“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.
When 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.
The 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.
“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.
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.
I attended an interesting workshop by a publishing company whose goal was to assist writers with their publishing needs, both in self-publishing and traditional. Their job is to help the writer determine which type of publishing would be in their best interest based on their project.
Both types of publishing have their advantages and disadvantages. In self-publishing you have complete control of your projects – you will receive 100 percent of royalties for copies sold. The trade-off is that you will do all the work, pay all the expenses and make all the decisions when it comes to cover design, editing, marketing and distribution. Traditional publishers will take most of the prep work off your hands, but they will have final say on the cover and appearance of your book, and you will only make a percentage of royalties for copies sold. Traditional publishers will always take the safe bet – a book that fits neatly into a clear genre that is marketable. If you have a book that is unusual, that doesn’t fit into a normal category, publishers will usually pass unless it is exceptionally written and you can show them the target audience. For books like these, self-publishing might be the best option because you can create your own niche and likely you already know the target audience for the work you are creating.
The world of publishing is in constant flux. We have more choices than ever in how to present our work to the world. The question we have now in regard to our work is: which one is right for the work at hand? When it comes to my long-term projects, I am still researching my options. In the end, the decision will be made based on the kind of book I produce. Would my project work best with traditional publishing or self-publishing? The wonderful thing about this query, is that when I am ready to decide, the choice is mine to make.
A few weeks ago my partner was out on our deck, potting and planting seeds for our yearly herbal garden. It’s inspiring to catch a glimpse of those first green sprouts as push their heads up through the moist earth and reach towards the sunlight.
Just like a garden plot, stories begin with a small seed of an idea planted in our imagination. The germination period is our brainstorming phase, as we try to assemble the nucleus of our story, much like a seed incubating in the earth. Language is taking shape in our mind, slowly pushing through each section of our narrative until, one fine day, it bursts through in lyrical splendour. Sometimes it only takes a sprinkling of words for our initial inspiration to blossom – other times it can take pages of free-writing before our idea is ready to swell on the page. Once it has burst through the mire of our vision, it’s ready to take on a life of its own. Now we need to water, prune, and sow to ensure its development.
Sometimes it can take a long time before those first baby shoots pop up– patience is a necessary evil, but once they’ve made it through the first stage, they will start to bloom, and then it’s up to us to cultivate their growth.