Category Archives: Writing

Some Interesting Links

There are writing-related things that I’ve been thinking about, and want to write about. These are not them. 

Still, cool and interesting links for people who like words and stories and so on. 

Link #1:

This is just pretty: periodic table of typefaces. I like fonts. Interesting that Helvetic is in the Hydrogen position and most of the more commonly used fonts are near the top… if I had paid more attention in OAC Chemistry, I might be able to draw some conclusions.

As it is, I sat with my friend Carmen and learned to fold origami paper stars. Sigh. Missed opportunities. (Although the paper stars thing has come up more often than the need to read the periodic table, I must admit.)

Link #2:

I like Pixar. I think they tell good stories. This little cartoon takes a dig at Dreamworks, which may not be entirely fair, but I like it for another reason. 

In my Writing for Children class, we’ve talked about picture book manuscripts. I think they’re one of the most difficult forms of children’s writing; fun to read but hard to write. Apparently that’s not the general consensus, though. Because they’re short, people expect them to be easy. It’s very easy to write a bad picture book. The talking-animal-for-the-sake-of-talking-animals scenario is a classic bad setup for a bad picture book.

When I read the cartoon, I replace Pixar with “good picture books” and Dreamworks with “bad picture books”. If I come up with a catchier way to phrase that, I’ll let you know. Then again, if I could do that, I might be the sort of person who is qualified to write picture books. 

Link #3:

This is a New York Times article on the lost art of reading aloud. My husband read about it on Neil Gaiman’s twitter (tweet?) account. Not sure what the proper phrasing around that is. I’m a big Neil Gaiman fan, though, so it almost makes me want to jump on the twitter-y bandwagon. Almost. Not quite.

Reading aloud… I like the idea of people getting together for that, but somehow the idea connects, for me, with the Jane Austen drawing room. I just don’t know anyone who does that and never have.

I read to my daughter, of course–every night, and often during the day. Today she was reading board books to her younger cousin. I felt very proud. And sometimes, when I’m being very conscientious, I read my own writing aloud in order to edit it. I always feel terribly self conscious doing that. 

I think the article makes a good point, though, about work being experienced differently when it’s read aloud. It’s a shame we don’t do that more. And yet, I just can’t see it happening. I’ll keep reading aloud to my daughter as long as she’ll let me, and listen to her read aloud whenever she will, and hope to pass the habit along to her.

NYC Midnight Short Story Contest: 3rd place

This is the second year that I’ve participated in the NYC Midnight Short Story Contest. It’s a great way to get new story ideas. Each participant is assigned a genre and a topic to build their story around. There’s also a fairly tight timeframe, so it encourages “just get it done” writing… which, to be honest, is the way I like to write my first drafts. I find it much easier to revise when I’ve got something to work from.

In round one, participants are divided into heats… usually 30 heats, with 20 or so participants in each. Each heat is assigned a different genre and topic, then participants are given a week to write their 2500-word stories.

Round one first-place and second-place winners go on to compete in the final round. Everyone in the final round is given the same genre and topic, and has 24 hours to complete a story.

It’s a great way to end up with two seedling stories, and since the contest does not publish the winning stories and ownership stays with the writer, you’re free to revise and market them.

Last year my first-round entry (sci-fi, investment) turned into a story that I was able to sell to On Spec magazine. My second-round entry (ghost story, salesman) was terrible and shall never see the light of day.

This year, I was less happy with my first-round entry (action-adventure, hot air balloon), but my final-round entry (sci-fi, neighbours) won third place overall. Apparently I like to write grim sci-fi stories. Very strange. That’s not at all what I read.

Novel marathons and contests like this one have convinced me that constraints and time limits make it easier to write… first drafts, at least. I don’t write a lot of short stories, but I think next year I’ll sign up again and hope for the chance to write two more.

Story proposal gone out… eep.

Approaching a publisher is nerve-wracking. Every single time. Even with an agent acting as go-between. 

I’ve worked on a cover letter, sample chapters, synopsis and chapter outline over the past few weeks, through many revisions–especially on the synopsis. Brevity, clearly, is not my strength.

I interviewed a subject-matter expert (okay, that was at a local pub and it was fun), read up on the topic, outlined and drafted, asked for and incorporated critiques from my writing buddies, and redrafted the thing several times with my agent. Then ran it past new eyes.

And still my gut reaction, when I saw that it had been submitted, was “eep.”  

I wonder if it gets easier.

Short story contest–third place! :)

I entered a YA short story in the WCDR (Writers’ Circle of Durham Region) short story contest, and it won third place! 

I’m very happy, because I like this story. I’d been working on it for a while, with feedback from my wonderful writing group and from Peter Carver’s class at Mabel’s Fables last spring. 

I’d also like to point out that the second-place winner, Nora Landry, is a friend from that same wonderful writing group! Yay, Nora. 🙂 

There’s a link to all the winning entries here, if anyone would like to read them.

Sunbonnet for Stella

Stella is my iBook. I’m about to take her on a trip to Nova Scotia, for a week-long writing workshop/retreat hosted by Peter Carver and Kathy Stinson. I’m hoping to do some writing outside. Stella has a shiny screen, though, and the glare from the sun gets to be a bit of an issue. 

I looked at different visors that are available, but didn’t like any of them. Macs are nice-looking computers; why cover them up with black vinyl? I also didn’t like the idea of any adhesive residue or velcro pads stuck on the lid. There’s a pretty cool telescoping visor out there, but it cost more than I wanted to spend. 

Fortunately, I have a Mom who’s pretty handy with a sewing machine. I took some measurements, drew up a plan, and brought her some fancy umbrella-patterned fabric (and apple buttons, of course). Here’s the result.  

It might be a bit cutesy for some (okay, for most, and don’t even get me started on what my Mac-loving husband thinks of this whole dress-up thing), but it suits me just fine, and it doesn’t leave any marks on Stella. The top and side panels are reinforced with plastic binder dividers and cardboard. Thin elastic holds the “sunbonnet” on to the laptop lid. The whole thing folds down small enough to fit in my computer bag. 

So, off to Nova Scotia this Saturday for a field test… 

Sold a Story!

I’m very excited that my short story, “Julia”, sold to On Spec magazine. I’m not sure when it will be out; I received the acceptance last week, so I’m guessing it will be in the next issue.

I’ve written a few incarnations of this story about a mother who is forced to choose between her children. The first draft, less than 2000 words, was based on a prompt from the NYC Midnight short story contest. After that, I stretched the concept out to short novella length, to explore it better. That draft was close to 10,000 words. Too long; it felt bulky. I’m pretty happy with the current draft, at just under 6000 words. 

Peter Carver, a former editor with Red Deer Press, teaches a course on writing for children through George Brown College in Toronto. He always talks about a work being “the right length for itself”–not the usual length for that genre, or the size it should be to make a picture book, but the number of words it takes to tell the story properly, without a lot of extra fluff in there. I feel like I finally got “Julia” to the right length for itself. It took a lot of trying, though. 


Why I like novel marathons

Late Monday night, I got back from the Muskoka Novel Marathon. Very late, by my wimpy standards, and I have to admit my friend Anne Louise and I were a bit punchy to be taking on that kind of a drive, after writing for the better part of three days.

The Muskoka Novel Marathon is a fundraiser for the Muskoka Literacy Council.

Novelists raise pledges, then undertake either a two or a three-day writing spree. The idea is to complete an entire novel in the time that you have. You’re allowed to bring only a one-page outline, and all work must be done at the event. Submissions are read by a panel of judges, with winners in the adult, young adult, and children’s categories being passed on to participating publishers for review (after you get some time to fix up the rough draft, of course).

You don’t have to submit. This year, I didn’t, choosing instead to use the time to work on a novel that I started back in January. It’s nice to have that deadline, though. It can really push you to get through that story arc… the “novels” are all pretty short, and probably bear very little resemblance to the final, polished drafts, but it’s nice to have a beginning, a middle and an end under your belt before you start editing.

Some people go at the whole marathon thing pretty hard core. I haven’t done a writing all-nighter since university, so I tend to work as late as I think is reasonable, then drive home (or in this case, to my parents’ cottage) to catch a few hours sleep before returning. I have a lot of respect for the “night crew”, but it’s not for me.

This was my fourth novel marathon. I’d have to say it was the best so far. I don’t know if it was just the combination of people there, or the way the event was run, but it was a very friendly, encouraging atmosphere. Who says writing can’t be a social sport?

The best part was the Word Wall. Every ten pages, writers posted a piece of paper with the new page count. Somehow, that made it a group undertaking–it was a great visual reminder that we were all in this together. Besides, I liked seeing that I wasn’t the only slow writer. 

I think the novel marathon is a great way to pump out a first draft. The timeline works in your favour, forcing you to write more and edit less. You can’t listen to that nagging voice in your head, the one that wonders about commas and vocabulary and why you ever though you could be a writer in the first place, when you’re caught up in the zen-like flow of the novel marathon at its finest.

In the immortal words of Kevin, fellow marathoner and WCDR member: First Draft Ugly. No Apron Wringing. (I love it. I want to paint it on my office wall.)

Or, as my brother likes to say, git’er done.