Speaking of the UK…

v0_masterLast week I was talking about some really great news coming out of England about how they were using field trips to help improve children’s writing skills. One of the things that I noticed, of course, in reading about the places they took the students, of course, was that they were taking them to places that were very different from where we’d take kids here. In England, there are castles and churches that are literally a thousand years old!

Of course, in Canada we have some amazing historical sites as well, but I have to admit I love the fact that in Europe, you can so easily visit all the sites I’ve read about in my favourite books, and so many of them are perfectly preserved and almost exactly as they were.

And that’s why I decided to set the novel I’m currently working on in medieval Scotland, in the time of Robert the Bruce. Even though the events of the book would have taken place hundreds and hundreds of years ago, when you research the time period there is so much information out there. There’s such a rich historical record that I don’t have to guess what structures looked like, because many of them are still there! With all the research I did, I really started to be able to imagine what it would be like to live in that world.

Do you have a particular time period or place that connects with you?

All the internet’s a stage?

wattpadThere is nothing new under the sun when it comes to the act of writing, right? I mean, despite technological advances at the end of the day we’re all setting either pen to paper or fingers to keyboard to bang out are creations. We all have to go through the same processes of researching, drafting, editing, and redrafting again and again, usually sharing our work with friends and family to see if we’re “on the right track.” Well it seems I might be wrong about that one! Check out this article I read about a woman who took advantage of new technology to help her through that whole process!

I was particularly interested in her story because she was making the leap from non-fiction to fiction, which is the same move I made after I’d written An Elk in the House. And taking that leap to creating entire worlds and characters all by yourself can be pretty scary.

She used a new writing platform called from Toronto-based Wattpad, that lets people post their writing on the site so that people (both strangers and friends) can read and comment on your work while you’re still in the process of writing it.

I can also see a lot of benefits to doing it, too. You can post your writing in a section designed just for your genre, so that means you’re getting feedback from fans of the type of book you’re writing. People who are knowledgeable about your genre can give you valuable advice. And you’re probably going to get more honest feedback than you would normally. Because our friends and family love us so much, sometimes they’re not as honest about what they think as we need them to be. And it never hurts to have a fresh pair of eyes look at what we’re doing.

I think it is an incredibly brave thing to do, and scary! I mean, you’re literally sharing a work-in-progress with people all over the world. And some big writing names use Wattpad, people like Margaret Atwood, which means writers like her could be reading your work!

What do my fellow writers out there think about this? Would you do it?

 

Chicken Soup

20120910-221887-cook-the-book-chicken-soupI doubt there’s a reader in the English language who hasn’t heard of the “Chicken Soup for the Soul” series of books by now (and they’ve been translated into over 40 languages now too!). There’s definitely something that authors writing these books have hit on, and I know I’ve wondered what that is myself.

When I was doing some internet surfing and came across an article from the publisher of the series giving writers some tips, and I found them very useful, so thought I’d share it with you. One of the reasons I liked her list is that it applies to both fiction and non-fiction writing.

We tend to think the two genres are totally different. And it’s true, not everyone who writes non-fiction can write fiction, and vice versa. But at the end of the day, most of the same rules apply. You need to be passionate about the topic. You need to be true to yourself. And you need to put yourself in the reader’s shoes.

I think I disagree a little bit about her take on creativity – that you should forget about creative writing techniques – because there’s a time and a place for everything, and I know I love when I read a beautifully crafted sentence. But by and large, I think Amy’s on the spot. When you write what you’d like to read, it will always find an audience and always connect with another reader out there.

Write on!

Write your story

healing_writingLast week I was talking about the ‘not so fun’ parts of writing. But that when it boils down to it, we keep at it because it’s something we feel we have to. And I came across an article from Time magazine last year that drives that home. In it, they talk about studies that show that not only can writing help people deal with psychological stresses, but with physical ones as well!

And it got me thinking about what got me started writing in the first place. My first book was An Elk in the House, literally about the elk we had in our house, Butter. I’d never even thought about writing a book before this, but there was something about Butter’s impact on our lives, and the whole experience that made me realize, I have a story to tell.

In fact, most people have a story inside them waiting to come out. Sure, not every story is meant to be broadcast to millions. In fact, as the article points out, sometimes it’s not even meant to be told to another person. But the very act of telling your story, even if it’s only for an audience of one, can be life-changing.

A lonely life…

 

lonely-writer-2Most times when people say “tortured artist” you think about visual artists, people like Vincent van Gogh, chopping ears off! But I think some people don’t realize that being a writer is just as torturous. You spend long hours by yourself, in front of a computer or paper, sometimes in total silence and without seeing or talking to anyone for ages. If you don’t have family around, sometimes you go for days without having a real conversation (talking to your plants doesn’t count!). It’s no wonder so many writers become famous for their drinking habits!

And that’s just the writing part – then there’s all the turmoil around publishing the book, getting it reviewed, and getting into the hands of readers. It can take a toll on you, that’s for sure. Now I’m lucky that I don’t ‘write for a living’, exactly. While it takes up a lot of my time, I don’t depend on it to pay my mortgage or feed my family. But I still feel a lot of the same pressures.

That’s why it’s nice to hear about gatherings like the one they’ve written about in Atlantic Monthly. Over 10,000 people in Washington got together to share their experiences living the writers life – the joys and the sorrows! Because sometimes on that very lonely journey you need a reminder that there are other people out there who know what it feels like.

A trip to Washington isn’t in the works for me, but that’s one of the great things about the internet nowadays. Living in a rural area like I do, it’s really hard for me to connect with other creative people, so I’m grateful for the virtual networks of writers and readers out there.

So if it’s such a difficult path, why do we do it? I guess it’s because at the end of the day, there’s nothing else we’d rather be doing! We live and breathe books, what could be better?

 

Spring Fever

spring-fever1At long last…it seems as though spring is on the horizon. We can (cautiously) begin putting away our down winter coats and emerge from hibernation. It’s amazing the effect the changing season has on all of us, even animals – there’s a reason they call it spring fever! Just looking around the farm you can see that all the creatures have a spring in their step. As the ground thaws we’re all getting over-stimulated by the sights and sounds reappearing before us.

And I’m no exception! It’s like as soon as the snow started to edge away my brain was flooded with new ideas and inspirations. And that’s when it becomes difficult to stay focussed. You see, I’m in the final stages of writing my latest book: editing. After several years of research and writing, you’d think the tough part was over – but you’d be wrong! Making changes to your book is actually one of the most difficult things you do as a writer, because your book is like your baby. And you’ve been in the labour process for a looooong time, so you want nothing more than to present it to the world! But you have to hold back – and that’s just no fun.

So while a million ideas are floating through my head on the spring breeze, I just have to keep reminding myself to keep my eyes on the prize. Because in the end, it’ll all be worth it to present to the world my new beautiful bouncing book!

Happy New Year! Now how ’bout that weather?

Cabin33_EL_7dec12_alamy_b_639x426Wow, it’s hard to believe that 2013 is behind us and we’re already well into the new year. I do hope that all my followers had a wonderful holiday season filled with warmth and love shared with family and friends.

I was blessed to spend time with the people I hold dearest in my life over this special season, though certainly the weather for those of us living on the prairies proved to be a bit of a challenge when it comes to enjoying the outdoors. For those of you reading from sunnier climates, we’ve had quite the deep freeze out here in Alberta with windchills making it pretty impossible to be outside for more than 20 minutes or so at a time. Living on a farm, myself, it certainly made things challenging.

That being said, at least at Christmas time it can be quite lovely to be a bit snowbound—warming yourself around a fire, sipping hot chocolate, and watching the swirling of the snow outside your window. The only problem is that come January it turns from being picturesque to feeling a bit trapped. After the fifth day in a row where just picking up the mail means risking frostbite it doesn’t feel quaint anymore—it just feels cold!

But I refuse to be beaten down by the weather. And besides, we all know how annoying it is just to talk about the weather! So I’ve been taking the lack of opportunities to venture outside as a welcome opportunity to get myself back into full writing mode. I’ve got a new book in the works and I’m really excited about my progress.

In the next couple of weeks I’m going to share some details about it with you, so stay tuned! In the meantime, if you happen to be one of those unlucky people trapped in a polar vortex or what we in the prairies like to call, “winter,” stay warm! Stoke the fire, put on the kettle, and curl up with a good book!