So you’re working on a novel, a short story or a memoir or, I don’t know, a tweet. You have a story arc in your head or at least a basic premise you’re looking to bring to life. You come to the computer to dig into this thing you’ve been talking about or dreaming about and then—the blank page. It is freaking the crap out of you. The cursor blinks with ire or the journal page looks just too creamy white or you can’t quite find the right words for that image or person or scene that’s been glowing in your head.
Then you are writing the wrong thing. I’m sorry, my friend, but it’s true. Because the right thing is ‘something.’ And the wrong thing is ‘nothing.’
Due to a surprising and sleepy-making ‘Brianna-in-her-mid-20s’ confluence of of events this week, I stepped back into the shoes of younger me: on a weeknight, I had THREE separate social events. THREE! To be clear, this was probably more structured fun than I’d enjoyed in the past three MONTHS. But, due to a coffee hangout with a work colleague, a publishing industry party (with beer and free hot dogs) that I felt I had to go to (did I mention the hot dogs?) AND the club date of a musician friend at one of my favourite and revered places – the Rivoli - all occurring on the same night, I mustered my energy… I may or may not have napped briefly on the floor of my office… and went forth into the cultural happenings of Toronto.
The first two events went off delightfully. I enjoyed a tasty iced coffee on one of the few remaining temperate and sunny summer-ish afternoons along with a lovely chat; the book party was pleasant and stocked my favourite beer; and, I even had time to stop at home for a moment to drop off my lunch tupperwares before heading down to the Rivoli. #Stylin.
Now, during my undergraduate degree at U of T, I spent many a weeknight at the Riv. One of my good friends was working for a record label at the time, and I was fortunate to score free tickets to a variety of shows for musicians I really, really liked, many of them showcasing there. So for that and whatever other reasons, The Rivoli has always had a special place for me as an audience member, and in my mind it can only be topped by the Horseshoe when it comes to bar-sized venues in the city. So when I heard that my buddy Hannah Shira Naiman was doing a show there, I knew it was one I couldn’t miss.
Two friends and I arrived early and had a nice and chilled-out drink at the bar. One of the servers at the Rivoli was an old friend, and it was a great surprise to catch up with her. And when I was such a sleepy idiot that I knocked over my drinking buddy’s glass of wine, the bartender even gave her a bit of a top-up. So sweet.
Then my performer friend came out from the stage space where they were setting up. She was extremely distressed at having just learned that the booking company who put her in the Rivoli showcase- a company called Wingspan – only then let her know right then and there that due to unspecified ‘expenses’ they had as part of their services, she would be given a much smaller fraction of the cover charge per audience member than had been part of the deal when she signed up with them or during the confirmation phone call with the promoter’s management. Bluhhh. As a former director of live radio, I can tell you this is not the best way to pep up a performer before a show.
"When breaking the ice with someone you’ve just met, you might hesitate to bring up sex (creepy!) or death (morbid!). Food, on the other hand, provides an instant topic of conversation that anyone can join, inoffensive without being boring."
Bee Wilson discusses the allure of food writing in her review of Sandra Gilbert’s “The Culinary Imagination.”
Photograph by Emmanuel Pierrot/Agence Vu
Something I’ve found interesting, the more I work in the writing space, is how surprised people tend to be when I am open to and eager for edits and critiques. I’m not sure how I got this way. Maybe my skin was a bit thick to begin with (B reminds self to make an appointment with dermatologist), but regardless, it seems to me the most powerful motivation for anyone- even those afraid of critique- to just brace themselves and ask for feedback is the proof: my work is almost always better after having considered the edits, whether they’re from an agent, an editor or even just my mum. And I’m guessing other peeps’ work is too.
Sure, it stings the pride to sit through something you’ve toiled away on being picked apart but, in the end, why wouldn’t I want my writing to be the best it can be? And so, if you too are ready to get real with your writing and make it as excellent as possible, the following are a few tips on how to gracefully, efficiently, creatively accept an edit.
Not to be a braggy jerk about it, but I’ve been really feeling good about my writing recently— or, rather, not the writing itself but the fact that there are so many ideas being like, “Hello, please write me down!” As I’ve mentioned before, I’m coming off a period of pretty intense planning/execution for some projects that distracted me from the fact that I’m a writer and so now all the concepts I’ve been tamping down for so long are fighting to bust out.
This is great(!) but I also feel like they are so strong and unruly that I could use a helping hand in developing them in a useful way rather than just idea spewing. At the same time, I’m not at a stage where I would benefit from weekly deadlines or a regular class setting, so I checked into an online course from a respected writer I’ve been following for some time — one of our EAT IT contributors, and former Giller nominee (Yay!), Sarah Selecky.
The course is called Story Is a State of Mind. I know a few people who have gone through it and loved it, and found that it benefited their writing immensely. So, blammo, I invested a little bit and this is a live-Tumble of my first experience with the introduction to Story Is A State of Mind.
I LIKE THAT SHE REFERS TO ME AND MY WRITING AS DISCRETE THINGS!
"If much else is murky, one thing is clear: you cannot understand #Ferguson without hitting the books. Though the continued relevance of many of our best nineteenth- and twentieth-century writers on race and social justice may be somewhat, well, dispiriting here in 2014— one wishes that we were living in a somewhat less nineteenth-century world — Avidly insists that we keep digging deep, going back to the well, drawing from those who have written before. Here we offer a literary history of sorts, a collection of words that we hope galvanize us all to action.”
LARB Channel Avidly offers a reading guide to Ferguson’s literary history.