Uncomfortable Creativity

Uncomfortable Creativity

Ruth E. Walker

Ever been to camp in late September? Weather notwithstanding, (cold and wet) it is a unique experience to be at with 400 student campers. But this is not a post about camp. It is about our comfort zones and what happens when we shift outside of them.

I’ve been coming to the Durham District School Board’s Integrated Arts Camp (DIAC) fairly steadily since 2008. I teach a creative writing elective and always love being there, immersed in the high energy of young creatives. But when both 2020 and 2021 were cancelled, I’d pretty much decided that it was time for a younger person to take over.

So when the camp director sent me an email to see if I would return for 2022, I was fully prepared to say “no” and suggest a couple of other writers to take my place. However, it was like being possessed. I didn’t say “no”; I said “maybe.”

“Maybe” leaves doors open

Long story short, here I am, ready willing and able to eat breakfast, lunch and dinner in a dining hall full of noise: laughter, shouts, wooden benches scraping wooden floors, Melmac dishware (look it up if you haven’t had the “pleasure”) clattering across long wooden tables, rain splattering against the wall of windows, dirt and bits of gravel gracing the floors…you get the picture.

So, this is something I’m used to, having been here many times before. And working with young students, I’m used to that though the new schedule means I had to alter my teaching plan (which I generally do, anyways.)

What I am NOT used to is teaching the Song Writing elective. When I saw that on my schedule, I panicked. I am a poet. I write short stories. Novels. I do not write songs because I do not sing and I do not play an instrument. Clarinet in Junior Band does not really count at this stage. And, sure, I loved choir because I could mouth the words. I do love to sing…in private. It’s a healthy practice for lungs and heart. And I love music – pretty much all kinds of music, from opera to blues.

But song writing? Nope.

Trouble is, kids were already signed up.

Commitment via contract

I spoke with my boss, the camp director. Explained the issue. Was prepared to step aside and call up a replacement who could handle both song writing and creative writing. Thanked him for having such faith in my ability but explained I’d fall pretty darn short.

He came up with a solution: a teacher who does know about song writing, who does play an instrument. I will tag team teach with him. And I’ll work with the students on creative writing, rhyme, rhythm, repetition, hooks, inspiration, using the five senses – all the things I share in my other class but with music as a full partner in the process.

Am I terrified, sitting in the camp lounge, writing this post for the coming Wednesday? Yes. Yes I am. But also energized, excited and curious. I’m ready to learn a lot – far more than my feeble research on the subject has taught me.

And our first day did not disappoint. Jeff is a terrific teacher – engaging and knowledgeable and, most importantly, knows how to make a safe and encouraging space for the mix of students (Grades 7 through to 12) and their range of abilities.

I’ll support his program with creative writing exercises. And, along the way, I’ll have a much better handle on the process of song writing. It’s a true gift and I’m delighted to receive it.

Saying yes

In my writing life, I’ve had lots of opportunities to say no. But every time I’ve taken the chance and said, “Yes!”, wonderful things happened. I learned. I stretched my skills. I failed (such a good thing to happen, truly) and I succeeded.

I am, at heart, an introvert who fakes extrovert pretty well. Stepping outside my comfort zone has generally meant overcoming fears and insecurities. Looking around at all these young campers, some picking up an instrument for the first time or stepping out alone onto a stage or sketching a portrait that others can see – these young people are my role models.

When my writing students put pen to paper, I tell them “Your words, your way.” And as we progress and they sometimes read their words aloud, I encourage them to “own your words.” It’s all a journey, I remind them, and we’re on it together.

That’s all I need to remind myself to stretch. Who knows, maybe this old writer will write a song or two. I’ll leave it to others to bring the music to my words, which I will only sing in private. Until, one day, I just might sing in public. One more comfort zone barrier pulled down? Maybe.

Pathways to the Past

Pathways to the Past

Guest post: Marie Gage

Last month, Gwynn wrote about her grandchildren’s interest in hearing, again and again, the many family stories she often shares with them. While our families may be interested in hearing about weird, funny ancestors or thwarted loves or the price of candy 50 years ago, there is another audience we should consider. Strangers who will only know those stories in books or articles decades from now.

Author Marie Gage recently posted about her interest in taking her fascinating family stories and turning them into historical fiction. It’s a nice companion piece to Gwynn’s Family Stories, so we invited Marie to share her insights:

We carry the past with us

I experienced a bit of an ah-ha moment the other evening as I sat listening to the acclaimed Canadian tenor, John McDermott. I wanted to share the experience because it relates to my writing inspiration. He presented a song titled, “Somewhere in Me”, with a repeating line of “Somewhere in me there is you.” The song talks about how his parents influenced who he is today.

As I listened, I realized that this is why I am intrigued by and write stories of historical fiction inspired by real people. As I research, I find pieces of myself, or other family members, that were carved by the past and bear remembering. The stories I choose to turn into novels have lessons embedded that are not only important for me, they hold universal truths. As they say, we need to understand and remember history if we wish to avoid repeating it.

Uncovering truths

After researching both A Ring of Promises and Promise of the Bluebell Woods, I realized that Canada, and more generally North America, was not the Promised Land it was touted to be. Our ancestors were often given to understand that a better life awaited them if they immigrated. But that was not always true. In fact, it was often far from true. And in the case of Will Parker, a character in A Ring of Promises based on my English grandfather, even the government played a role in using the immigrant labour force in a way that was not in their best interests.

Somewhere in you is the hard work and perseverance and untold stories of your ancestors. Why not dig a little and find out what tales lie beneath the surface? You don’t have to write them as novels like I do. But you should collect them and save them in a way future generations will be able to consume them. Once you are gone, no one else will know the truth, and I guarantee someone will care about the life you lived.

Fill in the blanks

Another reason I write these novels is to resolve my frustration about all the stories of my ancestor’s lives that I can never really know. There are so many missing truths that I am compelled to resolve my own disappointment by blending what I do know with one possible way it might really have happened. This is why I wrote my Guide to Family History Interviewing. It’s my free gift to anyone who signs up for my newsletter at www.mariegage.ca.

Now, please go and make sure you capture the story of your life, or the life of someone in your family in a way that can be passed down. If undertaking a Family History Interview makes you uncomfortable, then choose another way. Use a photo album but provide better explanations and details rather than just the pictures. Create a scrapbook. Write a diary. Tell your grandchildren a real bedtime story about something that happened in your life and audio record it.

Choose the way that is easiest for you and find a way to preserve it. It’s important. Your life is important, and it will matter to people in the future even if you don’t realize it today. Our world is made up of people just like you and me. In Promise of the Bluebell Woods, the war Rod and Pearl lived through wasn’t won by people like them alone. It was won by the collective action of many brave people. Some gave their lives, and others lived to tell about it, in the hope it wouldn’t be repeated.

Learn more


If you are able to be in Minden on September 24, 2022, I will be doing a brief workshop at 2 p.m. on Family History Interviewing at Bookapalooza. This festival for readers and writers is at the Minden Community Centre, and admission and the workshop are free. Come join us if you are in the area!

Marie Gage

Marie Gage‘s writing is inspired by real people. She is a passionate researcher, intent on using all available resources to make history come to life. The weaving of fact and fiction to create stories that are both believable and inspiring is her forté. The passion she develops for her characters adds depth and life to the story. Gage writes for adults and children with equal passion.

We All Bend Toward the Light

We All Bend Toward the Light

by Guest blogger, Katie Hoogendam

As many of you know, one of Gwynn’s projects lately is preparation for the Northumberland Festival of the Arts taking place September 16 to Oct 2 this fall. The theme for the Festival is “Celebrating Resilience” and Katie Hoogendam, poet, writer & interdisciplinary artist, responded to that concept in a way that really got Gwynn thinking about art and the artists who create it. We think it will get you thinking too,

This blog originally appeared on the Northumberland Festival of the Arts (NFOTA) blog on June 3, 2022.

“Who can bend and not break? Not one of us. And yet, the moon also rises. The peonies bloom. Someone hands you a glass of water. Your thirst is quenched, for a moment, and you are touched by the kindness of that person, the significance of that glass of water.” Katie Hoogendam

What does art have to do with resilience?

What do we make of resilience? The capacity to bend but not break? They say reeds are resilient, but so are various plastics, those that float like undulating rainbows across the vast oceanic expanse. What is it to be resilient? As a person? Are you one who has survived the pandemic, but who has suffered loss nonetheless? Have you grieved an absence? Are you grieving now? Are you alive, but full of lost things? What does art have to do with resilience? Is art-making an act of defiance? A laughing into the void? Does making something new and formerly unimagined somehow re-set the balance of all that has been taken?

Creativity in community

Within our local artist communities, with each wave of COVID like an ocean it seemed there would be no legitimate moment to stop and take stock—no crest of a wave from which to gather perspective and examine all that has come before and all that will be—to take an accounting for all that we have lost and all the hope and optimism and perseverance it will require to mend what has been broken. We waited for that moment, but it did not arrive.

History is not predictable as we live our way through it; more waves came and instead of waiting for a crest from which to gain balance, we learned to brace ourselves for the next impact. After multiple bracings, some of us learned to capture the momentum of each new onslaught—to ride the waves. We learned that creativity helps one ride waves. And community. Even better—creativity in community, with community.

“One Morning”–Photography/mixed media–Katie Hoogendam

Who can bend and not break? Not one of us. And yet, the moon also rises. The peonies bloom. Someone hands you a glass of water. Your thirst is quenched, for a moment, and you are touched by the kindness of that person, the significance of that glass of water. In fact, you feel compelled to write a poem about it. You feel compelled to paint a picture of her hand. You feel compelled to compose a song about water, glasses and glasses of unending water.

You almost broke or you shattered completely and yet, even now, you feel the need to respond to the universe, to make something of it all, with your very own hands. You cannot explain this, yet your body, like all green things, bends toward the light—toward life, uncertain as it is.

Art is for everyone

The theme of Northumberland Festival of the Arts 2022 is resilience. Artists local and some far-flung will share with us from the rich caverns of their talents what it means to make art while the world appears to implode, while finances are stretched, while our futures seem uncertain. Whether or not you consider yourself an artist or patron of the arts, NFOTA is for everyone because art is for everyone. We all bend toward the light.

Celebrate Resilience

Celebrate Resilience this September 16th to October 2nd in locations all around Northumberland County (more than 40 events/16 days/8 townsa) as NFOTA celebrates and supports the resilience of local artists and the strength of our shared community. Let’s celebrate our gorgeously illogical human capacity to find beauty under rocks and in dark places—and when beauty cannot be found, to roll up our sleeves and make some!

Image by Bek Greenwood from Pixabay

About Katie

Katie Hoogendam

Meredith K. Hoogendam (Katie/Merkat) is a poet, writer & interdisciplinary artist. Folklore, feminism, and a deep love for the natural world inform her art. Her work appears in publications across the U.S. and Canada. Her play, Plan X, debuted at the 2019 Spirit of the Hills Northumberland Arts Festival (now Northumberland Festival of the Arts). Her most recent collection of poems, Spring Thaw (Glentula Press), launched at Cobourg’s independent bookstore, Let’s Talk Books, in April 2022. Her forthcoming poetry collection and collaborative art project, Grief Forest, is in the works for 2023. You can find her on Instagram @merkatart.

Amazing Moments Journal

Amazing Moments Journal

Replace fear of the unknown with curiosity.

Today’s guest blogger Cheryl Andrew‘s Amazing Moments Journal arose out of this maxim. The idea caught our attention on social media, and we asked her to tell us how it all started and how it’s progressed and developed.

Guest blogger: Cheryl Andrews

The emotional churn of daily living

I find it enormously difficult to identify and process my feelings. Journaling has been the creative go to for interpreting the emotional churn of daily living, so I can get on with it, this life. My life. It’s a writing form I’m righteously passionate about. But my pen faltered when I tried to write about what was happening in 2020 with the modern plague.

I was snowbirding in Florida when COVID-19 officially moved to pandemic status. Expert advice on avoiding the deadly disease was mixed and contrary, and those who tried were being ostracized in the American news, creating even more panic. The calamitous daily numbers of new cases and deaths soon turned our affable winter community into a ghost town. Locked in and isolated, I went into a tailspin overwhelmed with dread. I had to do something to make it stop, to help myself.

My positive retort to the doom and gloom

A new daily journal would become my positive retort to the doom and gloom of the pandemic. It would shift my focus away from the dark side and back to the magic and mystery that exists all around if I could just shed the emotional paralysis and look. The journal would be dedicated to tracking only Amazing Moments.

I was afraid to go out to shop for a journal, so I clawed through the art cupboard and found one that was pretty banged up. I re-glued the binding and collaged a new cover.

I set myself a writing challenge: paint pictures of amazing moments using only words. A tough contest for an avid artist and photographer. Spring was in full bloom when I finally made it home, the scenery so extraordinary I realized imagery had to be part of this daily writing practice. I loved going back through the journals and hinging in some favourite photos, artwork, doodles, mini collages, slogans, etc. Even my very first attempt at an erasure poem got tucked away in there. As I flipped back through the pages, I was amazed how re-reading the entries continued to bring on the joy.

Healing the troubled mind

Initially I wrote for my own sake, multiple daily entries to sooth my troubled mind, aching heart, and grieving spirit. But others I cared about were hurting too, so I shared a smattering of the journal entries on social media hoping to alleviate some of their pandemic trauma. Feedback said those amazing moments succeeded!

It didn’t take long to fill that first journal. I built and filled Volume Two, then Three and a Fourth.  I continued to use ‘orphan’ journals, the damaged ones nobody else would want because I discovered that making repairs and collaging new covers was almost as healing as the writing.

Bonus discovery

Another amazing discovery, some of the entries had a poetic ring to them. Here’s an example, the only edits being enjambments and a jazzy title:

Bad Ass Beauties

A rare sunlit walk  
at October’s end. 
New blooms discovered 
on the roadside. 
Fall Asters – bad ass beauties. 
Harbingers of autumn’s close 
that keep blooming 
on brittle, dry stems  
alongside their dead kin  
into the first days of frost. 

Currently I’m writing in Volume 5. The cover is a tribute to southwest Florida where I’m snowbirding once again and where Amazing Moments got its roots. God, I hope this is the last volume. The project ends when the pandemic is official over.

This healing, daily writing habit is well engrained. I can’t begin my day without setting up a new page. Over coffee this morning, I started page 720.

Enjoy a few random entries:

Watering the flowers early morning while still in shade, set to ‘rain shower’. A hummingbird joined me. Had a drink ,then flew through the ‘rainfall’ and landed on a tree to finish its bath and preening.

Shockingly soulful wail from the loon – one long, heart wrenching note echoes off the rocks. Strange.

Incredible sky, each of the four directions display a unique horizon, all the while thunder rumbles and confused crickets sing though sunrise was 1.5 hours ago. South: grey wash; East: white clouds against pale blue sky; North: darkness – trouble comes; West: yellow cream

A black cat sits, alert, focussed on something in the scattered rocks of the ditch beside highway 400. How did this solitary creature manage to be hunting on the wrong side of the doubled layered animal fencing?

In the midst of a steaming hot shower, my cell rang. Sopping wet, I get the news. Staggered by the implications: positive for CoVID (Delta strain). Quarantined with Cid and Bruce. After the emotional ‘dust’ settles Cid & I do what we always do … make art. Bruce digs through his old DVD’s and finds the entire collection of “Third Rock from the Sun”. Add laughter to the CoVID mix. Adult beverages and Third Rock.

Meet Cheryl Andrews

I live in Rainbow Country in near-northern Ontario on the shores of a spring-fed lake surrounded by woodlands. My fascination with the magic and mystery of this stunning, natural world invigorates and influences my creative pursuits.

A lifelong passion for artistic expression naturally evolved from the visual arts to include the literary. When writing I slip into a brightly lit and infinite orientation where time doesn’t exist.

I am most fortunate in my development to be surrounded by a tight-knit group of women writers, the “Lifers” (Life Writers Ink), peer mentors. All are on a similar path and a strong bond exists in the mutual desire to move ourselves forward as writers.

The desire to be the best writer I can be means ongoing development will never have an ending.

Social Media Gifts

Social Media Gifts

Ruth E. Walker

Recently, I attended a webinar put on by CSARN (the Canadian Senior Artists Resource Network.) The webinar was all about social media and presented by Sue Edworthy, a multi-disciplinary arts planner. Sue uses social media as tool for business but she admits limiting both her time and range of platforms to avoid stretching herself too thin.

I picked up some useful tips and ideas, some of which I’ve already put into practice but I’ll readily admit, social media – Twitter and Facebook in my case – is a big rabbit hole I approach carefully. I can disappear in there for hours. So I space out my visits to keep on track with deadlines and remain as positive as possible in my posts and shares. And besides, there can be a lot of negative energy on social media.

Despite knowing that there are so-called “haters” online, some of my best moments have come as a result of social media. For example, a tweet from a reader who missed the local book club visit led to a trip to Michigan for a luncheon presentation with a warm and welcoming women’s club. A Facebook question from a distant American relative led to a lovely book club session tucked away in the autumn-tinged hills of Stafford, Virginia. I’ve enjoyed other great experiences and support through social media.

So, I’m generally a believer in being online for the connections and for creative thinking. But the positive vibe of social media also nourishes others when we all keep that upbeat approach.

A tweet from BC author Frances Peck had a ripple effect that surprised and delighted me.

It started with a Thank You from Frances Peck on Twitter.

Frances was thanking me for my glowing review of her just-released book, The Broken PlacesIt was a well-deserved glow. But still, those comments from Frances made me smile. A lot.

And of course, I had to reply.

A snowballing effect

It could have stopped there. But my tweet reply garnered several “likes” – always a nice response.

And then my friend and colleague Heather O’Connor gave it all a boost by replying to Frances’s tweet. I especially loved the cheerful GIF she added to her post.

Once again, it could have stopped there. But as you likely figured out, it didn’t. And this next one was the nicest surprise of them all.

First, a bit of back story

Long-time readers of Writescape’s Top Drawer may recall how I’ve relished my time working with teens and young adults through the Durham District School Board. The energy and joy the participants of these creative writing workshops offered me can’t be measured. I watched wary students allow their shoulders to drop and their creative souls to escape onto the page.

And I don’t mean they all wrote like geniuses or even that words on the page would be their forever path. It was much more than that. For many of them, it was recognizing that being themselves and taking risks creatively was a doorway to showing them who they were and who they could become, what ever path they chose.

At least, that’s what I hope happened in those classrooms and arts camps over the years.

It’s this tweet that helps me believe that.

Of course, I replied with my gratitude. All the positive tweets from colleagues was, for me, a wonderful reminder that we may write in solitude but we never have to be alone. But this last one is precious: you never know how you can impact another person’s life. And that’s a gift of inestimable worth.

10 Books on Poetry Craft

10 Books on Poetry Craft

As a nod to April being poetry month, 10 on the 10th looks at the craft of writing poetry. So the books below are not poetry collections, but backstage glimpses into how poems are created and why, how they have evolved and how you can write poetry yourself.

Of course, this is not an exhaustive list, nor is it an “approved” or “recognized” list. This is a list of different aspects of writing poetry compiled by a lover of poetry and a work-in-progress poet. (Me, Gwynn Scheltema.) Some of these books I own, others have been recommended by friends and teachers at poetry courses. Be brave. Explore a few.

A Sky Full of Poems – Eve Merriam

This little book for children, is what got me started writing poetry. Eve Merriam explains the elements of rhythm, figurative language and other components of a poem with actual poems. Out of print now, it is still available as a used book.

How to Write Poetry – Nancy Bogen

An adult version of A Sky Full of Poems, this book covers the basics of the mechanics of poetry: meter, rhyme, traditional forms, sonics, tone, and rhythm. It also offers ways to get started.

The Poet’s Companion: A Guide to the Pleasures of Writing Poetry –  Kim Addonizio and Dorianne Laux

Want to dive deeper? This is the book I keep handy for its brief essays on the elements of poetry, technique, and suggested subjects for writing, with exercises—a kind of do-it-yourself course—along with tips on getting published and writing in the electronic age.

An Introduction to Poetry – X.J. Kennedy and Dana Gioia

My well-thumbed textbook from poetry studies at Trent University, this comprehensive yet accessible volume offers everything from how to read a poem, to writing critically about a poem. It explores everything from irony to word choice, from imagery to assonance. All aspects are illustrated with examples, supported with further reading lists, questions and exercises to fully engage.

20th-Century Poetry and Poetics – Edited by Gary Eddes

And just like aspiring artists study art history and the old masters, so modern poets can benefit from a study of how poetry has developed up to the modern day, and what was written by those that came before. Over 70 poet profiles with poems and 30 essays provide fascinating reading. I especially like that a large number of the poets featured are Canadian.

Ten Windows: How Great Poems Transform the World – Jane Hirshfield

A fine poet in her own right, Hirshfield takes the reader through close readings of poems by famous poets from Dickinson and Bashō to Heaney and Bishop, and shows us how poems work.

The Art of Description: World into Word – Mark Doty

A master at evoking emotion in his own poems through description, this is a great book for poets looking to take their craft to another level. He explores the importance of describing the observable world and the inner experience of it, and the informing of each by the other. Doty’s “Description’s Alphabet,” an A to Z of random thoughts on description is just as relevant to prose as poetry.

Best Words, Best Order: Essays on Poetry – Stephen Dobyns

If you want to understand more about communicating with your reader, Dobyns guides the poet through the intricacies of voice and tone, metaphor, and pacing among other things.

In Fine Form: The Canadian Book of Form Poetry – Edited by Kate Braid and Sandy Shreve.

This all-Canadian anthology presents more than 25 forms and 180 poems arranged by section, one for each form, giving the form’s history and variations. Used in classrooms across the country, it covers formal poetry from sonnets and ghazals, triolets and ballads, to villanelles and palindromes and many more.

Rhyming Dictionary

This list began simply and ends simply, and there are many versions of rhyming dictionaries available including online. All I know is that I have a Pocket Oxford version that has been a mind helper for years and can travel with me easily.

Why do you write?

Why do you write?

Why do you write? It seems like a simple question, but it’s not. Why we write (or create in any medium) can be as visceral as an urge you can’t deny, a simple desire to channel creativity, a deep-rooted emotional need to achieve or be accepted, a way to earn a living, or bits and pieces of all those things and more. Over our writing lives we often have different reasons at different times. All are valid.

Today’s guest blog comes from Aprille Janes, who I met over twenty years ago when we attended writing retreats together. These days, Aprille chooses to create through visual and fibre art, at her Stoney Bay Studio in Nova Scotia, but her message is relevant for any creative.

Aprille tells us why her answer to “Why do you create?” may have been wrong all along.

Guest post: Aprille Janes

Finding the Joy Again

I baked a cake from scratch this week and in the process, I learned something important about why I love making art. One thing that changes everything for me.

I used to love baking but haven’t done much of it in a long time. However, over the holidays I really got into the Great Canadian Baking Show on the CBC. The fact that bragging rights is the only prize seems to make the relationships more sincere and honest. They weren’t competitors as such but simply people with a common love for baking. Even the judges and show hosts exhibit a warmth and kindness that is an antidote to all the negativity and anger out there these days.

Getting Prepared for Something New

Inspired by the show, I looked for something to bake myself. I browsed cookbooks, Pinterest and recipe sites. I savoured the time searching for something special. It’s hard to make plans these days when Covid keeps blowing them up but this was one thing I could plan with confidence, one thing in my control. The process gave my outlook a real lift. (BTW – Click on link below the image if you want the recipe, too. )

Lemon Blueberry Ricotta Tea Cake

After choosing the recipe, I went shopping. I invested in a springform pan and a couple of other tools I was missing and the freshest ingredients. Not rushing the process is a gift whether I’m working in flour, fabric or paint. Taking time to anticipate and choose added to the enjoyment.

The Big Ah-ha!

When I got home, I made my cake, delighting in the scent of the lemon zest and the colour of blueberries. The warmth of baking filled my kitchen.

Finally, when the cake was done, I shared it with family and friends. I even posted the photo on social media along with the recipe. Because, in the end, seeing someone else enjoy something I make is why I do it. THAT was my big Ah-ha.

Why I Create

I finally get why I love making things. It’s not just painting for me. It’s about making art quilts and needle felting, baking and knitting and just working with my own two hands. I’d been making it hard when really, it’s so easy.

It’s the pleasure of making and the joy others take in what I’ve made that motivates me. Looking back, I can track the journey to this point but it felt like a bolt out of the blue. The business lens that I’d been looking through isn’t right for me.

I’d been struggling with a decision about Instagram. Marketing wisdom said I needed multiple accounts to share these other facets but removing the business mindset provided the answer. Sharing who I am is the common thread.

Processed with VSCO with au1 preset

So I’ll be shifting focus. I will share my art on social media but I will also share other things that bring me joy and satisfaction. I won’t be doing a newsletter any longer because I’m ‘retiring’ the business side to follow my heart.

My wish for you is that you too find something that warms your heart and gives you deep satisfaction.

Meet Aprille

Aprille has fond childhood memories of outdoor adventures and time spent near the water. Today, she lives by the Bay of Fundy and her art reflects this love of the outdoors. She divides her time between painting, fibre art, writing and teaching watercolour workshops.

Find her at:

10 Musical Gifts for Writers

10 Musical Gifts for Writers

Have you ever watched a movie without music in the background? No? There’s a reason for that. And it’s why even in the silent film era, many theatres had a pianist or organist adding a soundtrack to augment the Keystone Cops shenanigans or tender moments with Chaplin’s Little Tramp. Music has a way of adding emotional heft to what we see on the screen.

Taking that one step further, in this 10 on the 10th we’re offering ways that writers can opt to use music to support, inspire and even direct words on the page.

1.   Mind Cleanse – A focus on music can offer you a type of mindfulness at a time when your muse is obstinate and your creative brain refuses to kick in. Television host Stephen Colbert, in his “Colbert Questionnaire” asks guests “If you could have only one song to listen to for the rest of your life, what would it be?” The answer is likely to change over time for most people but if you were asked this question right now, what would you say? What piece of music brings you joy? What song elevates your mood or deepens your thoughts. Whatever your answer is, that is the song or music that just might be the key to finding your way back to feeling creative.

2.   Main Character – Many movie heroes have some form of theme music that plays when they show up on screen. So, what about your main character? Does she have a theme song? Is he pensive and brooding? Are they powerful and energetic? Doesn’t your main character deserve to have their own theme music? Ask Spotify to play mood music that matches your character’s qualities. Or spin the dial on your radio and discover a song that represents the power (and weakness) of your main character.

3.   Villain – This one may be more important than a music theme for your Main Character. Many writers have to work harder at their antagonist character. Developing the Main Character for readers to cheer for and worry about is usually not a problem. But villains – human or otherwise – are often more of a challenge to peek inside and figure out their innards. They don’t always cooperate or want their story to be told. Finding a theme song or piece of music might be the ticket to open up the inner workings of the one who opposes your Main Character. For example, when Darth Vader shows up in the Star Wars films, you know from the music that this is not a good thing for the heroes.

4.   Plot Structure – The three-act structure (beginning, middle and end) is a common plot form. The beginning is short, the middle holds the meat and is longer that the first and final acts, and the end often carries echoes from the beginning as well as the climax. Similarly, classical music structure has three basic elements: Exposition (begining): The material is presented for the first time. Development (middle): It’s where the music in the Exposition is transformed (key changes and modulations) through various movements, pulling the threads along. Recapitulation (end): Here, the music in the Exposition appears again but in a slightly different and shorter form. If you’re having trouble with your plot, consider yourself to be the conductor of your symphony and apply the basic elements of classical period music. It won’t hurt to listen to a Mozart or Bach symphony to hear the “plot structure” play out and then you can play on with your own plot.

5.  Scene Development – Similar to using music in plot structure, a song might be key to deepening a scene or increasing the pace. Seek out emotional, haunting music such as John Williams theme for the film Schindler’s List (featuring the amazing Itzhak Perlman) to heighten your own response and it may find itself embedding into the scene you write. If you want some mood music for a high-energy or battle scene, treat yourself to Richard Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries, part of his four-opera Ring Cycle

6.  Jazz It Up – During the Beat era of poetry, jazz figured largely in coffee houses and poetry readings. It’s no coincidence – the energy and the surprises that jazz delivers is a lovely match to way a poem builds through rhythm and wordplay to reach audiences. Successful writers recognize that prose needs to offer varying rhythms and unexpected developments to keep readers engaged. So before you put fingers to keyboard next time, try a little Charlie Parker or Billie Holiday or Benny Goodman. The genius of drummer Gene Krupa in Goodman’s Orchestra’s Sing Sing Sing should wake up your muse and get your creative toes tapping.

7.   Speculative Reset – Science fiction, fantasy, surrealism – it’s all weird and wonderful forms of fiction. If you can fall easily into that different place, if you never find yourself with a flat brain that gets stuck in the linear, well you can skip this one. But, if you ever struggle with finding the sweet spot of sci-fi in your writing, try a little musical medicine: go alternative. And not just a gentle slip into alternative rock of the 90s – instead, go deep into experimental sounds and compilations. Just as speculative fiction pushes boundaries, musicians and composers who experiment to create new unexpected combinations push the boundaries of traditional music. Marcus Layton’s YouTube channel offers a taste of experimental music and samples a range of approaches.

8.  Time and Place Immersion — Maybe you’re writing a historical novel set during Prohibition. Or a biography of a 1960s Civil Rights activist. Or a story located in contemporary England. What music was common in historic settings? What are the kids listening to today in the West End of London? And that last question sets up an important point. Be careful about your “generic” ideas of music. Sure, in North America jazz was popular during the Roaring Twenties but there was all kinds of music playing on the radio and in performance places: old time music, Christian music, country music, and so on. Listening to the music of a particular era can give you a “feel” for the time and place, and that “feel” can help you recreate the setting. And it can be used directly in the story. Just watch you’re not being stereotypical in what you choose or how you deliver it.

9.   Absence – When music is stilled by decree or when the opportunity to learn a musical instrument is kept from certain members of society, that is powerful energy. What about a world in which music never existed? Or simply could not be allowed? We often forget the power of absence to energize a story. Consider Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, and the oppressive decrees of Gilead — no buskers on street corners, no concerts for ordinary folks. Or the alien invasion in the movie, A Quiet Place, in which the characters had to remain silent to avoid being killed. We take our access to music for granted, don’t we?

10.  You in Music – Finally, here’s another way to use music: your own theme. Each of us approach the page differently — we have our own take on the craft: pantser, plotter, researcher. Our inspirations are also individual: an overheard conversation, an article in the paper, a deadline in a contest, and so on. You may have a theme song for each character. Or you may choose music to echo the emotion in a scene or to recreate the feel of a setting. But what about you, as a writer, as a creative person? Why not choose a piece of music that somehow reflects you? A pop song or a classical piece or theme music from a movie or something you composed yourself. Use it before you start a writing project. Use it when you finally put The End on the last page of your current work in progress. Use it when you sign that publishing contract. Use it any way you want and see if it gives your inner self a truly good feeling.

If it Ain’t Broke…

If it Ain’t Broke…

Gwynn Scheltema

At the start of 2021, I wrote a goal-setting blog that wasn’t focused on lists of things to accomplish, a.k.a. lists of my future failures, lists of not meeting my own expectations.

Instead, because almost a year of COVID had taken its toll, I decided to put kindness to myself first in any plans I made or goals I set and to strive for participation and passion, not perfection. I decided to find joy and fulfilment in the unexpected, big and small. And part of that was the acceptance of self, flaws and all. 

And here we are, at the end of yet another year of pandemic existence. And yet, I feel that I did indeed reach my 2021 goals, and am better for it. And as the old adage says, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

So here was my list for 2021, that I’m going to repeat in 2022:

  • Be kind to myself and don’t expect perfection
  • Do more of what feeds my soul, my passions and my creativity
  • Do less of what others say I should be doing if it doesn’t feel right
  • Be flexible and willing to change direction and do it positively
  • Be present, mindful, grateful, and notice and appreciate
  • Go with the flow

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is chamomile-303420_1280-1024x959.png

I’ll continue to put time spent on the things that are important to me first: my health, my family, my creativity. I’ll continue to prioritize using my butterflies and frogs method. I’ll continue making daisies to help me focus.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is square.png

I have two large projects to work on this year: completing my poetry manuscript for publication and heading up the Steering Committee for Northumberland Festival of the Arts, taking place September 2022. One will focus me inward, and one will connect me with my community, arts and otherwise. It will be a good balance.

There’s a relief in NOT having a long list of must do’s: lose 10 pounds, finish the ABC project, start the XYZ project etc. etc. etc. Even with just two, I’ll be careful to work on them without compromising my health or family relationships and other important aspects of life. 

And here’s another thing I’ll repeat: my wish for you all:

Take time to live.  Take time to grow. Take time to love. Above all, be kind to yourself and others. Look for the good in everything. Enjoy the writing journey you’ve chosen for yourself. Enjoy life. Be positive and you’ll get there. Have a wonderful 2022.

Six Writing Resolutions For 2022

Six Writing Resolutions For 2022

Ruth E. Walker

Five years ago, we posted some ideas on writers’ resolutions for 2017. With just three days to go before the world shifts into yet another year, I think our suggestions are still valid. I’ve tweaked it a bit to acknowledge that the past couple of years came with pandemic challenges. But honestly, I didn’t need to make a lot of edits.

So here you go: Gwynn and I kept it simple and doable back in 2016 and that much has not changed. Six resolutions to choose from to enhance your creative skills. You only need one commitment for New Year’s Eve:


1.   To pay attention. Yup. Maybe you think you already do this just fine. We’d like to suggest two very different approaches that maybe you’ve not yet tried:

  • At an Andrew Pyper workshop, he suggested that paying attention without judgement is a great way to develop characters and ideas. He calls it “reportage” — take a seat in a public space and people watch. Simply record the facts of what you see. No emotion. No subjective consideration. e.g.: Young woman without a face mask in red halter top and white shorts pushing dark blue stroller without a baby inside it. Man in N95 face mask, yellow ballcap and biker jacket runs up library steps and goes inside.
  • Gwynn Scheltema suggests that there are benefits to being subjective when noticing, and that it really is a kind of art. Her Art of Noticing in The Top Drawer takes us on a trip in 2016 to her childhood home, Zimbabwe, where she notices everything in a sumptuous five-sense immersion.

2.   To write while travelling (and yes, we know we’ve not travelled a lot lately)

  • We didn’t say “write a book” when travelling. We only suggested that you write when on a journey. “Writing” can be a restaurant napkin recording a snippet of overheard conversation. “Writing” can simply be notes on a map or guidebook: stopped here and ate weird-tasting burgers at Fast Eddy’s Eatery. Nobody got sick.
  • The point is that there are all kinds of ways to “write” while travelling. And there’s all kinds of travelling: lately, even a stroll to the neighbourhood park, or a trip to the grocery store has become for many of us the most common form of travelling. You’re creative. In 2022, see what you can do to Write While Travelling.  And if we’re lucky, 2022 will be the year that proves Omicron to the be the last blast of COVID so that real long-distance travelling will return.

3.   To devote at least one day exclusively to the craft

  • Think about it. Just one day. C’mon, you can do it. Pack a lunch and head to the library. Or unplug the phone and the Internet and spend the day writing. Maybe you can pretend it’s a snow day. Or maybe you can book a one-day escape at a local hotel or B&B. Consider what “craft” means: In Old English (pre-900 CE) cræft meant strength. A day to focus on the art and skill of your craft can only strengthen your words on the page.
  • No matter what option you choose, make sure you schedule your day devoted to writing. And then make sure you show up, as scheduled.

4.   To write something different from your “usual”

  • Step away from the familiar and head down the rabbit hole. If your passion is fiction, go for non-fiction or poetry. If your comfort zone is poetry, try your hand at playwriting. If non-fiction is your go-to, start a graphic novel. Science fiction writers, take the time to meet romance. Mystery writers, shake hands with erotica. There’s a strange chemistry that happens when you shake up your pen and at the very least, you’ll return to your writing nest with some fresh ideas. And maybe you might find that trying something new opened up a whole new “writer” in you.

5.   To devote at least one day to NOT writing

  • Counterintuitive resolution? Actually, this is a great resolution for those who have trouble leaving their desk or pen or computer. It’s great to be a devoted writer, one who writes every day without fail, one who will forgo lunch if a plot point needs adjustments or a character is sitting a bit too flat on the page. You might be surprised how giving up just one day of writing can do. The tension of staying away from the writing could fire up your pen in ways you hadn’t imagined. The “day after” writing may be something you choose to create more often. At the very least, it’s a worthwhile experiment for the relentless writer to try out.

6.   To read something different from your usual

  • This doesn’t have to be a big book. How about an article in a bodybuilding handbook or a finance magazine? Or a graphic novel, or modern play, or a children’s board book? Or a corporation’s annual report, or a technical how-to manual. The object of this resolution is to teach your eyes to look for what made it publishable. Where is the strength in the writing? Who is the reader or audience? And why do they need this publication? What changes might you make to improve this?
  • This analytical approach might prove useful in your own writing. At the very least, you introduce your eyes to a way of writing or content that is not what you normally choose to read. An excellent exercise to expand your writing horizons.

As noted, you only need one of these resolutions for midnight on December 31st. But consider holding onto this list and dipping back in from time to time. It may be just the medicine you need to fire up your muse and ignite your imagination.

Here’s to 2022. May the world put COVID to bed at last and may your writing dreams all come true.