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.

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 Pitch

You haven’t heard from me in a while. It’s because I’ve been writing. It’s the reason we embark on this journey – to write, to put our words out there, to tell our stories. I’ve been fortunate, in my short writing life, to connect with an audience early on and find opportunities to share my work. I’ve published fiction, non-fiction, poetry, and participated in a couple of magazine interviews. Amid all that, I am steadily working away on my own book projects.

One of the many challenges I have been working on is the magazine pitch. Back in the fall, I wrote about an experience choreographing a pantomime and contributed it to a website as a guest blogger. One of their public relation consultants suggested that this story be taken further and pitched to potential dance magazines. She took the lead by sending out her own pitch on my story and received a response by a local magazine in my city – but they wanted the pitch to come directly from me. I have five years of writing life behind me, but for all those small accomplishments, nothing prepared me for writing that first pitch to a magazine.

When I have an idea for a story, I write the story. I work it. I let it carry me to its eventual finish – and then I pitch it. I don’t always have to know where it’s going right from the beginning, because I know I will discover its course along the way and end up with a solid foundation to propose. A completed piece already has the points in place – the work is already done, making it easier to market. With the magazine pitch, I need to understand the groundwork before I write it. Instead of relying on the finished piece, I must convince an editor to consider an idea.

A magazine pitch takes research. It forces you to take the time to understand a magazines’ style and subject matter, to figure out how, or if, your story will fit. It’s a different sort of writing challenge, but one I think every writer should try. The pitch I sent did not work out for this publication – but that doesn’t mean it’s not right for another one. The story is there, it’s worth telling, therefore it’s worth the continuing effort to find it a home and practice the art of selling a concept before it comes to fruition.

In the meantime, I did find my way into my first magazine. I was fortunate to have my story featured in an issue of Arthritis Research Digest UK – and the only thing I had to pitch was myself.

“The scariest moment is always just before you start.” – Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft.

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.

 

Why Everything Falls Into Place

Still Sweeping excerpt by J.G. Chayko (published 2011)

A writer friend of mine posted on his social media page: “some days I feel like everything is going wrong and some days I feel like everything falls into place.”

Most days of writing can be a struggle. It takes work to craft that perfect piece we finally deem ready for the public eye. While we all want those easy days where the right words come in the right order at exactly the right time, I realize that our successes would not be quite as sweet without the struggle. It’s because of our failures and frustrations that we achieved success in the first place. Those labours are the core to our success – they are our passions, our efforts, our desire and our inspirations. Without them, it wouldn’t feel nearly as rewarding. It’s those frustrations and setbacks that drive us to keep going. They teach us to dig deeper, push harder, take a second and even a third look and make us question if it is really our best work.

Life would not be stimulating if everything was just handed to us. We would lose our ability to imagine, we would lose the remarkable creativity that defines us. What would we learn if we never had to struggle? There’d be no impetus to do the things we love if we sat down and wrote a perfect piece every single time. What would happen to our curiosity that took us there in the first place?

That’s the roller coaster, the topsy-turvy unpredictable world of an artistic life. We will, and should, have these days – and when we achieve the triumphs we worked so hard for, we can be thankful for those times where everything seemed to be going wrong.

 

 

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

 

The Twelve Days of Writing

I thought it was appropriate to republish this fun little piece I originally published in December 2014. 20161208_205022

After all, tis the season…

                   On the first day of writing, my muse said I need:

                       12 spiral notebooks

                           Eleven paper clips

Ten cups of coffee

Nine fat pens

Eight sticky notes

Seven rough drafts

Six reems of paper

Five published poems

Four red pens

Three ink refills

Two WordPress blogs

               And an MS surface Pro 3          

                                                                       

Wishing you all a very Happy Holiday season and a New Year filled with inspiration and new creative journeys.