Grammar is Hard

To write is to never stop learning.

Whether it’s research for your main character’s job as a brain surgeon or the medieval village where your story takes place, a writer needs to be constantly learning new things.

But this post isn’t about that type of learning. This post is about school.

Class notes on grammar

Last week, I started a grammar course. Not relearning. Not freshening up. I thought I knew grammar. After all, I graduated from high school with honors. I spent five years in University studying Art, Philosophy, English, Anthropology, and Cultural Studies, among other things. But, as it turns out, I know precious little on the topic.

I signed up for a course called Grammar for Editors and Writers at George Brown College downtown thinking it would be a gentle segue back into academic life. It’s the first course in a certificate program for editing and meant to be a refresher. It is not. I fear I may have bitten off more than I can chew.

It’s a good thing I like a challenge. I’ve been studying up on all things grammar in a rush to memorize the terminology and get comfortable picking apart sentences. Wish me luck!

A New Year of Writing

The latest entry in my Writing Journal with my new pen and a cup of tea.
Getting ready for the New Year


I’ve made it through 2018 and it was a hell of a ride.

This past year, I managed to finish the first draft of a novel that I’m still excited about and eager to complete. I’ve made good headway into my first rewrite after rejigging the outline and synopsis numerous times, each time paring away the excess, digging into the meat of the story and falling in love with my characters.

Even though I’ve been alone most of the time, I haven’t felt particularly lonely. I spend my day with friends and enemies on the page and it’s surprising how much comfort they give me, which is, I suppose, a way of loving myself.

In December, I met a few women as interested in starting up a local writer’s group as I am and we will meet for the first time on the 16th. Maybe we can even encourage a few others to join in.

I signed up for a course at George Brown College which is the first in a series of courses leading to a certificate in Editing. I’m nervous and excited at the prospect. I love learning and school and the stationary gathering that precedes it.

Do you see the large black disc bound notebook in the above photograph? That’s for school. It’s so much nicer than a binder and so much more personal than a laptop. We’ll see how long I get along with my computer before I cave.

Lamy Studio fountain pen lying on my Writing Journal opened to the latest entry
Lamy Studio fountain pen in 2017 LE Racing Green.

The pictured pen is my current pride and joy. It’s a Lamy Studio fountain pen in the now discontinued 2017 Limited Edition colour Racing Green. It’s slim and heavy and sleek and lovely. I can’t write at length with it because my hand cramps up due to my death grip habit but I love it anyway. Right now, it’s filled with Jacques Herbin 1670 Emerald of Chivor fountain pen ink which is a lovely colour although I’m unsure whether I’m attracted to it for the colour or the name. Emerald of Chivor. Emerald of Chivor. Try saying that without conjuring images of manner houses with drawing rooms.

As part of my New Year prep, it’s now time to clean out last year’s planner and get ready for a brand new set of unmet goals and unchecked checklists. And the smell of new paper and unnecessary stamps and stickers. Off I go!

Rewrite Setup

Annotated screen shot
Screen shot of my current Scrivener set up

I have a large iMac and I like to use every bit of the screen. Here’s my latest set up for working on my rewrite in Scrivener.

Right now, I’m trying out Things 3 to manage my projects and tasks. I opened Scrivener in full screen to remove distractions and give me plenty of room to work and then added Things 3 as a narrow column on the right. Now I can check off sections as I complete them for encouragement and to manage deadlines.

A bonus is having room for the target widget which I like to have open to monitor my word count during my writing session instead of having it float over my Scrivener project causing me to have to move it out of the way while I work.

In Scrivener, I don’t tend to use the new Copyholders though that may change as I get used to them, and I rarely use Quick Reference. I like to keep things simple and seldom use more than one editor although I appreciate the usefulness of side by side documents.

A couple of days ago, I started using Bookmarks which I never saw much use for in the past. I also discovered that I can pull out the inspector panel to document width making it a great way to list and navigate through research documents without worrying about accidentally replacing my main editor like I tend to do when I have more than one editor open.

I drag and drop items I want access to for a particular document (I’m not using project bookmarks right now. I want my bookmarks list to be small so I’m not overly distracted. After I have my list, I can just click on an item and it populates the bottom of the inspector panel.

What’s your set up? \

 

Breakfast at the Canadiana

I hate getting up early on a Saturday morning but, once a month, at 9am, the Writers and Editors Network meets for breakfast in an old Etobicoke restaurant at Six Points Plaza. I’ve been going to these breakfasts for the past several months and it’s starting to pay off.

Let me back up. Before the breakfast in question, I happened upon an ad for a writing workshop at the tiny Humber Bay branch of the Toronto Public Library and decided to go. I’d never been to this tiny branch (according to the description on the TPL site, it seats eleven. Eleven!) and I was happy to see that several other people had shown up for the event.

The Process of Writing by Anubha Mehta
The Process of Writing by Anubha Mehta, presented at the Humber Bay branch of the Toronto Public Library

Out presenter and facilitator, Anubha Mehta, was excellent and, afterwards, there was some discussion about more workshops at the branch in the new year. Anubha expressed interest in also starting up a writer’s group and there was great excitement.

One of the woman who showed up, Heather, mentioned that she was a member of the Writers and Editors Network and we agreed to chat more at the next breakfast.

So, despite the slush and snow and the early morning, I dutifully rose, showered, dressed, and made my way to the Canadiana. I’m so glad that I did.

The speaker(s) was a collective of thirteen mystery writers, all women, who go by the name of The Mesdames of Mayhem. They write novels and short stories, teach writing through various venues, and also publish an anthology of short stories for which they are currently accepting submissions. I don’t focus on mystery writing but it might be fun to try my hand at it.

For more information on what they spoke about during their visit, WEN has posted a good synopsis.

The Mesdames are an example of a good writers’ group. They have been together for many years, supporting and pushing each other along through the tough times and celebrating each other’s successes. It’s a love story.

This is my dream – to form a fiction writing group of like minded writers who are serious about writing and aren’t afraid of critique.

Heather introduced me to another writer/editor from WEN living in the Mimico area (Barb) who is also interested in creating a group in January, after the obligations of Christmas have passed.

Hopefully, we’ll be able to put this thing together and find a few more writers in the area to join in.

I’m excited. Having the possibility of group starting up in January has already provided me to with a deadline for firming up my latest novel synopsis and spitting out a new draft in preparation for readings.

Are you a fiction writer in the Mimico area interested in forming a writing group? If so, let me know in the comments.

One Year In

Literary classics for babies
Literary classics as board books for babies

It’s November which means I’ve been working on my novel for a year, ever since I had an inkling of an idea for NaNoWriMo last year. One year of sprints and stumbling, false starts and about faces. I’m inching my way through my first rewrite which has been slow going as I work out problems with my initial plot, adding and subtracting entire chapters and spending a significant amount of time spinning my wheels.

I’m told that all of this is normal, part of the process. I’ve met writers who have been worked no on the same story for five years or more. I sat in a lecture listening to a published writer talk about his process which involved twelve complete rewrites. That is not a typo. Twelve.

This makes me feel both better and worse. It means I’m moving along at a typical pace but I may be only at the beginning of a very long journey.

Writing Life Update

Since June, a lot has happened.

1. I joined the Toronto Writers’ Centre.

This was a big one for me. In an effort to take my writing seriously by putting money on it, I joined with the goal of gong to the same place every day, a place where professional writers create novels and television scripts, and buckle down on my novel revisions.

It’s worked to a degree. While I don’t go every day, when I do go, I get stuff done with minimal distractions.

I had also hoped that I would be able to make friends and be part of a community there. This has been less successful. While it’s a good environment for hard work, it’s not what I would call a friendly place. In fact, I’m considering other venues that include social activities.

2. I started attending Meetups.

I attended a new meetup which, while not a group I’d attend again, introduced me to several people that were looking to create a critique group. We’ve exchanged contact info and three of us have already met for a reading and short crit.

I’ve agreed to be a beta reader for someone in the group who has already finished their novel which, I think, will be a good experience for me and may help me in my own writing.

Through this initial meetup group, one participant mentioned another group/event she is involved in called So You Want To Write and I went to their pub night. There was a panel discussion and several participants gave readings that were then critiqued by the panel members in front of the entire group. Brave souls!

So You Want To Write is a large, active group that offers workshops and one on one sessions with agents and editors (at a price, of course) but the monthly pub nights are free and well attended. The email newsletter mentions crit groups organized through them and I may look into this to increase the eyeballs looking at my work.

3. Finally, yesterday, I went to Word on the Street.

This is a massive festival/conference/book sale with both indoor and outdoor venues. Writer’s panels, readings, info and sales booths make this the event of the year for both writers and readers. Best of all, it’s free!

This is all well and good but how’s the writing going? The novel is inching along slowly. I’ve been trying to work out the inconsistencies in the plot line, changing the story, sometimes in significant ways. I’m terrified.

But, I’ve also written a short story about an incident in the lives of my novel’s main characters, an event that works as a catalyst for the novel itself. I’m quite pleased with it. In fact, this is what I read for my crit group and have, since then, submitted it to three publications and am looking into others that would be a good fit. Wish me luck!

Down to Business At Toronto Writers Centre

My revisions have been grinding to a halt.

It started with a family holiday. My son and his wife came from Vancouver for a visit and The whole family drove up to Ottawa to play tourist. It was fun filled and interesting and enough to break my stride. All of my work developing a writing habit was done in. I’d even stopped writing in my journal.

After the kids all left, it was time to get down to business. I needed a support system, stat. Conferences are great but they’re too short and classes and writers retreats are expensive. A writer’s group would help but I needed support every day.

I found the Toronto Writers Centre via Google and arranged a tour.

The Centre is in Korea Town along the Bloor subway line above a bank and a dumpling restaurant. I’d never been in the area before which added to the “away-ness” of it. I think that this physical and psychological distance from my usual life will help me focus more on my work without distraction.

I spent the day in the lounge and kitchen areas making myself available to meet the various writers writing and networking in the space.

The lounge area at the Toronto Writers Centre

It was comfortable and still quieter and more secure than the usual coffee shop or library outings but tomorrow, I’ll give the super quiet writing room in the back.

Even with all of the introductions and conversations, I was able to get more work done than my attempts at home and my writing felt loose and natural rather than the grind it’s been.

The best part came when I packed up and headed toward the door.

“See you tomorrow,” one of the writers said with a wave.

Yup. You will.

Friday at The Canadian Writer’s Summit in Toronto

Canadian Writer's Summit
Sitting with my stash at the Canadian Writer’s Summit. Time to choose my panels.

For the first time, I attended a major writer’s event – The Canadian Writer’s Summit which took place this year at Harbourfront Centre in Toronto. It was a four day affair of which I went for one day only – Friday – because, in my opinion, it gave the most bang for the buck.

I was nervous before I arrived. I felt a bit like a wedding crasher even though I paid for my ticket. Typical imposter syndrome which may, in this instance,  have been warranted.

After registering, I parked myself on a bench outside and went over the program trying to decide which workshops, panels, lectures, etc, to attend. It was no small feat. I’ve never seen such a program before. There was so much to choose from and I wanted to go to them all.

At 9am, I went to “Structure for the Unstructured” which seemed fitting as I plug away at my first revision which seems to be becoming an entire rewrite as much as a try to stick to what’s there.

This turned out to be a good choice because the panelists were working on rewrites themselves. This made be feel like I was on the right track and not going crazy after all.

The big question of the panel which really didn’t answered so much as acknowledged was: How do you keep going when you’re the only one who cares? Just having these words spoken aloud instead of rattling around endlessly in my head helped me feel better. I wasn’t the only one dealing with the angst of writing.

The Takeaway:

Don't Rush. Don't Panic. Just Write

At 10:45am, I sat in on “How Much? Issues in Researching and Funding”.

I was disappointed that funding wasn’t addressed at all in this one as the panel figured everyone had already heard enough about the topic from a previous panel (one I, evidently, didn’t pick)

As for research, it was interesting to hear about how the writers researched their projects. All were supported by institutions through Master’s and PHD programs as well as being professors themselves.

This raised the question of whether it is possible to succeed as a writer in Canada without an institutional link. They decided that it was technically possible but that it was more and more difficult.

This was disheartening and it was one thing that was glaringly obvious about the conference as a whole. I’m not sure if I was the only writer in attendance who wasn’t from a University writing program but it seemed quite likely. Perhaps that’s who the conference is for and I missed the memo.

Best quote:

Every novel teaches you how to write it

We broke for lunch.

I thought I’d have to sit alone with my dry sandwich but I ended up sitting with a couple of attendees and having a lively discussion about poetry (in which I confessed that I can’t really tell if a poem is “good”) and our current projects. I think I spoke too much about my novel. I’ve read that you should tell what your story is about until it finished.

I’m such an awkward conversationalist with people I don’t know. I tend to blurt things out I probably shouldn’t in an effort to fill the silence. They say that this can be fixed through practice but the writing world is small and I may run through everyone in it before I finally master the art of tact.

At 2pm, I went to “Revision or Re-Envision? Rewriting Pedagogy” which offered up ideas on sparking student creativity (or your own!) through various exercises.

An interesting exercise during revision was to include a paragraph between each paragraph of your draft in a different colour font, describing the subtext in the draft.

One of the panelists insists on completely rewriting his draft from scratch over and over until he knows the story inside and out. There was loud gasping and swearing when he added that he is currently on a twelfth rewrite. Yes, you read that right. I gasped too.

The importance of workshopping your drafts with others and how working with someone else on their draft can help you see your own with new eyes.

The final panel, at 3:45pm, was on “Writing Illness”. Not only was it about the importance and difficulty of writing characters who are chronically ill, the panelists themselves were dealing with health issues. This confused me slightly because I wondered if they were saying that these sorts of topics should only be written by people dealing with these issues. It wasn’t brought up so I have no insights in that area. What do you think?

I took a break from the conference and went out to dinner with my partner and took a nice long walk to clear my head.Then it was back to listen to a talk by Tomson Highway who I’ve never seen speak before.

He put on quite a show and was entertaining. He likes to tell bawdy jokes and they were peppered liberally throughout, reminding me of visits with my great aunts and uncles and the stories they’d tell.

I left the conference feeling both tired and invigorated, and not quite so alone.

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Recharging My Creative Batteries

I took a long weekend off of my research and editing and I’m glad I did.

Instead of spending my time tired and frustrated and writing myself into corners I couldn’t see my way out of, I went hiking.

One of my ongoing goals is to hike the entire Bruce Trail from end to end, starting at the Queenston cairn near Niagara Falls. This weekend, I hiked from Rockway to Balls Falls with my partner. It was lovely – not too hot, clear skies, and nary another group in sight.

Map of Bruce Trail, Rockway to Balls Falls

We shared are lunch space with this little fellow.

A garter snake

I came home exhausted and sore and ready to see my work with fresh eyes. Today, I sat down and got to work, coming up with stuff I was too dragged out to come up with before.

Worth it.

How To Add Sources to the Mac Dictionary

It’s slow going so far with my edits in my 85k90 manuscript as I work on big picture development. Along with editing, I’ve been plugging away at my story bible and it’s starting to look like a real wiki. It’s also proving to be a great way to flesh out my story and find the parts that don’t stand up to scrutiny. So, despite the time it takes away from writing in my manuscript, it’s been well worth pursuing.

I’ve been using one of my favourite tools to help me with my work –  my Mac’s built in Dictionary app. It helps me find just the right word, define ones I sort of know but am unsure of, and get my facts straight using Wikipedia. That’s right. Wikipedia is built into my Mac. And yours too.

Finding Dictionary, Thesaurus and Wikipedia

Did you know you could easily access your Mac’s built in dictionary/dictionaries by highlighting a word in your document and right-clicking?  Scrivener also includes this app under Edit -> Writing Tools -> Look up in Dictionary and Thesaurus. You’ll notice there’s also a link for looking up in Wikipedia but I don’t take that route because it sends me to Safari and I want to stay right where I am. I can stay in Scrivener with the dictionary app while still enjoying a complete wikipedia experience. That’s great, right? But wait! There’s more…

If you want a quick definition, you can choose Look Up...  at the top of the list and get a pop up window with definitions from all of your dictionary sources (as well as App Store, Siri and iTunes results!) to open the Dictionary App itself, choose Open in Dictionary at bottom of the pop up or scroll down to Writing Tools -> Look up in Dictionary and Thesaurus in the right-click menu.

Pop Up Dictionary

Adding Sources

When the dictionary app opens, click on Dictionary ->Preferences in the main menu to be presented with a checklist of sources you can download into your Dictionary App. Now you can click on individual sources in the tab menu or choose All to see a listing of all available info.

Dictionary Sources on Mac

I added all of the English speaking sources. One of them is Wikipedia which brings up entry pages from the website and is the quickest and easiest way to find info while writing that I know of.

Wikipedia Entry in Dictionary App

Translations to and from English are also available in a variety of languages including French, German, Spanish, Chinese, Japanese Dutch and Korean.

All sources will download individually to your computer when you check them off so pick only the ones you’ll actually use to keep it light.

Not seeing what you need?

You can find third party dictionary files to be found online (or, if you’re a real keener, make a dictionary yourself). With a bit of searching, I managed to find this set of dictionaries on GitHub. If any of these are useful to you, click on the green clone or download button at the top the list and choose Download Zip.

downloading dictionaries from GitHub

The entire folder of dictionaries will download. Open the folder you’re interested and find the file that ends in .dictionary. The icon will look like a lego piece.

In the dictionary app, choose File -> Open Dictionaries Folder and drag the .dictionary folder into the open folder. Add as many as you need.

Once you have what you need. Close the dictionary app and reopen it. At the bottom of the preferences checklist (Dictionary -> Preferences) you should see the dictionaries you added. Check them and they will appear in the app. You may need to widen the window to see them if you have a lot of dictionaries available.

And that it!

A wealth of info is now available to you where and when you need it with a simple right-click.

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