Monday, June 29, 2009

Joywriting 101

Writers are, by the nature of the job, solitary creatures much of the time. No matter what kind of writing we do – fiction, journalism, corporate – the very act of transforming our mental images into words on a page (or screen) is one that we do alone, alone, all all alone (to quote Coleridge).

We like it – that’s why writing is our vocation. But sometimes, just sometimes, it would be nice to have some company.

That’s why so many writers join professional associations (such as PWAC, the Professional Writers Association of Canada, or CANSCAIP, the Canadian Society for Children’s Authors, Illustrators and Performers). Some writers form groups or collectives, either meeting in person or through technology using regular email check-ins or chat forums to stay in touch and share their work, challenges and feedback.

For the month of July, my writers’ group (we call ourselves the Storytellers and meet once a month in a cafĂ© downtown) is trying something new: we’re going to write something every day and ping the rest of the group with a one-word email: “Done.” It’s a challenge, a way of setting a goal and attempting to meet it. Call it a deadline, even - something writers have a love/hate relationship with!

The purpose of the exercise is to encourage each one of us to carve out time for fun writing every day. We call it ‘joywriting’, a term coined by my 13-year-old son. It’s when you turn your attention to the project that is calling your name, the fun project, the one that allows you to escape this world and enter the imaginary one that only you inhabit. Joywriting.

We may all be joywriting alone, but that “Done!” email will connect us to each other - and challenge us too.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Writing When You Don’t Really Feel Like It

A recent blog post on the website of my local chapter of the Professional Writers Association of Canada referred to a handy site that forces you to sit down and write for a selected period of time (10 minutes, 2 hours). If you stop writing, dire consequences result, such as loud, annoying sounds, or, even worse, the word-by-word disappearance of whatever you’ve already written. The point of the site is to get you writing and keep you at it, even when you don’t feel like it.

Welcome to one of the writer’s biggest challenges: self-discipline. Writing when the words aren’t there. Writer’s block. Lack of inspiration. Waiting for the muse. Call it whatever you like.

Consider my sad situation. The sun shines on the dewy green grass outside my window. The birds chirp and sing and hop across the lawn. The gardens bloom. It’s summer, finally. And I’m writing about…


Yes, that winter sport played inside on long stretches of man-made ice. It’s a great sport, but it’s an environment about as far away from the one I’m currently living in as the North Pole. No matter. I have a deadline, a group of people waiting for me to show up with this book project, on time and on budget. Not only that, but they expect the book to express all the joy, excitement and pride they feel in their curling club and the sport they love.

Well, I love curling too, but not on a shiny summer morning that is calling me outside.

The bottom line is that I will stay at my desk and write about curling. I’ll use every trick I can to evoke the sound of rocks sliding down the ice and voices calling the sweep. I’ll turn a blind eye to sunshine and climbing temperatures – and I’ll get the job done. That’s what writers do.

(Photo by Kelly Atkinson)

Monday, June 15, 2009

Reader Feedback: Thick Skin vs Thin Skin

This weekend, my husband sat down and read The Toymaker’s Son for the first time. The book only recently went into print, and the marketing campaign is still in the works for Fall 2009, but I was eager to get some feedback from my biggest fan.

The verdict? Two thumbs up. (Insert huge sigh of relief here!)

Feedback from readers is something that fiction writers probably shouldn’t think about during the writing process. But if your story gets published, then eventually someone is going to read it. You come face-to-face with The Reader. And let me tell you, The Reader can be scary. The Reader might not like your work - and if not, then it feels as if The Reader doesn’t like you, either.

This is where the thick skin comes in. I don’t have it, unfortunately. Someone once wrote a negative review of Wild Dog Summer that left me paralyzed for weeks afterwards: I doubted myself so completely that I couldn’t write a word.

What helped me was receiving piles of letters from readers – kids in classrooms, mostly – who had read my book as part of their Language Arts program, and who loved it. Not all of them, of course. But no book is going to please everyone, that’s just a given (especially when it’s assigned reading with tests attached to it!) Knowing that readers out there, somewhere, were enjoying my story helped me put aside that one negative review and get writing again.

Thick skin, thin skin. I’ll never enjoy negative feedback, but it’s part of the writing game, and the secret is to keep all that feedback in balance. And even more importantly, write the story that you want to write. Chances are, there's a reader out there just waiting to give you two thumbs up.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Taking a Break - And Getting Back On Track

One of the reasons I thought blogging was not an option for me was the fact that I know myself: disciplined as I may be in food choices, exercise habits, work deadlines and family commitments, my writing sometimes takes a back seat to (what shall I call it? Oh, I know…) Life.

Life is (thank goodness!) everywhere. If you don't believe me, check out the photo of the baby robin whose nest was right outside my window this Spring. And everyone’s Life is different, of course. Maybe you’re a student with homework and a social life and family issues. Or you’re a parent with two jobs: the one that pays the bills and the one that involves such everyday necessities as feeding children, conversing with your spouse, organizing after-school activities, or even just buying groceries and cleaning the bathroom. No matter who you are, you're living your Life and doing the best you can.

But sometimes Life gets challenging. We’re just plain tired or something distracting happens. The workload becomes overwhelming. People disappoint us, or we disappoint ourselves. It's all just too much trouble! We have to confront and deal with everything that Life throws at us because, after all, that's the point of living, isn't it?

The way to meet Life's challenges is to forgive ourselves for slipping away for a while, pick up our tools, and start again. That's my goal: more writing! What's yours?