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.

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.

 

Paper Cups, Hands and Airline Bags

DSC_3303 (3)On stage, when an actor forgets their lines they must improvise in order to keep the dialogue and story moving. In live theatre, there’s no opportunity to go back and start again – actors must do their level best to carry on in spite of forgotten lines, costume mishaps and missing sound cues.

Writer’s also need to develop the skill of improvisation but in a slightly different manner. Much like an actor that must be prepared for anything that can happen on stage, writers must always be prepared to seize inspiration, at any moment, at any time. I have developed a habit of carrying a notebook and a pen in my bag for just such moments, but there are times when I am unable to access my notebook and must be ready to improvise in order to catch my ideas.

I was travelling on an airplane recently, and we encountered some turbulence. I had been happily typing away on my tablet, but then came the announcement for table trays to be returned to their upright positions and seatbelts securely fashioned. I reluctantly put my tablet away, and patiently waited to get through the turbulence. It was at this shaky and ill-timed moment that a tremendous idea came to me – one that would make or break the current article I was writing. I had to get it down, and so I grabbed the first thing that was available for me to write on – the airline’s disposable bag, with a lovely pictograph of a person suffering from airline sickness. I scribbled down my thoughts on both sides of that bag and was even offered an extra one from another passenger in the seat next to me (conveniently, my better half), and I even think the stewardess sitting across from me, who was fascinated by my writing frenzy in a moment of unpredictability, was ready to offer me another one.

Here are some items I have written on in a desperate moment:

A paper cup

My hand

A script

A book

A gum wrapper (a big challenge)

A work document (not highly recommended)

A transit ticket (over the small print)

A napkin

A receipt

These are just a few examples of what I like to call “necessary improvisation” for writers.

Regardless of what happens on stage, the actors’ adage is always “the show must go on” – and in the writing world, so must our words.

 

 

 

 

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.

The Well

DSCN4598When the afterglow of writing a terrific piece burns out, we often wonder if we will ever match it or top its triumph. We will wallow in the shade of disappointment doubting our ability – but I’ve learned that writing is a deep well always replenishing the words we use, and we will always be able to draw from the springs of our creativity to refill the parched wasteland of accomplishment.