How to write every day: meet your word-count goals and tell your story
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.’
Musician tips: how not to work with that crap promoter
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.
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.
Live-Tumbling (without content spoiler alerts) my introduction to Story Is A State of Mind online writing course from Sarah Selecky
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!
How to finish reading that big book you’re dragging yourself through
I really despise the idea of smugness but there is one very particular event in my life that I have no qualms at all being smug about: I finished reading War & Peace. That’s right, people. The whole thing. It took me probably about two years and I brought it with me through five different cities and three different countries, ripping away chunks of the pages as I finished reading them so as to lighten the load of carrying it (yes, there are bits of my copy of War & Peace rotting in dumps literally from here to Mexico).
While I like to be very pleased with myself for having finished that giant mama of a book, I also have to say that I completed adored every damn page of it. (One of the most celebrated books in the literary canon— It’s pretty good. Who knew?)
I read it was because of my book club. We were flailing a bit with a particularly lame run of selections and decided, what the hell, let’s quit screwing around and do the big granddaddy of literature. It took many months and several installments of the book club and not everybody blasted through the final leg of the marathon. In fact, hardly anyone did. And a few are still, to this day, stuck at page 25.
I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately because I’ve noticed a few posts on social media about people steeling themselves to finish a book they’ve been slogging through. Oh, and also, my book club has been waffling for the past four sessions over whether or not to select one particular recent Canadian novel they don’t particularly want to read, but feel like they should.
It makes me think back to those unfortunate souls still stuck at page 25 of War & Peace. Because, while I think they’re missing out on something that was (for me, anyway) a freaking amazing and life-changing storytelling experience—they are also god damn heroes in my view.
I’m working on a few different works of writing born from my time abroad in the Caribbean and West Africa right now and… well… actually, “right now” doesn’t about cover it.
More accurate: polishing a mostly completed book proposal I’ve been poking at since 2011 and also now I’m flailing around (in a fun and yet also sometimes emotionally rough way…) with the follow-up to said nicely proposed memoir. But the bulk of the work really started back in… hooh… I’d say the summer of 2011.
The goodies within are tales of silly, leafy, dangerous and amazingly hot places and things to eat and they’re connected by overarching stories of important life things I learned during my adventures abroad. And while, as you know (as I’ve written about before), I feel super icky about sharing a lot of things from my life sometimes because I don’t like or want to think of myself as a commodity… every time I come back to these memoir-ish projects I’m smacked by the importance (to me, at least) of the ideas and realizations driving them and I am reminded that, yes, it is worthwhile to keep working on these things.
Because developing these book projects means advancing a conversation about issues I believe should be more conversed about (what it means to be a woman in the world these days and what it means to be a global citizen these days and also how to most effectively stifle one’s gastrointestinal problems when communal squat toilets are the only option) and, y’know, somehow I continue to find the writing funny and thoughtful and I even amuse MY TOTALLY CRITICAL SELF after several years and that is RARE for me. In fact, I already hate that sentence I just wrote but for the sake of making my point, I won’t erase it. (Lucky you, reader!)
Believe me, I understand the necessity to murder one’s darlings when it comes to pieces of writing that have to *B draws finger across neck*. There are more literary bodies heaped under this surprisingly camouflaging Ikea couch skirt than you will ever know. But these memoir-y darlings I’m talking to you about, I don’t think they’re supposed to be axed. Or not yet.
But the more I read about marketing memoirs and the more I talk to agents and read about what it means to publish something like a memoir through a traditional publisher, the more I feel capital-yuck GROSS.
The triumph and tumult of breaking my internet silence
In the spirit of a fourth-grade public speaking presentation beginning with the dictionary definition of whatever the kid is talking about, I thought it might be interesting to see what comes up when one does a Google image search for ‘ambivalence’— voila! (See above!) So, yeah. I see and read and hear about a lot of people who fall out of the groove with writing on blogs and Twitter and whatnot and most often it seems to me they blame it on laziness, lack of being able to follow through every gee-dee day, to commit to writing in a serious way.
For me, who (as you can see from all the time-stamped glory of my posts across various thingies) has been absent from sharing things in a public way for quite some time, it’s definitely a little bit of the laziness but if I’m being honest it’s really more the result of a mix of emotional exhaustion and ethical ambivalence I’ve been dancing with for the past however long.
First, probably in the most practical way, I was just so completely emotionally and social-media-y pooped from shilling the shit out of the book I co-edited that came out last fall. For years I’d toiled with my co-editor and the authors to put out this thing that I, literally, do not think I could possibly have cared more about. I poured everything I had into that damn book and thank god it turned out to be something I love so much and is of such awesome quality (thanks to the writers and publishing team at Feathertale). But after throwing my heart into this thing, which I actually believe(d?) was more than a book but rather a concept, and argument and a social movement, I desperately needed to connect it with as many receptive souls as possible. (I’m such an earnest cheesehead, I know. Embarrassing but true.)
I spent hours and hours developing and editing podcasts and blog posts and promotional concepts and maybe from the outside it looked like I was trying to ‘move product’ but— how can I say this in a way that folks will believe me— I never actually expected us to make money on the thing (because I have a working knowledge of the publishing industry), and so I can only hope that you’ll believe me when I say that it was, instead, a labour of love. I just thought the book was so excellent, the writers’ pieces so moving, that I was willing to spend hours and hours of my life trying to get it into the hands of people who would care about it too. Who needed it, even though they didn’t realize it. Who would read and go, ‘YES! This is a place for me!”
And so I know that on one level I just totally sapped any interest and ability to share publicly because, I think, for a certain amount of time I shared and shared until I extinguished the impulse and ability to do it.
But then, too, was the emotional and ethical weirdsies of it. Once the book was released into the world, once I had more book concepts on the go, I could no longer get my head around the concept of ‘sharing’ for the sake of sharing… myself. This is strange, because I am a writer, and had no problem continuing to generate ideas in a private space. Instead, it was like, well if this public space is for selling things… then what am I selling?
Are there problems with the “having it all” visual imagery of Michelle Obama, Susan Rice, Kirsten Gillibrand et al. doing their impressively powerful jobs while looking fabulous and sometimes surrounded by their children? Absolutely. But again, I tend toward a more glass-half-full perspective on lady mags…
“If you publish your freedom will be checked; you will be thinking what people will say; you will write for others when you ought only to be writing for yourself.”—(Virginia Woolf, “A Letter to Young Poet,” The Death of the Moth and Other Essays)
I'm going to try to talk more about things I care about
Heyyyyy there friendly people with thinking heads,
Hello! It’s been a long day, hasn’t it? Tell me about it! That was nice, but enough about you.
I’ve decided it’s time I start talking more, here, and in general, about the things that I care about and the things that matter to me. I’m sure I could craft some heart-rending essay about how I came to this realization but I know this internet thing is all about the shortness and squishiness so let’s ask this long-winded lady writer to do her best to cut the NPR-style personal story and get to the meat:
I’ve been thinking a lot about how disenfranchised I feel. I vote, but none of the specific issues I care about seem to be acknowledged or respected by any of the people who represent me. And as a result, many of the things I care about seem to be disappearing or at risk. It makes me so angry I can’t even talk about it in person, because I simultaneously feel rage and ‘What’s the point?’
And while I may not have a clear manifesto or doctrine or political alliance (or really any political knowlege to speak of— mama’s a pretty Naive Nancy over here and my ideas are all pretttty basic), I do know when something upsets me or makes me happy.
And, actually, it’s kind of my fault if I don’t talk about when those things happen in a more public way. Because then the people who represent me will DEFINITELY not know what I care about.
So I’m going to start talking about them. I’m going to start *trying* to engage in discussion with my representatives (political, cultural, other)— and not in a shrieky or demanding or shrill kind of way. First, because that’s not my style, but second, because that’s no way to ask someone to fight for something you believe in! Y’know? I am just going to level with them. Talk with them. Let them do their job of hearing me as I also do my own job of voicing my thoughts and concerns.
I’m going to start talking here and on the Twitter and whatnot about things that bother me and things I’m pleased about and I’m not going to try to be witty or ironic or clever about it. I have to be clear. And then, if still nobody cares about what I think is worth acknowledging or protecting or fighting for, I’ll know it wasn’t my fault for not stating things clearly enough.
So that is all. Oh, except for that also I think I’m going to extend this gesture from politics and culture straight through to restaurant reviews. Going to be jibba-jabbering lots more. So you can look forward to that, rather than me just sitting here quietly stewing about the fate of our world. That, and more restaurant reviews. Boom.
And by the way YES I realize this is all painfully earnest. May I remind you that I tried, and failed, to launch an earnestness movement several years ago. So don’t act so surprised!
Rachel Arons writes about the challenges of capturing “Lolita” in a single image, and a new book that commissioned designers to create covers for Nabokov’s work. Click-through for a slide show of a selection of covers: http://nyr.kr/11xdKnr
Cover design by Aleksander Bak. Image courtesy Print Books.
This is a noise that happens in my apartment. It is not coming from my neighbours above or to the side, and I have no neighbours below me— just the laundry room/mysterious storage areas of my apartment building.
This noise happens at random times and random days. Sometimes I won’t hear it for several days in a row. Sometimes, like the past two days, I hear it almost every hour of the night.
It doesn’t happen in the daytime, only at night. It happens most often at 3am and 4am, but also sometimes at 9, 10, or 11pm.
Sometimes when I hear it, I run through the apartment building, trying to find where it’s coming from. There is never anyone around in the areas where the noise seems to be coming from. There are never any monsters around (that I can see).
For the love of all things mysterious sounding: Do you know what this sound is? And can you tell me how to make it GO THE FRANK AWAY?
Sasha Weiss considers why people find Anne Hathaway, Hollywood’s “happy girl,” to be so annoying: “Little girls learn very quickly to modulate their excitement if they want to be acceptable… Anne has somehow managed to retain that bright look, and many people would like to wipe it off her face.”