options. It’s rare that we’ll get a book deal out of our blogging or internet writing, (there are a lucky few), but we will gain experience, improve our craft, connect to community, find an audience and grow as writers.

Yes, the internet can be our biggest distraction, but only if we allow it. Many things can be a distraction to the writer – family, housework, friends and pets. It’s up to us to set the boundaries and avoid them as best we can – close the door, turn on off the phone, turn off the WiFi, tell friends and family we are not available for the next hour (unless it’s an emergency), and make sure our pets are fed, comfy and happy before we settle in at the desk.

The internet has given us a place to share our stories and create a space for our work. When once it was the lowliest place for a writer to go, it’s now a new world of opportunity. It gave us the blog and the blog gave us license to write, stretch our legs, and promote our art.

The internet doesn’t have to be “a dark road potholed with links”. It’s no longer the last resort – now it’s a great place to start.

 

 

 

 

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.

It’s All Worth It

Recent release of Real Life Diaries series: Living With Rheumatic Disease.

We come to the desk every day and write. We send out our stories, poems and non-fiction articles just waiting for that one bite that will launch us into literary success.  We wonder if we are making progress with all the hours we spend lurking in our own imaginations and putting all those words into the computer. We have those doubtful moments when we question if all the hard work and rejections are worth it. And then one day…

I began my writing practice when I was a kid. My first taste of publication occurred when our high school annual published a poem I’d written for English class. I was already well into studies for theater but seeing my words in print for the first time was a heady experience. I was determined to continue writing after chasing my dreams on the stage. I wrote on and off over the years, compiling stories, poems and even began out the daunting task of crafting my first novel. I never submitted any of these projects, just played with them on those rainy nights off from rehearsals. I was confident that one day I would have all the time in the world to launch a writing career. But that moment came far sooner than I anticipated.

In my thirties I was diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis. It’s a manageable disease and there are worse conditions out there, but this new diagnosis altered the life I built. I spent years in the dance studio and on stage, and suddenly I was faced with a disease that changed the way I moved. I stopped performing for a while, to figure out my new limitations, and that’s when the door to the beginning of my writing life swung wide open. Since I was no longer able to express my creativity through dance and I didn’t have the stamina for the hours of rehearsals and performance, writing became the creative outlet I craved.

I wrote my first story on my great-grandmother, a non-fiction piece about childhood memories; I followed that up with a couple of short poetry and fiction pieces. And then I dove into writing about living with Rheumatoid Arthritis. I was having small successes with the short fiction pieces, but it was me writing about my life with disease that my opened my world. I blogged about my life, I contributed to health articles, I was invited to contribute pieces to arthritis websites around the world, I was sent to an all expense paid health bloggers conference in Toronto, I speak once a year at our local university and now, five years later I am holding a book with my words between the cover.

My biography as a contributing writer to Living With Rheumatic Diseases.

It took a disease to launch my writing life. I now wonder what I was waiting for – the perfect time to begin, I suppose. Life has a funny way of letting you know the time is now and I’m glad I listened. This is still only the beginning of a long journey for me. I still have hundreds of stories waiting to come to life, and my own novels to craft, but despite all the rejections, the rewrites, the edits, and the hours of wordplay, if you keep on coming back to the desk and find joy and purpose in your process, all the hours of commitment are worth it.

Taking Research on the Road

Research is necessary for the writer. We research everything from the right kind of devices for writing, publication procedures, literary agents, publishing houses, facts versus fiction, writing markets, coaches, editors, people, professions, places – the list is almost endless. Research is essential for us to find the right fit for our work, and often it can take as much time, it not more, as the time we put into the act of writing.

Today’s technology, as distracting as it may be, it a most useful tool. I spend a lot of my time travelling from one place to another – the advantage for me living in a congested city is that I rarely drive, so most of my travel is as a passenger on public transit. The time it takes travelling from one place to another is the perfect opportunity for me to log onto my smart phone and browse the internet for information on the topics I am currently researching. The worldwide web is our door to almost anything we need to study – but I there is also another way to explore our writing world, and that is to actually get out into it.

My favorite kind of research is the type that takes me out on road trips. Recently my partner and I stole a weekend and travelled out to a historical ghost town a few hours from where we live. We spent an entire day following winding roads over majestic mountain passes, invigorated by fresh air that always holds a touch of fall even in the midst of a blazing hot summer. Eventually we turn a corner and dip down into the dry desert terrain, where an unforgiving heat smolders over sagebrush and sand.

We find our tiny little ghost town exactly as we expect – silent, hot, dusty, and almost devoid of human life, but the for the pockets of houses still occupied amid the sleeping debris. I took pictures of the past, walked through deserted streets rousing my imagination to absorb the sights, smells, and sounds. I had an impression in my mind of what I was looking for – I didn’t find it. There was a moment of disappointment. I brushed it off, content to accept the day as a great outing with my partner, when suddenly, I discovered a new insight that would prove to be a most striking revelation for my current project. It was a simple observation that was overlooked in all the previous investigations and research, but it was one I would not have found had I not gone on this journey.

Travelling and exploring the world around us is both invigorating and challenging. We don’t always find what we’re looking for – our research can often lead us to dead ends, creating frustration and a feeling of having wasted precious time, but this is not always the case. There will always be those moments that offer us an opportunity to discover new components that would not have been obvious to us in any other time or place. Those are the moments we celebrate. They wipe our previous defeats, rejuvenate our passion, and validate the path we chose.

I won’t tell you what it was I discovered. It is my fervent hope that one day in the future you will have the opportunity to read about it from the book I hope to place in your hand.

Happy travels.

 

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.

 

 

A Freedom in Reading

DSC_0982 (3)It has been a scorching summer – the driest we’ve had on record in our temperate rain forest, a season of smoke and fire. It has been a season of drought, not only for the rain we crave, but also for the words I would bring to the page. I have lost my vision in the residue of a demanding few months, and like the rain that will not fall, my stream of words have evaporated to a trickle. But this does not mean I am not working. It simply means I must turn to another aspect of my job as a writer. I have found a reprieve from my own drought in reading.

Reading is essential to the writer. It is, in essence, the writers’ research. Reading helps me release my mind. It takes me out of my own head for a while, unlocking a fresh awareness to thoughts and impressions without the pressure of a deadline. I keep a notebook by my side while reading, because often ideas will come when I least expect them. It is the season of brainstorming, dreaming and exploration. I am training for the creation of my own road map. Reading reminds me why I write. It revives my dedication to the craft I love and helps me carve out my own style.

Just like sticking to a writing schedule, it’s important to find time to read. I am learning to incorporate reading as part of my work, dismissing the niggling voices in my head that tell me I have too many projects to complete, that I don’t have time for this. The fact is, I’m always going to have to too many projects. Being an avid reader will only enhance my skill as a writer. Reading allows my imagination to flourish, showing me all the hidden possibilities I hope to deliver to my readers.

“The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.”

― Dr. Seuss, I Can Read With My Eyes Shut