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:

Drip, Drip, Drip

Drip, Drip, Drip

Guest Post by Heidi Croot

Writing the first-draft hot mess of my memoir was easy—a mudslide down the inky slopes of several thousand journal pages.

  • Rewriting countless drafts, fun—an archeological dig I’ve never tired of.
  • Restructuring the thing, hell—as I struggled to place backstory at the precise moment of reader thirst. 

But none of those ups and downs compared with the anxiety I felt about sending my manuscript to my two aunts and my uncle, who appear frequently in its pages.

I had reason to be nervous.

My memoir is about their eldest sister, my mother—a woman they were estranged from most of their lives, my own longest estrangement from her spanning a mere seven years. My aunts and uncle tried to have my back through the turbulence. An only child, I leaned heavily on their love and support.

Yet as soon as I mentioned I was writing a memoir, I detected frost in the air. Heard rumblings of that old lament, “airing the family’s dirty laundry.”

I understood their wariness.

They were of a generation that preferred to hold troubling family truths underwater with the flat of their palm. I am driven to haul those truths out, towel them down, assess them from every angle. What can they teach us? How might they heal us?

My aunts and uncle don’t read memoir. I knew if they were going to accept my manuscript, I couldn’t just thrust 300+ pages at them and hope for a miracle. I would need to chart a wayfinding course to the genre using signposts and lamplight.

And about two years ago, drawing on what I knew about awareness campaigns from my 35+ years in corporate communication, that’s what I did.

I casually sent them essays by memoirists who acknowledged their vulnerabilities and the challenges of truth-telling.

I sent book reviews and memoir quotations to show what other writers were sharing with the world.

I sent updates on my own project with excerpts from my work-in-progress that I hoped would demonstrate a balanced take on our difficult family circumstances.  

This drip-drip-drip approach paid off when the Los Angeles Review of Books published my essay, “How to Tell Your Mother She Can’t Go Home Again,” describing one of the harshest events of my mother’s life (and mine)—her first day in a nursing home, eight years before she died.

With that, my memoir project could no longer be ignored. Nor could its intent, tone or potential reception in the world.

My aunts and uncle read the piece and sent congratulations.  

We had taken the first hill.

It was time for the second.

By now the manuscript was ready for beta readers. I promised my relatives a copy but kept them waiting while I finished some edits. One aunt in her eighties complained that at this rate she might not be around to finally read the thing. My uncle asked how it was going. I could hear the other aunt’s fingers drumming from her home in California.

They were eager to read.

Good.

I emailed the pdf to the California aunt. She immediately responded with family stories triggered by my chapters, as well as helpful editorial suggestions and a factual correction.

“For the duration of the reading it was as though my sister were alive, in front of me with all of her strife and fury…” she wrote me when she finished reading. “You’ve done yourself proud, Heidi.”

My beloved writers’ groups responded to this news with jubilance.

Meanwhile, I invited my other aunt, and my uncle and his wife of 50+ years, to my home, where I presented them with coil-bound copies. We spent a convivial weekend enjoying a charcuterie board, tacos, wine, and quiet time as they turned pages.

They didn’t offer encouragement, though my uncle remarked that his avid reading signaled his interest, and his wife dissolved into tears at one point, acknowledging the painful path our family had been forced to take in tangling with my mother.

In my beta reader guidelines, a one-page menu of suggestions I developed for first-time readers on what kind of comments would be most helpful, I had asked for their feedback within a month—one week away as I write this. I’ve invited them back for a second weekend to close that loop. After all, this was a business arrangement: their access to my full work in exchange for their editorial catches and family history tweaks.

No reply yet.

Offering feedback can be challenging when you’re not used to it. 

No reason to be nervous, I want to tell them. You’re in safe hands here. It’s going to be all right.

Originally published online in Brevity: A Journal of Concise Literary Nonfiction, Writescape is delighted to share Heidi’s practical approach to introducing memoir to family members who could be uncomfortable with the form.

Heidi Croot

Heidi Croot lives in Northumberland County, Ontario, Canada, and is working on a memoir. Her corporate writing has appeared in numerous trade publications, and her creative work in the Los Angeles Review of Books, Brevity, Linea magazine, Writescape, the WCDR anthology Renaissance, and elsewhere. You can reach Heidi on Twitter @heidicroot.

Letter to a Poet

Letter to a Poet

There’s nothing better than words of encouragement that arrive seemingly out of nowhere. That recently happened to me when my long-time friend, Jessica, sent an email with a link to the local online newspaper, in which she had written a letter addressed to me.

What? Was she airing dirty laundry? NO! She was supporting me as a poet. To explain…

Jessica Outram currently serves as Cobourg’s Poet Laureate. One of her projects is an online poetry chapbook called Poetry Presents. I have successfully submitted poems a couple of times. Jessica also writes a poetry column for Cobourg Now, where she engages with a poet and /or a poem and muses on poetry generally. Here is where the stars aligned. Jessica chose one of my submitted poems to feature in her column. Thank you , Jessica!

Story is at the Heart of Poetry

An exchange between Gwynn Scheltema & Jessica Outram, Cobourg Now

(Note from the Poet: I grow as much of my food as possible and forage as well. I love the memories of nature that cooking smells bring forth for me.)

 Dear Gwynn Scheltema,

Your poem ‘Carrot Soup’ invites me to reflect on harvest and a way of looking at the passing of time through the life of a carrot. The food we enjoy today has a story that connects to more than one season. From preparing the soil to planting the seeds to harvesting fully grown crops, a process and patience are paramount to success.

It can be the same with poetry. From preparing to use form to planting phrases and lines to harvesting metaphors, poetry thrives with the use of process and patience. When I was younger, I wrote poetry quickly, usually a poem (and sometimes two!) in one sitting. Over the past couple years, I’ve looked for ways to slow down, to linger in a line, to return to a poem over time to better understand its story. It’s good to give a poem space to change and grow.

Story is at the heart of poetry. Story is who we are and story is how we connect. To prepare to write a poem, I reflect on these questions: What story do I want to share? How will this story connect to others? After writing the poem, I return to the same questions.

In ‘Ars Poetic’ Archibald MacLeish writes “a poem should not mean, but be.” A poet shows a story rather than tells a story, inviting the reader to share the experience. By appealing to the senses (the eye, the ear, our senses of taste, touch, and smell), the poet invites readers into the world of a poem. When reading a poem, rather than ask ‘what does this poem mean?’ Ask ‘what are the stories here?’ Use questions to shift understanding and points of connection.

For those starting to write poetry, begin with your stories. The stories of your life, your every day, and of your imagination. Everyone has stories. What are yours? You may find that you never have writer’s block since our stories can be more abundant than the Fall harvest.

Thank you, Gwynn, for sharing this story of carrot soup with us.

With appreciation,

Jessica Outram

Poet Laureate of Cobourg

About Jessica Outram:

 Jessica Outram is Cobourg’s 4th Poet Laureate. She is a Métis writer and educator with roots in the Georgian Bay Métis Community. Since 2019, her mandate has been to honour and nurture Cobourg’s culturally dynamic community. A resident of Cobourg, Jessica has worked in Northumberland both as a principal and vice-principal and continues to participate in local arts, music, and theatre. Currently, she works as Principal of Indigenous Education K-12 in the Kawartha Pine Ridge District School Board.

Writing together – and apart?

Writing together – and apart?

Guest Post – Lori Twining

Some weeks ago, one of our regular retreatants, Lori Twining, shared her retreating experience at Writescape’s fall retreat. But what if you can’t get away to write on retreat? How else can you keep the words flowing?

Have you ever considered an accountability partner?

Lori wrote about the magic of accountability partners on her blog in August, and we reprint it here today with her permission.


Accountability Partners: Colleen Winter & Lori Twining

Accountability Partners: Are They Beneficial?

I have a simple goal: I want a writing career.

Unfortunately, it is not as simple as quitting my day job and writing the damn novel. Other things factor into a writing career, besides having money to pay the bills. In 2021, as a writer, it is essential to have a social media presence, network with others, be searchable on Google, be knowledgeable and experienced with the craft of writing, have an agent, have a publisher, and the list goes on and on. It is endless.

Is a writing career something I can do alone?

Somewhat. The writing part falls on the individual writer. However, if you have other people who share your wants, your desires, and your future dreams of a writing career, then you should team up and do it together. Build an army. Challenge each other. Support each other. 

This is where the benefits of having an accountability partner come into play. These people establish a relationship with you to help achieve your goals. They hold you accountable for what you said you would do and try to keep you on track, even if you are experiencing a meltdown of some kind.

Let me explain..

Yesterday, I sent out multiple emails regarding my volunteer role as a Blog Wrangler for my local writing group. Most of my writing group writes novels and short stories as a side hustle to their “other” careers (that pay the bills). All of us write blog posts that relate to our writing lives in some way. As a volunteer, I admit that I get tired and overwhelmed (sometimes cranky) at working behind the scenes for zero money and little appreciation. I’m not complaining; I offered to do this to further my writing career (if it ever gets further than barely existing). I admit that it is a selfish reason. Sometimes, I have days that I question my choices on volunteering. I want to quit everything and just write. But, then something like this happens:

During the frantic emails (and FB messages and text messages) back and forth with my writing tribe, I received a message:

“Has anyone told you that you should be a writer?”

I laughed. Reading this message broke the stress and frustration I had been holding tight inside. My shoulders released the tension, and I relaxed a bit. I wrote back to say, “Not lately. I’m too busy wallowing in a puddle of self-doubt right now.” I often wonder if all this writing is simply a time-waster, and I’m going nowhere. Several text messages followed to say they appreciated my time and effort, and I need to keep writing. This is one writer supporting and encouraging another writer. I love it.

Minutes later, the following email came in from another accountability partner. It said:

“Sorry, I am late in responding to you. Thank you so much for your accountability email (you were on time, I’m two weeks late). Ha! I’m never on time. At the moment, I’m sitting on my couch crying about not making any progress during July. I decided to email you and tell you the small amount that I did manage to find time to do. Then, I surprised myself with what I actually got done. This makes me happy. Writing it down, so I can see the progress. Yes, I was still a couch slug for most of the month, but I did submit two short stories, sent ten queries to agents, and updated my website so that if the literary agents ever decide to google me, I will look important! I might even fool them into knowing what I am doing! Thank you for this. I love you! Talk to you in a month. Or sooner.”

After reading this message, it reminded me to check in with a few of my other writing buddies. I have multiple people that I keep in close contact with, where we exchange emails on the first of every month (with many emails in between, just to keep us motivated). I keep a list of excerpts from their emails to encourage me, so I remember that working toward a writing career is not a waste of time. People do get something out of this. It keeps me moving forward with my goals.

My partners are inspiring

Here are a couple of example messages from them:

“Overall, I did awesome on my goals! I really want to say thank you for this. Having these goals keeps me motivated and helps to keep me working on all aspects of writing.”

And, this one:

“I am excited and scared and motivated and terrified all in one. I am so thankful for you and this accountability thing we do together. I have WORK TO DO… so here are my new goals.”


Accountability Partners: Donna Judy Curtin, Lori Twining and Seana Moorhead.

How I stay accountable

I write an accountability email at the beginning of the month describing everything I accomplished (or didn’t accomplish) from the previous month, and add my goals for the following month.

I exchange these emails with a few different writers to encourage them (or challenge them) to do “something” to further their writing career. And they do the same for me.

Here are a couple of examples that show progress in someone’s future writing career:

  • Woke up at 5 am for two weeks straight. Butt in chair. Writing. 2-hr sessions.
  • Published four book reviews for novels in my genre on Goodreads.
  • Posted five Instagram photos of books I purchased written by my #5amwritersclub writing buddies.
  • Submitted my short story to a contest.
  • Attended Inkers Con virtually.
  • Finished the Dan Brown Master Class on Mystery Writing.
  • Ran a giveaway on Goodreads. Sent out the print copies to the winners.
  • Attended two virtual book launches this month.
  • Signed up for a 7-day IN-PERSON writing retreat.
  • Took a course online, “How to Nail Writing Multiple POVs & Timelines” (this one is something I’m doing this month).

All of these examples keep you in the writing game. You are supporting other writers, networking, learning your craft, or writing the book—all good things.

Cutting Yourself Some Slack

The end of my July accountability email listing all my goals was this:

“My August goals are to tackle as much as possible with my writing, without breaking down and bawling like a baby because I don’t have enough time to do ALL THE THINGS that I want to do this summer.” 

I received this immediate response from one of my accountability partners:

“I have a similar goal for August and the rest of the year. Now that I’ve had a vacation, I will try to go several days in a row without yelling/swearing at my computer screen. And that’s just for work. It doesn’t include the head-hanging despair during the writing sessions. Maybe we should ease up on our expectations of ourselves? Just a thought.”

This excerpt above is from an experienced published writer, and she has made a good point. I have high expectations for myself. Maybe this is why I am biting my nails to the quick? I’m walking the fence between giving up (by sitting on the couch watching every Harlan Coben Netflix series and not writing) and moving full force ahead with writing every chance I get, hoping my novel gets a little better with each pass through of edits. 

Self-doubt is an evil monster, and accountability partners can help with that. They remind you that you are not alone on this path to a future writing career, and everyone struggles with so many things (and I don’t even have to mention the pandemic and all the stay-at-home orders that interfered with our mental state for writing over the last 18-months). They are full of motivation and inspiration. They can help you plan and strategize how to approach editors or agents. They can advise on improvement on your query letter or book blurb. Also, they can help you stick to your commitments and expectations, so you can continue to make progress. 

We are all in a different place with our writing careers. Some writers are already published, and some of us are still struggling with that first novel (that would be me). But, overall, we are suitable matches for being accountability partners. We strive to be full-time writers and are putting in the work to get there. We all struggle with time management, primarily since we all work full-time or part-time for other people. So, being able to discuss it with each other is a bonus. It echoes the reminder that we are not alone.

Every little thing you can manage to do (writing, networking, reading, promoting yourself & your writing friends) proves that you are showing up for yourself and committing to the work. The best part of having accountability partners is that you can share your progress and celebrate everyone else’s progress too. There is no need for jealousy; it is all a wild and fun experience of living life to the fullest and conquering that writing dream. Together.

Bottom line

If you are struggling with pulling your butt off the couch back to your writing chair, maybe you should look for an accountability partner? They are perfect for brainstorming and bouncing ideas around, supporting each other, motivating, and inspiring you to continue with your dream. Plus, they are there if you want to cry or rant about something when you are grumpy or extremely pissed off. They are also there to laugh with you, and everyone needs a good chuckle from time to time. 

If you don’t have one and would like one, just ask another writer if they would be interested. It is as simple as that. Good luck on your path. Baby steps will get you there. Eventually. 


Early morning ZOOM meeting with #5amwritersclub

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

When Writers Gather

When Writers Gather

Guest Blogger: Andrea Adair-Tippins

While we are cautiously optimistic that the worst of the pandemic is behind us, and we slowly return to some semblance of how the world used to be, I hope we don’t discount everything that happened in the past year. I’d like some elements, of the virtual kind, to carry over into the future.

What? Haven’t we’ve all had our fill of Zoom and Webex and Facetime and whatever else people have found to connect with one another when we couldn’t attend in person? But there are some really good things that have come out of doing things virtually.

A virtual win

I work in a library and for each author visit I’ve hosted in the past year, I reached over 2,000 views on Facebook live. Two thousand views! In-person events max out at the room limit of 70 people. Going virtual has been a huge win for the library and my guest authors. In future, I intend to do a hybrid: in-person events while streaming on Facebook live. Something I hope organizers of writer conferences will consider.

Having just attended my second fabulous virtual Surrey International Writers Conference (SIWC) there are some things I’ve embraced about attending conferences this way that I hope will continue in some fashion.

Conferences: a virtual plus

Attendance: You can attend any virtual conference you want no matter where you live. I tried to attend SIWC in person three years ago but it sold out so quickly I didn’t have to worry about convincing my husband I should go! When it switched to virtual last year organizers opened it up to more people and I had no problem getting in.

This year alone, I’ve gone to When Words Collide in Calgary and Write Now!, a crime writing conference in Arizona. It’s a big world but virtual conferences make it feel smaller.

Events are recorded: Many conferences are recording the sessions held over Zoom and it’s fantastic! If you attend a conference in person, unless like Hermione Granger you have a time turner, you can’t physically be at every session.

But with recorded events, you can hit any session you want. With SIWC for instance, the recordings are up for a month and I can watch them at my convenience – even while making dinner!

Transcripts: With live events on Zoom or recorded, transcripts are easily available. While watching live, you can enable the transcript right away and follow along (or go back if you miss something). Zoom also gives you an option to save it. Save the transcript? Yes please!! Save my hands from cramping for an hour and a half session.

And with recorded events, you are able to copy and paste the transcript. You might get 46 pages and some odd interpretations of words but it helps you catch the gist of anything you missed.

You can duck out of recordings: Not every session you attend at a conference is perfect for you. You may be looking for nuts and bolts about how to do something and the presenter takes more of a theoretical approach. It can be awkward to walk out halfway through — but virtually, not so much. It’s even better when it’s a recording. Just end it. Or skim the transcript to see if it does get into more of what you are looking for.

Even more pluses

Pitching: Pitching your book to an editor or agent is nerve wracking, virtual or in person. Doing it over Zoom however, there is a good chance they aren’t going to see how nervous you may be. Yes, you have to remember to look at the camera but sweaty armpits aren’t going to show up across the internet. And pitching, just for the experience alone, is always a win – virtual or otherwise.

Cost: Conferences can be expensive, from airfare to accommodations to meals. Virtual? Well, you miss the adventure of a trip and restaurant meals and hanging out at the bar. But do you?

Many events have set up virtual bars to hang out in. Order food in and mingle. Network. Meet and greet online.

While I hope in-person conferences will resume again soon (New England Crime Bake in November is doing a hybrid event) — I am soaking up everything I can online whenever I can. And having a lot of fun while I’m doing it!

Andrea Adair-Tippins is a children’s librarian assistant. She is currently working on a historical mystery, attending conferences and taking online classes to improve her craft.

Mixing Solitude with Camaraderie

Mixing Solitude with Camaraderie

By Guest Blogger, Lori Twining

What writer wouldn’t love to disappear from their life and spend an entire week hidden away at a remote location? With no other obligations other than to put fingers to keyboard or pen to paper and tell a story. Maybe, a story no one will ever read? That’s a possibility. But hey, if you are a writer, you will have a strong desire to write that story whether someone reads it or not, right? 

Disappearing to a remote location sounds fantastic, especially after the tough year or two we have experienced. My doctor said I was becoming a workaholic, even though I’m working from home now, and I should take a mental health break. She said something like, “Take a vacation.”

In my mind, I watched her scribble a prescription on her pad for me:

Go somewhere. Eat, sleep, and write from sunrise to sunset. Repeat for seven days.

So, I passed the fake message along to my family and booked a writing vacation. I realize that most writers can only dream about going to a week-long writing retreat. Sometimes, writers struggle to leave their family behind or they find it challenging to schedule time away from work, or they can’t even manage to save enough money to go away. The stress is real, but if you can achieve it, I highly recommend doing it.


Lori Twining ~ Coffee at Sunrise, Elmhirst’s Resort

At this moment, I’m finally experiencing a writing vacation that I have been looking forward to for almost two years. I booked the retreat with Writescape in the fall of 2019 to celebrate my spring birthday away from home doing something I like to do: WRITE! However, the event was postponed three times due to the pandemic happening right outside our door. Although we are not finished with the pandemic yet, I’m thankful for science and knowing everyone at this retreat is double-vaccinated, masked, and keeping their distance.

With that in mind, I cannot express how ecstatic I am to be tucked away in a bedroom on the second floor of a rustic cottage with a 4-foot wide window overlooking beautiful Rice Lake FOR SEVEN DAYS. I haven’t been setting the alarm because I’m on vacation, but I still manage to roll out of bed around 5 a.m. I make a pot of coffee, pull out my notebook and a pen, and write until the darkness gradually turns to light. 

The sunrises are breathtaking at the Elmhirst’s Resort nestled along the shoreline of Rice Lake (see photo above of me gazing out my bedroom window at sunrise). It is so peaceful and relaxing here that I can’t help but focus on the first light breaking through the early morning darkness. The vibrant red, yellow, and orange colours reflect across the serene lake, sending a tingling sensation that rockets from my toes to my earlobes. 

Usually, I’m wearing my Jack Nicholson’s grin along with my pajamas, and I think about how lucky I am and whom I might have to kill today. (I’m a fiction writer, so it is allowed.)

Lori Twining ~ Writescape Writing Retreat
Lori Twining ~ Writescape Writing Retreat, Elmhirst’s Resort

I set up a folding table beside a comfortable chair, and my job is to write ALL the words. This is my solitude time where I can immerse myself inside my novel for seven days. I can wear my pajamas all day if I want to; the same goes for the Jack Nicholson smile. I open my suitcase full of notes and reference material and scour through it for something important. I throw sticky notes up on my wall and figure out my plot holes. I read some parts aloud, looking for extra words or clunky dialogue. I slip outside for a breath of fresh air, walk to the floatplane dock, and make an apple disappear. Then, I get right back to the writing.

Occasionally, during this Writescape retreat, there are writing workshops where the instructors, Ruth E. Walker and Gwynn Scheltema, teach us something small but specific. A timed writing exercise follows this teaching moment. It is funny that when I attended my first Writescape writing retreat, I loathed participating in writing exercises. I wanted to slink out of the room and pretend I was never there. Seriously, what writer can come up with material that is worth keeping during a ten-minute interval of freefall high-pressure writing? Well, it turns out, when I use the courage buried deep inside me, I can surprise myself and find something golden in my words almost every single time. It might have something to do with the other writers’ artistic and creative energy in the room with me. It is extremely electrifying.

By participating in the workshops and partaking in the exercises, you learn that it is a process, not your finished product. It is a tiny step along the way to creating something new. It doesn’t have to be perfect, as long as the muse is nipping at your ear, pushing you to experience the magic and go where you have never gone before. The sudden release of endorphins triggers positive feelings in your body, similar to morphine. You can honestly get addicted to the high of someone saying they love your writing or trying a new concept and having it work for you.

We discussed art emerging from art by using Ekphrastic Writing, which was a fascinating workshop for me. I created six pages of new writing about a piece of art that speaks to me. With that, I will select the words, sentences, and statements I want to keep to form a poetic response inspired by the sculpture, thereby enhancing the artistic impact of the original art through synergy. I will need to do a little more research on my own to see if I’m attacking the project in a clever and creative way. I’m excited to see where it will take me.

Today, I’m reaching the halfway point of my retreat, which makes me sad, happy, and freaked out. I have so much I want to do here that I’m considering skipping the sleep portion. *Joking* I’ll just reduce the shut-eye time to five hours instead of six. That will make all the difference.

If you are a writer and you want to be more productive in your quest to finish that novel, then grab a couple of your writing buddies and plan a writing retreat vacation. 

I’m grateful for the solitude mixed with the camaraderie that is happening this week. The pleasure of attending this contemplative retreat makes me cherish every minute of this writing journey, and I’m honoured to spend it with friends who have the same passion and mindset as I do. 

Thank you to Ruth and Gwynn for running a fantastic retreat that I will miss dearly. I look forward to finding a new adventure for next year’s retreat (although I might just camp in Gwynn’s backyard, looking for poetry advice). 

Lastly, I’m thankful to the two writing friends pictured below: Seana Moorhead and Donna Judy Curtin, for always accompanying me on these writing retreats. They are the best cheerleaders a writer could ever ask for. They remind me that I’m here to unplug, focus on my writing, and need to get my shit done.

I look forward to the day that we are successful best-selling authors, and we can tour the world together. Look at me! I’m always dreaming when I should be writing. Ha!

What could be better than going on a writing vacation with writer friends?

Nothing.

Writing Buddies ~ Seana Moorhead, Lori Twining & Donna Judy Curtin
Writing Buddies at Elmhirst’s Resort ~ Seana Moorhead, Lori Twining & Donna Judy Curtin

Meet Lori

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

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

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…

Thoughts on Writing Memoir

Thoughts on Writing Memoir

A few weeks ago, we ran a guest blog by Heidi Croot called “Is Writing Memoir Worth it?” Heidi gave us many reasons why, for her, it definitely is, and today we are pleased to add to those thoughts with a guest blog from author Ronald Mackay.

Guest blog – Ronald Mackay

My friend and novelist made a provocative remark: “I’ve always considered memoir as the pursuit of self-indulgence, by a writer seeking immortality, for a life insufficiently lived.”

His observation troubled me. I write autobiographical stories. So I had to ask myself: When I write memoir, am I merely wallowing in self-indulgence? Is my writing no more than an attempt to dredge up compensation for an inconsequential life?

His remark has forced me to think, both about why and how I write memoir.

Nostalgia and redemption

In Requiem for a Nun, William Faulkner wrote: “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”

Memoir inevitably means reflecting on one’s past. Nostalgia, like laughter, can be infectious. Both responses give us feelings of wellbeing. We enjoy the bitter-sweetness of remembering a cherished person, a place, or event – and the memory tends to be more sweet than bitter.

Nostalgia involves memories that we still hold dear, and those cherished memories are redemptive. And isn’t that redemption much more than mere self-indulgence?

Unresolved significance

While many of my memories are of beloved people or places, some of my most persistent memories are more puzzling than redeeming. These more puzzling memories bear the weight of what I have come to call “unresolved significance”.

Such memories haunt me precisely because they are both, compelling and bewildering. They can be distant in time, or recent. But they lodge uneasily like the filament of a stringy mango between teeth. They persist. They leave me disquieted and perplexed because their significance lies just beyond my reach.

Fortunately, I’ve discovered a way of addressing such unresolved memories.

I respond, annually, to an invitation to write short stories, for Authors Showcase. Guests are invited to respond to a concise, suggestive prompt like: “An inspirational True Story” or “A life changing event” or “A Travel Highlight.” I address that challenge by striving to make sense of one of these persistent memories that, for me, are still replete with “unresolved significance”.

I use reflection and hindsight to figure out and give meaning to the past.

Resolution

“Why,” you may ask, “do I harbour so many puzzling memories?”

Well, for most of my life I’ve lived in foreign cultures, odd places, and in many foreign languages — so, I have almost continuously been puzzled – and, to tell you the truth, I often still am!

Jokingly, I call this process “my therapy” because of the relief that comes from finally arriving at an understanding. I end up experiencing the comfort of a resolution to what had previously troubled me as a mystery.

Now whether I capture the exact truth or not isn’t the point. The point is that writing my way to a resolution helps me better understand some of life’s complexities. Writing memoir, helps bring light and order to my life.

Take my hand

The challenge lies in finding the right words to capture the moral essence of things remembered, and by capturing that moral essence, to uncover their meaning.

Alan Benett says: “The best in reading is when you come across something – a feeling, a way of looking at things – that you’d thought special to you. It’s as if a hand has come out and taken yours.”

That’s what I try to do when I write memoir, for both my own consolation, and for the gratification of that reader who feels my hand clasp hers.

Meet Ronald Mackay

Ronald Mackay has published two books about working in Tenerife in the early 1960s and an account of his two years behind the Iron Curtain in Ceauşescu’s Romania. By penning personal stories, he rediscovers people he has loved and admired, places he has cherished, and many salient life experiences that have molded his character.

Is Writing Memoir Worth It?

Is Writing Memoir Worth It?

Guest blogger – Heidi Croot

You’ve just shipped your memoir to a professional editor. The release feels like death and rebirth all at once. While you wait, breathless, for feedback, someone asks, How did writing your memoir affect you emotionally? And a follow-up question: Was it a worthwhile journey?

Wait a minute, you think. The second question implies that the answer to the first might sound something like, “It emotionally crushed me.” Because that’s what many people believe, right? That doing a deep dive into a painful past means wallowing in grief?

Here’s how I answered those questions when they were put to me during a radio interview with Northumberland 89.7FM’s Word on the Hills in mid-May, mere days after my manuscript dropped anchor in my editor’s inbox.

A worthwhile journey?

Last question first: Was writing your memoir a worthwhile journey? A thousand times yes. And, why?  Because of how it affected me emotionally.

Writing my memoir, Hope is a Tyrant, bordered on magic. It was a process of discovery. A woodland trail of surprises. A delivery into the ready arms of acceptance and healing. 

I’ve written my way into seeing people differently, important people, like my mother, for example, whose legs were paralyzed by polio when she was eight. Writing helped me understand that the biggest lie in our family was she had taken her disability in stride. She had not. How could she? Polio was far too big. She wore the mask her father, medical staff and a harsh world handed to her.

I’ve written my way into understanding mysterious undercurrents in my family, such as what was behind my mother’s obsession with her charismatic father—her mainstay and intellectual companion during years of loneliness at home and in hospital. I realized through writing that fantasizing about him made her feel special, and therefore worth the burden she had been forced to place on her family, and this helped her banish shame.

To my chagrin, I’ve also written my way into learning a few things about myself. Naïve, brimming with blind, stubborn hope, lacking boundaries, I failed many times to see different paths I could have taken to dial down family drama.

“My” story became “a” story

But the best part about writing memoir is how it eventually stopped being “my” story and became “a” story. In Wallace Stegner’s The Spectator Bird, a clairvoyant suggests that painful memories should be looked upon as part of a narrative, like chapters. Reframing painful events as scenes allowed me to exchange subjectivity for objectivity. Prick the bubble of my self-importance. Reduce the event to realistic, if not amusing, proportions. “Stories,” says the clairvoyant, “are part of the accumulation you think will tell you something.”

Acceptance and equilibrium

What memoir told me is that some relationships cannot be fixed. It told me how to accept this. How to be forgiving, empathetic, and less judgmental. How to find my equilibrium.

Turning in my manuscript to my editor has unmoored me, with maybe a little grief mixed in. For years, working on the memoir had kept my imperfect self linked to my imperfect parents, and perhaps to hope, which—if I’m right about hope being a tyrant—makes no sense, but that’s another thing I learned: I can live with paradox and imperfect endings.

And that will be true even if the imperfect ending to my memoir-experiment means a stern call to action from my editor: the inevitable, yet welcome, shuffle, delete, clarify, go deeper. Familiar pages in need of edits will beckon like old friends, eager to shepherd me through new portals to unexplored places, where still more epiphanies wait.

It will be worth it

All of which takes us back to the beginning: Seize every opportunity to write your life stories. The experience will affect you emotionally. It will be worth it.

Meet Heidi Croot

Heidi Croot lives in Northumberland County and is working on a memoir. Her corporate writing has appeared in numerous trade publications, and her creative work in the Los Angeles Review of Books, Writescape, Brevity, Linea magazine, the WCDR anthology, Renaissance, and elsewhere.