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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
We shared are lunch space with this little fellow.
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.
I did it. Despite the rain and and wind and the chill, I made my way to the Canadiana Restaurant near the Kipling subway station to the WEN Writer’s Breakfast Meeting.
I’m not sure what I was expecting.
When I first arrived, I was confused. The restaurant was empty. Had I come to the right place? Did I get the date wrong? After staking out the place for a good ten minutes, I saw people entering the building and not coming out so I went in as well. There were stairs at the entrance leading to the basement, a glow of light at the bottom. Down I went.
The popcorn ceiling was low, the lights incandescent. It smelled a bit musty as basements do. There was a podium off to the side with a mic attached. The round banquet tables were already nearly full.
I stood in line to pay the twenty five dollar fee and when asked for my name, the man nodded enthusiastically as if he already knew who I was. For a few brief moments, I felt famous. A woman strode toward me and shook my hand and the man gave her my name and she said I’d be sitting at table one with her and a couple of other people who, like me, found the event via Meetup. It was their first time trying out the site in a quest for new blood and they were excited by its success.
Everyone was quite friendly. The food was typical breakfast buffet fare – scrambled eggs, sausage and bacon, French toast, pastries and fruit, etc and of typical quality as well. The buffet was run by a solitary women that everyone called by her first name. The coffee was good.
The speaker was Patricia Pearson and she spoke about the challenges that come with writing about people we love and how she navigates it with her own noteworthy family. She sat at table one as well where the conversation centered around the royal wedding, who saw it, what people wore, hat critiques, and the like.
Mostly, there was a lot of visiting. This was exactly what I had in mind – people to chat with that were involved in writing in one way or the other. No pressure to be “on”. No ass kissing or secret handshakes. It was nice.
I’m not sure how I missed the call for this short story/poetry competition put on by The Ontario Book Publishers Organization. I was probably busy with my manuscript as I should be. But, when I saw an ad for a set of free workshops and a reading of the winning works not far from home, I decided to head over and check it out.
I’m not sure what I was expecting. Something bigger, I suppose. The Etobicoke event was held at The Assembly Hall which I hadn’t been to before. I thought I’d be sitting in the dim light of a sizable auditorium where I could quietly blend into the audience and watch and find out more about the local writers.
Instead, we sat at tables in a small classroom and we did writing exercises and participated with the instructors and, although I wasn’t expecting to be so much on display, I was happy I went.
I like the challenge of following a prompt for an unexpected bit of writing. Like my snapshots, it gets me going.
I wish the workshops were longer – they were only about thirty minutes a piece – but I did manage to conjure up a little scene:
It looks like all of the other houses on the hill – red brick, worn away at the corners, bricks missing like baby teeth – old sash windows painted over, forced open in the summer heat, held up with books – the screen door ripped open which is how the bat got in in the first place.
I left as soon as the winners finished reading their stories, feeling awkward once there was no set structure. I’ve always been bad at that part. The introductions, the small talk, searching for questions to ask and answers to give.
Tomorrow morning, I’m going to a writer’s breakfast meeting not far from here. I’m going alone. I imagine I’ll feel awkward and lonely and probably run out right after but I’m going to go anyway. I have to start finding my way into this new world. I’ll let you know how it goes.
I am in love. How have I lived my life unaware of the existence of this miraculous binding system?
It started with a trip to Staples. I had in mind a binder to use as a writing journal/planner to help me generate and organize my writerly thoughts. Nothing extravagant, mind you. A generic three ring, some paper, maybe a pocket or two. Big and bulky but reliable. A classic.
Then I saw it. The ARC display. A system for creating notebooks of any size, geared to my needs, expandable, and endlessly customizable. If you notebook gets to big for your discs, simply swap them out for bigger ones.
A handful of accessories such as pockets, tabs, zippered pouches and paper inserts were available but the best part was the punch. With the punch, I could create my own inserts. All the inserts.
I gotta say, it’s been tough sitting down to write when all I want to do is make notebooks, planners, manuals, etc. I’ve also made a half dozen or so templates that suit my needs and the creative juice generated by workers no out my system has sparked my writing in a big way. I’ll share my templates once I’ve tried them out for a while and worked out the kinks.
The picture above shows my current three book set up. The big blue leather one is my writing planner. I keep track of my writing goals and schedule and track my progress in there. In the middle, my writer’s notebook is my creative space for brainstorming, novel notes, story ideas, etc. the final book is my craft notebook. That’s where I put notes on the craft of writing – lecture notes, workshop assignments, writing tips, etc.
If you’re familiar with the ARC system, you’ll see some additions not offered by the system. The book bands were found on Amazon and work perfectly. The silver discs are from a clearance Happy Planner I got from Michael’s. I also cut down the month tabs from the Happy Planner to use in my writing planner, thanks to the punch.
Oh yeah. I made this cute little notepad that fits in a pocket or purse for those times when I’m traveling light. It holds 3×5 notecards as well as paper.
That’s a bit of the old Happy Planner cover, cut down and punched.
The tabs sticking out of the notebooks are from Levenger, the Cadillac of discbound systems. I drool over their site several times a day. I find that the ARC tab dividers stick on the discs while the Levenger ones provide a smooth turn. Same goes for the clear covers I’m using with my writing journal in the centre. Those are Levenger too. I’m going to pick up another set for the craft notebook.
If you’re like me, constantly changing your notebook needs, if you hate being constrained by fixed bindings, and love to customize, discbound books may be for you too.