For those of you who don’t already know, Two Writers Talking is on hiatus for a while.
And you can follow Tudor at her new blog, Pen to Paper, also known as tudorrobins.ca. Stay tuned for posts every Saturday just like you’ve been used to here at Two Writers Talking.
Take care in the meantime and hope to see you at our other ventures!
Peggy & TudorFiled under From Peggy and Tudor, Organizing our Writing Lives | Comments Off
Tudor: As I hinted in an earlier post, the time has come for a change. An ending of sorts – or at least a suspension – and a couple of new beginnings.
Due to exciting (and time-consuming) developments in Peggy’s life and because I’ve finally pulled myself out of complacency long enough to kickstart my own website (something I’ve been meaning to do for ages), this will be the last post on Two Writers Talking for the foreseeable future.
What can I say about TWT? I can’t say it was everything or nothing I expected it to be, because the truth is, I didn’t have any expectations. If anything can be said to have grown organically, this blog did. Peggy and I decided to move our long e-mail conversations to a more public forum and Two Writers Talking was born.
And kept going. Pretty steadily. For quite a while. An achievement if I dare say so myself.
The one thing I can say for sure is that during the time of TWT I have been struck anew by the generosity of this writing community that surrounds us. Peggy, of course, was generous to agree to write a blog with me. To share her expertise and opinions (and to organize the start-up – that especially!).
A couple of regular commenters have also displayed the generosity I’ve come to love in the writing world. Lee Ann, when I suggested I might pitch a workshop idea to the Ottawa Catholic School Board was instantly supportive. Recently, when I was able to tell her the course was a go, she was happier for me than my own mother (really!).
And Lynn. Oh my goodness. Lynn. I have haunted Lynn’s life these last few weeks. She is more responsible for my new site being up and ready and going and beautiful than I am. Way more responsible. She gave me recommendations at every step along the way, coached me in the few small things I did and single-handedly designed the whole thing. She even stepped in and wrote some inspired bits of content which started out as placeholders but which I’m not letting go of. All this and she still left a detailed and thoughtful comment on last week’s post. I have no idea where she gets the time…
My friend (and talented editor) Gillian, refused payment for line editing my entire manuscript (and it was a great line edit) and I’ve received incredible feedback on my manuscripts; some paid for, some not, but all worth considerably more than what I had to shell out to receive it.
In general I find those involved in writing and the writing world, give much more than could ever be expected. We may be under-paid, we mostly are under-paid, but we certainly don’t underperform.
I’d like to thank everyone who’s inspired me and made me feel supported and included in this great world of writing and I hope to see you all regularly over at tudorrobins.ca.
Peggy: Tudor’s right. It takes a village to raise a writer, and we’ve both been fortunate to be citizens of a very generous, literate village.
As much as we’d like to think that our Writer Self is strong enough to sit alone at our desk to answer our calling – often in the absence of pay, publication, or even mildly interested readers – some days it proves too daunting a challenge. That’s when it helps to get an inspiration infusion from the people around us.
Encouragement comes in different forms. Often all that’s needed is a friend asking us what we’re working on now … and being interested enough to ask a few questions, or say they’d like to read our story when we’re ready.
Sometimes we’re helped by the chance to put our writing to use in a different capacity, one that’s of benefit to others and provides us with some immediate, tangible satisfaction. Just recently, for example, I have been helping to write and edit content for a new, soon-to-launch community website that’s going to be enjoyed by many local residents and give me a change from my usual navel-gaving memoir work. It’s been fun to get back into community reporting and get the immediate feedback I remember from my days at the North Shore News.
I learned from my year at the SFU Writer’s Studio the immense energy you get from being surrounded by people who are enthusiastically committed to their writing life. As any Star Trek conventioneer can tell you, there is something pretty exciting about gathering with others who share your passion for a hobby or vocation that isn’t terribly mainstream!
But sometimes, I think, we can be equally inspired by putting ourselves in a new environment that has little to do with our writing life. After several years of immersing myself in communal and individual writing activities – workshops, writing projects, literary non-profits – I am looking forward to exercising a different part of my brain altogether.
I’ll be taking an eight-month, full-time Medical Assistant course that will plunge me into a new career entirely. I won’t ever leave my writing life behind (in fact, one reason I’m pursuing this program is for the eventual career flexibility that will allow me to incorporate my literary life around what will likely translate into casual or part-time hospital shifts).
But I do look forward to getting away from my desk and learning new skills in a new environment. And I am confident that the energy I get from that will end up fuelling my writing as well. I’m already salivating at the thought of the new, multi-syllabic words I’ll have at my disposal after I finish my medical terminology course! Not to mention the wide range of people and situations I’ll meet over the year ahead – all part of an interesting new landscape that will no doubt have me thinking up plots on my lunchbreak!
Along with my new studies, I’ll be prez of the North Vancouver’s Young Writers’ Club and the Lynn Valley Literary Society, running an adult writing group and blogging for LynnValleyLife when it launches in the fall. So Tudor and I will both be pretty busy, and we’ve reluctantly had to let go of Two Writers Talking for the foreseeable future. But we’re leaving it live so visiting writers, readers and teachers can look over some of the past posts and workshop exercises for what we hope are some timeless tips!
I have loved working with Tudor over the past few years (an inspiring, hard-working writer if ever there was one), and look forward to seeing where her new ventures take her. This isn’t a goodbye from us, just an evolution to the next stage of our lives and the adventures that beckon down the road.
Both of us wish you many adventures of your own, literary and otherwise, in the months ahead. And many thanks for being our ‘village’ – we hope you’ve enjoyed your citizenship here at Two Writers Talking.Filed under From Peggy and Tudor, Inspiration, On Life, Organizing our Writing Lives, The Writer's Path | Comments (2)
Okay, we’re not promising a new site altogether – but we are going to take advantage of the summer season to shake it up a little!
For over a year, the foundation of our Two Writers Talking blog has been our ‘Sunday Specials’ – those weekly posts in which we discuss some aspect of the writer’s journey, from procrastination to inspiration, from rejection to perseverance. All those chats will remain in our archives, on the right of your screen.
Starting now, though, the conversation is going to undergo a change – we’ll both be posting more off-schedule, off-the-cuff, and offbeat musings about whatever is impacting our literary life at the moment, without the formality of our Sunday discussions. There will be book recommendations, news on tools and resources for writers, contest deadlines, notes on craft and more.
As always, you’re welcome to join the discussion!
Tudor here! See we couldn’t give up right away – we still had to give you a little something from Peggy and a little something from me – for this week anyway…
Peggy has very succinctly and eloquently summed up our summer plans. The only thing I’ll add is this ties in to quite a few important (in my view) things we’ve talked about in the past such as percolating and saying no and maybe some things we’ll find ourselves talking about in the future like trying new things and, as Peggy says, shaking things up.
So, let’s see what comes from percolating and free-wheeling!Filed under From Peggy and Tudor | Comments (2)
Peggy: It’s a well-established pattern. Every year at this time, I have the same conversation. People ask me about my writing, and I say “Well, a lot of my commitments are coming to an end now, so I’ll be doing a lot of writing over the summer.”
Then school lets out, my children swarm home, and I say to myself “What was I THINKING?”. And every fall, I sheepishly have to admit to myself and others that I fell far short of my writing goals.
The worst part is, I really can’t even blame the kids. They are certainly old enough to entertain themselves for hours on end. As with so many things in writing, it all comes down to MY mental attitude.
Self-discipline is a hard skill to muster at the best of times; when your home is suddenly the hub for children, friends, and visitors, you have the added difficulty of removing yourself from ‘the pack’ in order to carve out any writing time. This can result in two problems: feeling guilty for not being ever-present for your loved ones (whether they want you or not!) and what my cousin Christie calls FOMO – the Fear Of Missing Out. What witty banter, what heartwarming moments, what entertaining R&R will pass you by as you sit chained to your chair?
I really want this summer to be different. I have a manuscript project that I intend to tackle, but I’m a frequent traveller on that ‘road to hell’ that’s paved with you-know-what.
My SFU Writer’s Studio classes and workshop groups will be taking a break, so I need to create my own literary life to keep me motivated amidst all the summer carousers. Here are some of the props I’ll be using to keep my Writer Self nourished:
- immersion in fine articles that make me want to create my own. My subscriptions for The New Yorker and literary magazines such as Douglas College’s Event journal have just started to kick in – what better beach reading?
- a portable writing environment. I always have pen and notebook (and sometimes netbook) with me, and if the sunny weather ever comes and stays, I’ll make sure I have a camping chair in my car at all times. There’s nothing like being able to pull over by a park or river and set up your own mini writer’s retreat.
- deadlines. I’ve been meeting contest deadlines all spring, so why shouldn’t I make and meet my own deadlines? I’ll try mounting a summer calendar on the wall and mark out what needs to be accomplished by when (and for what reward, of course).
- writing buddies. This is where they once again show they’re worth their weight in gold. While everyone else is livin’ la vida loca (darn them), I need other pensmiths to keep me on track and encouraged, so my critique group is going to coordinate calendars and try to meet up a few times or even book our own writing retreat for a couple of days.
Tudor, do you have any thoughts for summer scribblers?
Tudor: To be honest, for me the summer has never been much different than the rest of the year simply because, ever since I’ve been a “writer” (that is in a professional sense; not in a philosophical sense) I’ve had children to look after. My oldest just turned eight so for eight years all the work I’ve done has been done around and about the schedules of my family.
This has been the same summer, winter, spring and fall – the main difference has been whether I’m struggling with snowsuits or sunscreen – but my work schedule and habits have stayed the same.
Now, with September comes a different story. Because in September my youngest starts grade one. In other words; all day school. How strange. There are two things I know for sure and they are (a) I’ll miss him and (b) it’s going to take a while to get used to my new schedule. How will it shake out? I’m not sure. I could guess but I’ll probably be wrong. I don’t think I’ll really know how I’ll feel about having both kids in school for six hours until it happens and, similarly, I won’t now how my time really shakes out until then.
So, where does that leave things for this summer? Well, I’m trying to declutter. To worry about the bare minimum of things and to try to make sure the things I am worrying about are important.
I’m trying to say no to extra commitments; I’m adopting a KISS (keep it simple you-know-who) attitude. I want to do fewer things better and that includes both writing time and the time I spend with my kids.
If I can manage to adopt this philosophy I think it will help me out as I head into my transition in September. And how that works out is a whole other story for the fall…Filed under From Peggy and Tudor, Inspiration, On Life, Organizing our Writing Lives, Sunday Special, The Writer's Path | Comments Off
Tudor: Honest truth, I have no idea what to write about this week. I have lots on my mind but nothing that seems fit for a blog post. So, instead of giving advice or talking about my own thoughts or my own writing, I thought I’d celebrate somebody else’s writing. In this case, my six-year-old son’s.
He recently spent a few days writing summaries of all the Star Wars movie plots. Other than answering questions like “how to you spell ‘become’?” I didn’t have any involvement in this project whatsoever. I didn’t know what he was writing until he showed me the finished product.
And I was impressed. Here’s his summary of “A New Hope”:
The clone wars have ended. Luke has grown up. The dark side has become more powerful. New ships have entered the war. Anakin has turned to the dark side and has become Darth Vader. The clones have become the storm trooper army. The good guys have become the Rebel Alliance.
This is great for so many reasons. It’s a fantastic summary. I love his sentence structure (short and punchy; there’s my boy…). And, more than anything else, he did it all by himself and just because he wanted to. Which means, in my book, he’s a writer.
Both my boys have written things that not only impress me but that I can learn from. The passage above shows how effective a piece of writing can be at setting the stage with minimal (really almost no) use of adjectives.
My older son’s writing always interests me in that his personality shines through without overpowering his work. Older writers often struggle with “voice” – how much personality to show. It seems that young writers don’t worry. They just write how they think which shows their personality but they’re also very aware of the rules of writing as they’re right in the midst of learning them. It makes for a nice balance between style and structure.
Peggy, you work with young writers; what do you learn from them? Or maybe you’ve learned something from another unexpected source. Don’t even get me started on the letters my 80-year-old aunt used to send me. They kept me in stitches…
Peggy: Funny, this is the week that MY son turned to me and said “Guess what, Mom, I’m writing again! It feels so good!” He’s sixteen, and most of his leisure time goes to rugby and road hockey.
He emailed me the prologue of his new work, and I tried to read it more like a mom than an editor. (My editor hat automatically snaps on when someone gives me a piece to read, and of course, one can always identify areas that could use some tweaking.) But I knew what he needed was an uncritical mom-cheerleader; someone to heap praise upon him for sitting at his desk and following the muse. Isn’t that what we all want, especially at the beginning of a new work?
What I most admire about kids’ work, Tudor, is the sense of play they bring to it. They aren’t fretting about markets, or word counts, or libel issues, or critics. When I watch the kids in the Young Writers’ Club, or my son at his desk, their eyes are alight, they’ve got a smile on their face, their toes are practically twitching with enjoyment, and time means nothing. Imagine being able to bottle THAT to sell at writing conferences!
Kids are willing to ‘waste’ time in the most marvellous, meandering ways, while we adults often find it hard to get out of an ‘efficiency’ mindset. We’re determined to maximize our productivity, and want our desk time to result in marketable page counts. We don’t often allow ourselves to sit with our pencil and notebook and write just for fun – even if experience shows that when we do make the time to experiment with new writing prompts or off-the-cuff exercises, great nuggets of writing, and new story ideas, almost inevitably emerge.
If there’s a down side to my kids’ writing (at least from my perspective), it’s that I’m surrounded by boys who LOVE to write about wars, things blowing up, sieges, armour, battle plans, etc, etc, etc. But as the lone female in a household of four males, I guess I’d better get used to it. It sounds like you’ve got some testosterone text happening on your end as well, Tudor …. good thing we’ve got each other!Filed under From Peggy and Tudor, Inspiration, Language & Usage, On Life, Sunday Special, The Writer's Path | Comments Off
Tudor: Over the years I’ve come to recognize two types of writers. There are those that are OUT THERE. Big time. Telling people about all their writing projects. Blogging about their work in progress. Tweeting, facebooking, linked-inning (and whatever other social media I can’t possibly contemplate) about their novel-in-development. Calling themselves, not just writers, but novelists or authors. Pretty much putting it out there to the world.
Then there are those who like to keep it all very hush, hush. Writing on the sly – almost as a guilty pleasure akin to watching America’s Next Top Model (not that I ever watch ANTM…). Those who you had better not ask about their latest project because they’ll cut you dead and start commenting on the weather.
The funny thing is, I don’t find actual writing “success” or publication, or however you want to define it, has anything to do with which camp people fall into.
In fact, the most vocal I-AM-NOVELIST types I know often hold down full-time jobs doing something else, may or may not work regularly on their craft and have never been published. Yet, many of these people will happily tell everyone in the world, with confidence, that they’ve submitted something somewhere and they’re pretty sure this one will be published. Publicly.
I, on the other hand, centred my entire education around writing. I’ve always had writing or books or publishing as part of my job when I worked for other people. For six years now I’ve been a freelancer with the only money I make coming from writing. And yes, I do have other projects on the side. Projects I don’t get paid for. Quiet writing projects. But I’m not talking about them here. Or anywhere very much, to be honest. I used to not talk about them at all. To anyone. Period. Then I realized that didn’t really work. So now there are a few key people in this world who know what I’m up to “on the side” and even they are updated on a strictly need-to-know basis.
I would never, ever be able to tell the world in general about every single submission I make and tell people at barbeques that I’m “about to be published”. But some people can and do and it doesn’t seem to bother them that the thing they were talking about last time didn’t end up getting published. Because, of course, they have something new in hand that’s just about to be published.
I keep thinking if and when I ever land that ever-elusive publishing contract I’ll be sure to tell the world. But the truth is, I probably won’t. I’ll put it off and wait and not want to make a fuss. And, of course, I’ll likely be working on something new I won’t really want to talk about.
So, what do you think about this Peggy? Why do some people share so much and others not at all? Where do you fall on the spectrum and has going back to school changed this for you?
Peggy: I think the decision to ‘tell or not-tell’ is largely an ego-based one, for good or ill. I know some people who hold off on saying much because they’ll be embarrassed if their hopes don’t come to fruition, and others who talk a lot about their submissions and hot leads because they are trying to bolster their image in their own or others’ eyes. Both are ego-protecting choices.
Then there are those who refrain from discussing their potential successes because they don’t want to discourage the other, less-connected writer(s) they may be speaking to, or they are very open about their ups and downs because, generously, they want others to be encouraged by the fact that it is a hit-and-miss game and to know we all have to persevere through the good times and bad. Those are ego-protecting choices as well, though in this case it’s the listener whose ego is being considered.
People being what they are, writers probably don’t fall neatly into one category or the other all the time, but perhaps make their typical home somewhere along the continuum.
Where am I in that mix? I try to be open about my rejections and dead ends, because they are reality for a writer, and we wordsmiths can learn as much or more from each other’s failures as we can from our successes. But it’s not always easy to be an ‘open book’ – especially because I am a writing workshop leader, which carries its own baggage. Some people might expect that I have a huge leg up, talent or ‘success’-wise, than someone who isn’t in a teaching position, but that, absolutely, is not necessarily the case. It just means I enjoy taking whatever skills I do have and putting them to use building community and helping other writers along the path we both share.
If I do remain quiet about my projects, it’s often because I find them so hard to articulate, especially in a 20-second sound bite. Most of the writing I’m doing now is memoir and reflection that doesn’t have a racy plot at its core. So I run the risk of sounding pretty boring – “I’m working on a piece about how I like to be alone” – or I try to explain the metaphors I’ll be using, or the lyric structure, and then I just sound tongue-tied and incomprehensible, even (or especially!) to myself.
What I do talk about more this year, now that I’m at school, is the excitement of mixing with other people whose passions lie in the same direction. I’m part of a group of wonderfully supportive creative non-fiction types, and we talk about each other’s writing as much as our own. And maybe that’s the key – finding the balance between celebrating your own work, and opening yourself up to the richness you can absorb from others’.Filed under From Peggy and Tudor, Inspiration, On Life, Organizing our Writing Lives, Sunday Special, The Writer's Path, Writing as Career | Comments (2)
Peggy: Until my year in the SFU Writer’s Studio, it had never occurred to me to read my work at a literary event. That seemed, somehow, to be for ‘other people ‘ – I was content to chug away at my desk, creating work that would perhaps someday be seen in print.
Now I realize that stepping forward and sharing your work in a more personal, immediate way, is in many respects just as important. Public readings create a sense of community for writers who are inspired by and learn from each other’s work, and they are a place at which family and friends can have a window into what it is you’re doing when you’re squirreled away in front of your computer. And they certainly motivate writers to polish up their words until they are at their very best, which is never a wasted exercise.
When you’re reading a piece to an audience, you have the chance to gauge whether or not it ‘works’ – is the pacing right, does your humour hit the right note, is there a symbol or a theme running through it that you may not have even noticed, but a listener hears?
Doing the occasional reading helps writers bring a new sense of confidence to their work, I think, and the supportive reception provided by almost every audience does wonders to fuel your fire for more hours at the desk.
If the thought of reading your poems or story at an open mic event makes you sweat, work up to it by just attending a few readings first. For a Vancouver listing, watch the events page in the newspaper, or visit Pandora’s Collective (scroll down to find the open mic events that are held monthly).
It’s hard to keep your creative mind fresh if you never leave your comfort zone, and performing at a reading might just be the ticket if you’re feeling a bit stale. A thoughtful discussion of sharing your work with others – whether it is with person, or thousands – can be found in Bonni Goldberg’s book Beyond the Words: The Three Untapped Sources of Creative Fulfillment for Writers.
Tudor, have you ever performed any of your work? Or do you have different ways you like to share it?
Tudor: I know you asked about sharing work Peggy, but what hits me about your enjoyment of reading your work aloud is the opportunity it provides to polish your work.
As I’ve tackled much more ambitious projects in recent years, polishing has become more important to me than ever before. Don’t get me wrong; I always polished my work – whether it was a 200-word blurb or a 2,500-word feature, but now, working on loooong projects, polishing has become a very important symbolic step.
To me polishing signifies the official demarcation point of a draft. Given that revision can be an endless task – there’s always a word that can be swapped or a comma added or removed – how is it possible to know when a draft is officially “completed”? Well, for me, it’s when it’s polished. Yes, it may be will be ripped apart again, but for now it exists as Draft One (or Two or Seven).
There are different ways people make ready or polish their work. For some it’s as simple as making it all pretty on the screen.
For me it has to be printed out. Usually I print a copy first for myself (with my text set to 50 per cent greyscale to save ink) which I read over before printing out a better copy for somebody else Peggy to read over.
However, some people take it a step further than this. In one of her (many) great pieces of advice for writers, Mary Kole recommends reading your draft out loud or, better yet, roping some unsuspecting (and patient) soul in to read your work back to you. This is a great way to spot awkwardness, ambiguity and see if your dialogue really works.
I think Peggy’s newfound enjoyment of reading out loud to other people is a further extension of polishing your work and bringing it up to par. I promise you this; if you’re brave enough to read what you’ve written out loud in public you definitely get to count that version as an official draft – another milestone on your journey to a many-times-polished-until-finally-“complete” piece of writing.Filed under From Peggy and Tudor, Organizing our Writing Lives, Sunday Special, The Writer's Path, Writing as Career | Comments Off
Peggy: I’ve always been somewhat solitary by nature. According to my mother, classmates would come knocking with an invitation to play; I’d open the door a crack, politely decline, and return to my book. The one friend I did deign to hang out with would regularly ream me out because I’d go to her house and proceed to sit silently and read her impressive Archie comic collection, ignoring her altogether.
Of course, being perfectly happy with my own company is not a bad trait for a writer to have. I’m not adverse to holing up for days to get a piece out, and love taking myself on solo writing retreats to recharge my creative batteries.
But in the past few years, I am discovering the great benefits of collaboration. The Young Writers’ Club I started five years ago with partner Laura Hoffman would have long ago wasted away if it hadn’t been for the many practical and administrative skills that Laura brought to our partnership. She has the patience to learn things that I simply don’t, and is detail-oriented in areas where I would throw in the towel.
We are in the midst of planning our role in the first annual North Shore Spring Arts Fest, which is taking place this weekend. Some of the kids and adults in my workshops have written poems in the “I Am From” tradition, and we have partnered up with the two leaders of the North Shore Celtic Ensemble to provide a musical backdrop to our reading of five of the poems.
Last night we rehearsed for the first time, and – let me tell you – you’ve never heard your words in their full glory until you’ve heard them spoken to the sweet sounds of an acoustic guitar and fiddle player. It was absolutely lovely, and I’m glad I’m not one of the readers Saturday or I would embarrass us all by bawling on stage. The musicians also enjoyed the experience and now we have visions of a music and storytelling ‘kitchen party’ in the fall.
As another example of collaboration, I was approached by downtown street artist a week ago, a man hoping to get enough cash from selling his hummingbird pencil drawing to pay for a cheap meal. I was happy to purchase the artwork (being a horrible draw-er myself) and hunted him down a few days later to see if he might be interested in illustrating an upcoming essay I’ll be working on. He’ll bring a different vibe to the project that will definitely help me take the writing to a more interesting place than I could find on my own.
When you pool your energy with the right people in the right situation, I’m discovering, the whole can definitely be greater than the sum of its parts. Tudor, does collaboration ever play a role in your artistic life?
Tudor: You’re actually catching me in a very solitary moment – unusually so for me. I have about 24 hours to myself and am trying to get all sorts of things done just powering ahead on my own.
However, these times are few and far between and most of the rest of the time writing is, indeed about collaboration.
I’m thinking of collaboration in a very practical way. This kind of collaboration also involves quite a bit of negotiation. It’s a back-and-forth between me and a client or an editor. It’s a conversation that goes something like this:
“Would you be interested in this work?”
“Sure, what did you have in mind?”
“Do you like this?”
“Can we change this?”
“What about trying this?”
And so on and so forth until we both agree that, yes, the writing is serving its intended purpose and we’re done.
Sometimes it’s easy and sometimes it’s tough but it’s essential to be able to do it and it’s great when that back-and-forth results in something stronger than either one of us could have created alone.
On a more general note there is also the collaboration where one person makes life easy for another because it’s an easy thing to do. An example that comes to mind is when I was assigned a story which I immediately imagined broken down into clearly defined sections and wrote accordingly.
In addition to the usual editorial discussions described above the editor made a comment I’ll always remember. She said the magazine designer loved working with my story because the way it was written it fit perfectly into his columns and allotted space. “Did you do that on purpose?” she asked.
And, I guess the answer was yes because long ago in journalism school I had to take my turn on the layout desk and so even if it’s not completely conscious, that memory is always in the back of my mind. It’s just another way of collaborating; making someone else’s job easy for them.Filed under From Peggy and Tudor, Inspiration, Sunday Special, The Writer's Path | Comments Off
Tudor: I thought I’d put a bit of a different spin on things this week. Instead of talking about what I do write, I thought it would be useful to talk about what I don’t – or, more accurately won’t – write.
If you’ve been following this blog for a while, the first two won’t really surprise you:
(1) I won’t write anything that violates somebody else’s privacy. To me this is a quick and dirty way to get noticed as a writer and I’d rather be off the radar than be on it because I told something about somebody else that wasn’t mine to tell. The sad fact is, there are people I’m aware of who write about other people’s lives (often passing judgment in the process) and I’m careful to steer a wide berth around them lest I become their unwitting subject matter. Which only serves to remind me; if I don’t want it done to me I must never do it to anybody else.
(2) I won’t write about something I got for free but my readers have to pay for. To do so is problematic on many levels and since it’s dealt with at length here, I won’t subject you to that argument again.
(3) I will strive and try and hope and sincerely attempt to avoid the three “Ss” (snark, snobbery, superiority) which seem to have crept into certain publications these days in an effort to be – I actually don’t even know what – maybe clever? Possibly sophisticated? I’m not sure because to me much of this writing just seems small and mean.
Example number one: Once, long ago, I was the assistant editor of a magazine striving (too hard) to be cool, hip, edgy and all-that. Trying to show it was important and everyone else was boring. First I stopped being assistant editor of that magazine, second I stopped freelancing for it, third I cancelled my (free) subscription because I could no longer take the tone. I simply didn’t want it coming into my house anymore.
Example number two: Is a clipping I keep on my bulletin board to remind myself WHAT / HOW NOT TO WRITE. The clipping is disguised as a travel piece about Wolfe Island but, in reality it is one (too) long diatribe making fun of, belittling, deriding and generally looking down on the entire place for not being entertaining, not offering fine dining and not being stylish and / or fashionable.
Even if I didn’t love Wolfe Island as I do, I would despise the tone and content of the piece, but knowing the natural beauty and intense and lovely quiet of the place, I can only conclude the Very Important Journalist who wrote the piece didn’t like that the island was mostly unimpressed by him and had to take out his disappointment accordingly.
This, so far, is my list of ways I’ve vowed not to write. How about you Peggy? Much as you love writing is there writing you have no desire to do?
Peggy: More and more, I’m trying to make sure that any writing I do plays a role in moving me forward to one of my goals. My focus at the moment is boosting my ability and my output in the area of literary non-fiction, so if I see jobs that might earn me a bit of money, but hinder me from going in the creative direction I want, I steer clear.
Of course, earning money is a good goal, too, so if it’s a job I think I’m qualified for and it is offering tempting financial compensation, that gets me off my creative high horse and has me standing in line with the rest of the hopeful freelancers.
Mostly these days, though, I wrestle with what to include in my memoir pieces. It’s a tough call; I was at a Vancouver reading last month, and read a piece that briefly referred to my teenage son’s “stubbled chin and spotty cheeks” (since I have three sons, I’ve left his name off here in a belated attempt at discretion!)
It’s such a tiny detail in the story, but in his life? He might well be horrified to read such a descriptor. And yet if we go through our work with a fine-toothed comb to remove any references that just might give offence, we’ll likely end up with a very bland story.
It’s always a judgment call; I tend to put my editor on the back shelf and write first what the story needs – the details that bring the characters and situations alive – and then later look for any areas that might cause problems for those people mentioned.
And certainly, there are many stories I wouldn’t tell, period, if they are too intrusive of another person’s privacy – and I try to remember that my definition of ‘too intrusive’ might not match someone else’s.
If you are ever faced with these dilemmas, there are a few things ideas that might help:
- Treat each character respectfully, including shades and nuances that bring positive as well as negative aspects of their character to light (or at least make their negative aspects more understandable).
- Ask yourself if the potentially hurtful details are truly necessary to the story, or are they there because you are just being lazy, or venting, or scoring a cheap shot.
- Ask the real-life characters in your piece if you have permission to reveal certain information. Often people are quite pleased to be written about, and as long as you are writing fairly, will allow more than you might expect. And, once you’re talking with them, you’ll probably learn things you didn’t know before!
- Give yourself greater creative freedom by using names and details that shield the identity of the person you’re writing about.Filed under From Peggy and Tudor, Inspiration, Sunday Special, Writing as Career | Comments Off
Peggy: As I write this (Thursday, April 29), people in the U.S. and hopefully here in Canada, too, are celebrating Poem in Your Pocket Day. This is a day on which we are invited to carry a favourite poem in our pocket to share with friends, colleagues and strangers alike.
It’s a grand way of capping off Poetry Month, which is marked every year in April in both our fair lands. And it’s a way to remind us that poetry isn’t the preserve of a certain ‘type’ of creative writer or reader; poetry, is in fact, all around us – in song lyrics, in a beautifully expressed turn of phrase, in in contemplative prose snippets, in prayers and speeches and greeting cards.
Robert Frost said that “A poem begins as a lump in the throat, a sense of wrong, a homesickness, a lovesickness.” True enough, but where it ends up is anyone’s business. A poem can be expressed in a formal poetic structure or as prose, in elevated language or in street talk, can offer interpretive challenges or be as accessible as a phone call from a neighbour.
Former U.S. poet laureate Billy Collins embarked on an ambitious project to bring poetry off dusty high school shelves and into the hearts and minds of students when he launched Poetry 180, a program that offers up a poem to be read on the school loudspeaker on each day school is in session. All of the poems are listed on the website, and are a splendid place to begin exploring what modern verse can offer.
Up here in Canada, I enjoyed attending a reading/salon with poet Billeh Nickerson, whose book McPoems has just been published by Arsenal Pulp Press. Talk about poetry for the masses: it consists of short prose poems inspired by his stint working as a manager in a famed fast-food franchise. Knowing how deeply fast food has encroached into our diet, Billeh couldn’t understand why it hadn’t been addressed in our nation’s poetic works. Well, now it has, and you can read excerpts on the Arsenal website linked above.
I’m trying to remind myself to keep poetry alive in my life all year through, not just in April. I’m writing a poem right now, which is a wonderfully fun thing to do when you don’t have any aspirations to be a capital-P ‘Poet’. I’m enjoyed Writing the Life Poetic by Sage Cohen, a friendly and helpful guide to reading and writing poetry (much of which applies to all creative writing). And for Mother’s Day, I’m asking my three strapping, gizmo-loving, Subway-guzzling sons to make me tea and then read aloud their favourite poem.
Tudor, like me, you don’t consider yourself a ‘poet.’ What role does poetry play in your reading and writing life?
Tudor: Peggy, you didn’t have to be nice and say I don’t consider myself a poet; you could have just come out with the truth that I’m not a poet. Full stop.
For whatever reason, I’ve spent a lot of my life surrounded by commerce grads (my dad), MBAs (most of my friends at university) and engineers (the rest of my friends at university, my husband and too many of our friends to count). Not surprisingly, many of them think of me as “artsy”. They probably think I looove poetry. They probably think I get it. They would mostly be wrong.
However, just because being a writer doesn’t automatically make me a creator or regular consumer of poetry, doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate (some) of it. Here are the ways poetry fits into my life these days:
(1) Through my kids. I’ve recently started posting a new one of Kenn Nesbitt’s poems on the bulletin board in our kitchen every week. My boys really, really like reading them. The poems are easy to read and they’re extremely silly which greatly appeals to kids (and adults too).
(2) Through music. Good lyrics can be touching, inviting, interesting, storytelling and – yup; that’s right – poetic.
(3) In my prose writing. Every now and then I write a sentence, or even a paragraph and I think “wow, that is fantastic, that flows; that is (wait for it) poetic.” It feels good for a while until I also realize it probably needs to go because, as Mary Kole so aptly points out in her great “When to cut something out of your manuscript” post, if you think it’s that clever it should probably go. Sigh…
Finally, of course, there is some poetry I like just for the sake of it being poetry. While I admire their mastery, I’m not so much into the romantic poets (although I studied the heck out of them at Queen’s). I have to give a nod to Shakespeare – the things that man could do with iambic pentameter – but, apart from that the poetry I like tends to be more recent and more Canadian.
Some of my favourites are Leonard Cohen, Alden Nowlan, Gary Geddes and (ignoring the derision this will bring me) I really have quite a soft spot for Gord Downie’s Coke Machine Glow which, I fully admit, is fired by my soft spot for Gord Downie.
Oh wait, because now I’m remembering so many more. I love Yeats, especially “Adam’s Curse” and who can’t like W.H. Auden; if you’ve seen “Four Weddings and a Funeral” you’ll never forget “Funeral Blues”. And there are more.
So maybe my commerce and engineering friends would be right; maybe I like poetry more than I think…
Filed under From Peggy and Tudor, Inspiration, Poetry, Sunday Special