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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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.