Far and Away: A Writers Dream

J.G. Chayko on the Sunshine Coast, British Columbia

There’s something romantic about stories of writers who have the means to travel to other places, live there for a few months and write. This is the dream we all have as writers. We imagine a cabin in the woods, a quiet desk at the window with a view, wildlife roaming freely through a lush forest; we long for a patio on a cliff hanging over the ocean, waking each morning to the whisper of waves breaking on the shore or a vibrant sunset kissing the whitecaps at twilight, perhaps a glass of wine at our side. We envision an elegant apartment in New York overlooking Central Park, and we bow to the illusion that if we could be in any of these places, we will finish the great novel, that bestseller we’ve been working on for months, maybe even years.

This is the fairy-tale we tell ourselves. It’s a lovely fantasy to think we can pack up for six months out of the year and burrow away in a cottage on the beach, but the truth is there’s no guarantee we will be any more productive in that space than in our parents’ basement. It’s a form of procrastination. We’re tricking ourselves into an idealized version of a what a writer should be and do.

We may not have the resources to travel to New York, Greece, Italy or any other exotic city to complete our novel, but we do have the power to garner inspiration from the outside world in the place we call home. There are glorious sunsets to be seen in our own backyard, serene parks with their own fertile beauty, lakes and shorelines that rejuvenate and inspire. We can make our own writing space as comfortable and inviting as possible. We can put up posters, hang pictures, rearrange furniture, paint, listen to music, infuse the air with soft aromas, construct our own Feng Shui to sit down get the job done.

We shouldn’t have to travel anywhere beyond our own imagination. We have the distinct power to design our own inspiring location within the stories begging to be told. The work itself should be enough to transport us far and away. Fire up the computer, turn on the music, sit down and start writing. You’ll be amazed at the places you find yourself.

The Ebb and Flow

DSCN4318It’s natural for our writing to change. It should change. If writing remains the same, we will lose our curiosity and opportunity for growth and discovery. It’s fascinating to compare the changes in one’s writing from last week to ten years ago. I love looking back on the diaries and notebooks from my childhood when I first started writing; I even found an old manuscript on dot-matrix (some of you younger people might have to look that up). It’s stimulating to look back at my first essays, stories, and poems and marvel at how much my style and subject matter have changed over time. I can see my progression in the pages, watching age and wisdom creep into my work. By surrendering to changes over the years, I have discovered different approaches to the development of new projects that keep them fresh and exciting.

Like the ebb and flow of the ocean, writing should continually surge into new territory, carve out a new shape and then recede, allowing the writer to adjust to the flow. Even when writers have established their comfort zone, there will always be subtle shifts and we shouldn’t be afraid to explore the new direction it takes – in this way, we can keep our stories as fresh and inspiring to us as we expect them to be our readers.

 

 

A Lesson in Writing Book Reviews

DSC_0982 (3)I was asked by a fellow writer if I would review her new novel. I was thrilled to be one of the few invited to preview her new book. There was just one problem – I had never written a book review before.

I was faced with this issue last summer when I offered to write a review of my friend’s play. I thought it would be good for me to step outside my comfort zone and attempt to write in a new genre. I wasn’t sure how it would turn out, but I did it and was told by a reader from the other side of the world that she was ready to rush out and buy tickets. I had taken on a new challenge and conquered it with flying colors. And now, I was about to throw myself into the unknown once again.

Writing about a play is a lot different then writing about a book. A play is usually no longer than two hours and right after the show, you need to go home and write the review immediately – it’s easy to write about something that is so fresh in your mind. Writing a review for a book is an entirely different task. You need to set aside time to read, and you need to read it at least twice – once for first impressions and to get the flavour of the story, and a second time to find the flaws and inconsistencies. You can actually read it as many times as you need, but like reviewing a play, there is a deadline looming. I had agreed to read this book and write a review at a time when I had my own hands full of deadlines and submissions. My attention was torn between reading her book and getting my own work done. In the last 48 hours before her novel was to go live, I buckled down and finished her book and got my review online just under the wire. I enjoyed writing my review, but I have learned before I agree to review someone’s novel again, I am going to make sure I have the time and attention to give it.

Here is my review of Sharon Gibbs novel Bound to Survive. This book is sure to delight for fantasy lovers around the world.

https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/1186390494?book_show_action=false

 

 

Lifting the Words

DSC_0445I was an actress on the stage for many years. Our first meeting as a cast was to read the play out loud for the first time. Our voices brought the words and characters to life – we found our inflections, we played with accents, we discovered the rhythm of the dialogue. In rare cases we also found spelling errors and awkward sentences.

Reading your work out loud is a fabulous way to lift your story from the page and hear your words in motion. Listening to our work helps to uncover accidental changes in point of view, tense and spelling errors. By reading our work out loud, we can discover flaws we won’t see on the page. Did my character suddenly switch sex in the middle of the story? Did the setting change from one part to another? Does it flow? This technique is particularly useful for dialogue. We talk every day, our ears are accustomed to the way we speak. On the page our dialogue might look normal, but when we give it a voice we can pick up on the awkward or stilted voice of our characters. Sometimes I even record my reading and play it back. Reading out loud is also great practice for that wonderful moment when we may be asked to share our work in public.

Our voice won’t find everything that’s wrong with our story, but it’s a first step before handing it over to our first readers and editors. You can be sure they will catch what you miss.