This past weekend, Gwynn and Ruth spent some time at the Spirit of the Hills Festival of the Arts. We’ll have more to say about this great festival next week but wanted to share some insights we gained from each taking a writing workshop.
Ruth attended The Captive Moment with author K.D.Miller where she spent time with the haunting paintings of Alex Colville. K.D.’s Governor General’s Literary Award-nominated collection of short stories were inspired by 12 of Colville’s paintings.
Gwynn attended Your Journey, Your Story with Cynthia Reyes and Ronald Mackay. Both published memoirists, their workshop covered the structure and purpose of writing a memoir.
Both Gwynn and Ruth are seasoned workshop facilitators. They both spend a great deal of time researching the topics they teach and discover new ways to inspire writers to keep their pens moving and their imaginations engaged.
So why would either of them want to take workshops?
To be better writers
More than just wanting to learn new things to bring into their workshops, they are both, at their core, writers. As such, they need their pens to keep moving and for their imaginations to be engaged.
Ruth left The Captive Moment with two new poems and one story idea. Gwynn left Your Journey, Your Story with a workable plan for focussing the story aspect of a memoir.
Of course, they both left with new ideas to bring into their own workshops. But that was simply a bonus. For Gwynn and Ruth, carving out time to devote solely to their craft, to stretch, experiment and explore always fills their own creative wells.
That makes them better workshop facilitators AND better writers.
Workshop with Gwynn and Ruth
On Saturday, November 2, join Ruth at Blue Heron Books in Uxbridge for a creative writing workshop, A Recipe for Great Characters. This hands-on morning session is part of Blue Heron’s inspired Book Drunkard Literary Festival. Cook up a new character or add spice to an established character in a fun and creative way.
On Sunday, November 10, Gwynn is at the Writers’ Community of York Region’s monthly meeting. Drawing on her expertise as a professional accountant, Gwynn is sharing Touching on Taxes, helping writers identify the different kinds of revenue associated with writing and how to report it.
The autumn season is always a busy time: harvesting the last of the crops and taking in the warmth of daytime sun. We’re all aware winter is waiting in the wings.
For writers, this often means hunkering down into our writing space and getting serious about our projects. Maybe we start a new story or poem, review our plot and character arcs, or ready our works in progress for submission.
Getting serious can also include taking workshops, attending events or signing up for long-term courses. At the very least, getting serious means being open to learning something new about the business or craft of writing. In short, adding to your writer’s toolkit.
The British novelist Matt Haig (How to Stop Time, The Radleys and Reasons to Stay Alive) offers this about courses in creative writing:
To say that creative writing courses are all useless is almost as silly as saying all editors are useless. Writers of all levels can benefit from other instructive voices.
Of course, you can find quotes from bestselling writers that will say the opposite–that you either have it or your don’t. Workshops won’t make any difference, etc.
But I side with Matt. We all have the ability to write, to shape ideas into words, to blend those words into sentences and put those sentences into a kind of order to say what we want to say. But even natural ability, dogged determination or unique vision will benefit when a writer focuses on the why and how of the craft.
Of course, I have an interest professionally in writers taking courses because I occasionally offer workshops. And I’ve seen first hand the discoveries and breakthroughs many of those participants have made in my workshops. But I also take workshops and attend writers events because I always learn something new. Every. Single. Time.
For the next few weeks, I’ll be involved in several learning opportunities, either as a participant, organizer or instructor. This doesn’t include my biweekly meetings of Critical MS, an intense critique group where we all learn from offering and receiving feedback on our works in progress.
On September 28, I’ll be attending From Inspiration to Publication, a professionals panel of folks with publishing know how. The world of publishing has never been more interesting so I’ll want to understand more about self-publishing, audio books and co-operative approaches. Compare and contrast, as they say.
In the afternoon, I take off my participant hat and put on my workshop facilitator hat to offer a hands-on workshop From Inspiration to Publication, running concurrently with the one-on-one sessions participants have booked with the panellists.
I know this will be a fantastic event because I’m also one of the volunteer organizers for the Arts Council Haliburton Highlands, Literary Arts Roundtable. Three hats. One event.
I’ll be back in Durham Region on October 17, meeting with the Sunderland Writers Group at the local library. I’m an invited guest, sharing some exercises along with writing tips and resources to support the launch of this new group.
On October 22, I’ll be offering a creative writing workshop for the Peterborough Library for their Try It Tuesdays program. Try it Tuesdays is meant to be a taster for anyone curious about creative writing. Experienced writers can challenge themselves in this workshop by going deeper with each of the exercises.
On October 23, I’ve organized an evening writing workshop at the Haliburton Library with author Laura Rock Gaughan. Laura was a resident artist at the Halls Island Artist Residency in Haliburton County (another of my volunteer organizations) and this workshop is part of her community project for the residency. As a side note, Laura is also the recently appointed executive director of the Literary Press Group, representing 60 independent publishers in Canada.
October 24 to 26, Gwynn and I will be in Cobourg at the Spirit of the Hills Festival of the Arts. The Festival is a celebration of sharing across the arts, and naturally Writescape will be there as participants and to showcase what we do.
Gwynn has worn several hats for this event too. She was an editor for the anthology Hill Spirits IV that will launch on the Saturday evening; as a co-host of Word on the Hills on Northumberland 89.7FM she has interviewed several of the participants in the festival line-up, and she was the judge for the poetry contest run by the festival. Even my son Piers will be performing in a play that was a winner in the playwrights contest.
On November 2, I’ll be at the Book Drunkard Festival in Uxbridge, Ontario, offering my half-day workshop, A Recipe for Great Characters. From October 17 to November 3, the Festival — a brainchild of the great Shelley Macbeth of Blue Heron Books — celebrates all things bookish. As the website says: The festival captures the wonderment of the written word and its ability to intoxicate, transport and transform.
When winter comes, spring can’t be far behind…
Once you’re finished with all that hunkering down in winter, you’ll want to dig out and be inspired as nature comes back to colourful life.
Join Gwynn and Ruth at Writescape’s Spring Thaw writers’ retreat April 17, 2020. Choose from 3 days, 5 days or 7 days to focus on your writing. The all-inclusive escape includes lakeside accommodation at Elmhirst’s Resort on Rice Lake and all meals, as well as all taxes and gratuities.
One-on-one feedback sessions, daily workshops and group gatherings over the weekend combine with plenty of private time for writing and reflection. $250 deposit secures your spot at Spring Thaw 2020.
Today, we chat with Hilary McMahon, Executive Vice President of Westwood Creative Artists (WCA), one of Canada’s oldest and most respected literary agencies. Hilary maintains an extensive and diverse list of adult and children’s writers. She also represents WCA authors on trips to American and British publishers and the Frankfurt and London Book Fairs.
Why did you become a literary agent?
I earned a degree in journalism and English, but soon realized that I wanted to read other people’s stories far more than I wanted to write or teach. I’m an obsessive book reader, an extrovert interested in people and relationships, and a tough negotiator with a head for details and numbers. This job allows me to combine all those different skills.
Being an agent is a tough job. So what is it that has kept you in the field for more than 20 years?
Nothing compares to the magic of being engrossed in a great book. I love being part of the process that begins with an idea or rough manuscript, and ends with a finished product that can be shared, enjoyed, discussed around the world. And working with writers can certainly be challenging at times, but it’s never dull…
If we were to spend some time in a typical day with Hilary McMahon, what would it look like?
That’s one of the many wonderful things about this job, there is no typical day! It’s an illusion that I read all day. Today for example, I have reviewed a section of an author’s revised novel and then shared it with an interested publisher, worked on some blurbs for our Frankfurt catalogue, checked a film contract and sent it off to the author, given a non-fiction author feedback on her proposal, spent time crafting a tactful rejection letter, done the deal memo for a middle-grade series I’ve just sold, addressed a picture book writer’s concerns about the illustrations for her new book, and followed up on some projects out on submission. I had hoped to make a dent into my towering pile of submissions but I don’t know if I’ll get to it…
What do you like to see in a query from a writer? And is it different for a fiction versus a non-fiction query?
You’d think it’s obvious, but I need to see excellent writing! A skillful, original, compelling pitch.
For fiction, you need to hook me with a brief description of the work and draw me in with a short sample. It certainly doesn’t hurt if you include some details about places you’ve been published and any relevant awards or education.
For non-fiction, your expertise in the field is going to be important, to me and to publishers – I need to know that you have some authority about your subject. Most simply, I need to be compelled to move from the query to a writing sample.
What is the one piece of advice you want writers to know once they land that elusive agent?
That just because you have an agent it doesn’t guarantee your work will sell! There’s still a lot of hard work ahead, but at least you aren’t doing it alone.
What are you reading now and how do you feel about it?
I’m reading a really intriguing submission, clever and sparely written and definitely original in story and in the telling. But I’m still trying to decide if it’s something that I could sell…
If time, place and money are no object, who is the one person or character you’d like to have dinner with…and why?
I’d love to have dinner with Jane Austen, after she’d spent a bit of time in 2016 – I would love to hear her take on this modern world!
Want to get up close and personal with one of Canada’s top literary agents? Come to our fall retreat, Turning Leaves 2016.
Hilary is our special retreat guest, joining us for meals, evening chats and sharing insights and expertise in a Saturday morning workshop on catching and holding an agent’s attention. She’ll also review Turning Leaves 2016 participants’ query letters in advance and hold private one-on-one feedback sessions.