10 Ways to Show Ukraine Some Love

10 Ways to Show Ukraine Some Love

Many of us have been dismayed by the invasion of Ukraine and the relentless destruction of infrastructure and cultural sites, and the horrific loss of ordinary citizens’ lives. We are distant geographically but this undeclared war’s impact has extensive global reach. We may feel helpless but we can take small actions that will make a difference. Here’s a list of 10 things ordinary people can do:

1   Read Good Citizens Need Not Fear by Maria Reva, the winner of the $25,000 KOZBAR Book Award. Presented biennially, this award recognizes outstanding contributions to Canadian literary arts by authors who write on a topic with a tangible connection to the experiences of Ukrainian Canadians.  

2   And then read some more: there were two finalists in the KOZBAR competition: Fields of Light and Stone, a poetry collection by Angeline Schellenberg, and Enemy Alien: a true story about life behind barbed wire, a graphic novel by Kassandra Luciuk.

3. Create art. Even better create art and then use it to shine a light on the invasion of Ukraine and maybe raise some funds to support non-profit groups providing support inside the country. For example, Bekky O’Neil and Keith Del Principe, artists and farmers in Northumberland County, created a lino print of the words spoken by an elderly Ukrainian woman as she gave sunflower seeds to Russian soldiers who captured her city. Writer Diane Taylor blogged about it and what it means to her.

4   Rent a B&B in Ukraine. There are over 11,000 B&B rentals which gives a sense of how popular this country was to visit before February 25. Visit the European B&B site and rent a room for a night or two to help add needed dollars to the Ukrainian economy. Let the hosts know you won’t go there to stay but it’s a good thing you’re doing. We might be dealing with inflation, but imagine what happens to a nation’s economy with mined blockades at seaports and targeted infrastructure missile hits.

5   Purchase tickets to Ukrainian zoos.  Imagine the challenges of keeping animals healthy and safe in a war zone, including non-indigenous animals with specific diets. You can help feed the animals (and the local economy) by buying entrance tickets online. Here’s three zoos in Ukraine that would appreciate your support. The Mykolaiv Zoo is close to the active war zone. You can read about the zoo in Оleksii Platonov’s article in Geneva Solutions and then buy entrance tickets. Check out the Kiyv Zoo in the nation’s capital. And the Kharkiv Zoo, in a city recently retaken by Ukraine, has an direct link on their site for donations. No matter how you feel about zoos, the immediate need should take precedence.

6   Write a letter of encouragement to President Volodomyr Zelenskyy sharing your support. This media savvy politician has used his skills as a writer, comedian and actor to keep his citizens’ morale high. He’s also kept his country’s peril in the spotlight internationally. We don’t know for sure but we do think some direct “Good for you, Mr. President” might help keep his morale high.

7   Create a collective project. For example, Penn Kemp, poet, playwright and dedicated activist, has gathered the voices of 48 prominent Canadian poets to produce an anthology with profits going to PEN Ukraine, to support the cultural community. Poems in Response to Peril features Gary Barwin, George Elliott Clarke, Kim Fahner, Tanis MacDonald, Daphne Marlatt and Goran Simić, among the 41 contributing poets. As these poets know, words are powerful.

8   Download the Ukrainian Flag. Add a show of support to your social media. This Kapwing Resources blog shows how you can add the flag, or its distinctive blue and yellow colours, to your Facebook, Twitter or TikTok profiles.

9   Research how we got here. There’s a lot of background on how Ukraine became an established country and why it has attracted the interest of surrounding countries, especially Russia, over the centuries. Here’s a list of 20 books from Book Therapy on understanding the history of Ukraine and Russia. And here’s a list of 12 essential books from the L.A. Times newspaper.

10   Write a poem or essay about how you feel. Writescape’s Ruth E. Walker wrote a prose poem entitled “Shell Shock” and it’s being published this fall in Beyond Words magazine. She wrote the poem to deal with her distress of what ordinary people were living — and dying — through in this senseless war. As happy as Ruth is that the poem is going into an international journal, she wishes with all her heart that the inspiration for the poem was not real.

Of course, Ukraine is not the only country dealing with warfare. There are conflicts all over the world and these examples of support — and others — can be used and customized as your creative and thoughtful mind can manage. We can make a difference, not matter our distance. Peace.

Amazing Moments Journal

Amazing Moments Journal

Replace fear of the unknown with curiosity.

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

Guest blogger: Cheryl Andrews

The emotional churn of daily living

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

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

My positive retort to the doom and gloom

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

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

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

Healing the troubled mind

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

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

Bonus discovery

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

Bad Ass Beauties

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

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

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

Enjoy a few random entries:

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

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

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

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

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

Meet Cheryl Andrews

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

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

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

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

10 Questions to Ask an Agent

10 Questions to Ask an Agent

It finally has happened. An agent is interested in you and your manuscript. But not so fast. Even if you like this agent, does that mean that they will do what you and your manuscript need?

Granted, you’ve done your research, which is how you queried this agent in the first place. But now you need to be certain that this is in fact a partnership that will work for both of you. Getting answers to these questions may help with that decision. And besides – you present as professional. Always a good place to start out from.

1.   Why did you pick me and my work?

This may seem like an ingenuous question, but it’s not at all naïve or simple. What answer you receive sheds light on where your agent will focus. There’s a world of difference between “I love your characters” and “The market is ripe for this type of book.” Neither reply is wrong – it just gives you a bit of insight. However, if an agent can’t answer this question, this isn’t a great sign for a working relationship. It’s an important question to start out with.

2.   What is the plan for the short term?

Sometimes, the short term involves edits directly from your agent that you’ll work on before your manuscript goes anywhere. Other agents may have readers who they send your manuscript out to for editorial feedback. In any case, it’s a rare manuscript that lands on an agent’s desk that needs no feedback and/or edits before going out on submission.

3.   How do you plan to present my manuscript to publishers?

Does your agent have specific editors/publishers in mind? Will this be a one-at-a-time approach or will it be simultaneous submissions? A focus on home turf or international markets? When you get the answer, there’s no reason to not ask why the agent is making this choice. And find out if you will receive a list of submissions for your own records. Open communication means you’re not in the dark about where your manuscript is going.

4.   Which publisher would be ideal for this book?

 This one is especially useful to give you insight into how connected your agent is in the publishing world. And how astute they are about your manuscript and finding it the best home for publication. Ideal doesn’t necessarily mean the biggest fish in the pond if ideal offers your manuscript benefits you hadn’t yet considered.

5.   Do you consult with your clients on any offers?

You want to be consulted and not leave it all to your agent. Given that you are the person who will be signing the publishing contract, you’ll want to have input with your agent beforehand. But even more important to you is to know about offers that your agent doesn’t recommend. If so, you want to know why your agent doesn’t think it’s right for you or the book’s journey. Maybe you have a perspective that could change the agent’s mind or at least suggest ways the publisher might sweeten the offer to your benefit. And just maybe, the agent has information you don’t know about. Remember, it’s all about communication.

6.   How often do you communicate with your clients?

It’s not just whether to send an email or make a phone call – you want to know what is the connection expectation here. Agents are busy and have real lives. But they are also in a working relationship with you. So there needs to be contact and you need to know what to expect. When your manuscript is out on submission, are you expected to wait to hear? Or will your agent send you weekly or monthly updates? Establish what is reasonable for both of you and save yourself one more level of anxiety. (Note: anxiety is a norm for writers but this will at least lessen your hourly need to check your email for updates.)

7.    How will I be represented on the agency website?

When looking for an agent, writers visit agency websites all the time. We’re looking for connections – writers we know personally and can ask about the agent, for example. We can also be looking for comparison writers/titles. Some agencies list their clients alphabetically; some list them by agent and some by genre/title. No matter how you show up, you want to know that you’ll be there, on the website even if your first book hasn’t yet been sold. (Note: have your bio ready to revise to fit the agency’s online style.)

8.   What social media do you use and what do you expect from me on social media?

Coordination is helpful for a great working relationship. While your agent’s role is to find that perfect home for your manuscript, you have a role as well to support your agent. Promoting one another reaps benefits you won’t always know about – but at the very least, it is a tangible approach of working together. Find a common platform or consider expanding your horizons to a platform you’ve not tried before.

9.    What happens when you or I choose to end our contract?

Every good contract is clear about how to end the relationship. But it’s good to hear directly from the agent about what they expect from you, and what you should expect to hear from them in this regard. Agents and clients part ways for many different reasons. In all cases, even if you are not happy with an agent, it is important to be professional and direct. Asking this question sets out that professional relationship before a contract is even signed.

10.   Do you have any questions for me?

Absolutely you need to give the agent the opportunity to ask you questions. Assuming that they haven’t been asking throughout your meeting, this is the agent’s chance to explore areas that are unique to you and your work. It’s a path to making even stronger connections with each other. And that is the foundation of any good relationship.

Ruth E. Walker asked some of these questions of her agent, Ali McDonald of 5 Otter Literary. Some she didn’t need to ask because Ali shared many of these details without any prodding. But Ruth did her research before the meeting and was ready, in case.

Social Media Gifts

Social Media Gifts

Ruth E. Walker

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And of course, I had to reply.

A snowballing effect

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

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

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

First, a bit of back story

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

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

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

It’s this tweet that helps me believe that.

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

10 Books on Poetry Craft

10 Books on Poetry Craft

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

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

A Sky Full of Poems – Eve Merriam

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

How to Write Poetry – Nancy Bogen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Art of Description: World into Word – Mark Doty

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

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

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

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

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

Rhyming Dictionary

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

A Starlit Story Gift

A Starlit Story Gift

Ruth E. Walker

Writers discover their stories in so many ways that it isn’t possible to list them all. An overheard conversation, an article in a newspaper, a name on a gravestone, a lived experience, a visual prompt, a first line in a writing exercise…the path to the writer’s muse can appear and take hold without warning. And suddenly–KAPOW!–the pen cannot be stopped until the tale is told.

And sometimes a writer is given the gift of a story. Heather M. O’Connor, a longtime friend of ours at Writescape, received such a gift a few years ago. The result? A timeless and beautiful book that belongs on everyone’s bookshelf.

I asked Heather a few questions about her new book and where it came from. Heather is a natural storyteller but this story wasn’t hers to tell. At least, not hers alone.

Where did you discover this story?

It all started when Ontario Parks asked me to write a blog post about the Ojibwe Horse. I’ve always been a horse-lover, so they had me at “horses.” But when they said, “nobody knows about them”, I knew it would be something really special. 

And it was. The Ojibwe Horse is an endangered semi-feral breed of horses that once lived in harmony with the Ojibwe people. The last four survivors were rescued from extinction, and spirited to safety. It had all the elements of a good story, even a happily-ever-after homecoming. 

Heather at Quetico Provincial Park

I finished the blog post, but the horses wouldn’t let me go. This wasn’t just a cool story. It was an important piece of Indigenous history. So I applied for a Marion Hebb Research Grant from Access Copyright and travelled up to Quetico Provincial Park to meet the horses for myself.

That’s where I met Darcy. As they say in Casablanca, “it was the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”

Why didn’t anyone else write this story? In other words, why did Darcy Whitecrow and Heather O’Connor decide to write this book now?

Darcy Whitecrow
photo credit Ontario Parks

That’s a good question. Darcy is Ojibwe. He started an equine program at Seine River First Nation to help the youth in his community get in touch with their traditional heritage. But it’s just one ranch in one First Nation community. And I thought, there’s only so much Darcy to go around. What about all the other kids? How will they learn about this proud piece of their heritage?

And I wanted to help Darcy spread the word about the horses and the important work he’s doing. There are only about 150 left, and caring for them is very expensive. I couldn’t breed them or train them. But I could help Darcy’s words travel farther.

How difficult was it to write the book? Co-writing is not straightforward and you have a strong narrative voice of your own – did you have to decide on how best to get the story down on paper, writing as a team?

I actually went to Quetico planning to write a middle grade novel about a ranch. But I couldn’t get Darcy’s voice out of my head. He’s a born storyteller.

So I came up with the frame for the story — a grandfather teaching his granddaughter the history of the horses. But the history? That’s all Darcy — sometimes verbatim. And one line comes from an oral history we received from his friend Mike Ottertail.

The oral tradition is very strong in Darcy’s culture. Essentially, he taught me the story until I could tell it myself, very much like the grandfather in the book.

Was it a challenge to find a publisher – the right publisher – to publish this book?

It wasn’t, actually.

Second Story Press was creating these beautifully illustrated dual-language picture books. I’d read a couple — Missing Nimama and Stolen Words, both written by Melanie Florence. They were wistful intergenerational stories about culture and loss, themes that run through Runs with the Stars, too.

When I noticed that Katherine Cole, Second Story’s editor at the time, was doing blue pencil sessions at CANSCAIP’s [Canadian Society of Children’s Authors, Illustrators and Performers] Packaging Your Imagination Conference, I signed up to see her. She loved the manuscript.

Where did the title come from?

Wiijibibamatoon-Anangoonan (Runs with the Stars) is the Ojibwe name given to the foal born at the end of the story. All Ojibwe Horses receive an Ojibwe name to honour their heritage.

Who is the ideal reader for this book?

Runs with the Stars is aimed at kids aged 3-8. But it could also be used to teach Indigenous history in classrooms up to Grade 6. After all, who doesn’t love a good horse story?

What hopes and dreams do you have for “Runs With the Stars”?

This is Indigenous history, so I hope it’s read in First Nation classrooms and used in traditional language programs. I’d love to see elders sharing it with kids, and kids reading it to parents who maybe lost their language in residential schools. I hope it stirs memories and starts conversations.

Anything you’d like to add?

Abbey Gardens Ojibwe Horse

If you’d like to meet two Ojibwe Horses, come to Abbey Gardens in Haliburton on Saturday, June 18. They’re holding a big family event with a book signing. Stay posted for the details.

I’m also having a horsey-themed book launch at Blue Heron Books in Uxbridge on April 30 10:00 to 11:30 a.m. I’d love to see you there!

Where can we purchase the book?

Runs with the Stars and Wiijibibamatoon-Anangoonan come out May 3. They’re both available for pre-order at your favourite independent bookseller.

Heather M. O’Connor is an award-winning freelance writer, editor and author. Her first picture book Fast Friends, illustrated by Claudia Dávila, was published by Scholastic Canada in 2020. Betting Game, her debut novel with Orca Books, was published in 2015. She also writes short stories, fantasy and historical fiction. Heather lives in Peterborough, Ontario.

Blog feature image: Ontario Parks

10 Ten-Minute Writing   Tasks

10 Ten-Minute Writing Tasks

Often you find yourself with a few spare minutes, but not enough to do anything meaningful with on your writing project—or so you thought. 

Here are a few suggestions for how to fit a little more writing-related moments into your day or make better use of your spare moments to stay connected to your writing project.   .  

Check in with the world

Mindfulness helps to keep you de-stressed and balanced. When you find yourself with a few minutes, check in with your world. Notice, notice, notice. Notice 5 things you can see, 4 things you can hear, 3 things you can smell, 2 things you can taste or touch and 1 description of how you feel. Practicing this often fills your creative well and gives you more to draw from when you get back to writing

Think and plan

I’ve always believed that thinking about my story is part of the writing process. Asking myself character questions, mulling over the why of an action my character just took, working through a plot dilemma, thinking up new characters and plot events….


Stephen King said “If you don’t read, you can’t write.” Fiction, non-fiction, poetry, general news: it is all grist for the mill. Check out the latest posts from your favourite writing blogs, magazines or organizations. Have a “read it later” file to save articles to that you want to read but don’t have time or head-space for right now. Or pick up your present print book and enjoy a new chapter. If you prefer audio, use extra time to download your preferred listening material to use on your daily walk, while cooking supper or just relaxing on the porch with a beer. It’s so much nicer to have it ready to go when you need it, than having to use your walking time (or writing time) to download.


If I’m in the writing zone, and I don’t know a fact, I usually just type a note to myself like this: Conrad drove up in his XXX car (HOTTEST CAR OF 1989) and research it later. Think of how many items you could look up in ten minutes.

Back up your files


Many of us know the awful sinking feeling of lost work. The next time you’re waiting for your lunch to finish cooking, why not take a moment and back up all your files. Better yet, get yourself hooked up to an automated cloud-based backup. There are many out there. I use Dropbox and it’s saved my bacon many times. I also do periodic flash drive back ups of particular files for an extra layer of comfort. Remember, you don’t have to back up everything. Sync only what needs to be backed up. Make yourself a checklist of what’s important if you like.

Create a checklist

Checklists are great for taking advantage of the think-it-out-once, do-it-many-times-efficiently approach to routine tasks (see previous tip) But there are many kinds of checklists, and in a few minutes, you can create one to use later, or refine and update an existing one. You can have editing checklists, marketing checklists and creative checklists like a “Character” list including items like: main external goal, strengths, weaknesses, emotional wound, secrets, greatest fears, favourite colour, phobias etc. etc.


If your journals are anything like mine, there are all sorts of hastily written ideas and beginnings of poems or stories. Some writers even write longhand first for all their writing. Use a few spare minutes to get some of them typed up on your computer. You can save them individually as progress files, or collectively in an ideas file. Or physically tag them with Post-its for transcribing later.

Network on social media

Use your spare moments to follow a new writer or publisher. Engage with people of all kinds in the writing world. Find and share a promotional post from a writer you admire, or research a new market for your own work. Just beware the rabbit hole…..

Google Yourself

Run a Google search on your name and /or your book title. I have found articles I’ve written reprinted without permission and then secured reprint fees. I’ve enjoyed and filed away comments or reblogs I wasn’t aware of. Googling also gives me an idea of what comes up first in the SEO algorithms, so I can address that if necessary.

Update your bio

Handy in a computer file, every writer should have several bios (long 100-300 and short 30, 50 and 100-word) ready to go for all the different forms they write in: poetry; short stories, etc. And those bios should be up to date, but it’s amazing how quickly they become stale. Take this time to update a least one. Don’t forget online bios and headshots too.

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.

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

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

Meet Aprille

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

Find her at:

10 Tips for Writing Steamy Scenes

10 Tips for Writing Steamy Scenes

Gwynn Scheltema. 

It’s February, the month for Valentines and all things romantic: love and…sex.

When I have to face writing sex scenes, I sometimes feel like I’m getting undressed in public. I feel like my mother is watching; like everyone will think I do all the things I describe. Do you ever feel that way? If you’re a writer, you’ll need to get over it!

Check out these 10 tips to help you.

1. Don’t be afraid to write outside your own experience.

Research and write just as you would for any situation you haven’t experienced personally. Read sex scenes by other authors and note which resonate with you. Ask yourself why.

2. Treat a sex scene like any action scene.

Have a reason to include it that involves advancing the plot or illuminating character, or developing a relationship.

3. Make your characters human.

Keep your characters human, flawed people, not a larger-than-life Adonis or Aphrodite. While romance has an element of wish fulfillment about it, if you make it so like a fairy tale, some readers won’t believe it.

4. Keep the sex real.

Sex is not always spectacular; it can be boring, mundane, or unsatisfying too. And it doesn’t always have to be completed. Interrupted sex can be quite a tease.

5. Get the timing right.

Don’t let things get hot and heavy in the most unlikely of moments and places in your plot. Don’t shove sex in because it’s been four chapters since the last tryst. Remember tip #2.

6. Get the choreography right.

Not just on a physically level, but on an emotional level too. Physically, make sure your transitions let us know if someone goes from standing to lying, or from facing to spooned. More importantly, let us know their emotional reactions and changes. The physical act by itself is just porn.

7. Be careful of metaphor and simile.

Clichés about stars exploding” will only undermine what you are trying to do. Find fresh and appropriate comparisons and don’t hide behind them to avoid being explicit or to add drama. And remember that sex involves all five senses. Use them!

8. Use the correct terms and don’t be offensive.

Research if you have to. If euphemisms pepper your scene, you’ll leave the reader giggling or cringing. Also be aware of the accepted sexual practices of your readership—cultural, orientation and age group—and stay within those boundaries.

9. Keep the scene brief.

Sometimes less is more. Subtle hints are often more effective than graphic description. Give readers enough to satisfy the moment, but leave them wanting more.

10. Know the benchmarks

Of course, not every publishing house is the same, but in general, you can follow these benchmarks:

  • Sweet: not consummated; details vague
  • Sensual: consummated, but infrequent – about 5% of word count max; details “fuzzy”, each sex scene about half a page; focusses on emotional impact
  • Steamy: more sensual than graphic, more scenes, language more graphic and direct
  • Hot/Graphic: raunchy, frequent, direct language, about 30% of word count is sex scenes; variety in locations, positions, who initiates etc.; bit of kink
  • Erotic: frequent, anything goes, still includes emotions, solid plot and good characters
  • Porn: focuses on actions only, little to no plot, characters shallow and stereotypical
Put it on Repeat

Put it on Repeat

Ruth E. Walker

It’s Groundhog Day and this morning Wiarton Willie or Punxsutawney Phil will have divined our weather future. Early spring. Late spring. It’s the same thing every year. Wash. Rinse. Repeat.

If you know the Bill Murray film “Groundhog Day”, you’ve seen Bill’s hapless weatherman Phil Connors relive the same miserable day, trapped in a time loop he can’t escape – at least, not until he learns some essential life lessons: namely, what it is to be a true human being.

It’s a funny movie with some serious undertones. Phil is an unlikeable narcissist, lacking in compassion and empathy. But his blinders are lifted, through countless February 2nds, again and again, until he finally becomes the person he should have been all along.

The power of repetition              

Skilled writers and especially poets are well-familiar with the repetition tool. Sounds, words, images reappear to make connections, to emphasize or to treat the ear to an echo.

John Milton’s massive poem Paradise Lost has nearly 11,000 lines but the lines he gives to Lucifer ruminating on his kingdom in Hell are effective (and often quoted) repetitions:

The mind is its own place, and in it self

Can make a Heav’n of Hell, a Hell of Heav’n.

Milton repeats this idea later in the stanza, underscoring the Devil’s motivation:

To reign is worth ambition though in Hell:

Better to reign in Hell, then serve in Heav’n.

Lines, stanzas and even separate poems reach out to one another. Even repetition in titles creates connecting threads (Milton’s Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained, and the titles of many novels that are part of a series — Harry Potter, for example.)

There are many forms of literary repetition. Google will take you from “7 Types of Repetition” to “25 Literary Techniques of Repetition”, such as alliteration, assonance, negative positive restatement, parallelism, chiasmus – many of them sounding like weird medical conditions.

Whatever the term, repetition in all writing is a power tool. And as with all power tools, caution should be used.

Hammer or nail?

Description often needs a form of repetition to become clear to a reader. But writers can get tripped up when they go from nailing in another foundation board to set a scene or develop a character, to hitting the reader on the head with a hammer of unnecessary repetition.

For example:

               The child’s blue eyes were the colour of the sea, ever changing with the light and shadows.

That’s a lovely image, comparing eyes to the sea. If the child’s eye colour was significant to either the plot or character(s), that image could reappear at key points in the story. But a writer needs to make choices on how and when to repeat an image so that the reader doesn’t roll their eyes and mutter “I know, I know – eyes the colour of the sea – get on with it already…”

Rarely do you want an exact repetition.

“Look dear, the child’s blue eyes are the colour of the sea!”

“Yes my love, and did you notice how they change in light and shadow?”


But a wise writer can play with an image to craft echoes of ideas and add richness to a story.

“I took the stroller out to the boardwalk this morning. When the little one woke and sat up, the strangest thing happened. Just beyond the reef, a whale breached and she laughed. But when I looked at her, she had tears in her eyes. Remarkable.” He paused and glanced away. “And that laugh – at first, I thought I was hearing a dolphin. But it was her. The child.”

Press “repeat” in your story or hit the “delete” button?

Look for repetition in your own writing. Take a close look at narrative scenes, seek out descriptive words ask yourself the following:

  • Does this repetition have a purpose? Are you emphasizing for a reason?
  • If so, is it necessary here? Would it have more impact elsewhere in the story?

Now, do the same in action scenes.

  • Is the repetition adding to rising tension or is it getting in the way?
  • Would it be better to have it later or earlier in the story?

And finally, look closely at dialogue. Repetition in dialogue may relate to the way a character speaks, such as dialect or an idiosyncratic phrase or word (“oy!” or “Well now,…”) Or it may be a hammer, with characters essentially giving the same information that the reader already knows. Either way, it can be too much of a good thing.

  • Am I overusing a repeated phrase? Does it overtake the spoken words and get in the way of important information?
  • Are my characters saying the same thing unnecessarily?

At the risk of repeating myself, repetition is a writer’s tool. It has the power to overwhelm, confuse or bore your reader. Use it wisely, and you will craft unforgettable prose or poetry.