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.

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.

 

 

Vacancy

Aviary Photo_131047800285478307The blank page is the writers’ canvas. Don’t be intimidated by its stark whiteness, its vacant stare, its arrogant lines undulating across the page – know it is there to fuel your imagination and give you permission to write anything you desire. It is not there to restrict or impose rules but to inspire, to animate and excite. The blank page is the window to new worlds, new characters, new places, new happenings – it invites you to write down every emotion, memory, secret or vision. It is our friend, our rival, our therapist, our lover, and our companion. It plays devil’s advocate driving us to reveal our most intimate thoughts – and out of the jumble that gushes onto the page, we will unearth the stories we are destined to cultivate.

 

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 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