The Gifts of 2020

The Gifts of 2020

Gwynn Scheltema

As Ruth said in last week’s blog, I’m a master planner. I’ve always set goals, had a plan, been S.M.A.R.T. But I gave up writing New Year Resolution lists years back because, for me, they always seemed to be lists of my future failures, lists of not meeting my own expectations.

Instead, I switched to thinking positively about myself, mentally listing all the small and large achievements over the past year. I also began allowing myself to dream and visualize and imagine what I wanted to do—and not do. I learned to strive for balance in my writing life and life in general.

If there’s one thing that I have learned over this last year, it’s the importance of kindness and acceptance and the finding of joy and fulfilment in the unexpected, big and small. And part of that is the acceptance of self, flaws and all. 

So, in 2021 I’ve decided I am going to put kindness to myself first in any plans I make or goals I set and strive for participation and passion, not perfection.

Unexpected writing gifts

Someone once said that if you think your glass is always half empty, then pour it into a smaller glass and quit whining. I tried to take that approach in 2020 whenever new annoyances and problems arose, and realized that out of a seemingly all-bad year, a number of things did go well for me in my writing life.

I live out in the country, a good hour from all the people and events and activities I like to engage with. By May, a general acceptance of ZOOM and work-from-home meant I didn’t have to spend so much time travelling. That gave me more time for myself and my writing—a true gift.

And technologically, ZOOM was just the start. I gained a whole gift bag of new skills:  I learned how to make videos, how to work with MP4s sent to me from people’s phones and convert and edit them for podcasting. Ruth and I took a stab at giving online workshops, learning all about break-out rooms and gallery views and split screens and converting in-class learning materials to the screen. An arts group I volunteer with went virtual with Google Groups and Google Meet and is planning virtual arts activities I would never have imagined were even possible.  

I took part in virtual critique group meetings, online workshops and paint nights. I had time to read more. I enjoyed countless free offerings of art of all disciplines from around the world. So much to fill my creative well and give me new ideas. Another wonderful gift.

Being stuck at home allowed me to work on habits—breaking old bad habits and cultivating new good ones to replace them. On the writing front alone, I have been able to get back into journalling morning pages, into genuine regular creative time. I’ve had time to sort through years of journals and boxes of scraps of paper to find half-written poems and story ideas and put them into digital files where I can find them again. I’ve been able to spend quality time on putting together my poetry collection, so that in 2021 it may actually finally be done! The gift of moving forward even when everything seems static.

Of course, my 2020 gift list is much longer, full of good things that happened or that I came to appreciate, but you get the drift.

Moving forward

So now as I head into 2021, a big part of my plans and dreams and visions for the future is going to be influenced by what I learned in 2020:

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

Achieving writing goals is all very well, but if they are achieved at the expense of your health or your family relationships and other important aspects of life, then perhaps you need to reconsider. 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 2021.

The Write Goals are Best

The Write Goals are Best

Ruth E. Walker

My colleague, friend and partner in Writescape, Gwynn, is a masterful planner. So, it’s no surprise that at all our business meetings, setting out a plan on paper is our foundation. Once the plan is on paper, the tasks are divided up along the lines of who can best accomplish each one. Add in the deadlines for each task and voila! A workable plan with accountability.

Try this!

Gwynn brings that focused approach into our writing retreats. No first gathering of participants misses the opportunity to work on a plan for their writing escape. Everyone considers the big picture of “ideal” accomplishments during the retreat and then – and this is the most important part – breaks it down into manageable pieces. And then they choose the top pieces to complete. Anything more accomplished is a bonus…once the main steps are achieved.

Looming ahead of you is a new year. No doubt you have writing goals you want to accomplish. Maybe it’s just one big goal, like mine: finish the first full draft of the second book in my science fiction/fantasy duology. Or maybe you have several smaller or more general goals for 2021: take some workshops, sign up for at least one writing conference and finish a short story.

No matter your goals, it’s helpful to put them down on paper and then check them off as you accomplish each one. Here’s some ways to do that.

Make a list

Review what you hope to accomplish and then break each goal into steps. For example, your goal is to get one of your finished stories published:

  • First, create a list of magazines you want to get stories published in.
  • Second, create a list of stories that are ready to submit.
  • Third, read each magazine’s guidelines (word count, deadlines, themes, submission methods) and match with any of the stories on your list with that magazine.
  • Fourth, pick the best story for that magazine.
  • Fifth, submit the story
  • Sixth, create a table or spreadsheet or even a handwritten list of what you sent, where and when you sent it, how you sent it and make sure you leave room for the response.
  • Final step? If the story is accepted, celebrate! If the story is rejected, take another look at it and see if you can improve it at all. If you’re satisfied it’s the best it can be, choose another magazine.

Make a visual

If you need more than words on paper, develop something to tickle your creative self. Again, I take a page from the Book of Gwynn. She comes up with the most creative techniques to excite the imagination while being practical and focused.

A favourite of mine is the daisy:

The heart of the daisy holds the broad or large goal: Develop Fiona’s character more.

And then each petal contains a different way to develop or deepen a character: Up Fiona’s stakes. Who is her best friend? What are Fiona’s fears? What does she want? What does she need? List her positive attributes. What is a small obstacle? What is her biggest obstacle? Create a chart of how others react to her.

Once all the petals are filled in, participants choose 3 to 6 petals that can be accomplished over the course of the writing retreat and then commit to focusing on them first.

Set yourself a time frame: 6 days or 6 weeks and you can use the daisy to break down a big writing goal into 3 first steps toward that goal.

Make a promise

Pull out a sheet of paper and write down in a sentence or two that describes one simple task or small accomplishment that will help you take a step toward a big goal. Stick it in an envelope, add postage and mail it to yourself. Remember to write on the back of the envelope: Step #1. When it arrives in your mailbox don’t open it until you have accomplished Step #1.

Move on to Step #2. Then Step #3. And so on.

Variations: If you knew Steps #1 through #5 right from the start, go ahead and prep them into individual envelopes.

You can even mail them all at the same time if you want. But you only get to open them as each one is accomplished. That combines accountability with keeping you focused.

2021 is not 2020

Yes. This almost-over year has been one for the record books. And far too many of those records have been too terrible to bear. A strangeness settled over everything. A few of my writer friends refer to it as “a fog” and for many, it made the simplest tasks a massive challenge.

And our plans…oh those lovely plans we had for our lives, for our livelihoods and for our writing — they were thrown out the window months ago. If we only had started on those plans in January, by mid-March we might have accomplished…

We can’t predict what 2021 will bring us. But we can be better prepared to dive in to our plans right away. By the end of the year – even if global disruption strikes again – we can look back and know that some of what we planned for came through.

Here’s to a New Year when your muse fills your pen with unstoppable ink and your plan keeps you on track.

All the best from,

Gwynn & Ruth

Virtually, a Conference

Virtually, a Conference

Ruth E. Walker

To suggest that this year, in particular, has been a challenge for all of us is an understatement. Disappointments, detours and disruptions govern all aspects of our lives, from the mundane to the extraordinary. And in some weird way, that upside-down-ness is becoming ordinary. Perhaps that’s why more and more, people are finding ways to deliver what we once took for granted.

I signed up for this fall’s Canadian Society of Children’s Authors, Illustrators and Performer’s annual conference, Packaging Your Imagination. It’s been a few years since I attended my last PYI, so I was ready to learn what’s new. But with a switch to virtual, I confess to wondering if sitting all day in front of my laptop was going to be worth it.

I was not disappointed

Beforehand, I worried about video quality. I was at the cottage where our satellite internet is not always great connection-wise. But the cyber gods were smiling, and I had almost no issues on that front. Each of the sessions – from the opening remarks through to the final sign off – were presented from the homes and/or offices of the speakers. Overall, they were delivered issue-free through a live-streamed broadcast.

The day before, I was sent links for each of the sessions I’d registered for as well as links for the opening and closing keynote speakers, the after party and the trivia game. There were no glitches.

The one-to-one I booked with an editor was scheduled in advance, and Katie Scott from Kids Can Press and I chatted privately over the Zoom platform at the end of the day.

I learned

photo by John Fredericks

Each session presented me with new ideas and a couple were absolutely inspiring. Children’s author and journalist, Monique Polak’s dive into research had me scribbling like mad to capture everything she offered. And that was between laugh-out-loud moments because Monique is, frankly, hilarious, engaging and slightly off the wall.

And I learned:

  • Get excited and engaged when interviewing & sometimes quiet people open up
  • Be like a buzzard on roadkill – real life situations can be ridiculous but also inspire your muse
  • When people drink something warm (tea, coffee) they’re more likely to reveal more than when they’re drinking something cold – when we can return to in-person interviews, I’m going to test that one out

Multiple award-winning author and senior editor, Shelley Tanaka focused on finding the theme in our book. She started with exploring what many of us face when we sit down to write a book.

We start strong and in love with our story, and we go merrily along, writing with our authentic voice. We’re on a roll, we’ve sorted out all the wants, the obstacles and the stakes in our story, it’s going great.

And then…thud.

We’ve lost our way, lost interest and admit to ourselves that the story is simply not working. She suggests this is a good time to sit back and ask ourselves: What is this story about? In writing for children, she says we should consider the following when thinking about a story’s theme.

And I learned:

  • Theme is not a “message” or moral
  • It’s also not simply entertainment
  • Whatever it is, it should inspire kids (and adults in my opinion) to ask questions about themselves

Industry insights

The professionals’ panel shared what three different publishers were looking for. They discussed the pleasure of seeing a growing market for BIPOC books and they briefly discussed trends. Forget about trends, they encouraged – write the story you want to write. By the time you finish writing to a trend, readers have moved on.

From a focus on Nadia L. Hohn‘s Malaika series, I learned what goes into an illustrated picture book that is linked to another: collaboration. Between the author, the illustrator and the editor/publisher, they build on each other’s ideas and artistic qualities to connect the books in the series while bringing in freshness with each new publication.

Beginnings and endings

Both keynote presenters were perfect for their respective tasks: storyteller and author Adwoa Badoe brought the music and literary flavours of her birthplace Ghana into her opening remarks. From her welcome song to the consistent thread of “Story is an Old Woman”, we were shifted in time and place, ready to absorb what the rest of the day offered.

by Matthew Wiley

Teresa Toten, on the other hand, took us through her journey of ups and downs, sharing rejections and personal difficulties but always offering a counterpoint of touchstone music and joyful celebrations. An award-winning author of 10 books for young adults, Teresa was remarkably candid and inspiring at a time when many writers are facing challenging times. It was a perfect closing keynote.

Virtual is not in-person

Of course, there were so many conference elements that couldn’t be replicated. Networking with colleague writers, chatting directly with industry professionals over lunch, and browsing the book tables were sorely missed. While we could post questions online, the energy of a live Q&A in the same room with others wasn’t there.

Pixabay

Bio breaks, on the other hand, didn’t mean a rush down crowded hallways to the cafeteria or standing in line outside the bathroom. Nobody cared if I brushed my hair or had spill stains on my homestyle attire. And yes, I could stand up, stretch, pace the room for exercise and not miss a single detail. And I didn’t disturb a single soul.

I look forward to more conferences and gatherings with real live people in the same room with me, breathing the same air and no one wearing a surgical mask. As I said last week to my six-year-old grandson: When this is over, Reid, I’m going to hug you for 27 hours straight. He just grinned but he knew exactly what I meant.

In the interim, I’m sticking with virtual. Gwynn and I are dipping our toes in as presenters next week with our Find & Fix editing masterclass. Sponsored by The Writers’ Community of Durham Region, you can find out more about it here.

Quirky websites for historical fiction writers

Quirky websites for historical fiction writers

Gwynn Scheltema

I’m a genealogy junkie. I admit it. Digging into my past is my favourite procrastination tactic. But in the process, I’ve come across a few quirky sources of historical information, that are useful not only to geni’s but to writers of historical fiction too.  We all know about Google and Worldcat and History.com, but have you ever explored these sites?

David Rumsey Map Collection

This site has over 64,000 maps and cartographic images. His focus is on rare 18th and 19th century North American and South American maps, but you’ll also find materials from Africa, Europe and Asia. Not only can you view maps side by side, but you can also overlay historical maps over modern ones to see how an area has changed over time.

Facebook

Did you know that there is a Genealogy on Facebook list, a 173-page PDF file containing 5,700-plus links, published by Katherine R. Willson. A Canadian version by Gail Dever includes French-speaking groups and pages.

These genealogy groups are great for requesting help with foreign record translations or asking about specific eras and ancestral villages like Ballymena, County Antrim in Northern Ireland during the Irish famine of the 1840s.

HistoryPin  &  WhatWasThere

If you’re looking to compare a modern UK street view with an old one or see if an historical site survives today, try Historypin. This is a free collaborative site with over 400,000 old photo and story submissions plotted on Google Maps.

For North America, try What­WasThere. It works the same way. For instance, a search for Pueblo, Colorado gives images of the late 1800s and early 1900s and then the aftermath of a 1921 flood.

WolframAlpha

Need to know the weather for a specific date? What about calculating a birth date based on a death date from a gravestone? WolframAlpha is a computational knowledge base that accesses more than 10,000 databases to return information based on your calculation requests.

IrelandXO

Ireland Reaching Out website is a treasure trove of all things Irish, from westward Trans- Atlantic crossings records during the great famine to why the names Flan, Florry, Finn and Fitheal are actually all the same name. Similar websites exist for many countries. I have South African ties, so I use the South African sites eGGSA.org and Stamouers .

Cyndi’s List

Cyndi’s List is a cornucopia of useful information arranged by topic on EVERYTHING, not just historical information. In the genealogy category alone, you can find everything from records of Canadian Military casualties to South African gravestones search sites, from information on workhouses in the UK to transcribed diaries.

So there you have it. Hours and hours of procrastination facination. This list is of course, by no means exhaustive, just some of my favourites. Share quirky historical sites that you use in the comments below.

Copyright heads to the Supreme Court

Copyright heads to the Supreme Court

Annual cheques from Access Copyright were distributed this week and so was a news release from the association.

Check out Writescape’s previous blogs about the long struggle that Access Copyright has fought of behalf of creators. Today we continue to keep you updated.

  • April 2018 – background to the legal struggle
  • May 2018 – the Parliamentary Review and Submission to the Industry Committee
  • August 2018 – How writers can get involved and help
  • January 2019 – update as we wait for a decision
  • January 2020 – The courts side with creators and order payment by March 9 2020

Unfortunately, despite a favourable decision from the courts, no payment was forthcoming and the appeal process began. This month, the matter heads to the Supreme Court of Canada.

Here is the complete and unedited release that was emailed to members:


TORONTO [October 15, 2020] – The Supreme Court of Canada announced today that it will hear the appeals of both Access Copyright and York University in the litigation between the two parties that began in 2013.

This decision is another chapter in a decade-long struggle by creators and publishers to be fairly paid for the copying and use of their works by the education sector. As a result of the sector’s self-interpretation of changes made to the fair dealing sections of the Copyright Act in 2012, they adopted and have continued to follow copying guidelines that have resulted in hundreds of millions of pages of copyright-protected works being copied per year without payment. Both the Federal Court at trial and the Federal Court of Appeal determined these self-interpreted guidelines are not fair in either their terms or application. To date, Canada’s creators and publishers have been deprived of over $150 million in royalties owed to them by the education sector under tariffs approved by the Copyright Board of Canada that the sector has overwhelmingly refused to pay.

This protracted legal proceeding is reflective of a copyright system that users have badly broken. This wasn’t always so. Prior to the changes to the Copyright Act in 2012, through collective licensing and a functioning tariff system, educational institutions paid creators and publishers for the works they copied.

At a time when our country is focused on economic recovery from the impact of COVID-19, our creative sector has been hit harder as a result of the education sector’s refusal to pay for the use of creators’ works. The federal government needs to take decisive action to remove any uncertainty surrounding our copyright laws and restore a well-functioning marketplace for copyright-protected works that is predictable and transparent where creators can be paid fairly and promptly.

“Canadian creators and publishers have been deprived of fair payment by the education sector for almost a decade,” said Roanie Levy, President & CEO of Access Copyright. “COVID-19 has made the wound of not being paid even more painful. Our copyright system is not working. It is fraught with uncertainty and the federal government needs to roll up its sleeves and take immediate action.”

If you haven’t done so already, we encourage you to get informed. Visit
Access Copyright’s website or take the time to read the posts we’ve shared
here with the timeline of this long and difficult road to prove our work is
valuable and worth protecting.

The Changing World of a Freelance Writer

The Changing World of a Freelance Writer

Dorothea Helms, Guest Blogger

Picture it … 1994. I drove my Geo Metro to the downtown Toronto Reference Library to conduct research for an article I was writing about the evolution of downtowns across North America. I read through what seemed like miles of microfiche reels and spent several dollars making photocopies of pertinent documents.

I live in Sunderland, Ontario, so that process took the better part of a day. The following day, I drove to Oshawa to interview people who agreed to be quoted in the piece. During the next couple of days, I wrote the article, saved it onto a diskette and drove to Oshawa again to deliver it in person. (That was before I got a fax machine.)

To research that same article today, I’d hop online, read through websites while still in my jammies and eating Miss Vickie’s original chips, email people for quotes, write the piece and email it to the editor. That’s one way that freelance writing nowadays is a lot easier than it was 26 years ago.

It is also possible to take writing courses and workshops online to advance your craft. It’s not as much fun as in-person gatherings, but it is convenient. Writers can market services online, conduct surveys, even attend distant in-person writing events virtually. And yes, today we have Zoom, but remember that people SEE you during those sessions. I can look like the bride of Frankenstein when I wake up, so check in the mirror before you choose to open your video option.

As the cliché goes, there’s good news, and there’s bad news. Google and other search engines are breeding grounds for excellent information and for “facts” that are about as reliable as me answering the question “How much do you weigh?” And speaking of the Internet, with so many writers providing blogs, the amount of reading material online makes the necessity to pay for writing less necessary. Why do writers do it? They want to reach out to readers and see their names and words in print. It is their prerogative, and for some writers, blogging is a form of marketing.

Earning a living is not shameful

The idea that somehow a byline is payment is one of the basic reasons why so many publications have received writing for free or hardly any money for decades … that, and the pervasive attitude that writing for money is “selling out.”

What a handy misconception for the higher-ups in for-profit publishing who are too cheap to do a proper business plan that covers the cost of doing business—namely, writing. Having said that, the virtual reality of the Internet has contributed to the death of a lot of print publications. I have lost clients for this reason and had to add other sources of income. When I participated in an entrepreneurship program in 1994, I learned that having “multiple sources of income” is one pathway to success.

On average, writers in Canada are paid pitifully, and statistics have validated this. In 2006, the Professional Writers of Canada conducted a survey showing how earnings for freelancers in Canada went DOWN between 1995 and 2005—from $26,500 to $24,035 (https://bit.ly/3iyhv6S). In 2018, a Writers’ Union of Canada survey reported that incomes from writing dropped 78 percent from 2014, from $12,879 to $9,380 per year (https://bit.ly/32DKzVE).

Other sources vary. These quoted figures are average, so imagine what writers on the lower part of the scale are making.

Price for profit and stick with it

In the face of all of that, until I semi-retired a couple years ago, I pulled in revenues of six-digit figures yearly. Here are a few practices that can help you succeed.

  • Learn about business and how to price to make money—and remember that you are worth it!
  • Say NO to for-profit publications that pay nothing or little.
  • Claim everything you can legitimately on your income tax forms.
  • Expand the scope of the services you offer. Perhaps you can edit or teach.
  • Keep an open mind to accepting writing jobs in the business, advertising and public relations fields.
  • Advance your craft through professional workshops and courses.
  • Respect word counts and deadlines. Editors prefer to work with reliable writers.
  • Pay attention to rejections, but not too much. Usually, ideas and pieces are rejected because of timing or poor fits for upcoming editorial calendars—something you’d have to have ESP to predict.
  • Persevere in the face of naysayers.
  • Help other writers when you can.

If writing is more of a calling than a career for you, remember that you can earn money using your gift without shame. Things change, and we can adapt to thrive during all conditions. There are many ways to make money writing. I encourage you to be curious, ask questions and think outside the book. N

From a college creative writing course to a freelance writer earning six-digit figures yearly, Dorothea Helms has come a long way, baby. Now semi-retired, she is still in demand for her writing/editing services and teaching. Her work has appeared in dozens of publications including Chatelaine, CBC.ca/Parenting, The Globe and Mail, Canadian Architecture & Design magazine, LICHEN Arts & Letters Preview, Stitches the Journal of Medical Humour, and Homemakers, to name a few. Yes, four of those publications are no longer in existence, but Dorothea accepts no responsibility for their demise. Wherever Dorothea goes, humour follows.

Butterflies, Frogs and Tadpoles

Butterflies, Frogs and Tadpoles

Gwynn Scheltema

I’m an organized person. I set big-picture goals and break the big plan down into small achievable pieces. I’ve always made a daily to-do list and I get great satisfaction from ticking them off – done!

But I also put my obligations to others waaaay ahead of my own wants and needs, especially creatively. Even when I “schedule” creative time, or add “finish chapter 5” to my to-do list, you can be sure that it’s the one item on that list that doesn’t get done.

Sound familiar?

New strategy needed

The pandemic gave me a gift this year. Unused commuting time. So, I gave myself another gift: I cleared the deck of a number of outside obligations, told people “no” for a change and decided to make my own health and creativity more important in my life.

At first, predictably, my creativity intentions became the same undone items on the daily to-do list. I needed a new approach, a whole new rethink. It took time, some trial and error, but I found a new strategy for giving creativity a more meaningful—and attainable—place in my life. I developed what I call my “Butterflies, frogs and tadpoles” approach.

Ditch the daily to-do list

I’ve stopped making a daily to-do list!

Yes, that’s right. No more daily chances to feel like I’ve failed. No more only crossing off the obligations and neglecting the things I want to do. No more setting myself up for guilt, and disappointment at myself and the world. No more dwelling on the negative.

My new approach involves a master list each for butterflies, frogs and tadpoles – in that order!

Butterflies, Frogs and Tadpoles?              

BUTTERFLIES are the things I WANT to do: creative things, personal things, social things, family things, hobbies, relationships and anything else that will feed my soul, make my life pleasant or feed into the achieving of my chosen personal goals. And while it may not be intuitive to goal setting in any way, I include things that are not necessarily “good for me” like eating a chocolate bar, or a third cup of coffee or a Netflix binge.

Okay okay! I hear you. That’s all very well, but what about all the stuff that HAS to get done. Be patient Young Grasshopper. I’m coming to that.

A FROG is something that MUST be done because it has a time restraint on it. The term comes from the “eat that frog” concept originated by Mark Twain who once said that if you start the day by eating a frog (your biggest and most important task) you will have the satisfaction of knowing that this was probably the worst thing you had to do that day.

But for me, there is a difference. My frogs are not necessarily my biggest or most important tasks. They are not necessarily things I don’t want to do. They are simply tasks governed by time deadlines. A frog can be as simple as reordering my prescription or calling Aunt Mable about the food for next weekend or as big and complicated as filing my taxes or meeting a client deadline.

I also often take big frogs and break them into smaller frogs. For instance, “filing my taxes” could be broken down into finding my paperwork, sorting receipts, compiling my mileage log; printing off my online charitable receipts etc etc. I prefer this approach, because it makes the frogs less intimidating, and I get to “complete” more things along the way. I can see and feel the progress.

A TADPOLE is an item that SHOULD be tackled soon because it will become a frog in the near future. Like frogs, tadpoles can be obligations or not, big or small. Tadpoles might be things like cleaning out my clothes closet, buying new boots or Christmas shopping, updating my website, getting the propane tanks refilled, filling out that grant application, finishing chapter 5, or submitting to a contest.

Some tadpoles can remain tadpoles for a very long time, but I know in my heart of hearts that if I don’t turn them into frogs at some point, I will regret it. So, yes, I may miss moving the writing contest entry to the frog list, but I know that if I don’t do it and the deadline passes, I will be upset with myself. And that if I continue to let those tadpoles die, my chosen goals will not be realized. I also recognize that many psychological reasons probably exist for my resistance, and so I cut myself some slack on tadpoles.

The process

As I said earlier, I run a master list each for butterflies, frogs (with deadlines) and tadpoles – in that order!

I add to those lists whenever I think of something I want, must or should do. Remember these are master lists, not “to-do” lists, so I no longer get overwhelmed by how long they are.

When I started this, my Frogs list ran to several pages, my tadpoles were plentiful, but I could only come up with a scant list of butterflies.

I realized that I was so used to gearing my actions to what I “should” do that I was out of touch with what I really wanted to do. Over time, I’ve asked myself questions like: What makes me happy? What would a perfect day look like? If I died tomorrow, what would I regret not having done?

Monthly

Each month, I pick from the master lists for my monthly tasks and activities. Note, I work by month, not by day. I have 3 sections in my day book for each of the categories: Butterflies, Frogs and Tadpoles.

I begin with a Butterfly choice. That’s right, put what’s important to you first! That goes on my monthly list of Butterflies. Then I pick a Frog or Tadpole and put them on my monthly Frog and Tadpole lists. I repeat the process until I have three lists that will fill my month with time left over for unexpected happenings that always arise.

Admittedly, the number of Frogs on the Frog list is often governed by deadlines. If it is a formidable list, I consider the old Ditch, Delegate or Defer approach to make it more manageable. But whatever I do, I make sure to have as many butterflies on my list as I have frogs and tadpoles combined.

Weekly

Once a week I grab a highlighter and decide which Frogs need to be done by the end of the week.  With the same colour highlighter, I highlight an equal number of Butterflies. Those are the ones I concentrate on that week. I forget about the others on the list. The next week I use a different colour highlighter and do the same thing.  Spreading my expectations of myself over a week instead of a day means six less opportunities to feel like I failed, time to make up for a slow day and a better sense of achievement over time.

Daily

I always start my day with a Butterfly. This sounds counter-productive if there are Frog deadlines looming, but it isn’t. I’ve found that I procrastinate far less and I don’t fill my time with pointless activity because I’m getting my wants up front and not feeling overwhelmed by musts. Today for example, I had this blog to write, a report to finish and email around to colleagues and an editing assignment due tomorrow. Those three things I knew would eat up a big piece of my day, so I chose butterflies that would not take a big time grab but would leave me feeling fulfilled: A 20 minute yoga session at the lake; a video call to my brother overseas and time to read a poetry collection I have just bought. Tomorrow I have only one Frog deadline, so I will choose a large butterfly, like working for a full morning on my poetry, before I tackle that one frog.

Successes

While this may not work for everyone, it’s working for me. Slowly my mind is learning to put what’s important to me at the forefront of what I do. I feel less frustrated with tasks I have to do because I’m balancing them with things I want to do rather than trying to fit my wants in or neglecting them altogether.

Keeping in touch and keeping track

Keeping in touch and keeping track

Gwynn’s home county, Northumberland County, Ontario, has a vibrant arts community, including the dedicated and prolific Spirit of the Hills Writer’s Group of which Gwynn is a member. The group has been publishing a blog since April: A Journal in Time of Pandemic and LockdownToday’s guest post originally appeared on July 3 on that blog, and we reprint it here with author and poet Kim Aubrey’s permission.

Kim shares her personal story of keeping in touch with relatives far from home during the pandemic, and also her new found method of journalling that works for a time when our minds aren’t as focused or creative as we’d like.

Kim Aubrey

The call for lockdown came just as my husband and I were preparing to drive to New Hampshire to care for my mother during her recovery from surgery. Her hip replacement was scheduled for March 18. On March 14, I read the Prime Minister’s online message advising Canadians to stay home, and my husband read that our health insurance would probably not cover us if we went to the States.

The next day I talked to my younger brother M. in Texas. He prepared to step in and take care of Mom.

The stress mounts

“We can’t come,” I told my mother. “Maybe you should postpone your surgery.”

“Not going to happen,” she said, determined to go ahead with the hip replacement which would relieve her pain.

But on March 16 the surgeon’s office called her to reschedule for May.

My middle brother E. survived a terrible traffic accident when he was nineteen. Since then he’s lived with a brain injury. He and Mom share a house and are company for one another, but during the past few years, he’s had trouble keeping his balance and has suffered a few bad falls.

On March 19, he fell for the second time in the space of a week. Mom called an ambulance, which took him to the Emergency Room. Luckily, he didn’t break any bones, but he was in pain for over a month. I wanted to be there to help my mother and brother, but all I could do was call by phone and Skype, remind him to ice his shoulder, remind her to take the anti-inflammatory pills the surgeon had prescribed.

As May approached, I waited for the surgeon to postpone again, but it didn’t happen. My brother M. once again agreed to stay with Mom during and after her surgery. Despite my worries, the surgery was a success, no one got sick, and Mom has had a good recovery.

New routines needed

Since mid-March I’ve been talking to her and E. every day. I used to call once or twice a week, but knowing I can’t visit anytime soon and aware of the danger the virus poses, I feel the need to check in more often. It’s become part of my pandemic routine, like working on my novel, online yoga and Nia classes, and the journal I’ve been keeping since December, inspired by an exercise in Lynda Barry’s wondrous book Syllabus: Notes from an Accidental Professor.

Barry’s book is based on the writing/drawing classes she taught at the University of Wisconsin. I’m a fan of her comics and have been wanting to write/draw a graphic novel for many years now. To prepare myself, I started doing a couple of the exercises Barry set her students—a quick daily self-portrait and daily lists of seven things done, seven things seen, and one thing heard, along with another quick drawing.

I’m grateful I began this practice before the lockdown as it’s been an easy and satisfying way to keep track of these pandemic days.

Meet Kim Aubrey

Kim Aubrey’s stories, essays, and poems have appeared in journals and anthologies, including Best Canadian Stories, Event, Numero Cinq, Room and The New Quarterly. Her story collection, What We Hold in Our Hands, won an Honorable Mention in the Bermuda Literary Awards. Kim leads an annual writers’ retreat in Bermuda.

10 Sites for Writers

10 Sites for Writers

Websites for writers can be a treasure trove of inspiration and resources. For this month’s 10 on the 10th, we’ve compiled, in no particular order, a list of ten helpful places for you to visit. These are websites that, as writers, we’ve found useful and upon occasion fun. Happy surfing!

#1 Writers’ Digest has been around for decades, first as a magazine and now also hosting a massive site that’s loaded with articles on just about any topic a writer might want to explore. Sign up for their newsletter — it’s full of advice and ideas. https://www.writersdigest.com/

#2 Literistic. Imagine receiving a monthly list of contests and magazines with upcoming deadlines for submissions. Literistic caters to people who write poetry, fiction and nonfiction in Canada, the United States and Britain. There’s a free shortlist or you can choose the $8.50/month list that is curated with only the markets and topics that you select. https://www.literistic.com/

#3 One Stop for Writers is a great site with a range of tools for writers. Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi (co-authors of six best-selling resource books including The Emotion Thesaurus) joined forces with Lee Powell (creator of Scrivener) to build what they term a “library” for writers. You can register for free and if you like what you see, sign up for a monthly paid subscription. https://onestopforwriters.com

#4 49th Shelf is a website focusing on the books of Canadian writers (but a great discovery for writers outside our borders). Why are we featuring a website about books? Let us quote an American writer here: “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write.” from Stephen King’s Top 20 Rules for Writers. Yup. We agree. https://49thshelf.com/

#5  Word A Day. Five days a week, 52 weeks of the year, receive the gift of a daily word. Not only do you get a word, you get its pronunciation, meaning(s), and the history of that word. Each week is thematic. Last week’s theme: weird plurals. Who knew more than one charisma are charismata? Or on the theme of words that don’t mean what you think they do, bloodnoun — it has nothing to do with the stuff in your veins; instead, it’s another word for bullfrog. Words, words, words! https://wordsmith.org

#6  GrammarlyThe more you write (and read) the stronger your own store of grammar and spelling know-how should develop. However. There are times when having a quick resource to check for clear writing and correct grammar is appreciated. Like 3 a.m. when the deadline is looming and you need to feel confident. You’re welcome. https://www.grammarly.com/

#7  WorldCat Need an out-of-print book? Researching for a historical novel? Get connected to world-wide library catalogue system. A 3-minute YouTube video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vos5ivBeZ5c  gives you a walk-through on how to use WorldCat. Search by subject, title or author. Create your own lists of resources and add or delete items as it suits you. Locate books in a multitude of languages. Read and/or post reviews. A gigantic library at your fingertips. Meow!  https://www.worldcat.org/

#8  Poets & Writers Like Writers’ Digest, this is a wide-ranging website for writers, but it’s a non-profit organization. And we like seeing “Poets” listed first and foremost. Yes, there’s lots here of a general note for writers but P&W gives attention to those of us who work with fewer words on the page. The Bard would approve.  https://www.pw.org/

#9  The Writers’ Union of Canada  This website offers writers some free resources, such as lists of Canadian writing-related associations, literary agents in Canada, award programs for self-published authors,  and many more links. In addition, the union’s resource books for writers are low-cost and high-value: for example, negotiating your own contract, or estate and legacy planning for writers.  https://www.writersunion.ca

#10  Freerice This fun online word game is perfect for writers who want to challenge their brain while helping out a good cause, The Word Food Programme of the United Nations. The ad-supported site generates words with multiple possible meanings. You contribute 10 grains of rice for every correct answer. Increase your speed to raise the stakes and shift out of your comfort zone. Playtime for writers in English, French, Spanish, Italian or Korean! http://freerice.com/#/english-vocabulary/6116

By no means is this a complete list of useful or interesting writerly websites.

What sites have you discovered that other writers will find helpful? Suggest them in the comments section.

Postcard Story Winners!

Postcard Story Winners!

Thank you once again to all who entered our contest from Canada and abroad, and to our longlist finalists announced last week.

Today we take great pleasure in announcing and congratulating the top three winners:

Drum roll please……

  • 1st Place: Helen Bajorek-MacDonald – Woman with Cigarette
  • 2nd Place: Lori Twining – Smoke Job
  • 3rd Place: Ann Rocchi – Quarantine Dreams

Beginning today with our 3rd-Place winner, we will share these stories with you over the next three weeks and tell you why we chose them.

Before you read Ann Rocchi’s story Quarantine Dreams, here again is the contest image that served as inspiration.




Quarantine Dreams

by Ann Rocchi

Like a bad penny, her smoking returned. It was something to do! Something to fill the empty hours. Adrienne was usually a busy person – too busy, her friends said. This enforced isolation was not going well for her. She was lethargic, unmotivated…she felt like she had a piano tied to her ass.
So. Cigarettes. Social media was advising everyone to reach out to connections from the past. She always felt connected when she was smoking. Connected to the cool kids, the ones who wore buffalo plaid shirts over their school uniforms and reigned over the rearmost bench of the bus. Connected to the hip crowd in college, lighting up after one-off sex with whoever you had brought home from the pub. Connected to her ex-husband; even when they could no longer hold a civil conversation, they could sit in silent communion with their smokes.
She still smoked when she drank. And her drinking had skyrocketed lately, too.  Kool-Aid coloured cocktails with paper parasols in fishbowl-sized glasses. Why, oh why, had she gone through with the whole fortieth birthday trip? Of course, everything was booked and paid for long before a whisper of “pandemic”. But they deserved it, right, she and her posse of single moms? They had worked hard all winter, shoveled their own driveways, carpooled till the cows came home and now it was time to park the kids with the grandparents and party. It felt so good to lie in the sun, a lovely buzz going from that fourth fruity drink, without some sticky little hand grabbing at her.
There had been one sticky hand that trip, though, and not so little, either… Brendon? Brandan? One of those boy band names. He was tanned, taut and tattooed. They were partners for the Traditional Firewalking Event at the resort. He had talked her into it, had even done it already as a team building exercise back home with his work, Millennials R Us, or some other bullshit company she couldn’t remember. She was sauced, and when their leader exclaimed how empowered and spiritually connected she would feel afterwards, she ditched her shoes, grabbed the young hipster’s hand, and casually strolled across a fiery path of burning coals. She had ridden him like a goddess that night.
Adrienne leaned over, chugged her beer, then tapped her cigarette butt in a houseplant to dislodge the ash. She took a quick peek through the curtains at her kids playing in the yard, then nestled back into the curvature of the couch. She inhaled deeply, held, exhaled.  She felt like a lazy, good-for-nothing underachiever. This was her last smoke, she vowed. She would get up and make a healthy dinner for everyone. Baby steps. Just a quick rest first.
Resolved, Adrienne finally relaxed. Her head bobbed, her cigarette drooped. Her vision blurred, hazy and ash gray, like the smoke of the firewalk. Adrienne slid into a deep sleep, not even the whiff of charred fabric interrupting her descent.

Strengths:

  • voice — believable narrator, unreliable and sad – always in character of bargaining, denial, trying to fit in, lacking self-confidence etc.
  • the ending — oh we fear for her, for the smoking fabric, the fact she’s been drinking, the kids in the yard — it’s all about to go up in smoke.
  • especially enjoyed that the element of surprise at the end is built logically through the story but is still unexpected. The girls trip and that one night with Brendan/Brandan feels real from risking the firewalking to risking a random one-night stand.
  • setting the story during Covid19 lends a topical and contemporary feel. We all understand how depression and so many other feelings seem to be heightened in these times. Makes this scenario all the more believable.
  • good subtle foreshadowing throughout starting with the first line. We know things will not go well: Her smoking returned like a bad penny. This was her last smoke… ash grey, like the smoke of the firewalk.
  • style — mix of sentence lengths for effect, repetition and sets of 3 for effect, building on ideas such as “connected” from school to adulthood: Connected to her ex-husband; even when they could no longer hold a civil conversation, they could sit in silent communion with their smokes. (Especially effective as this narrator is clearly not connected emotionally to much — a worsening drunk making deals with herself to manage everyday life.)
  • some fresh and effective figurative language: like she had a piano tied to her ass; her posse of single moms; nestled into the curvature of the couch.
  • As she begins her final decent into lethargy, the language becomes slower and more lethargic too. No vivid descriptions. Short simple sentences. And one moment of heightened tension (peek at the kids in the back yard) to make the reader want to reach into the story and shake her out of her stupor.

What might strengthen this piece:

  • While this character is certainly increasingly passive and reflective as she slips deeper into her drink and eventual sleep, we suggest fewer instances of passive verb construction: lots of “to be” verbs, especially at the beginning, keep readers distanced from the rising tension. Look for “was/is/are” and replace with more active verbs or reorder the sentence to avoid it as much as possible: This enforced isolation was not going well for her. She was lethargic, unmotivated. Other possibilities: Enforced isolation left her lethargic, unmotivated. Or Lethargy and lack of motivation had gripped her during this enforced isolation.
  • Timeline glitch: 40th birthday trip took place “long before a whisper of pandemic”, but she went after “they had worked hard all winter.” The pandemic started at end of 2019. It reached us around end of Jan and into Feb. Lockdown began in March.

Quarantine Dreams was a pleasure to read. Congratulations Ann on crafting such a great story.

Next week we publish the second-place winner along with our comments and suggestions. In the meantime, if you would like to enjoy reading or learning more about flash fiction or postcard stories, check out these links.