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.

A Writer’s Breakfast

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 going back next month.

What’s Your story? Two Workshops and a Reading

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.

Discbound Frenzy

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.

My 85k90 Report

Has it really been this long since I’ve posted on my blog? I had no idea. I’m terrible at this.

On the other hand, I’ve been writing in my writer’s journal almost daily although, I must confess, the entries haven’t been exactly post worthy. They’ve been a series of two parters. I start by writing what I want to accomplish during the day and then finish off in the evening by recounting what I actually did. So far, it’s been working to keep me accountable. I’ve fallen off of posting my counts on the 85k90 site. I just didn’t find it helpful to me. I prefer the NaNoWriMo incrementing counting you fill in each day but even that would be too much over the long night haul. Keep it simple. Get it done.

I finished March off 15,000 words short of my 85k goal. I’d started out in front at the gate but then life and laziness overtook me and I started missing days, and then whole weeks, of writing and now here I am and it’s April.

I’m still writing. April is a flex month and I’m writing every day, even on the weekends when I prefer not to. I’m not writing a lot each day. Only 500 to 750 words. Having the goal post so low gets me in the chair because I know it won’t take long. So far it’s working out. I’m almost at 75k and 20 days left in the month to write 10 more.

And, really, the numbers don’t mean as much as the direction I’m headed in as I slowly creep toward the finish line.

A Year With 85k90

2017 marked the third year I participated in NaNoWriMo which, for those who don’t know, is an international event encouraging writers to complete a 50,000 draft in just 30 days during the month of November. With many thousands of participants, it’s kind of a big deal.

I’ve managed to “win” all three years but, guess what? I still don’t have a completed manuscript. Why is that?

Well, for one thing, 50,000 words isn’t considered novel length. I found that I could accomplish little more than an outline and a few fleshed out scenes but nothing substantial. I simply needed more space.

Why didn’t I just carry on until I finished the thing, you ask? I’ve asked myself the same question every December for that past three years but the truth is, I need the structure of a program or I end up getting sucked back into day to day responsibilities and Netflix binges. I’ve given up thinking of this as a failing, something that I need to overcome. Instead, I am going to work with it and find structures that support my efforts.

I can’t afford more schooling and online workshops are too short and assignment focused to get the job done.

Enter 85k90. I can’t remember how I ran into this cryptic code but I do remember there was a link and I followed it, read the about page and immediately signed up.

The 85K Writing Challenge began as a small Facebook group, running our first 85K during the first 90 days of 2016. Our goal was simple. Write 85,000 words in 90 days – January through March.

Three whole months to write a story the size of an adult novel means no ridiculous cramming sessions, time to think about what I’m writing, research, change direction, but it’s so much more than that. 85k90 is a year long adventure, with a goal of going from first draft to published by the year’s end.

This is exactly what I need. Hold my hand, 85k90. I’m not proud.

I know, I know. Just because you wrote it, doesn’t mean the publishers will come. But, at least, now I have a structure to follow which will, hopefully, set me on a challenging, sustainable path to finishing what I started.

Yesterday was Day One of my adventure and I did little more than cut and paste the first scene from my NaNoWriMo draft into a new Scrivener document and fill out a little more detail and a bit of a flashback. But, it’s a 3,015 word beginning.

I’ve decided to blog about this experience here on bonybits and let my readers, if any, learn from my experience. Previously, I’ve been using this site as a repository for odd bits of text gleaned from years of secret notes and journal entries and, to be honest, I’ve been adrift.

Now that I have a goal and a structure, I’m sure things will pick up.