Saturday, January 30, 2010


My friend once told me the best writing was the stuff one felt uncomfortable reading or showing to others. And it was those pieces which often contained more real experience and the genuine emotions; the very things which would resonate with the reader also made the reading feel more risky. Hence the adage, “write what you know.” These pieces are more than "just stories,” they’re a relaying of experience which the writer feels connected to, they matter, they’re real. And I have come to realize that these pieces are the ones where I've left part of myself and the pieces for which I bear the thinest skin for criticism. And yet, it’s precisely these connections, this genuineness of emotion, which allows the reader to relate to the story.

This in mind, the balance between what to put into a story and what to leave out is always tricky. I recently wrote a story draft in which I fictionalized and wove together two different experiences. The heart of the story was something I really experienced and I had the dilemma of deciding "how much to tell." In the first draft I stuck to what I felt safe with, but it wasn't enough. After reading it, my friend said "I feel like the author knows the key in the relationship difficulties between the characters and is keeping it from me." She said, she found this frustrating as a reader because I wasn't trusting her with the information she needed to fully connect with the character and truly feel what was at stake and sympathize with her journey. This left her feeling gipped. This was important for me to know because I want the reader to understand and fully experience the story and to do this they must be able to fully connect with the main character, whom they will travel the story with. At the same time I realized this also caused me to leave out another key in the story, a part of the "Hero's Journey,’ a moment where the heroine loses something.

I'd have to say the turning point in my storytelling was when I read “The Writer’s Journey,” a book written by Christopher Vogler, from which I learned the importance of the "hero's Journey" model. This knowledge came during my rewrite of "The Closet Guardian," a story of a boy who comes to terms with his fears around his father’s leaving, and irrevocably changed the way I look at story structure.

"The Writer's Journey" talks about "Mythic Structure for Writer's and the focus of the book encompasses the "Hero's Journey.” The Hero’s Journey, is an essentially different and totally organic, way of seeing, using and dissecting a story plot and what each stage accomplishes for the reader. Vogler is very good at relating the concepts with examples from well known stories, myths and films.

I didn't read this book... I absorbed it like a sponge over the course of a month before sitting down to redraft my story.

When I began the draft I didn't eat for 8 hours. My face was sucked into the screen as I typed and edited, scrutinizing each line for feel and flow while I transcribed from two separate and very different versions and added in the third layer of the boys father. When I was finished my brain kept going all night analyzing and cross analyzing each of the story threads. And when I realized I had the first story I'd ever written which it could be picked apart and studied, (as one studies things during English class) for structure and integrity, and hold up no matter which way it was looked at, my soul was flying.

The Hero's Journey is a circle and the most important part is the death. Something has to die and the reader has to get that heart clenching fearful experience of perceiving something they care about has or is about to die. This has to happen in order for them to feel the relief and elation born of returning from that place with a better view, a true shift, the knowledge that they've been through the life changing valley of death along with the character and survived. This moment came in my story "The Closet Guardian" when the boys mouse, symbolic of the memories of his father and his hope of someday seeing him again, is crushed and we think he's dead. And when the boy picks the limp body up in his hands and cries we see the mouse twitch and are suddenly relieved, elated, that he's going to be okay.

It is those moments that the reader wants. They want to laugh, cry, fear and mourning, with the character. And as a writer I need to measure up to that expectation. And so, in my new story I now have to take a bit of courage, step back into the heart of the story, battle my fear, and put in the missing parts, before I can achieve the reward - a story I know will be damn good when I'm done. Knowing that part of me too will be in someways sacrificed; no longer just mine, it will live forever in vulnerability of the page, away from the protection of my heart as I emerge from the story, make my cover letter, and send it out to the world.

Saturday, January 23, 2010


Notes. How can one begin to describe the sound of a tune, the pitch, the tone so clear to our ears? The background chorus of a song. O-ee-o-ee-oo-eee. The feeling of the deep rich notes reverberating up from the diaphram with an emotional power so great it threatens to break through your chest and carry you away. Music that profound expression of emotion beyond words, tears, joy, and depth of being.

Purple. Yellow. When mixed these too colours make a golden brown. The more yellow the golder the brown, the more purple the richer the brown. Add black or white and you get various shades. From these two colours come shades to numerous for words. A painting for a thousand unspoken words, it speaks to our eyes.

Art. Music. Talent. Each set apart by their own limitations. The frame work which informs and defines them as rules define athletic skill. What would be the skill in playing basket ball if there were no rules by which to govern it? The very guidelines of the game allow the player to delight us with his skill in mastering the elements, twisting the variables, bending the game to his advantage stretching the bounds of his skill to make that impossible shot.

Black ink. Pages. Flat. Words. They break from the boundaries of the page to touch our hearts and enlighten our thoughts.

What Makes a Writer

A recent comment by Jozien, who writes "Keeper of Wild Places," caused me to contemplate this. A creative writing instructor I had once said "readers read and writer's write." I would add that in order to be a writer it is integral that one reads and studies lots of writing in all different genre’s and forms.

Writing is an art. And like any art there are many forms and levels of writing and writers: journalists, columnists, bloggers, non-fiction, creative non-fiction, short fiction, novel, copyrighters, business writers, policy writers, the list could go on.

Not every writer desires to be published, but this doesn't make them less of a writer. What makes someone a writer is much like the question what makes an artist. Is it the painting which makes the painter or the painter who makes the painting? Is it others that deem whether or not someone is an artist or how the artist views themselves. I believe is it’s a bit of both. And I think it depends on the reasons you are a writer how this process of acknowledgement works.

I started writing at the age of 7. Inspired by the "Little House on the Prairie," books. I was amazed by the idea that someone wrote about their life and people wanted to read it. I wish I knew where the two or three draft chapters of my life, lovingly created at that time in a homemade newsprint book, went; lost in some move.

But, it wasn’t until I realized at 33 that writing, at the deepest part of my soul, is an integral part of who I am, something I have to do everyday as much as breathing, that I truly saw myself as a writer. And after that personal epiphany I was surprised to be informed by everyone who knew me, they’d “wondered when I was going to figure that one out.” (Yes, for those who heard my fiction story, The Wall, at Brave New Words this month... that particular part of the story was true).

People write for many reasons including: self-expression, work, enjoyment. For some it’s simply the joy of putting words on paper, creating characters, discovering who those characters are and imagining their lives. For other's it’s a way to work through things, understand and make sense of the world.

Great writers such as Hemmingway, Dickens, Twain, Attwood, aside from achieving the fame and report many of us dream of, have also become masters of their craft like the great painters: Angelo, Di Vinci, Rembrandt.... They have broken through the bounds of convention and created something larger than themselves and their art in how they connect with the reader.

I know I have a long way to go to achieve what I want for myself as a writer. But, I'm constantly pushing my bounds, growing, trying new things, finding out where my limits are as a writer and stretching them. My aim isn't fame, but perhaps it is the stars. My mother was right, for me as a writer, I have something to say to humanity... and I will say it.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Making Writing Time

As most writers will tell you, being a writer is more about rewriting than writing and I find that the rewriting often takes exponentially longer than the initial writing of the first draft.

In December I spent some 20 hours working on a 2500 word story which I submitted to Free Fall Magazine's annual prose contest. Since submitting it I have, of course, found there is still a minor plot hole. At which point one can only throw up ones hands and say, "Oh well, it's off already," and begin to think about how you're going to fix that little problem for next time.

So how does one make the time to get the massive amount of drafts done having something ready to send out and when do you decide that enough is enough and it's ready to send out?

Workspace, dedication, and a sheer love of what you do. I find it hard to write when there are dishes, laundry and a myriad of other things calling me... and with three kids the household chores, dishes, laundry are never ending (even though they help with it), not to forget those extracurricular activities they all want to take part in. So, I try and keep my workspace somewhat uncluttered and what I refer to as my studio is off limits for the kids to bring stuff into.

Scheduling writing time is also important... for those who have trouble making time for stuff. I also multitask. If I have to take one of the kids somewhere and wait, I take a notebook and draw or write. I'm lucky in some ways... writing is as much a part of my soul as breathing so it something I'm constantly engaged in whenever there is a spare minute during the day either in physically putting words down or working out some difficulty in phrasing or plot as I walk the dog.

The other thing I do is go to Cafe's to write. It gives me the opportunity to observe people, be social if I choose (or at least feel social) and percolates my imagination... I wonder why that person is....

Friday, January 1, 2010

New Beginnings

The New Year stretches before us and I wonder, like Emily Starr, a character in canadian author L.M. Montgomery's book, Emily of New Moon, what we will accomplish, how we will grow and who we will have become at the end of the journey? Will it be a year fulfilling all of our best hopes and dreams, a year of sorrow and pain leading to new awareness and growth, or a year with a sweet mix of both? One we'll look back on with contentment, knowing it was a year well lived.

What will I write during this year? What lands will I travel too and what characters will I meet? What books will I read? And what will I learn through it all?

Traditionally, on New Years, one makes New Years resolutions. Resolutions we all cynically tease each other about, instilling doubts as to the length of time we will actually maintain them. It seems to be a contest that happens every year where we all take unspoken bets on whose resolution will last the longest. Those who are successful at keeping their resolutions either have extreme willpower or spent hours deliberating and watering down their expectations to something which might be reasonable to accomplish.

This year, I was struck by the idea of not making New Years resolutions, but rather making New Years wishes. I'm not sure that I believe the old adage that if you tell a wish it won't come true. But, I still can't tell you what my wishes are because that's the nature of wishes, they are more personal and more private than resolutions. And in truth, I feel more deeply about the things I wish for than the things I would resolve to do. Even the whole idea of the word resolution sounds like a duty and nobody loves a duty.

People are more likely to do things out of love than duty. So if resolutions are a duty to keep is it any wonder that so many of us fail? Goals, on the other hand are more positive. Goals are things I want to work towards and a well thought out goal is usually achievable. I have many writing goals, the biggest of which are:

1)to get more things published (probably achievable) and
2)to be able to write 8 hours a day (definitely not something happening tomorrow - unless I win the lottery).

However, I would rather make small attainable goals throughout the year. And isn't the idea behind a resolution that it should be big enough you can carry it throughout the year from beginning to end and celebrate it's success before making a new one? A wish may or may not last all year. And if you had many wishes you could assess how many were achieved in the year, how many you are still hoping for, and what ones you have grown mature enough, in retrospect, to see were unrealistic.

A wish is like a hope, it keeps one going, it's more positive and there isn't the same pressure to put out. But, how to keep track? If I were to write my wish down I get the feeling it's very concreteness on the paper would steal it's power. For a wishes hope lies in the very nature of it's elusiveness and uncertainty. So what does a writer do to keep track of wishes?

When I think of keeping track of wishes my thoughts go back to Montgomery’s Emily and something she did to keep track of her dreams. Emily was a writer. And much like writers today she fought for every small victory with blood, sweat and rejection letters. But, as a writer she had a special way of keeping track of her own growth and hopes for the future. As a young woman overcome with dreams, goals and desires, she began writing herself letters to be opened at a later date. These became treasures she would read by herself, at the appointed time, with mixed bitterness and joy as she remembered the person she had been, her innocent longings, her old hopes and her mixed successes. After reading them she would put them aside and write herself another letter, replying to her thoughts and making more wishes for the future.

And so, sometime on this New Years Day, I am going to write myself a letter. I will not exactly write out my wishes, preferring them to keep the power of their ether, but will instead compose a letter exploring the hopes and possibilities of where I might find myself in my unwritten future should my wishes have been granted and comtemplate what wisdom I may have gained in the journey. And when the day comes to open it, I will see how far I've come, how unrealistic some of my expectations were (and hopefully some which were not) and how much I've grown as a writer and a woman.

Happy New Year!