While driving up to Whistler recently for a ‘me, myself and I’ writing retreat, I used the road time to compose six-word missives about my own father. As you know, words are like cooking – when you stir up something on the stove for a while and let the water evaporate, whatever remains becomes stronger and stronger! Using the minimum number of words to pack the maximum amount of punch is always a good exercise in building your writerly impact – and, in this case, it’s guaranteed to pack an emotional wallop for you, as well.
Some of my favourites on the site (a selection will be harvested and run in a print edition of the National Post) include “Lost you early, now I understand” by Richard Rajotte and “Always there before we needed you” by Sean Cameron. Reading through the entries, you can’t help but contemplate the dad you had, or wished you had, or the parent you want to be.
So, as yet another one of my suggested spring ‘cross-training exercises,’ why not pen a six-word bio of your pater? If you catch the ‘six-word memoir’ bug, you could always expand the exercise and write one for each member of your family … then write them on ribbons and tie them to a ‘family tree’ outside your door. (If you’re brave, have your kids or partner write one about YOU … it’s daunting to imagine how your life will look distilled down into six words, especially when they are written by someone else!)
My six-word tribute?
Happy Father’s Day, Dad. You’re missed.
Filed under From Peggy, In the News, Inspiration, Memoir, On Life, Writing Exercises | Comments Off
Much as I love my gadgets, I tend to fall on the side of those who staunchly prefer a book printed with dead-tree technology, even despite that grim imagery.
But when it came to subscribing to the Globe and Mail recently, I opted for their ‘Globe2Go’ edition, which is a facsimile of that day’s print paper that is downloaded wirelessly to my iPad. I just couldn’t justify bringing three dailies to my doorstep.
Have to say, I REALLY like getting my morning paper this way… not just to my doorstep, but my bedside. Currently priced at half the cost of the print edition delivered to one’s door, it has value-added features such as hyperlinks that take you to referenced webpages, the ability to print an article in plain text or its graphic form (which I appreciate) and the ability to share an article via email or social networking sites.
I’ve always read newspapers along with the rest of the family at breakfast, but once I’m up and out for the day, the chances I’d return to my Vancouver Sun or National Post were pretty small. But with the Globe on my iPad, it travels with me and gives me a much broader range of possible reading locations (including at the bathroom sink while brushing my teeth or in the car while I’m waiting for someone).
As an avid newspaper reader, a former reporter, and a firm believer in the vast benefits that the press have over more sensationalistic, sound-bite TV news outlets, I have great hope that our print media will survive and flourish in the new digital world. Now that I’ve got a foot in both camps – subscribing both to the printed page and online offerings – I hope I’m doing my bit to support the health of the industry overall.
And on that front, good news released last week from the Vancouver Sun, which writes that its total readership is up 2.7 per cent since 2007, with both online readership and once-a-week print copy purchasers both increasing in the last year alone.
Kudos to all who are putting their best creative foot forward in a challenging, changing media climate.Filed under From Peggy, In the News, The Publishing Industry | Comments Off
I love love loved two of today’s columns in the National Post newspaper. (That’s probably an example of ‘girl’ writing.)
Barbara Kay and Jonathan Kay were each asked to respond to an International Women’s Media Foundation in Washington survey lamenting that the number of women who write opinion pieces is far lower than the number of males who do so.
Both Barbara, a gifted opinion writer herself, and Jonathan, one of the National Post’s other op-ed regulars, wrote convincing reasons as to why this might be so. And it doesn’t have anything to do with patriarchal conspiracies.
It boils down to choice, that thing that we have a lot of these days. And there are sound reasons why many women may not choose to immerse themselves in the thrust-and-parry world of hard-hitting op-ed writing.
Of course, many women break the mold to smithereens, but it doesn’t mean that the mold doesn’t exist. Check out Barbara’s views here, and Jonathan’s here. (I have to say his description of a ‘columnist personality’ fits one or two males I know to a T!)
Vive la difference, I say. What say you?Filed under From Peggy, In the News, The Publishing Industry, Writing as Career | Comments Off
I finally succumbed to the ubiquitous, in-your-face product displays at Indigo and purchased The Book of Awesome by Neil Pasricha. And I’m glad I did – mostly because it’s given me a super tool to bring to writing workshops.
The book was written by a down-on-his-luck fellow who brought joy back into his life by paying attention to those small, wonderful moments that make us smile. He started a list of them on a blog and it hit a chord with millions of readers, and then of course came the book deal.
As you’ll see on his site, the moments he captures are, truly, awesome. Recent ones include “when someone returns your book and they’ve actually read it” and “when you get in the car and notice someone’s filled up the tank.”
The book is full of more little happinesses, like those times “when you get an eyelash out of your eye” or get “the thank-you wave when you let someone merge in front of you.” They really are great.
But the reason I bring the book to writers’ workshops is to illustrate the danger of over-explaining things in your writing. Each of Pasricha’s ‘awesome things’ is followed by his explanation/analysis of the pleasure – text that can run from a paragraph to two pages in length. And the effect, for me at least, is to dilute the power of his original idea.
When you’ve found the perfect detail or descriptor in your writing, let it speak for itself. Attempts to make sure the reader ‘gets it’ saps its initial impact. As publisher Sol Stein put it “one plus one equals a half.”
Comedian Sarah Silverman puts it another way. As quoted by Shinan Govani in the June 23rd National Post, she made a reference at a Nantucket comedy festival to a “hat on a hat.” As Govani explained that’s “a joke that ruins a joke by adding an extra bit of comedy when the joke, as it happens, is simple and clear.”
However you want to phrase it, it’s a lesson worth remembering.
Bonus tip: If you’re looking for a party game for your writers’ group – and who isn’t – try this one: Ask people to write down their top three or four ‘awesome things’ but to keep them anonymous. The group leader reads out the list, and a prize goes to whoever can identify which writer belongs to which list. It’s illuminating! A variation, of course, would be to include two or three anti-awesome things, too, like those times you realize it’s garbage day just as the truck thunders by your house…Filed under From Peggy, In the News, Language & Usage, On Books, Sites We Like, Tips on technique, Writing Exercises | Comments Off
You think the Olympics are tough on the athletes? Speaking as a Vancouver writer, it’s pretty taxing on us artsy types, too.
I had expected to have an cordial but somewhat distant relationship with the Games. While wishing well to all involved, I am not generally a follower of sports and don’t even have cable TV on which to follow the action. I had no desire to buy tickets and hadn’t even heard of the ‘Own the Podium’ program. I looked forward to witnessing some of the spectacle, and that was it. My life would essentially remain unchanged.
But, as it turns out, it is impossible to be in the Vancouver mainland and not be swept along for the ride. And perhaps that’s especially true for writers.
As the kind of scribe who likes to find the world in a grain of sand, the quotidian minutiae of life is from whence I gain my inspiration. One small act, an offhand comment, an observed interaction – each can be for me the small pebble in a pond that expands into concentric, ever-greater layers of meaning.
But now I am living in a pond into which is thrown, not the occasional pebble, but an unremitting barrage of boulders of all shapes and sizes. The resulting rings and ripples crash into each other; no one pattern is left unmolested or uninterrupted, and the overall effect is quite chaotic for those of us used to finding our stories in life’s little wayside ditches.
Usually, I look around me with a microscopic eye. I study the little things to make sense of the big ones. It’s like you’re a Biology 12 student, studying a prepared slide of skin cells under 400x magnification. Remember how it felt when your jokester partner leaned over and suddenly stuck his pencil or something else relatively humongous under the lens? It was rather startling, wasn’t it?
Everywhere I turn now there are Big Stories; blatant, in-your-face tales that certainly aren’t waiting for a patient writer to unearth them. Hi-def screens have taken over all my usual neighbourhood hang-outs, each projecting images of agony, joy, defeat, tragedy, perseverance, protest and pride. You can’t help but absorb all these emotions at the cellular level as you walk through the cheering, chattering masses.
This is not a complaint. I have happily succumbed to 2010 fever and have spent four days downtown soaking up the sights, enjoying the energy, and loving the excuse to strike up conversations with passing strangers. Never before have I experienced being in a car-free, blocks-long street that is so packed with bodies that movement is sometimes nigh impossible, and my hat is off to all who are making this work so well.
But the rain has started today, and I admit that I am not unhappy to have a break from the intoxicating sunshine, the festivities and the scenery that we residents are proudly noticing all over again now that it’s being broadcast back to us by visiting journalists and cameramen.I have been a glutton at the buffet, and this forced overconsumption of human drama has left me feeling bloated.
It’s time for a day of rest; a period of digestion. Overtraining does no one any good, apparently; and that goes for writers, too – at least this Vancouver scribe.Filed under From Peggy, In the News, The Writer's Path | Comments (2)
Not being a follower, I likely won’t have Ozzy Osbourne’s new autobiography I Am Ozzy on my bedside table in the foreseeable future. But I love the widely reporter disclaimer that appears at the beginning of his book, and think all of us memoir writers should include something similar (though the faint-hearted among us might opt for less colourful language!):
“Other people’s memories of the stuff in this book might not be the same as mine. I ain’t gonna argue with ‘em. Over the past forty years I’ve been loaded on booze, coke, acid, Quaaludes, glue, cough mixture, heroin, Rohypnol, Klonopin, Vicodin, and too many other heavy-duty substances to list in this footnote. On more than a few occasions I was on all of these at the same time. I’m not the fucking Encyclopedia Britannica, put it that way. What you read here is what dribbled out of the jelly I call my brain when I asked it for my life story. Nothing more, nothing less.”
Isn’t that true of all our memoirs and autobiographies? We might not be loaded on coke or Vicodin, but our memories are skewed through different lenses: resentments, birth order, health or illness, our economic situation, you name it… as police know well from often conflicting witness reports, two people’s readings of the same situation can vary dramatically.
And on top of our immediate perception of any given event, we are now finding that our memory of it proves, over the years, to be fluid and malleable, shaped by a variety of influences and factors. (Just one small example, showing how doctored photos can shape a person’s recall of events, is here.)
Perhaps the best we can expect of our memoirs is they are utterly faithful to our lives as we perceived them. When we write something, we know when it has the ring of truth about it – and we also know when we are avoiding genuine authenticity. The latter will never truly engage your readers – even if your ‘facts’ are impeccable.
Thanks, Ozzy, for the reminder!
Filed under From Peggy, In the News, Memoir, On Books, On Life, Quotations
A while ago I gave my strong opinion that writers shouldn’t take stuff for free and then write about it.
Well, it seems I’m not the only one who finds it an interesting topic. Peggy just pointed out to me that the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) in the U.S. has now brought in guidelines (effective December 1, 2009) which state: “Bloggers who make an endorsement must disclose the material connections they share with the seller of the product or service.”
Failure to do so, could result in fines up to $11,000.00 USD.
Interesting…From Tudor, In the News, The Publishing Industry, Writing as Career | Comments Off