Autumnal haiku

As a lover of nature, it is no wonder that I love haikus, those little injections of mindfulness. Haikus are traditionally very descriptive and literal, and one can be satisfied with savouring the image created. However, they also spark in me associations between nature and life.

Last week, I had to write descriptive poetry for my creative writing class and as I was observing the rain outside, a bird started singing. I was awed: it was cold, windy and wet outside, people were hiding in their houses and animals in their burrows and nests and other shelters, but a bird kept on singing.
AutumnCritters_28

I wrote this:

Brown leaves are falling
Rain taps against the window
A bird is singing

Though I like haikus, I don’t know much about writing them so it’s probably not very good, but I like it for now. I’ll keep it somewhere close for future “rainy days”.

Take care, everyone! Don’t let the drop in luminosity affect you too much: take walks in the sun, take vitamin D, use light therapy, exercise… those are all good against seasonal depression. And if those are not enough, call a doctor!

Advertisements

Happy Thanksgiving 2017!

AutumnCritters_5aToday is Thanksgiving Day here in Canada. This year has been a rough one for me. I don’t really feel like being thankful right now, so it is all the more important I do my yearly exercise of “counting my blessings”.

I am thankful:

  • For having been offered work at the moment when I most needed it. Without it, we would have been in serious financial trouble. I’m thankful, too, to have had the freedom of refusing to take more work when I felt I was burning-out;
  • For my husband getting a job in his field after four years of doing odd jobs. It’s a temporary job, but I hope that’ll help him reintegrate the industry;
  • To have found a way to rewrite and edit my novel, despite my recent lack of time and energy to actually do it;
  • To have had the perseverance to post blog articles almost weekly – that’s the same stubborn perseverance that made me burn-out instead of “taking it easy for a while”, but hey, nobody can have everything;
  • For my NaNoWriMo community, that has become a year-round writing community. The members are fun and supportive and I love them all;
  • To have learned how to knit: it helped a lot to get my mind off things when I started my burn-out leave and improve my mood – plus now I have stylish hand-knitted mittens that fit perfectly;
  • For my daughter, my little hyperactive and hypersociable princess, becoming more independent every day;
  • To have had the means of taking a creative writing course, which I am loving so far;
  • To have had to opportunity to beta-read Marnie Shaw and the Mystery of Yapton Farm; it was an interesting experience and I think the book has great potential.
    AutumnCritters_2a

Everything considered I guess my year wasn’t that bad. Of course, that doesn’t change the fact that I’m currently burned-out, but it helps put things into perspective. In a year, that will only be a small bump in the road… not to mention that it might help me find a more sustainable solution.

Happy Thanksgiving to all Canadians!

Review: Bird by Bird

Bird by bird coverContext

If you’ve ever googled something like “books all writers should read”, you have most probably seen Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life at least once. This book doesn’t give precise advice on language and storytelling or how to make a living as a writer, but it gives some pointers as to how to deal with life as a writer – which probably helps in making it sound universally true. Like, on Twitter, I would hashtag this #writerslife, not #writingtips or #authorpreneur.

I happened to finish this book just before the beginning of my creative writing course, and was pleased to find it on the recommended reading list.

Review

First, let me say that this book is beautifully written. It is vibrant, poetic, witty, sad, true. It teaches by example. You’d think that’s a given with books on writing, but I know from experience that it’s not. Anne Lamott’s voice in the book is warm and honest, as if she had written the book for a friend or her son. It makes you feel like you’re talking to a friend over a cup of tea. There are a few references to Christianism, but not so much to bother non-Christians. I found every piece of advice to be sound and wise.

The book is divided into five parts. I had already figured out from experience most of what’s in the first part of the book, but I was glad to have some validation that I’m doing (and seeing) things the way a professional writer would. More experienced writers might find that there aren’t a lot of “new” ideas, but I didn’t mind. First because Lamott’s style is exquisite, secondly because there really aren’t any secrets to writing a book, and thirdly because the chapter on characters made me realize what was wrong with my protagonist.

The second part deals with the mindset. There are a few chapters that I thought most people, and not just writers or artists, could enjoy reading, including “Radio Station KFKD” (about those ugly thoughts that keep being broadcasted in our heads) and “Jealousy”. That last one almost shocked me at first, but then I realized I had experienced a similar feeling in my early 20s, just in a different context that didn’t have to do with writing – but very much to do with providing for myself. Despite all the wise precepts one attempts to abide by, it’s difficult to keep a cool head when survival is at stake.

The third part is about everything that can help a writer in times of need.  I love research and didn’t think I had much left to learn about it, but I had never thought of calling friends and family to have them talk to me about what they know. I especially loved the chapter “Letter”, which opens in the following way:

When you don’t know what else to do, when you’re really stuck and filled with despair and self-loathing and boredom, but you can’t just leave your work alone for a while and wait, you might try telling part of your history—part of a character’s history—in the form of a letter. The letter’s informality just might free you from the tyranny of perfectionism.

The fourth part is mostly about publication. I have no experience in the matter, but a lot of what Lamott says rang true. The chapter “Giving” made me cry, literally. Here’s another quote, from the beginning of that part because I love it and it seems there is “truth” written all over it:

Publication is not going to change your life or solve your problems. Publication will not make you more confident or more beautiful, and it will probably not make you any richer.

The last part is a single chapter and wraps up the book, and it left me inspired and at peace.

RosieThis book made me feel the urge to read Anne Lamott’s fiction. She has also written several non-fiction books about faith: that’s not my cup of tea, but a classmate in my creative writing class who happens to be a minister for some Church in Ontario said she loved those.

Rating: 10/10

Who would I recommend this to? Writers, old and young, new and experienced. And for non-writers, definitely check out Anne Lamott’s others books: she has published several novels (I added Rosie to my to-read line-up) as well as non-fiction (I heard Hallelujah Anyway was accessible for less-convinced Christians).

One Year Blog Anniversary!

anniversaryOne year ago, I started this blog on an impulse. I had become more serious in my writing and was well on my way to finishing my first novel, so I got overly enthusiastic. I didn’t really think I’d last more than a few weeks. I have missed a few weeks, especially since I started working again, but I am still here, and I have no intention of giving up anytime soon.

Statistics

Don’t you looooove statistics? I do! So here are some of those I thought might interest you: I have published 43 articles this year (this post is the 44th): 17 posts on life and personal development, 14 posts on writing, 11 book reviews, 1 short story. The most popular of them were A persona of myself, Confession of a hopeless hobbyist, What’s the worst that could happen, Declutter your text: use modifiers in moderation and Declutter your text: narrow your scope. My posts were liked  1,204 times and received 620 comments (221 of which were replies from me)

My blog gained a total of 350 followers over the year and was viewed 4,090 times, by 2,251 visitors. My best month was April with 570 views and 298 visitors. Most of my audience was from the United States (1,548 views), followed by India (619 views), Canada (483 views) and the United Kingdom (384 views). My top three referrers were the WordPress Reader (1498 views), the Community Pool (477 views) and Search Engines (156 views, 129 of which originated from Google).

stats year 1

 

Highlights

One of the best moments this year was when an acquaintance told me something like: “I got lost on your blog instead of working. Oops.” I was happy to know I could keep someone reading my different posts to the point they forget they have things to do. I had the same feeling when complete strangers would “like” several posts in a row then “follow”. It doesn’t take away my insecurity, but it soothes it a little.

Another thing that amazed me was seeing how I reached people from all over the world. I received views originating from 85 different countries!

Next Steps

Now that I have a fair amount of posts, I want to make them more easily accessible through. I’m planning to create pages of links, sorted by category and theme. I’ve also drafted a new self-introduction, which I intend to upload soon.

I’d like to find new ways to interact with my audience and my fellow bloggers, like running contests and featuring or writing guest posts. I’d also like to publish more fiction, either short stories or a series of short stories. Finally, if I can get out of my financial difficulties, I’d like to get myself a camera and take a bunch of pretty pictures to “decorate” my posts.

carouselleriecreative_pinkishblooms_elements_foliage-12

That’s all for today. Let me know if there are any other statistics or facts that you’d like me to share!

Blocked? Get to know your characters

It can happen any time: during the outlining, the drafting, the rewriting or the editing process. You feel blocked. No worries, there are a number of ways to get you going again. One of them is getting to know your characters. Here are a few ideas to get you started.

carouselleriecreative_pinkishblooms_elements_foliage-12

Character sheets

blue flower3

I used to love creating character sheets, then abandoned it because “hey, I know my characters, they’re mine”. But I’m starting to do it again, except I don’t write the same things I used to. For example, I used to skip the part about inner conflict. “Why, it’s all over the pages!” I’d think. Except summarizing it is an excellent way to see whether it “holds up”. A story is a bit like a labyrinth: the characters and the reader don’t know its exact configuration, but the writer must know it to make sure it is sound. It wouldn’t do to have holes or too many ways leading to the center (or climax) or none at all.

There are a plethora of templates online, from basic to elaborate. I find the basic ones useful while I’m outlining, but while editing I use one that’s much more elaborate. For instance, in the past couple of weeks I wrote several pages of background story, inner conflict, motivation, and ghosts (aka those things that haunt people). Doing this helped me realize that I didn’t understand my main character quite as well as I used to think.

Character interviews

carouselleriecreative_pinkishblooms_elements_berries-11You get to mimic your own favourite interviewer and ask your characters all kinds of questions. I don’t actually watch interviews, so I use Marcel Proust’s questionnaire to get me started. My characters don’t always tell me the truth… but I know when they’re lying and what they’re lying about tells me a bit more about what they’re ashamed of or how they’d like people to see them. Then I go deep, CIA agent-like, and discover the truth. This might sound weird, but I think reading Get the Truth made me a better writer.

Another way of “interviewing” your characters would be to make them complete a personality test. I have already stated my love for the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (or MBTI), but I know a lot of people like The Enneagram too. If you’re more esoterically oriented, name meanings and astrology can help, too… even tarot cards or runes, if you’re into that. You can even sort them in one of the houses at Hogwarts!

Simulations

I’m not sure whether a lot of writers do this, but sometimes I like to momentarily take a character out of their normal context and see how they react. Write a scene or two of them meeting people they’ll never actually meet in the story, or make them do crazy things that they’d never actually do. Sometimes, those can end up in the actual story as a “fantasy” of theirs. Most of the time it only serves as fuel, but it’s an exercise that I find so fun and entertaining it also provides powerful motivation.

carouselleriecreative_pinkishblooms_elements_foliage-12

Finally, we tend to want to focus on main characters, but do not forget to do it for your secondary characters, too. They have their own agenda and can sometimes impact the main plot in unexpected ways (as they should).  In fact, in my current project, it’s a secondary character that helped me get unstuck. I also like to imagine what a story centered on their lives would be like… though that’s dangerous. It can make you want to make them more important in your main character’s story than they should be, or give you more story ideas than you could possibly write in a lifetime. But it’s a good problem to have, I guess.

I hope you enjoyed this post! Feel free to share your own techniques to get to know your characters.

Review: Magnified World

Context

I’m taking an online creative writing class this fall at the University of Toronto. Of course, the teacher, Grace O’Connell, is a published author; that seems to be a prerequisite, alongside “having a master’s degree. So I figured I’d read her debut novel Magnified World, to know a bit more “who I’m dealing with”.

Magnified WorldReview

I’m not sure I should be reviewing this book. It wasn’t my cup of tea. I could have adored it because I love new age stuff and psychology, but I didn’t like the “artistic direction”, if that means anything to you; I liked the ingredients, but not the final dish.

The writing is irreproachable, as you’d expect from an MFA. There are a few weird images along the way, but better that than clichés, I guess. There is a bit too much setting description to my taste: I often caught myself reading a sentence or even a paragraph without really registering it in my mind because I didn’t care. But that’s just my personal taste and I’m sure people who love literary fiction above all else wouldn’t mind.

In terms of story, I loved the beginning, the images it painted in my mind, the mood. And I loved the ending, how the main character finally healed… but is still at risks of a relapse. However, I found the middle too long. There’s a lot of foreshadowing all through the first half of the book, and although it’s subtle, when combined with my knowledge of psychology and writing, it ruined the punch for me: I’d seen every plot point and plot twist coming from miles away.

That  being said, from the reviews I’ve read on Goodreads, it seems if you’re not a psychology connoisseur, some aspects might actually be too subtle: a few people complained they still didn’t understand who Gil was at the end of the book; I knew it, or at least had a strong feeling about it, after the very first card he’d sent. But hey, I’ve spent two months in a psychiatric hospital; I know things most people don’t.

The characters are well crafted and I could sympathize with all of them, although I could identify with none… except the mother, and only a little; only the hardships of raising a child while struggling with a mental illness. I found the main character a bit annoying because I couldn’t understand her. However, that didn’t prevent me from rooting for her, so I guess it’s all good.

The main theme is grief, and you’d think the book would make you cry, or at least make you feel miserable a little, but it doesn’t. I must say, it’s probably the first time I’m disappointed that a book didn’t give me any strong feelings. I did cry once, but I think most people wouldn’t even understand why I cried at that specific point because it had more to do with my own history than the book. It’s not funny either, though. I have no idea what the writer wanted to reader to feel, but I suppose it didn’t work with me.

Overall though, I think the book has a lot to offer… it just wasn’t for me.

Rating: 7/10

Who would I recommend this to? Lovers of literary fiction, especially in their early 20s. Possibly psychology amateurs.

Spotlight on K.M. Weiland

For the past two weeks, I’ve been working on story structure. Like I said in my previous post, I found a few structural issues in my first draft that needed fixing.Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000035_00015]

Last year, I’ve read Larry Brooks’ Story Engineering, which contains close to a hundred pages on story structure. It was interesting, but I was still a bit confused about a few things, so I figured I’d get a second opinion. That’s when a writer friend from my NaNoWriMo community shared K.M. Weiland’s 5 Secrets of Story Structure (5SoSS), a free e-book. I felt like the book had been written for me, by a friend (unlike Story Engineering, which felt like it had been written by a grumpy and sour creative writing teacher). It explained everything I needed to know.

It can be read in an afternoon, which is great when you’re eager to start getting to work. And it is so packed with information that I’d think it’s easily one of the best free e-books on writing you can get out there.

Because most of the terms in there are linked to the “hero’s quest”, you’ll find terms like “confrontation” that might not be very eloquent for, say, a romance novel. However, the writer happens to have a story structure database, so you can go and see how other novels in your genre have handled this or that particular point.
craftingbookcover

Curious, I proceeded to read her other freely accessible work, including Crafting Unforgettable Characters. You have to subscribe to her mailing list to get that one, but if you ask me, you should subscribe anyway. I can’t say that it was as eye-opening as 5SoSS for me because I already knew most of what’s in there, but it definitely is worth the read. This one too is short enough to be read in an afternoon. It also includes a list of pointers to perform a “character interview”.

For podcasts aficionados, she’s also posting one episode a week dealing with varied subjects like “How to Calculate Your Book’s Length Before Writing” or “How to Ace the First Act in Your Sequel”. I’ll certainly listen to those while knitting.

I love how the website is organized: there is a Start Here! page where the author gives you a quick tour of her website and most popular resources, which I find so clever that I might shamelessly steal the idea and implement it on my blog. Then, in the left menu, she has six big categories of resources for outlines, story structure, character arcs, scenes, common writing mistakes and “storytelling according to Marvel”. Each page leads you to a list of the articles in that category, in a recommended reading order.

Dreamlander-NIEA-Finalist-165

If writing isn’t your thing, but you enjoy reading, she also has a free e-book titled Dreamlander. I haven’t read it, but it has great reviews on Goodreads. I might review it myself later…

Last but not least, the website has been awarded 3 years in a row the Writer’s Digest 101 Best Website for Writers. I didn’t know that such an award existed before I saw it on her page, but then I started noticing it on others pages I sometimes visit.

I don’t know if her resources are going to “help me become an author”, but they’ll certainly help me edit my novel!