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Tasty tips and tidbits about the writing life from the students, alumni, staff, and instructors of The Writer's Studio.

Research your metaphor

February 17th, 2012

So you saw a salmon leap last summer and it wants to play in your next piece of writing! But nothing you can get down on paper seems to quite catch the essence of watching it jump and feeling the twist of salmon muscle in your own gut. The problem might be a lack of knowledge. Get a video on the salmon life cycle; talk to a worker at a salmon hatchery; search out literature about coho, sockeye, and other local species. Somewhere in there will be the thing that goes oh!, and, later, your work will jump with the energy you’ve been given because you respected salmon (and your writing) enough to get the facts.

Post by Carol Shillibeer (TWS 2012), who is old enough to know better but often doesn’t. Take, for example, her desire to write poetry. Find her at http://tailfeather.ca.

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Give a reading!

February 3rd, 2012

We all want to read our work in front of an audience, right? To make it a positive experience, there are a few things to remember. The first is to practice! Print out your piece and read it out loud. Read it in front of a mirror, read it to your animals, read it to anyone who will listen. The second thing is to time yourself and get your story well within the allotted time. This is a mantra of the TWS Reading Series: never, ever go over time! As you read, remember to take a deep breath and slow down. It’s difficult to listen to someone who is reading at warp speed. Try to look at your audience and engage with them–this is supposed to be fun. Practice, breathe, read clearly and slowly…and sign up to read at an upcoming TWS reading!

Post by 2011’s intrepid TWS Reading Series hostesses Esmeralda Cabral and Jennifer Irvine (TWS 2010, x 2).

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

How to write a poem

January 27th, 2012

Have an idea. It mustn’t be too personal. It must express universal themes. It mustn’t be too abstract.

Don’t use participles. Don’t use adverbs. Form is not in fashion right now. Structure the poem carefully. Don’t use a metre. Use a strong rhythm. Impose no limits on the text. Convey meaning through contradictions. Don’t use irony.

Edit the poem zero times. Edit the poem fifty times. Edit the poem until it’s finished. Don’t overedit the poem. The poem is never finished.

Submit it everywhere. Don’t worry about publication or your work will suffer.

Make an impression. Erase your footsteps.

Post by Meaghan Rondeau (TWS 2010). The above is an excerpt; read the complete version here.

Photo by Nevit Dilmen, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Follow up on your submissions

January 20th, 2012

It’s important to track your submissions–even in this digital age, things get lost. If the guidelines invite you to inquire by e-mail about your submission’s status, do it politely at the first opportunity. I recently submitted an article to an international magazine, then waited one month into their turnaround period for a decision before contacting them, only to learn that my piece had been lost on some editor’s desk.


1.       Provide a self-addressed, stamped postcard in your submission’s package. It’s a convenient way for the publication to confirm receipt.

2.      Follow up by e-mail at the earliest possible date. If no date, do it at three months.

Post by David Blinkhorn (TWS 2011).

Image courtesy of www.free-graphics.com.

Sound out your rhythm

January 13th, 2012

When you think a piece is finished, or if you’re feeling stuck, the best thing that I have found is to take yourself to a quiet, private space and read your work aloud. Word choices that you thought brilliant on the page can seem excessive or not strong enough, and parts that are giving you a problem can come tripping out of your mouth when you let go of labouring over the page and let your body fill in the blanks. Trust the discoveries, and then get back to the drawing (writing) board and incorporate your new information.

Post by Jocelyn Pitsch (TWS 2010).

Image courtesy of Wikimedia commons.

Why self-publish?

January 6th, 2012

Consider what you want to get out of self-publishing.

Research self-publishing options: free but you do the work, pay and you do the work but they walk you through it and do the technical work.

When purchasing, there is often more than one package, and payment plans are offered. Prices can range from $300 to $3000.

A good press will get to know you, your work, and your motives, and be available to talk to you in person.

In the end, you as author receive far more in royalties (55% or more), and retain 100% creative control and copyright.

Remember, marketing is the key to success.

Post by Jane Mellor, author of Delicate Availability, a recently self-published book of prose and poetry. To read the whole post, visit http://jane-wordsworthy.blogspot.com/.

Image courtesy of the author.

Writing a novel: the first draft

December 16th, 2011

Self-critiquing, procrastination, and social media can hold back your first draft, but without that initial frame to work with, building your true narrative may prove challenging.

Five first draft tips:

1. Write it as quickly as you can–let the ideas and images flow.

2. Don’t stop to line edit–you may end up trashing the chapter you’re working on.

3. Put away your inner-critique–avoid re-reading your work until you’ve completed a chapter.

4. Accept that you may throw out much of what you’ve written.

5. Don’t be afraid to take a different direction–your novel will evolve as you learn about your story and characters.

Post by TWS 2010 writer Claire De Boer (read the full text on her website here).

Image courtesy of the author.

Win a writing contest!

December 10th, 2011

A few tips on how to win writing contests:

* The judge is key. When I entered this year’s Room contest, I had a hunch Susan Juby (mostly a YA writer) would bond with the young narrator of my story. And she did!

* Get rid of the flab. Take a 6000-word story and hack it down to 4000.

* Start a spreadsheet of contests, your submissions, and results. Keep a cache of stories ready of varying lengths: 300 words up to 6000.

* Start with smaller contests.

* Order The Canadian Writers’ Contest Calendar.

* Submit! Submit! Submit!

Post by Jan Redford (TWS 2007), whose short story “God or Boys” recently won Room magazine’s creative nonfiction contest. Find more of her work at www.janredford.com.

Image courtesy of MS Office (clip art).

Nurture your writing relationship

December 2nd, 2011

Relationships with significant others, our family, and our friends can only be maintained through reciprocity, energy, and time. The same can be said about our relationship with writing.

Enroll in workshops and classes, read books on craft, attend literary events, and surround yourself with positive people supportive of your writing practice and of your work. Take time out of your day to write. Make it a priority.

Be careful what you ask of your writing–of asking the wrong things, or of asking too many things too soon. When your writing asks something of you, listen.

Your ability to write is a gift. Honour it.

Post by Emily Rose of TWS 2011. Check out her writing at www.writtenbyrose.com and www.crazytales.org.

Photo courtesy of Hakan Dahlstrom, Fotopedia (public domain).

Find your narrative thread

November 25th, 2011

Many good writers have discovered that selection is an important part of writing. Here is a sample of aphorisms that have guided great writing.

“Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.” — William Morris, “The Beauty of Life” (1880 lecture)

“Pull out from the depths those thoughts that you do not understand, and spread them out in the sunlight and know the meaning of them.” — E.M. Forster, A Room with a View

“I don’t mind lying, but I hate inaccuracy.” — Samuel Butler

Post by Richard Mackie, instructor of “Finding the Narrative Thread: Focus and Selection in an Era of Information”, beginning this Wednesday, November 30th, 6:30-9:00pm. His course explores how to recognize the main themes in an unruly body of material and connect them to a pertinent and unifying narrative thread. Seats are still available; register here.

Photo by Adam Jones: adamjones.freeservers.com.