In these stressful times, Diwali, the five-day Festival of Lights, celebrated by millions of Hindus, Sikhs and Jains across the world November 13 to 18, seems like precisely the sentiment I want to occupy my brain at the moment. This festival of new beginnings and the triumph of good over evil, and light over darkness and knowledge over ignorance is such a hopeful state, it lifts my spirit, gives me a break from the stresses that seem ever present in the shadows.
One of the ways people celebrate Diwali is with strings of celebratory lights and with fireworks. For this week’s blog, I decided that I would lighten up too and celebrate by giving you a fireworks display of writing prompts based on light and shadow.
up your pens, and have fun!
“Someone I loved once gave me a box full of darkness. It took me years to understand that this too, was a gift.” –Mary Oliver
Write a scene that “shines
light” on something to see it as it really is.
Story starter: What appeared in the flames was certainly not what she was expecting.
Write a scene where “It’s
always darkest before the dawn.”
“It’s okay,” she said. “There’s light at the end of the tunnel.”
What imagery does the word “fireworks”
“When you light a candle, you also cast a shadow.” – Ursula K. Le Guin
Story starter: The light blinded her….
It’s the holiday season and outdoor lights are everywhere…
Write a scene around the campfire.
Write a scene that takes place during an eclipse
Write a scene involving the lighting of a candle.
“There is the darkness that frightens, the darkness that soothes, the darkness that is restful. There is the darkness of lovers and the darkness of assassins. It becomes what the bearer wishes it to be, needs it to be. It is not wholly bad or good.” – Sarah J. Maas
Ask your character, “What’s the
most evil thing you’ve ever done, thought or said?”
Is darkness a lack of light or
a conscious decision to stay out of it? Write about someone who chooses the
dark to hide from the world.
Are dark and light symbiotic? Write about a character who believes “It’s only in darkness you can see the stars.”
Every hundred years, the seven
deadly sins meet for a tournament. The winner gets to be humanity’s most
prominent sin for the next century. Who won in the year 2000?
Story starter: On Tuesday I discovered I had no shadow…..
“Monsters are real, and ghosts are real too. They live inside us, and sometimes, they win.” – Stephen King
Today we focus on how organizations, businesses, authors and artists have stepped up and adapted to respond to the pandemic. We’ve picked 10 but please share other resources you’ve come across in the comments section. Remember to be safe and keep well in the weeks and months to come.
1. Virtual Book Clubs
Now that we can’t meet in person, Zoom is the new virtual meeting space. It’s free, and all kinds of businesses are turning to Zoom and adapting it to the needs of their customers and clients. Gwynn’s local innovative independent book store, Let’s Talk Books has switched their book club meetings virtual via Zoom.
You can link via cell phone, tablet or laptop and talk face-to-face, meet the author, and stay safe and healthy. NOTE: In response to online trolls and bored fools, Zoom is upgrading their security by April 15.
2. Virtual Writing in Community
Inkslingers is in its 15th year of providing workshops and guided writing practice programs and travel experiences. Helmed by Sue Reynolds and James Dewar, certified Amherst Writers & Artists workshop leaders, they’ve offered regular Sanctuary Sundays for communal writing at their country home. But they can no longer invite writers to come and immerse in their inspiring landscape so they’ve gone online, offering the same supportive space virtually.
3. Virtual Critique groups
Not just businesses have turned to Zoom. Gwynn and Ruth’s critique group now meets every two weeks via Zoom. Critical ms is a serious group of serious writers, many of whom write professionally. Pre-pandemic, the group met every two weeks alternating between Whitby and Peterborough for in-person deep critiques of one or two members’ submissions. Now the writers keep to that schedule but see each other’s smiling faces online. Yes. Smiling. Critical ms is a serious group but everyone enjoys a good laugh. And these days, we all need that.
4. Online Courses
Online courses are nothing new. What is new, is that
many providers have recognized that with so many people forced to isolate and
with added time on their hands, learning something new is a positive way to
cope. To that end they have offered their courses for free or reduced prices
for the next few months. A couple you may like to check out as a start are Coursera and
5. Online Writing Prompts
Most of us know daily writing prompts are easily found in places like Writers Digestonline. Poets & Writers online is another option. P&W offers a mix of inspirations 3 times a week — poetry, non-fiction and fiction each week gets a prompt. Of course, our current pandemic flavours the prompts, but they are subtle about it. From an excerpt of Samuel Pepys plague-time diary to exploring the small details found places in the world using Google’s Street View, the prompts give writers a multitude of ways to stretch their pens during these distracting days.
Whether you start a new piece, add a scene or chapter to a work in progress or just play with words in a different way, it’s exercise for the brain and a welcome tickle for your muse.
6. Face-time Learning from Artists
Artists of all kinds are sharing their talents via the internet right now to help teach and entertain people around the world. Best-selling illustrator and graphic journalist Wendy Macnaughton hosts a weekly a live class “for kids of all ages, parents of kids, parents of parents, aunties/uncles, friends and pets.” Canadian band the Arkells host “Flatten The Curve Music Class” sharing the chords and lyrics for their music.
7. Virtual Tour of Museums and Art Galleries
The Guardian newspaper has a list of the “top ten museums and galleries to visit in the world.” There are different ways to virtually tour art galleries and museums but we were intrigued by the British Museum’s virtual Google timeline that users scroll along, choosing time and place in the world to explore the museum’s collection.
In the Canadian War Museum, you can experience trench warfare through an interactive video presentation Over the Top. Narrated voice over leads you to several “choose your own adventure” moments.
Washington’s National Gallery of Art is offering 10 Digital Education Resources that are family friendly. And their online collection highlights is an amazing opportunity for close up views of masterpieces of paintings, sculptures and photographs over the ages.
8. Copyright Accessing
The Association of Canadian Publishers and Access
Copyright announced temporary permissions for online storytime to help
educators and librarians connect with students through a program called the Read Aloud Canadian Books Program. Under this program licence fees related to the
reading of all or part of select books from participating publishers and
posting of the video recording online have been waived.
Publishers who have signed up so far include: Annick Press, ARP Books, Orca Book Publishers, Owlkids Books, Portage and Main Press, Running the Goat, Books and Broadsides, Groundwood Books, and Linda Leith Publishing.
9. Public Story Time
and Librarians are not the only people who bring stories to kids online. For
more than 20 years LeVar Burton has
been the star of the show “Reading Rainbow.” During this difficult
time for families at home, he decided to do a live-streamed version of #LeVarBurtonReads, but as you see in this twitter exchange, he
ran into a problem. One of my favourite children’s authors stepped in
immediately with a very generous offer.
10. Financial Support for Writers and Artists
Finally, we end on something we know is important to
all of us who live by our words. Our
financial position has always depended on our ability to work. For many writers,
freelance opportunities have vanished. Publishing houses are looking at their already
uncertain bottom lines and must be rethinking their coming seasons. Fortunately,
there are extraordinary financial supports for businesses and individuals coming
from the Government of Canada — the Canada Emergency Response Benefit for example.
For writers, there’s even more help. The Writers’ Trust of Canada, The Writers’
Union of Canada and RBC launched the Canadian Writers’ Emergency Relief Fund to
support writers and visual artists who are suffering substantial income losses
during this time. Applications closed on April 9. On April 8, Access Copyright announced a $100,000 donation to ensure
the important financial support offered by the Canadian Writers’ Emergency
Relief Fund can continue. The second round of applications open April 10
and close April 20.
provides grants of $1,500 to those who meet the eligibility criteria.
Details are on the Writers’
Trust website. And if you’re in the fortunate position to help out a writer
in need, details on donating to the fund are here.
This weekend, Ruth and I spent a few hours with a motivated and talented group of writers in St. Catharines. Some were beginners, some seasoned professionals, but all of them dived in and challenged themselves and took creative risks. It was thoroughly energizing.
Writing is, for the most part, a solitary act. Sometimes lonely, sometimes blissfully peaceful. But I find that too much alone time as a writer is not always good. Yes, I might get more written, but it can also sometimes skew my writing perspective.
I can get rooted in bad writing habits, forgetting to use fundamental writing skills I have used before. My writing challenges can start to feel insurmountable. Or I can relax into my writing comfort zone and stop taking risks…dulling my creative edge.
Being with other writers this weekend, feeling that energy that emerges when writers get together, reminded me that I need to build that into my writing life. I also need to hone my creative edge by deliberately taking regular creative risks.
So how can you take regular creative risks and re-energize?
Give voice to non-POV characters
Write a scene from a non-POV character‘s perspective. This reminds you that each character has their own motivations. You don’t have to use the piece you write, but in the act of writing it, that character may give you insights about your regular POV character or about the events in the scene. Perhaps there are even connections to other characters you were missing.
Approach description differently
Challenge yourself to use visual description sparingly, and increase the use of the other senses instead. Try also to limit scene description to just two or three details. (And make sure that the details are ones that the characters would naturally notice and not just things the author wants the reader to notice.)
Using prompts forces you to come at things from different entry points. They stimulate memories and experiences that can be adapted to fiction and can be a springboard to new ideas. Here are three links to get you started.
Freefall writing is one of the best and most satisfying ways I know to stay ahead of your internal editor and left analytical brain and give your right creative brain and your subconscious a chance to surface. By writing without stopping for a set time, and having no expectations of what will be written is extremely freeing, and time and time again I’ve seen wonderful writing emerge from the practice.
Get together with other writers
Even if you have a wonderful writing space at home, getting together with other writers to write is a different and energizing experience. I live next to a lake, but look forward to going on retreat whenever I can. It allows me to “leave the world behind” for a short while and concentrate on being creative. Being with a group of people who understand the writing world is invaluable and seeing others around me writing motivates me to write too. Try it. Join Ruth and me at our annual fall retreat Turning Leaves 2016 this November.
You write Chapter 1. It flows like paddlinga canoe in a strong current, a few J strokes and you are heading forward fast. Yes!
Chapter 2 starts out that way too, still moving well, still splashes of enthusiasm and creativity, but the current flows a little slower now. You think back to Chapter 1. Did you start in the right place? Perhaps you should go back to the beginning and make sure?
So you retrace your steps back to the start and paddle through Chapter 1 again. For the moment you are convinced that, yes, you started in the right spot. But you find a short cut on an upper stretch that improves the trip, so you make it. Chapter 1 feels really good now.
Back on the route of Chapter 2, you look for similar shortcuts, note the beautiful spots you don’t have time to explore, make notes about bad spots you’ll avoid if you come this way again.
In Chapter 3, your writing river opens into a lake. You’re not sure exactly which way to point the canoe, so you figure you’ll go back to Chapter 2 and explore those beautiful spots before you continue.
And while you are in Chapter 2, you figure you probably missed a couple of beautiful spots in Chapter 1, so you go back to Chapter 1 and….
The internal editor
It’s certainly the story of my writing life. But I know I’m not alone. The urge to rewrite before you’ve finished the story is powerful. Many discarded, unfinished manuscripts have polished first chapters that would keep readers reading…if there was more to read.
It’s all the fault of that dastardly writers’ internal editor. The one that tells us that our writing is “crap”; that we are disillusioned at best and arrogant at worst to think anyone would want to read what we write. The one that tells us we need to be perfect.
And the truth is, most first drafts are not publishable. As Hemingway so succinctly said, “All first drafts are shit.” First drafts will have strong parts and weaker bits, and bits that should be axed and areas where more needs to be written. That’s NORMAL. That’s what the editing process is for.
But if you heed your rational, analytical, internal editor, and constantly loop back out of the writing process and into editing, you will run out of creative energy. And you will push the unconscious creative writer in you further and further away.
The only way I can get anything written at all is to write really, really shitty first drafts.The first draft is the child’s draft, where you let it all pour out and then let it romp all over the place, knowing that no one is going to see it and that you can shape it later. You just let this childlike part of you channel whatever voices and visions come through and onto the page… Just get it all down on paper because there may be something great in those six crazy pages that you would never have gotten to by more rational, grown-up means.
No editing on a first draft?
So does that mean that you should never edit as you go. Of course not.
I get momentum for a new chapter by going into the previous chapter—not back to the beginning of the novel— to read it and often edit it. That’s productive. You get into the voice of your characters again, you renew your sense of place in the story. And the time invested is not huge. More importantly, you do it as a way to move forward, not as an excuse to not move forward.
Perhaps like me, part way through your manuscript, you feel that the wrong character is telling the story, or that the POV should be first person instead ofthird person. I think it makes sense at this point to go back to a previous chapter or two—again, not necessarily the beginning—and rewrite and decide. But make that decision and move on.
Time and circumstance play a role too. If all I have is the forty minutes on a noisy train, likely editing is a better use of my time.But maybe not. Maybe just thinking through a plot hole or a character’s reaction in an upcoming scene would be better for keeping the novel moving forward.
It’s definitely tempting to go back to edit when you can’t think of what to write next. I do it all the time. But I’ve found some effective ways to overcome that urge:
Go for a walk and think my way through the plot or character problem and then write forward again.
Use targeted writing prompts
Write a brief summary of the scene I’m stuck on, and go on to the next scene.
Persuade myself to write just one sentence…then one more…then…
It all comes down to how much your editing loops are preventing you from writing new material. We all create and work differently. If a bit ofediting gets the creative juices flowing, go right ahead. But if it’sa procrastination tactic, fight the urge. The main goal of your first draft is to get the whole story down.
How do you stop yourself from using editing as procrastination? Share your tactics in the comments below.