Nurturing Young Writers

Nurturing Young Writers

Ruth E. Walker

As a former president of a writing organization and someone who is known for giving workshops and presentations about writing, I’m occasionally approached by a parent about their child who “wants to be a writer.”

Invariably, it’s Mom who calls or stops me to chat. They have a daughter or son who writes all the time, makes up great stories and even puts them together into homemade books.

The question always is: What programs are out there for my child? Where can my child go to take workshops and be encouraged about their writing? Is there any place my child can submit their stories to?

I’ve also been a guest in many classrooms. Eager students want to know where they can submit their writing to be published.

There are places for young writers to submit, but first let’s take a step back and focus on what we can do to keep that child’s enthusiasm fuelled.

Caring adults are key

As in any aspect of a child’s development, a caring adult can make all the difference. For young writers who are immersed in their imaginations, the way their fledgling stories are treated might make all the difference as they get older.

Parents, guardians — even next door neighbours — can keep young kids writing as long as they remember that correct spelling, grammar and logic isn’t the point at an early stage. What matters is that the child feels their words on the page have value. It might be tough not to point out that “witsh” should be “witch”, but it’s so much better to focus on how scary their Hallowe’en story is. And to ask them questions about the story, inspiring them to include a few more details the next time.

And teachers — with several educators in our family, I know the tightrope you walk balancing your teaching day with administrative demands, curriculum expectations, exemplars, resources, extracurricular duties, prep, supervision…and the expectation that you engage every single student you teach. The last 20 months, in particular, have been exhausting and full of uncertainties.

However, when you release students from the expectations of the aforementioned spelling, grammar and logic with their writing, marvelous things can happen. Make space for free writing. Later on, you can lead them gently to the editing process. If their confidence and connection to their stories remains strong, you can easily show them how revision is part of creativity.

Young writers taught me

I’ve been an artist in residence for our local board of education. I visited classes to share my journey to publication and give them a taste of a workshop.

I always told young students in my workshops: It isn’t about spelling or grammar or logic. It’s about your words, your way. Almost without exception, this was key to getting them to write.

I especially loved working with the alternative high school students. The ones who didn’t fit in the regular classroom. They had complex and difficult lives and often unhappy relationships with adults. Earning their trust was a major accomplishment and I treasured it. They taught me that all of us, given the chance to express ourselves in writing, can move others with our words on the page.

And finally, I learned that an aptitude for the written word may not be the primary gift of a talented young person. At the school board’s integrated arts camp every June, I ran a creative writing workshop. For just over a week, grades 7 to 12 students explored freefall writing, prompts and story ideas.

Back in 2017, I posted a story about a student in my arts camp workshop. In A Boy, His Words, His Way I shared how this brilliant writer showed me that excellence can move through more than one creative outlet. And equally important, how some young writers want to care about spelling, grammar and logic. They’ve already moved beyond free expression and are working on the next level.

It changed my approach, as follows: It isn’t about spelling or grammar or logic. It’s about your words, your way. But if spelling, grammar and logic matter to you, I’ll honour that. Because it’s still about your words, your way.

Resources for young writers

It’s a tough market for even experienced writers and young writers have fewer opportunities, but there are places that will accept submissions. And places where supports and resources help keep the fires of inspiration going.

If you’re a young writer or a caring adult with a young writer in your life, here’s some links of interest:

Award-winning Canadian children’s author, Karen Krossing, has an extensive list of writing opportunities and resources for young people on her website. She also has some great writing tips to help young writers deepen their craft.

In The Learning Network, an education resource of The New York Times, there’s an article with over 70 places young writers can submit work to. Updated in October 2020, the article notes that many of the sites listed accept international submissions.

10 tips for a successful live reading

10 tips for a successful live reading

At last! A real live poetry reading! Gwynn’s local Indie Book Seller, Let’s Talk Books in Cobourg, Ontario is kicking off an in-person Fall Reading Series beginning this coming Wednesday, September 15, and she’s on the bill with her new poetry book Ten of Diamonds.

She’s thrilled with this opportunity to put her work out there. It’s a gift, she says, and now is not the time to be a shy wallflower. Here are 10 tips for a successful reading, not just poetry, but any literary form:

  1. Find out all the practical details about the event well in advance. Do you know when you are expected to arrive? Do you have to supply your books for sale or is that being handled? Where can you park? Can you get a drink or snack there or nearby or should you bring your own? Who else is reading? Will there be questions from the audience? Will there be a signing table? How long are you expected to read?
  2. Research the demographic. Find out who else is reading and what kind of audience is expected. Researching your fellow readers will arm you in pre- and post-event chit chat to sound informed and experienced. Knowing your “competition” helps you choose work to read that is different and makes you stand out (in a good way), and that suits your audience.  
  3. Advertise the event through your own platforms and networks. Ask friends and colleagues to spread the word. The more marketing you do in your circles and their extended circles, the greater chance of an audience that will buy YOUR book and cheer YOU on.
  4. Remember a reading is entertainment. Yes, you want to sell books. Yes, you may be a wonderful poet/writer, but your primary job is to entertain, to intrigue, to wow, to leave the listeners energized and wanting more……of you and your book. Don’t get maudlin or depressing or worst of all – boring!
  5. Choose your reading piece wisely. Switch it up; show your range or your signature or why you are different. Remember your audience is listening only and auditory skills are not the general public’s greatest strength. Long pieces requiring focused listening will demand too much of your crowd. Go for shorter pieces and variety. Not only will that help with attention span, but if one excerpt/poem doesn’t appeal to a listener, maybe the next one will. Reading a novel excerpt out of context without set-up will confuse and alienate. Poetry that relies on clever line breaks or special formatting on the page will fail. Remember #4 above. Entertain. Keep it light, funny, uplifting, mysterious. Paint word pictures rather than engage in intellectual whah-whah-whah.
  6. Practice, practice, practice. Many writers are introverts; the very idea of speaking in front of a group is terrifying. And the only way through that is to practice and prepare. Read your piece/s out loud. Do it often. Print your pages in a large easily readable font. Don’t just practice the way you will read, but the way you will stand. Planting two feet slightly apart is best. Practice relaxing your shoulders; practice looking up to make eye-contact between lines. Practice speaking your intros without having to read them. Practice staying within the allotted time.
  7. Stay within your time limit. Don’t overstay your welcome. Remember that your time limit includes any introductions you make about your piece. Keep the intro short, giving just enough context for the listener to enjoy the excerpt. Not every piece needs an intro; sometimes a simple, “I’m reading from Chapter 2 where we first meet Olga” or “This poem was inspired by my grandfather who was a lumberjack” will do. 
  8. Organize your reading pages. You never know what the lighting situation will be or if you’ll have a podium to support you. Mark the pages in your book with Post-its for easy finding or better yet have your reading printed on separate pages in a large font. Put your reading papers in order in a folder so you don’t fumble about or waste precious reading time shuffling for them. On the radio or outdoors, put individual pages in plastic sleeves so they don’t rustle or flap in the wind. Make sure you can handle and support them easily if there is no podium.
  9. Don’t be a pain to the organizers. Be prepared to fit in with what they have planned. Be self-sufficient. Bring an extra copy of your bio in case. Bring your own pen for signings. Have some pleasant signing phrases ready to use to help the signing process to move along. Have extra copies of your book available in your trunk in case. Help with set-up or take down if needed. Always say THANK YOU.
  10. Make a good impression. Pay attention to the image you project right from the way you dress, to the way you engage with others, to the “smile” in your eyes. Anticipate what people might ask you and prepare some friendly engaging answers. Arrive early and be prepared to stay late if the signing lines are moving slowly, or patrons want to chat. Remember always you are selling: yourself, your work, this book and the next book. When you get up to read, project confidence: read slowly and clearly and make eye-contact whenever you can.

Gwynn’s poetry chapbook is available at Let’s Talk Books bookstore in Cobourg. “In a series of 10 constraint poems, this beautifully designed chapbook explores human frailties and strengths with vivid imagery and a skilled understanding of form.”

Too Good to be True?

Too Good to be True?

Ruth E. Walker

We writers are eager for validation. It’s not an ego thing — it’s more about our insecurities as writers (Am I good enough? Is this the final draft of something people will want to read or is it garbage? And so on.)

So when something lands in your lap that offers an exceptional opportunity, you (and in this case, I mean me) get excited.

The pitch

Hello:

My name is Erica Loberg and I work for Soho Press. We are hiring writers and poets with adequate work-related experience for our upcoming conference. The objective is to have you share your experiences as a writer and/or poet with everyone attending the conference including some of our employees and members of the general public by invitation only. This is to encourage people looking to become new writers. We request for you to work 1 hour on any two days between October 10th and October 30th, 2021. This will be between 12 PM and 1 PM Eastern Daylight Time. We are willing to pay you $1,500 for these two days. If you are interested, please tell us the dates that you will be available for. Thank you so much.

Erica Loberg
Publicist
Soho Press
erica.loberg@sohopresspublishers.com

Oh my goodness. $750 an hour! How did they find out about my workshop and conference experience? And right at lunchtime — even if I was already booked into events, surely I could manage two lunch hour Zoom presentations. I mean, they probably have this conference on Zoom, right? It has to be real because that is Soho Press and that email address looks like a legit email address for Soho Press…and…and…and

Reality bytes

And. That whispering voice in the back of my mind eventually gets loud enough for me to listen.

Let’s take a closer look at this fabulous email. Using my editor’s eye, I see a number of things that my first quick read failed to consciously register.

#1 Hello: — this is a group email that doesn’t address me individually. Even if a group email was real, a publicist for a niche , respected publishing house wouldn’t start out with such a generic salutation opening and corporate-style tone. So try this edit: Hello. My name is Jane Doe and work for Microsoft. we are hiring software engineers with adequate work-related… Good grief. I think this is a plagiarized phishing email.

#2 We are hiring writers and poets. Hmm. Poets are writers. And why not editors, too? What kind of writers/poets? And adequate work-related experience? As demonstrated in #1, that kind of language is more related to corporate job searches than to those committed to the craft of writing excellence.

#3 This is to encourage people who want to become writers. Huh? “This”? As an editor, I always caution about vagueness in writing. Unexpected from a industry professional. And do publishers “encourage” those “who want to become writers”? Indeed, the closer I looked at “Erica’s” invitation, the more I considered the overall lack of logic and the vague language:

A conference? What kind of conference? Attended by some of our employees and members of the general public by invitation only. Really? A successful niche press is inviting “some” of its employees and a special list of people wanting “to become writers” to some unnamed online conference? (I guess that last bit is meant to cover the lack of any mention of the conference on the Soho website. Yes. I did my research. Eventually. For tips on research, see our August 25 post, Research Redux.)

#4 We request for you to work… significant grammar glitch here with a whiff of English-as-a-second-language. The latter is not a big issue unless you consider the source: a well-respected North American press. And isn’t Erica a communications expert as the Publicist for said press? So her grammar should be spot on.

Cue balloon deflating

There are several other clues that this amazing opportunity isn’t real but I should have immediately digested the biggest of them: $1,500 for two hours work. (It’s true that any presenter at any conference knows there are hours of prep that go into those two hours but $1500-worth?)

Logic said this is way too good to be true. And that was confirmed by the September 1 post (research – remember?) on the Soho Press website and Facebook page:

BEWARE: We are aware of an ongoing scam using real publishing industry employee and company names as well as faked company websites to solicit speakers for a conference. Soho Press is not involved with any such conference nor is there any such conference being planned. These emails are scams.

Soho Press

Moral of the story

Even a smarty pants like me, who frequently points out the scams that well-meaning friends excitedly send my way, we smarty pants can start down the path blinded by the light (in this case 1,500 dollars-worth of brilliance.)

It also shows that criminal phishers are getting more clever in their pitches. Erica Loberg checks out as Soho’s publicist. Her email appears legit but a closer look (research strikes again) reveals the press’s address for all emails are “X”@sohopress.com — minus the “publishing” (which is a dog whistle word for most of us writers but I digress.)

So moral of the story? It’s bad enough having to deal with rejection, missed deadlines and the cold echo of nothing from that agent in your INBOX but this is truly devious.

One good thing perhaps, it might just spark a tale or two for me and maybe for you, too.

For more ideas, check out Will Ferguson’s 419 — a beautiful and tragic novel about the complex reality for poverty-driven scammers and the phish who bite on the hook.

Binge-worthy Podcasts for Writers

Binge-worthy Podcasts for Writers

Guest blogger – Lori Twining

Some of my writing buddies have been struggling to find the words lately. I’m no different. There are days I sit at my desk and stare at a blank page and wonder why I am even bothering to get up. Seriously, I could be sleeping right now. I never get enough sleep.

The thing is, I have found a way to get my writing mojo back. I’ve been multi-tasking. While I paint or quilt or indulge in other other creative pursuits, I’ve been listening to podcasts specifically for writers. They are so engaging that it has turned me into a BINGER! I have become a person who exhibits excessive or uncontrolled indulgence in podcasts—a podcast binger who often listens to four podcasts in one single day.

But, why? How could they be that good?

All of the podcasts listed below inspire me. Authors explain how they balance their family life with their writing life, what time of day works better for them, or how they came up with such brilliant story ideas. I love hearing how my favourite authors churn out bestsellers one after another.

Whether these podcasts help you improve your craft or help you understand how other people are making a living doing the one thing you are passionate about, I should warn you that you have hours of binge-worthy episodes waiting for you.

Here are a few of my absolute favourite writing podcasts:

“The Shit No One Tells You About Writing” with Bianca Marais.

This podcast has a segment called “Books and Hooks” featuring two Literary Agents as cohosts: Carly Watters and Cecilia Lyra. Writers are encouraged to send in a query letter and the first five pages of their manuscript. They discuss what the writer did well, what the agents were confused about, and suggest what the writer could do to improve it. I have listed some examples of their podcasts to try, but you can find hundreds to choose from on their website. Following the Books and Hooks, Bianca interviews an author about a specific topic such as:

How Writers Write hosted by Brian Murphy

How Writers Write is a podcast for creative writers to learn how their favorite writers tell their stories. The podcast’s host, Brian Murphy, interviews world-class writers to decode their tips, routines, and motivations for producing bestsellers.

The Crew Reviews Podcast

Thriller Talk Podcast with K.J. Howe and Ryan Steck (YouTube Channel)

The Writer Files: Writing, Productivity, Creativity, and Neuroscience with Kelton Reid

The Creative Penn Podcast: Writing, Publishing, Book Marketing, Making A Living With Your Writing with Joanna Penn

The Writer’s Digest Podcast with Gabriela Pereira:

If podcasts are not for you:

If you have tried listening to podcasts and they are not lighting a fire under your butt, then perhaps you should try listening to author interviews. Live events are happening across the globe almost every single night. Most of these events can be listened to while you lounge in the bathtub, eating cookies (meaning your face will not be on ZOOM camera). This is always a plus because no one needs to comb their hair during a pandemic if they don’t want to.

Live Events (Live Facebook or Instagram Events):

  • Murder By The Books ~ Live Author Interviews via Facebook Live
  • Anderson’s Bookstore ~ Live Author Interviews via Facebook Live
  • Genre Masters ~ Live Interview via ZOOM
  • Day Drinking with Authors with Molly Fader~ Live Interviews via Facebook
  • First Chapter Fun with Hannah Mary McKinnon and Hank Phillippi Ryan

*NOTE: Many live interviews are archived online after the event and are available to listen to at any time.

Last Words:

After binging on a few podcasts or author interviews, I am positive you will be inspired and motivated to write your own words down on the page. There is no stopping you now. Get to it. Just put your butt in the chair and write all the words. I can’t wait to read them.

Meet Lori Twining

Lori Twining writes both fiction and nonfiction, with her stories winning awards in literary competition and appearing in several anthologies. She’s an active member of many writing groups: International Thriller Writers, Crime Writers of Canada, Sisters In Crime, Toronto Romance Writers, and Ascribe Writers. She’s a lover of books, sports and bird watching, and a hater of slithering reptiles and beady-eyed rodents. Find more info at www.lvtwriter.com ; Twitter: @Lori_Twining

Research Redux

Research Redux

Ruth E. Walker

History holds so much richness for writers. It’s a deep well many of us dip into, finding inspiration, surprises and mysteries. And it’s why we call it a rabbit hole–wander in and you might find it tough to resurface.

As I work on the second book of my speculative fiction, I research ancient (and not-so-ancient) history to strengthen plot developments and character actions and reactions. I look for the sparks that ignited revolutions, for the leaders and strategies behind uprisings, and for the willful blindness of those in power.

Good grief, we humans are ridiculous when it comes to willful blindness. From aristocrats to bureaucrats to potentates, the “safe” bubble that power, influence and wealth creates is the reason so many of them are in shock when the masses are at the gates.

Similarly, we humans are one hot mess when we are that angry mob. Just wander through social media of all stripes to find postings of extreme outrage, disgust and threats. And algorithms make sure that like feeds like, so travelling down that rabbit hole is risky business.

Frankly, it’s why I barely dip my toe into that form of fury. Give me instead human interest stories or pics of your grandkids any day.

The online anger is nothing new. The difference is the speed and volume that social media platforms provide. And while they can offer insights into discontent, there is no lack of page-by-page context available in physical text. That’s why I like to research through books and magazines. Just one phrase or footnote can launch a whole new idea.

When you write with history in your back pocket, your characters, plots and themes carry a truth. Truth grounding any fiction creates reality for the reader – and most importantly, confidence for the author.  And that, dear writer, is pure creative gold.

Revisit Research

Research is a topic we’ve covered in previous Top Drawer posts. So I’ve gathered a collection of some of our more popular posts on that topic because, after all, they’re still useful and timely. You’ll notice that most of them are written by Gwynn. She is known for bringing her analytical mind to the creative table, and for that I am grateful, as are her readers.

Let’s start with the treasures found in archives. In a well-received two-part series, Gwynn explores where and how to dig in:

Digging up Archives – Part I — an overview of where to find archives in Canada and beyond.

Always thorough, Gwynn followed that post with the answer to “Now what?” in Digging up Archives – Part 2 Top Drawer readers told us they had a much better understanding of where and how to use archives for research after reading Gwynn’s posts.

I chronicled my own experience with Canada’s National Library and Archives, researching my great-great-great-grandfather’s book about the Hudson’s Bay Company in the late 1700s. Holding History in My Hands shares what that moment was like.

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And more recently, Gwynn posted a number of computer hacks that make writing — and researching — easier and faster.

In Computer Hacks for Writers and Researchers, she offers up a taste of ways writers can make the work less onerous.

Access is key

A final note – many of the featured sources are online. Given that we are still treading a careful line between in-person and virtual activities, what was convenient less than 18 months ago is now pretty much a lifeline.

We writers know that library and archive staff are incredibly helpful when doing our research. Express your appreciation when they go that extra mile and be kind when health and safety regulations limit their efforts.

Writing in the time of the pandemic…that has an interesting ring to it, don’t you think? I wonder what the textbooks, novels, poetry, lyrics and archives of 2020 will reveal to writers in the year 2220 and beyond?

LAST WORD: OUR FALL RETREAT

Re-emerging, our all-inclusive writing retreat in October is now fully booked except for one single cottage available at a premium rate. OR if you’re a cottager/resident nearby, we have a couple of spaces for day-rate participants.

Email us at info@writescape.ca for details.

Wait List:

We are launching a Wait List for anyone who’d like to join us at Elmhirst’s Resort this fall. Email us at info@writescape.ca with the subject line: Wait List Fall Retreat and if we have any cancellations, we’ll let you know in the order your email was received.  

What’s in a Word?

What’s in a Word?

Ruth E. Walker 

A restaurant’s Help Wanted ad caught my attention the other day. It wasn’t the requirement “Must be 18 years of age or older” that piqued my interest. Under Ontario’s labour laws employers can’t schedule anyone ages 14 to 17 during school hours unless they’ve been excused from school. So, it’s okay to require an age minimum of 18 for daytime work.

But the restaurant was looking something else in their applicants. The job was for a waitress. A waitress? I haven’t seen that in a very long time.

What do you imagine with that word? Not a male applicant. Not a binary or transgender person. Nope, you conjure up a female.

Maybe your mindsight has that woman in an apron, hair tied back in a bun or net, order pad and pencil poised to take your order. Maybe she’s wearing sensible shoes as she balances a loaded tray in a crowded diner somewhere. No matter what you imagine, when you read waitress, you think female.

In Ontario it’s illegal under the Human Rights Code to reference and/or require directly or indirectly anything that is listed under the code as discriminatory, and that includes “sex” unless it’s a bona fide exception. A specific driver’s license, for example, to be a cab driver or transport truck operator.

So how come this clearly defined by gender job title sits there, bold as brass in the newspaper? Because words don’t matter to everyone — but they should. And most especially to writers (and newspaper editors, too.)

The times have already been a-changin’

Years ago – and I do mean years ago: over 40 to be precise – I worked in Human Resources in the health care field. It was a time when you had nurses aides and orderlies. Nurses aides were female and orderlies were male. It was just hospital staff titles. Our world back then had waiters and waitresses. We had firemen and policemen and chairmen and postmen.

There’s a long history of separation by gender. Our elementary school still had the boys entrance and the girls entrance carved over the doors, where, before my time, students lined up by gender. My gym classes were all female. Girls took Home Ec. Boys took Industrial Arts.

No wonder language and, specifically words and especially job titles, were framed within gender. The wake-up call arrived while I was working in HR during the 1980s. It was a revolutionary time when women (and some men) demanded gender-neutral job titles. Women didn’t want to be constrained by their gender. They wanted to be persons first. And there were males who wanted careers in “traditionally female” jobs.

Oh the outcry and resistance was massive. But eventually, common sense prevailed. Union contracts had to be revised. Policies and procedures updated and, in some cases, deleted. Nurses aides and orderlies became nursing assistants and, eventually, personal support workers. Firemen, policemen and postmen became firefighters, police officers and postal workers. The chairman of the board awkwardly tried on “chairman/chairwoman” for a while but eventually morphed into the much better Chair. No gender necessary.

Language reflects society

As language and its uses changed, opportunities developed for women in “non-traditional” jobs. Now, when a woman drops envelopes in my mailbox, it’s not unusual or remarkable or noteworthy. It’s my mail being delivered. And when a tragic fire happened in my city some months ago, the firefighter quoted in the paper was a woman. We mourned the losses. We didn’t stop to question why a female was working as a firefighter. As it should be.

Of course, it hasn’t been all smooth sailing into this transition. There are still pockets of “waitress” out there. But the fact that it stands out as I skimmed the classified (often the source of story inspiration, by the way) – it’s a sign that my brain has accepted “server”, a non-gender job title, as normal.

Language is dynamic. It is always changing just as members of society change. Successful writers pay attention to the way language changes because it is more than just a word used to describe something. Language — the words we use and how we use them — reflects changes in social values, in institutional structures and how something that was remarkable or strange becomes ordinary.

And paying attention to those changes (and those diehard stubborn holdouts who think it’s all just being “politically correct”) can lead writers to stories, characters and diverging plot lines they’d hadn’t considered before.

Well worth looking more carefully, don’t you think?

Supreme Court decision on Copyright

Supreme Court decision on Copyright

I suppose we should be glad that the Supreme Court upheld the decision against York University, but the road to fair dealing still seems a long way off.

If you are not familiar with the copyright struggle, you can get the details in our earlier blogs listed below or directly at the Access Copyright website.

  • April 2018 – background to the legal struggle
  • May 2018 – Parliamentary Review and Submission to the Industry Committee
  • August 2018 – how writers can get involved and help
  • January 2019 – update as we wait for a decision
  • January 2020 – courts order payment to creators by March 9 2020
  • October 2020 – March deadline ignored. On to the Supreme Court.

Today we bring you the latest update, This is the email notification received on July 30 from Access Copyright in its entirety:

TORONTO [July 30, 2021] – Access Copyright’s case against York University was about remedying the significant and sustained economic harm to creators and publishers caused by the mass, systemic and systematic copying of their works without compensation by the education sector under self-defined fair dealing guidelines.

This economic harm was proven in court. Today’s Supreme Court decision did nothing to undermine that conclusion. Indeed, it declined to endorse York’s guidelines, which are virtually identical to the guidelines adopted by most of the education sector outside of Quebec.

While today’s decision does not dispute the harm, it declines to remedy it.

After almost 10 years of litigation and economic harm to the writing, visual art and publishing sector, creators are still left fighting for fair compensation for the use of their works by educational institutions.

Disappointingly, the Court’s decision undermines collective licensing as well as the role of the Copyright Board of Canada in upholding a functioning market for creative works.

The Supreme Court’s finding that tariffs are not enforceable exacerbates the struggles of creators in today’s marketplace where the imbalance in bargaining power does not lie with creators and their collectives, but with large institutions that brazenly abuse uncertainty in the law, push exceptions to the extreme and deprive creators of their just reward. This decision marks the beginning of a significantly more challenging environment for creators to manage and monetize their works in an increasingly digital environment.

This threatens investment in and creation of Canadian works that reflect our lived experiences and values, to the detriment of all Canadians, starting with our students.

“Canadian creators and publishers spend countless hours shaping and building the published material that inspire students. Educational institutions should be setting an example by respecting the work of others by fairly compensating creators for the use of their work. Instead, they have chosen to refuse to do so for almost a decade now,” said Roanie Levy, Access Copyright’s President & CEO. “There are no winners with today’s Supreme Court decision: we will all have fewer stories that speak directly to us as Canadians and chronicle our shared reality.”

The Supreme Court specifically said today that it is “open to Parliament to amend the Copyright Act if and when it sees fit to make collective infringement actions more readily available.” On behalf of Canadian creators and publishers, we call on the federal government to support the creative community and remedy the untenable situation in which creators find themselves as a result of the Court’s decision.
10 Free Apps for Writers

10 Free Apps for Writers

Last week’s post There’s an App for That may have been a fun tongue-in-cheek take on writing apps, but it got us thinking about what was out there for writers. The short answer is “way too many apps and programs to even scratch the surface in one blog”, but let’s start with 10 apps that are free.

Many great programs and apps like Scrivener and iAWriter have free trial periods, but the ones listed below are entirely free. Please note, that we are not endorsing or recommending here, just passing along what we have discovered is out there. Have fun trying them out.

1. yWriter

Designed for Windows in a similar vein to Scrivener, yWriter breaks your novel into scenes rather than chapters. You can track your progress using a storyboard, daily word counts and the status (written/to-be-written/in progress) of your scenes.

2. Reedsy Book Editor

This app is for formatting your book for publication. Drag and drop chapters, insert images, and create front and back matter. Then export it as a file that can be uploaded to any ebook retailer or print-on-demand supplier.

3. Grammarly

Useful for writers who want to proof short pieces, it is more than a standard spelling and grammar checker. It also provides a label and detailed reason for each correction, so you can learn how to avoid that mistake. You can also set audience, formality level, and tone (confident, urgent, etc.) and analyze for clarity, engagement, and delivery.

4. Hemingway

This app is free if used online. Like its namesake, Hemingway is designed to keep things short and sweet. This editing app gives feedback on sentence length, word usage, reading level, passive voice, and adverbs using different-coloured highlights.

5. Readable

Like Hemingway, Readable’s focus is on plain language, but is also useful for text analysis. This app keeps tabs on estimated reading times and scores on multiple readability scales such as Flesch-Kincaid and Gunning Fog.

6. NaturalReader

We always recommend reading work aloud to catch awkward bits and missing words etc., but sometimes your eyes and brain conspire to read what isn’t there. This text-to-speech app will read it for you. You can choose reading speed and a voice you like and follow along with the text. You can pause, rewind, and fast-forward too.

7. Airstory

Airstory combines the research, outlining and writing process with its divided screen. On one side, you add cards containing notes, references and ideas. On the other, a bulleted outline of your project. Great for essays and non-fiction or historical fiction.

8. OneLook

Free online, OneLook is a collection of dictionaries—over 30 orthographic, linguistic, explanatory, and other anthologies. It also has a reverse dictionary and a synonyms feature where you look up by describing a definition.

9. FocusWriter

Exactly as the name suggests this app’s interface looks like a sheet of paper, and lacking any fancy formatting options or research notes to distract you, you have no choice but to write. You can still track progress and set a timer, but not much else to derail a squirrel brain.

10. Portent’s Content Idea Generator

This app asks you to define the main subject of your article (even one word is enough), and then supplies headline and content suggestions. Great for bloggers.

There’s an App for That

There’s an App for That

Today we welcome guest blogger Shane Joseph, a Canadian novelist, blogger, reviewer, short story writer and publisher. He is the author of six novels and three collections of short stories. His latest novel, Circles in the Spiral, was released in October 2020. For details visit his website at www.shanejoseph.com

Increased time online during the last year or so made him realize that there is an App for everything—even fiction. Enjoy his tongue -in-cheek blog about it:

There’s an App for That

by Shane Joseph

There’s an app for everything these days. For searching, shopping, information, books, car maintenance, home decor, clothing, cooking, domestic help, medical care, even sex – you name it, there is one. So, what are we left to do, but say, “Alexa, get me…”

It started with someone saying: If a process can be diagrammed in steps, then those steps can be automated. And automation will always get you a consistent, high-quality product at a low price. Gone are labour costs and human error. Place the App on Google Play or the Apple iStore, feed it to the multitudes, and rake in the revenue.

The Master Switch

Gradually, those who provide the goods and services and who unwittingly and voluntarily help the techies diagram their processes—i.e. bricks and mortar retail stores, personal and profession services firms, car mechanics, cooks, decorators, tailors, bookkeepers, travel agents et al—become automated and are rendered obsolete. This list will continue to grow in future as more process-driven professions get computerized. Even programming, that evil mastermind that began automating everything in the first place, is getting automated; soon, one will wonder who has control of the master switch.

Having dodged this speeding bullet for forty-five years, where every job I held ended up inside an App, I finally retreated to the bastion of the imagination—creative writing—where I felt I would be free from the clutches of the automating juggernaut. I have a few years of active work left before I end up in a geriatric state when nothing would matter anymore – so creative writing is going to be my last safe haven.

The Novel Writing App

But, lo and behold, my consternation when I saw an advertisement the other day for a novel writing App. “Add your plot points and characters, and watch our algorithm serve up multiple scenarios, twists, endings, car chases, punch-ups, shoot-ups, sex scenes and other situations, and design your novel to be a tragedy, comedy, tragi-comedy or comi-tragedy.” I am making most of this up from memory, but I think you get the gist. Orwell predicted this future, albeit with outmoded technology – but this App looked a darn sight more effective!

“Great,” I thought at first. “This will take out all those hacks who write to a formula (to a process), and that would include those who are writing time-limited and formulaic TV scripts, detective pot boilers, romances, police procedurals, vampire chronicles, fantasy and other predictable stuff, those unimaginative scribes who have invaded my space and taken a disproportionate share of readers’ eyeballs. Fie on them!”

Then I wondered: would my literary novel be safe, where, even with a novelistic arc that suggests “formula,” nothing is taken for granted; where evil could triumph over good if I so desire it, or vice versa; where originality of language matters more, not repetition and stock phrases spewing out of a machine; where subtext matters; where the writer’s moral principles underscore the story? Could automation permeate this deep?

It’s a Chess Game After All

Then I remembered Deep Blue and Gary Kasparov and their chess duel at the end of the last century. Kasparov won in 1996, but Deep Blue came back the very next year, re-tooled for higher performance, and beat Kasparov who was only getting older. And that was over twenty years ago – how far had Artificial Intelligence progressed since then? literary novels are not safe. No way!

So, there it is. We will have to learn to live with this new bedfellow whether we like it or not. He (or She, if called by names like Alexa and Siri) will have to complement what we do, and be treated as an ally rather than a foe. For now, I say, “Go find me the meaning of this word” or “Go find me some info on this place.” But as my faculties fade and I get lazier, I can see myself ordering: “write this paragraph, adding a touch of humour, a hint of tragedy, a pinch of intrigue, and using five new words that do not occur in the book already.” I could end up a “novel director” instead of a “novelist.”

But Heaven forbid, should the algorithm say to me one day, “Shane, your writing is crap. Take this entire chapter back and re-write it, to my standards – you’ve got five minutes to complete it, and that’s generous, in machine time.”

Festina lente!

Festina lente! I never thought I would use that Latin proverb in my writing, but I think it is an apt one here given what we know is barreling down the pike. Or do you think I could confuse the novel-writing algorithm with foreign oxymorons and get it to stop in its tracks or slow down even for a little while? Festina lente…

Revisting Contest One. Oh-oh. One.

Revisting Contest One. Oh-oh. One.

Ruth E. Walker

Just last week, I received some great news. PRISM International selected my entry “Exit” for their longlist in the Grouse Grind short fiction contest. It’s been a bit of a drought for me over the past year or so. I’ve struggled with producing creative work and when I manage to actually submit anything, rejections have been the result.

No matter how polite and encouraging a rejection might be, it gets a writer down, you know? So hooray for writing contests for providing the spark that gets this writer back up again and writing.

This whole adventure reminded me of a blog post I wrote back in 2017. Looking at it now, I see that it’s still a valid and useful resource, especially as with Writescape’s recent poetry contest, we received a number of excellent poems which could not be considered as they didn’t fit the required parameters. Rule #1: follow the guidelines.

The following is a slightly updated version and, I trust, something that may inspire other writers with a spark or two of ideas.

Prepare to be judged

It’s been my pleasure (mostly) to serve as a judge on a number of writing competitions. I’ve also been both a first-tier and second-tier reader, helping to cull the entries down by eliminating entries with problems. And I’ve been a final judge for regional, national and international writing contests, choosing winners from 15 or 20 of those final top entries. Each and every time, it’s been a thrill to read creative work that made me feel “as if the top of my head were taken off” (to quote Emily Dickenson.)

I wish I could say it is true for all contest entries. But it is not.

A few years ago, a national organization of professional writers asked me to be a second-tier reader. This means I read stories that had already been reviewed and moved forward. This should mean I would be reading stories that were pretty darn good. I was looking forward to making my notes.

All the entries I read had a great story idea. But not all of them were great stories. Not even pretty darn good.

For this contest, I was only one of several second-tier readers who were also reading 14 entries. So I wasn’t reading all the entries that reached the second tier — only a fraction of them. But of my 14 entries, there were only 6 that I would have recommended as a first-tier reader.

The other 8 all had problems in terms of technique and execution. Here are just four of the many issues I encountered in the stories I scored in the bottom 8:

Don’t tell me, show me. This is a familiar refrain from creative writing instructors. But what do we mean by that? It’s more than the difference between I feel cold versus I shiver and rub my arms, although that is a good beginning. It is equally an issue if the writer shows us something — The cold crept under my flesh and into my lungs and then in the next line continues to tell us about it: It was below zero and I felt so cold.

The need to tell, especially after a show, is a sign of a writer who doesn’t trust themselves or their readers. Does this mean that every line needs to be a show versus a tell? No. But any story that relies on tell is a story that soon bores its readers.

Description is great. But if you have to hit your reader over the head with a hammer to ensure they are “getting the picture”…well, it’s soon painful. Definition of Adverbitis: excessive use of adverbs, especially when a great verb is the better choice: swiftly ran = raced/rushed/galloped — any of those three options create great visuals. The same goes with unnecessary adverbs: hurriedly, loudly, slowly…crept slowly = crept carries the whole image. I mean, can you ever creep fast? And how about plummeted swiftly? Ever seen anything plummet slowly?

And a quick note on adjectives. Use them, sure. But think before you dip your creative paintbrush three times too many: A charming, vivacious redheaded librarian is way too much for any brain to unpack and visualize. Stick to the essential descriptions of your character or the setting — leave room for your reader to fill in the rest.

Passive writing: boring, boring and more boring. Be ruthless in seeking out and eliminating passive writing wherever you can. Look for the “to be” construction: was, is, were, has/had been, will/would be…etc. You can’t avoid passive verbs but they should not dominate the page. The same goes for passive sentence construction, where the object of an action becomes the subject of a sentence: The writing group was disturbed by the brass band. (passive) The brass band disturbed the writing group. (active) And avoid long digressions and backstory. It’s a short story or excerpt, not a history lesson.

Proofread. And proofread again. Best not to write your entry six hours ahead of the deadline because chances are you will miss mistakes. Put the story in a drawer for at least a day, longer if you can. Then use a ruler to focus your eye on a line-by-line check for errors or omissions. Why does this matter? One of the top three entries I read this week was tied, in my mind, with two others for first place. But it wasn’t error-free. So while I loved it, it made it easier for me to place it lower than the other two that didn’t contain errors.

Writing contests give writers an excellent opportunity to submit their work. Unlike the slush pile, writers know someone will actually read their entry. To be a finalist or to win is a validation of your craft and I can say it’s one of the best moments for any writer. It’s a fantastic feeling that I want every writer to experience and it’s why I wrote this post. (And why I re-posted it.)

Quick Tips
Before pressing SEND:

  1. Telling us a story is not as interesting or engaging as showing us a story
  2. Lots of adverbs and plenty of adjectives are signs of a writer who doesn’t trust themselves or readers
  3. Passive writing is boring and often includes unnecessary information
  4. Spelling mistakes and typos affect how a judge reads your entry
  5. A great story idea may get you past first-tier readers but 1, 2, 3 or 4 will not get you to the final judge

Last word

As of this writing, I don’t know if my story Exit made it beyond PRISM’s longlist. But here’s the link to their website so you can check out what happened. While you’re at it, check out PRISM’s other contests — creative non-fiction and poetry, for example.

May your muse be ever-present and generous.