Whenever I make a new discovery about writing, my first impulse is to share it with every single person in sight. My second impulse is to worry that everyone except me has known about this particular thing for years. So if you already know everything there is to know about adverbs, I both salute you and excuse you from reading the remainder of this post.Read More
Summer's here, finally! Time seems to be slowing down... maybe it's the fact that the sun's out until nine o'clock. Quinn and I have been napping away the afternoons together and spending hours outside in the yard. (Really, what is it about a hose that's so entertaining to a toddler? Whatever it is, it means I get to read my book.)
The online workshops for my poetry class have been rolling along each week. I still want to pinch myself sometimes -- the fact that my homework is literally WRITING AND TALKING ABOUT POETRY still blows my mind.
Anyhoo, I wanted to share this quote from an essay my teacher posted this week. The whole thing is brilliant and I highly suggest you go read it. The idea that poetry is about dropping into wordlessness (to borrow a phrase from the delightful Martha Beck) and then translating objects back into language with a new sparkly coating of mystery gives me goosebumps.
Books I've read lately: Charm by Christine McNair, Beautiful Children with Pet Foxes by Jennifer LoveGrove, No TV for Woodpeckers by Gary Barwin. This week I'm reading Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel for the dystopian book club I started recently in response to our current political climate ;)
Poetic Epiphanies: There are no rules in poetry, only effects. The shorter the line the greater the drama. The longer the line, the greater the emotion. Thank you, Susan Musgrave, most wonderful poetry teacher, for your wisdom.
Also: Thank God for the Toronto Public Library. It's still a small miracle every time I take a book home for free.
How was your long weekend? We missed a poetry class last week due to Victoria Day, which means there was a two week gap in between posting the first poem of my MFA and getting feedback on it. Over the course of the past fourteen days, I have gone from loving every single line to realizing it is absolutely the worst drivel I have ever created... and back again. Needless to say, I'm looking forward to finally workshopping it tomorrow.
One benefit of the long weekend: Lots of reading time! Sort of. I took my daughter up north with my mom and in-laws, so there was a lot of time spent chasing after a two-year-old and not so much time lounging around with a book. But if it counts, I did bring a very heavy pile of books up to Blue Mountain, and I finished reading The Corpses of the Future by Lynn Crosbie (2017, House of Anansi Press).
Crosbie's book tells the story of her elderly father and his battle with frontotemporal dementia and blindness following an injury. The confessional narrative style hits the mark on two fronts -- it manages to stay accessible while maintaining incredible depth and poetic mastery. The book was a way for the author to process what she calls the "symbolic language of dementia" and functions as a sort of conversation/collaboration between the speaker and her father.
Given the subject matter, of course, it's an emotional read. Memory, identity, rage, loneliness -- The Corpses of the Future deals with the pain that comes from simply continuing to exist while someone you love is suffering. I won't say too much more, but it's a fabulous read, whether or not you're usually a fan of poetry.
Today, I went to a publication seminar hosted by the wonderful Robin Richardson. It was nice to supplement my online MFA adventure with some in-person learning, and I highly recommend her workshops in general and this one specifically. The seminar has added a few titles to my very long reading list... Poetic Meter and Poetic Form by Paul Fussell, The Ode Less Travelled by Stephen Fry and Best Words, Best Order by Stephen Dobyns are up next for me.
Wish me luck at my workshop tomorrow!
Hello, friends! It's my very first week in the University of British Columbia's optional-residency creative writing MFA program. My current plan is to jot down some notes about the whole thing here every week so it doesn't all go by in a blur. We'll see how well that goes as I get busier, but optimism, right?! Yes. Optimism.
I am clearly not at all terrified.
While the official program of officialness doesn't really start until September, I signed up for a summer poetry class to get the ball rolling. Basically how it works is that every week, three students out of the class of twelve post a poem on our online forum. We have a week to share our initial thoughts, then the following Monday, we have formal workshop/discussion time.
I've spent this week reading and responding to my classmates' poems, and also working on my own. I'm really impressed with what I've read -- not only the poems, but the really kind, thoughtful and wise responses people have shared. I'm maybe 10% nervous to post my poem next week and 90% psyched to crowdsource help from all of these incredibly talented people.
I was looking through courses I can choose to take over the next few years -- so many different genres, from YA lit to screenwriting to fiction to graphic novels. It sort of still feels like a dream, or like I'm going to get the notice soon that my acceptance letter was sent in error. (Actually, I've been waiting for that notification ever since the moment I was accepted back in December of 2016. Please see my "Imposter-Syndrome Meter" below.)
What I'm Reading:
I just finished reading A Pillow Book by Suzanne Buffam. It's a 21st-century response to an 11th-century work by Sei Shonagon, a Japanese poet and lady of the court famous for her witticisms, gossip, observations and complaints. On the surface, it's a book about insomnia that alternates between snippets of prose and clever lists. I think this passage pretty much perfectly describes it:
“A book about someone who can’t sleep, who’s writing a book about pillows. The more pillows I write, however, the more strongly I suspect that [it] is as much about pillows as last night’s dream about getting lost in an underground parking lot at the mall was about getting lost in an underground parking lot at the mall.”
This week, I'm going to be reading The Corpses of the Future by Lynn Crosbie. Can't wait.
What I'm Writing:
I wrote a poem this week about a video I watched on Facebook. It featured a fake child abduction designed to teach a parent a lesson about not using their smartphone at the playground. I tried to capture my combination of outrage that somebody would create such a horrible video combined with the endless river of guilt I possess over not enjoying each moment with my daughter as much as I should.
It's interesting, because I think this was the first poem I've written that wasn't self-consciously A POEM. I am relatively new to this genre -- I just started writing poetry last summer as part of a Booming Ground mentorship -- and I feel like in the past, I've spent a lot of my time thinking thoughts like is this a poem am I doing it AM I DOING POETRY RIGHT, as opposed to having something to say and using poetry as a tool to express it.
I am pleased with this new development in my brain and I'll keep you posted. In any case, my mom liked my poem, and if nobody else does, at least there are toddlers and ice cream sundaes in the world.
What I'm Making:
If you've been keeping up with me on Instagram, you'll know that I recently took a sewing class as a writing procrastination tool. It was remarkably effective! And funnily enough, it seems that doing something physical and crafty is really helpful for my creativity in general. Sometimes you just need to sew a raccoon pillowcase, amirite?
My final project was this perfectly imperfect makeup bag. It may not be exactly symmetrical, but it holds my mascara. What more can I ask?
I also completed a sewing project of my very own this week which I cannot yet share with you. However, it involves this snazzy horse fabric.
Imposter-Syndrome Meter: 6/10
How's your week been?
I cannot think of a better way to spend a Saturday than to sit around a table with amazing, hilarious, creative people and write things. Except maybe doing it in this room.
While the last Urban Writing Retreat took place in a very pretty location, it couldn't hold a candle to the amazingness that was 401 Richmond Street West. You're probably familiar with it -- it's a downtown arts-and-culture hub that's home to tons of galleries, festivals, social innovators... and this sweet Nest & Story workshop.
We spent the first half of the day doing some guided writing exercises, followed by a catered lunch from Delica Kitchen featuring, among other delicious things, homemade Oreo cookies. In the afternoon, we stretched out on the couch and in the hallways and around the table and wrote.
This was the last in-person workshop of the season! Now it's time for our usual summer hiatus before Birds of a Feather starts up again in the fall. To get notified when registration opens, make sure you're on the Nest & Story mailing list.
Hope we can write together soon! I'm looking forward to starting my MFA program this summer and spending lots of time in the sunshine, but I can't wait to be back around the table with you in the fall.
I'm pretty sure my kid has not inherited my propensity towards suffering.
She's tough. She's strong. She's incredibly smart. But two years in, I'm not getting the sense that she is quite as pathologically sensitive as her mother. She wants to DO things. Run and jump and swim and climb and paint and make music and say hi to strangers.
At her age, I was just as busy (if not nearly as social), but my catch phrase was Not happy, mommy. From the very start, I've gone through life like a raw nerve, each disappointment or rejection or failure reverberating a thousand times over between my ears.
Don't worry about me, though. I seem to have pulled it together... maybe too well. If my task as a teenager and young adult was to figure out how to function in the world as a goopy jiggling mass of sensitivity, my task now is to break down some of those protective walls I built.
The more I write, the more I realize that in a lot of ways, I'm holding back. I'm scared of writing poems that aren't any good. I'm scared of being rejected. More importantly, I'm scared of facing myself, of excising and examining the roots of my own pain and somehow coming out the other side with something people want to read.
In Glitter In The Blood: A Poet's Manifesto for Better, Braver Writing, Mindy Nettifee writes:
'The work' is about personal growth, about exploring the unlit recesses of yourself that may or may not yield to your research. Doing 'the work' means digging so deep you can no longer see the light. It means writing about the things that have such an emotional charge for you, you avoid thinking about them, let alone writing about them... I am challenging you to do this because this is what I challenge myself to do -- to use my writing as a tool to free myself of the boulders. To madly engage in the process of living.
This stuff is exhausting. If I thought facing a room full of writing workshop participants made me feel vulnerable, facing myself on the page is a thousand times harder. I always thought I created Nest & Story to build a safe space for other people to do this work. Turns out it was for me all along.
Quinn and I blew and dyed eggs this week. Well -- I blew and dyed eggs, and she sat nearby completely confused about what I was doing, but I think it still counts as a mother-daughter activity.
It took a surprisingly long time. Unfortunately I didn't actually bother reading any sort of tutorial until after they were finished, so I only now know that you can use a syringe instead of giving yourself an aneurysm trying to shoot egg yolk out a pin-size hole with only the force of your own breath.
Once they had been hollowed out, we had to solve the problem of how to keep them submerged in the vinegar-purple cabbage water (which smelled fabulous, BTW) for the four hours it took to turn them from white to blue. The answer: an inverted colander. Thankfully, I did consult the internet when it came time to actually hang them -- hot gluing buttons to the tops of the eggs was the most satisfying part of the entire process, aside from actually hanging them on the Easter tree.
The moral of the story: It takes a long time to blow and dye eggs. But who cares, really? Once it's over, it's over, and you have pretty eggs hanging from a branch.
Other things that felt like they took a very long time:
- Getting my degree
- Finishing journalism school
- Building this website
- Re-watching the entire series of Gilmore Girls (seriously, there's like 20 episodes per season)
- Writing literally anything
The actual pace of life doesn't always line up with our desires. My brain would much prefer a steady clip of accomplishment interspersed with the occasional nap. In reality it's all fits and starts, rejection letters, disappointments and sudden successes, peaceful moments and panic attacks.
But when I look back... somehow, it all got done. The degree is framed and collecting dust under my bed. My newborn baby is two years old. And somehow, despite my stress and procrastination and turtle-paced typing, the pages got filled. Every one of them.
I have been very creative lately. Baking Easter bread, making bird feeders, shaping monsters out of salt dough. Life with a two year old is a never-ending project -- usually a messy one.
With a toddler, you can't live life entirely as a consumer, reading and watching and eating and absorbing all that fancy shiny stuff the qualified people made. When there's a tiny person staring at you and asking to bake bread, or shoving a crayon in your hand and requesting a picture of an elephant, or curled up beside you at night asking you to tell her a story, it stops mattering whether you're an artist or a baker or a professional storyteller.
Let's face it: I'm nowhere near qualified. No one wants to buy my bread or my terrible elephant drawing or pay to listen to me tell stories (not yet, anyway). Still, I bake and draw and make up finger plays about caterpillars, mainly because I'll get yelled at if I don't.
It's exhausting and exhilarating. For a few moments here and there, I'm brought back to how I felt as a child, enjoying the act of creating something for the sole purpose of creating it -- not to earn money, or success, or even expertise. Knowing that I'll never be an artist, and playing with watercolours anyway? I'm so grateful she gives me the excuse, not that I should need one.
As adults, there is so little room for play. None of us should need an excuse to try something new, or spend an hour making a mediocre version of something we could buy at the store. It's thrilling. It's life affirming. And it's why I don't facilitate writing workshops promising professional success. It's not that I don't believe my workshops can improve participants' writing -- quite the opposite. But I want to create a safe space to explore writing in which, for a few hours a week at least, the outer trappings of accomplishment don't matter nearly as much as the flickering inner light of creation.
In her poem Blessing For A Writer, Pat Schneider writes, "May you study your craft as you would study/ a new friend or a long time, much loved lover." To her, creation is not an occupation. It's a love affair.
My daughter likes pouring water into flour. She likes kneading dough with her chubby fingers. She likes pushing buttons and painting pictures and making snowmen out of paper circles. I only hope to someday match her joy at scratching pen across page.
I was so thrilled (and a teensy bit terrified) to host my very first workshop out of my home! Usually I rent space downtown for workshops so participants don't need to brave the TTC north of Eglinton, but the thought of a cozy home setting for the Writing Through The Senses workshop was just too appealing. As it turns out, the commute up to Yonge & York Mills was no trouble at all.... and this was one of my favourite groups in the history of Nest & Story workshops.
I took advantage of my poor husband's unpaid labour on Saturday to get the house cleaner than it's ever been before or ever will be again. Good thing photographs exist to help me forever remember this moment!
This was the second last workshop of the season for me, taking place a week after the final session of this winter's Birds of a Feather session. The final workshop, my Urban Writing Sanctuary, will be taking place on April 22nd. Then it's time for a summer hiatus, with normal programming continuing in September.
I hope we can write together soon!
I've spent the entirety of 2017 in a productivity panic. It seems insanely cruel that our holidays are set up such that we spend a week hosting several events, drinking too much, partying, spending more money than we have and eating prodigious amounts of shortbread cookies before careening towards a new year in which we are immediately expected to have our lives perfectly assembled and ready for a shiny new twelve months of accomplishment.
Plus, the hangover. Why, oh why, the hangover?
I spent the evening of January first drinking tea and doing a 2016 reflection/2017 visioning booklet by Susannah Conway. (See, doesn't that make me sound like I've got my act together?)
For a few blissful hours, I felt proud of my year. I could clearly see what I'd learned from the challenges I faced, and I felt overwhelmed with gratitude for the successes I'd experienced. I had a clear vision for 2017, one that involved self acceptance, self care, a colourful and love-filled existence.
Then I woke up the next day and made my to-do list and just about burst into tears.
This is going to be a big year for me. My kid is two. She's not a baby anymore. And after spending her entire babyhood at home with me, she's going to Waldorf daycare two days a week while I work on Nest & Story and, in September, my creative writing MFA.
(Oh, right -- I got accepted to grad school for poetry. That was one of the things I was momentarily proud of until the horror of my to-do list set in.)
I'm not going to be a stay-at-home mom who sneaks in work anymore. I'm not sure what I'm going to be -- some sort of working/studying/mom hybrid, ready to set the world on fire -- except that I'm not ready, I'm not, I'm not.
I'm ready. I think. The ennui has started to get to me. I need a new challenge that doesn't involve soap scum. But then I think about how I used to zip my tiny daughter into my coat and trudge through the snow for hours so she'd sleep and I'm back to tears, back to not wanting to set anything on fire, least of all the world.
One day someone will invent a time machine where you can safely float above your past self and remember clearly how hard it was, how much time you spent attached to another human being, how afraid you were that your life had exploded. Once upon a time, there was nothing on my to-do list but keeping my daughter alive. And now here I am, at the precipice of adult life again -- and I remember how hard that was, too.
(Jeez, you'd think she was going off to college. God help me when that happens.)
Wish me luck, friends -- it's going to be a big year.
I have a new online course for you. I've been plugging away at it for a while now in between MFA applications, finishing off my poetry mentorship, and mothering an increasingly mischievous toddler.
(Seriously. She's in part-time daycare now, and yesterday she PUT A WASHCLOTH IN THE TOILET when she was there. At least she didn't flush?)
ANYHOO. Detoxify Your Writing Life: Four Weeks to Focus, Inspiration and an Overflowing Creative Well has finally landed. Here's a little snippet:
You'll work through four different sections at your own pace, which include worksheets and exercises to help you on your detox journey. Each week, you'll also receive a coaching email which contains journaling prompts to help you reflect on your progress and stay on track. Whether you've already got a well-established writing practice or you're just starting out, Detoxify Your Writing Life will help bolster your confidence and set you on a course to the creative life of your dreams. Learn more and register here.
This course is only $28 and I really think you'll love it. The purchase also comes with a $25 credit towards Taking Flight. Alternatively, if you buy Taking Flight between now and December 31st, you'll receive a copy of Detoxify Your Writing Life absolutely free.
(You can also gift either or both of these courses -- drop me a line and I'll give you the details.)
I'm writing this blog post from a gloriously quiet co-working space in the Junction. Only an introvert would walk into a room designed for connection and collaboration and be thrilled to pieces she was the only one who showed up.
Yep, I'm an introvert. An INFJ, actually, which means that while I thrive on deep connections with others, I also get drained by social stuff -- especially small talk. Because of this fact, I have built my life around quiet time, small group and one-on-one hangouts, and the personal rule that I must never, ever attend any sort of street festival.
The world wasn't designed for introverts. It can be isolating to wander around the world hating parties and crowds while everyone else seems to be having the time of their lives. So when I started Nest & Story, I decided that I would strive to create a safe space for us. Deep connections... with boundaries could have been my tagline.
In January, I'm hosting an all-day urban writing retreat (have you signed up yet?). When creating that registration page, I made sure to add the phrase certified introvert-friendly so my brethren wouldn't run screaming from the room at the thought of spending an entire day in a group.
So what does introvert-friendly mean to me?
- You're not trapped. While we take frequent breaks, there's no need to raise your hand before going to the bathroom. Get up, leave, take a walk around the block. No one will question your need for a bit of air, especially during a longer workshop.
- Handouts to read for the small-talk averse. While folks in my workshops usually end up chatting amongst themselves, I always provide lengthy handouts so those who don't want to chat have something to do with their eyes and hands.
- Food and water. No matter how short the workshop, I always provide snacks and beverages. Introverts tend to also be highly sensitive people (my hand is up, here) which means that a blood sugar crash could really be bad news.
- Zero pressure. Reading aloud is an aspect of all Nest & Story workshops, but participants are 100% allowed to decline to read at any time. No pressure, no questions, no "Are you sure you don't want to? Why not?!" awkwardness.
I would love for this concept to catch on. Do you know of any other introvert-friendly businesses, places or events? Please share below!
I love this time of year. It's getting colder outside. The leaves have fallen. It feels like an ending, and while there's something sad about that, it's also where the magic is. We can dig into this darkness with our bare hands, for months, freezing, and know that eventually, there will be spring.
The past few months have been intense. I've been sweeping away the excess, cutting my life down to the core of what really matters. I've learned that the closer I come to the authentic root of myself, the less I'm capable of doing. I'm moving slowly. I'm drinking water when it's time drink water, I'm going to bed when its time to sleep. And I'm writing.
More than anything else, I want to write. I want to write so badly that when I sit down at my keyboard, I'm overwhelmed with rushing -- with the sense that if I write very quickly or try very very hard, if I do my very best, I can immediately reach my potential. I want to make charts and reading lists and outlines and follow directions. I want to know that if I write 500 words today, and 500 words tomorrow, and 500 words the next day, eventually I will have enough words to justify myself.
Eventually, I'll have so many words that I'll know I am enough.
Of course, the advice I give to others is the advice I need to give myself. You are already a writer. You are already enough. What does that mean? It means that when I wake up in the morning 30 years from now, with any luck, I'll be doing the exact same things I did today: Stretching. Drinking tea. Paying attention. Writing.
Hopefully my poems will be better by then. But we'll have to wait and see.
Nest & Story is difficult for me sometimes. I want so badly for this to be real. I want to build a community of writers who can be afraid together, who can step out into the darkness and know they are not alone. Who can laugh and eat muffins and scribble some words and know that no matter what, no matter how brilliant or silly those words are, it's okay. They're okay.
And yet, at every turn, I manage to plunge myself into anxiety. I read business blogs and receive chirpy newsletters every day about how I should be tweeting more, or using Instagram, or spending more time thinking about my SEO. This stuff is fun for me, usually. But if I let it seep into my bones, I can't escape the whispers: What if you aren't doing enough?
For me, and for Nest & Story, 2017 will be the year of enough. I'm going to be cutting away everything unnecessary and focusing on what makes this community beautiful. That means:
- I'm quitting Twitter. I'm sorry, Twitter, but I hate you.
- I'm going to lead more in-person workshops -- maybe even in my house. What I love about running Nest & Story is being able to connect with other humans in real life, around a real table, eating real snacks, writing real words.
- I'm going to try my very best to be even more transparent and authentic with you all. I've tried not to fall into the trap of positioning myself as any sort of "expert," but over the next year, I'm going to be even more open about my own writing process and the challenges I face.
- I'm going to create an offering that allows me to work with you one-on-one. I'm trying to avoid the word "coaching" here (see not an expert, above) but it's going to incorporate creativity, and intuition, and possibly even tarot cards. (Did you know I read tarot cards?)
What are you trying to clear away as this year comes to an end? What are you hoping to invite into your creative practice in 2017? I would love to hear from you.
Have you met my pal Martha Beck?
She's a life coach and the author of some of my favourite books, including Expecting Adam, Leaving the Saints, Steering by Starlight, and most recently, Diana, Herself. And by sheer luck/magic/whatever, I was recently chosen to talk to her for FIFTY GLORIOUS MINUTES over Skype.
Martha coached me on stuff ranging from work/life balance to how I can channel Margaret Atwood's energy in order to be the best workshop facilitator ever. But the most valuable thing she left me with was this phrase:
I respectfully do not care.
I may get this tattooed on my forehead. So much of my life is spent worrying that I'm doing the wrong thing -- that I should be doing laundry instead of watching TV, or writing instead of doing laundry, or cleaning the house instead of playing with my kid, or playing with my kid instead of cleaning the house. I am running out of brain space to keep up with all the shoulds.
So here's my latest and greatest insanity-reduction technique: telling myself that I respectfully do not care anymore, and that I'm going to enjoy what I actually AM doing instead of guilting myself.
I'm.... not quite cured yet. But it's helping. And so I wanted to share it with you! In addition to helping reduce guilt-related anxiety, this phrase also makes a handy dandy writing prompt. For example:
- I respectfully do not care about Martha Stewart's recommended baseboard-cleaning schedule.
- I respectfully do not care that we had take-out food last night so I could get some writing done.
- I respectfully do not care that I've spent far too many hours re-watching Gilmore Girls this week when I could have been -- I don't know -- rewiring lamps. (Is that a thing people do?)
What do you not care about (respectfully or otherwise?)
Grab a drink. Sit down. Let's chat about this.
So Will Wheaton just published a blog post. If you haven't read it yet, it's about him rejecting the Huffington Post's offer to re-publish an article he wrote. Why? Because they offered to compensate him not with money, but with good-old-fashioned exposure.
Later, he tweeted: "Writers and bloggers: If you write something that an editor thinks is worth being published, you are worth being paid for it. Period." Makes sense, right?
He goes on to explain that while the money he would have made at the going rate for writers wouldn't have been much -- $210, by his estimation -- he still feels good about turning down this opportunity on principle.
Will Wheaton: I feel you. It's frustrating as hell to be told that something you worked hard on is worth, well, nothing. Where we disagree, though, is on the exposure = nothing point.
No, you can't pay your rent with it. But these days, exposure is worth a hell of a lot more than nothing.
Historically in the world of writing, "exposure" has been sort of a bullshit concept. Like, maybe if you publish a story in a teensy tiny publication, an agent or publisher will happen to read it and you'll be an overnight literary success. It brings to mind blind optimism and hopefulness and unlikely possibilities -- not the freedom and power of cold, hard cash.
But exposure is no longer intangible. It's tangible as hell. These days, I'd choose exposure on a high-traffic website over a couple hundred bucks any day. Why? Because it gives you a chance to grow your tribe, and an engaged community of readers and customers is far more valuable than a one-time paycheque.
Not only will readers from the Huffington Post (or wherever) click through to check out your website, but your SEO will get a nice boost, making it easier for people to find you both now and in the future.
Of course, you'll need a few things in place on your website in order to fully take advantage of that shiny new exposure. Such as:
- A customized landing page for visitors from that site. When you publish an article elsewhere, you'll typically get a little bio about yourself underneath the article, with a link back to your site. Take advantage of that space! Here's what I wrote at the bottom of my recent article on Introvert, Dear:
Jaclyn Desforges has one mission: to help you build the writing life of your dreams. As the creator of Nest & Story, she offers inspiring creative writing workshops online and in Toronto. She has a special gift available for Introvert, Dear readers which you can find here.
To claim their special gift, readers need to click through to the custom landing page I created for them, which contains more info about me, my writing workshops and my online courses.
- A website that's in good working order. Do you have an about page that accurately describes you and what you do? Got any broken links or awkward early-days blog posts? Now's the time to clean all that stuff up. It's like your fancy new neighbours have just unexpectedly rung the doorbell -- time to toss your old newspapers and dirty dishes and soiled underthings into the bedroom before throwing a bathrobe on and answering the door.
- An end game. What do you want the thousands of people who are about to visit your website to do, exactly? Ideally, you'll have something for sale. A book, some products, a coaching/consulting biz. If not, aim to at the very least get those people on your mailing list. Then when you do have something to sell, you'll have people to sell it to.
Don't let your new readers flounder. Help them along. Point them in the right direction. Don't waste all that valuable exposure!
For the past three months, I've been doing a poetry mentorship out of UBC. Every four weeks, I submit a fresh batch of 10-ish poems to be critiqued by my incredibly talented mentor, Alessandra Naccarato.
I open her emails like I'm unwrapping a gift -- and I am. Her feedback hits that elusive mark of being both critical and encouraging. It feels good to read because it's accurate and true, even (especially?) when she's telling me I'm being melodramatic.
I write every day, and every day it's a struggle. I show up at the fresh page and realize yet again that I don't actually know what I'm doing. I don't know what a poem is, let alone how to write one. That last poem was a fluke, and the one before that.
I'm not getting any better, I tell myself. Why is it always hard? And then I read an old poem and realize...
Wow, that was pretty terrible.
But that thought doesn't hurt. Because when you go back and read something you wrote a month ago and think that it's awful, it means (drumroll, please) that you've improved.
My standards seem to be getting higher at the same rate as my writing skill is improving. Which means -- I think, at least -- that it will always be hard.
As long as we're improving, writing will always be difficult. We'll always be walking along that edge, pushing ourselves closer and closer to our truest potential. I don't think we should want writing to be easy. It's a slippery slope from easy to boring, friends.
What does get easier, though, is the faith part. I remember getting a writing assignment for a magazine once and sitting there, looking at the obtuse scientific press release I was supposed to turn into a fun and informative blurb. I remember thinking Oh my god. Am I going to be able to figure this out?
And a voice inside me answered, Of course. I always have before.
I'm not quite there yet with poetry. I'll probably be worried that every case of writer's block is the end of my poetry career for a long time to come.
But I have faith... that I'll eventually have faith.
You don't have to face the blank page alone. Join the next round of Birds of a Feather.
Batten down the hatches!
Winter is coming (har, har) and around here at least, it's supposed to be a nasty one. I know we haven't even made it to Halloween yet and I'm already talking about snow, but I've been on a Little House On The Prairie kick lately and I'm feeling the need to PREPARE.
Most of my winter preparations thus far have been family related. For example: my freezer is now filled to the brim with jars and jars of homemade chicken soup, because there's nothing worse than having a sick kid (or sick self) and having to brave the inevitable snow/wind/freezing rain to BUY soup.
I also made emergency popsicles out of Throat Soother herbal tea and raw honey (unfortunately I have made them about three times now as we keep eating them) and am in the process of procuring lots of flannel and fleece baby clothes to keep the little goose warm.
But I've been thinking... what am I doing to prepare my writing practice for the winter months? As the seasons change, our routines and habits change, and accepting and working with those changes is way easier than fighting it.
In some ways, writing is easier in the winter -- it's dark, kids go to bed earlier, there's nothing fun going on anyway so you might as well hunker down with your poems. But it's also a big departure from my summer lifestyle, and changes can sometimes throw me off course. So here's my plan.
- Re-evaluate my current system/habits/whatever. When and where I write has become a little bit lax. I'm writing pretty much every day, but not necessarily at the same time. I'm still getting a lot done -- probably due to my poetry mentorship that forces me to submit 10 poems/month -- but I don't feel as disciplined as I once did.
- Make a cozy spot. I would probably want to spend a lot more time at my writing desk if it was set up to lure me to it. Comfy chair, tea pot, maybe an essential oil diffuser. I'm going to work on this.
- Set some new writing goals. I have three months left of this poetry mentorship, but after that, I want to be able to jump right into a new project instead of floundering.
- Develop some connections with other writers. Luckily, I've got the next round of Birds of a Feather coming up in January, so every Sunday is going to be spent all cozied up with other writers, having a blast and drinking hot tea.
How are you preparing your writing practice for winter?
This past Saturday counts as one of my favourite Saturdays of all time. When my mother's helper got here this morning, she asked me how my weekend had been. And my answer was that I worked all weekend... and that it was amazing.
My tech wizard pal Maeve Gallagher and I ran The Blog Studio, a half-day workshop which included a blogging lecture, writing exercises, a delicious lunch from Mildred's Temple Kitchen, as well as a jam-packed presentation on the technical aspects of blogging.
It was such a fun day. What an amazing group of women! We had such a wonderful time that we're already planning a full-day version of this workshop to take place in the winter.
If you'd like to get notified when registration for that workshop opens, please get yourself on the list below.
Can't wait to write with you!
The Blog Studio Wait List
Part of my writing practice is dedicating myself to living. Apparently other people just naturally do this, but left to my own devices, I tend to fall into the trap of existing mostly inside my own brain. I write about this in Taking Flight -- part of being able to generate authentic descriptions of life means actually experiencing it.
On the plus side, this is also key re: being a parent to a small child. Kids hate it when we're floating around in our own brains. They much prefer us present and focused.
With that in mind... here is my list of intentions for fall.
- Make my house smell like fall. I found an essential oil diffuser recipe online that's supposed to be like a walk in the woods: 4 drops cypress, 2 drops white fir, 2 drops sandalwood.
- Drink chai lattes. I am not a fan of the PSL (blasphemy, I know). Chai tastes more like fall to me.
- Revisit my personal writing practice. I find I need to shake things up every once in a while. When I start to feel myself slipping away from writing, I try to figure out what the problem is. Usually, it's that my schedule or responsibilities have changed, so my old writing routine just isn't working. Lately I'm finding that my routine changes so much day-to-day it's difficult to designate a specific time to be writing time. I need to work on just jumping in to my latest project whenever I have a spare moment.
- Get a head start on Christmas presents and plans. I want to be one of those people who makes gifts by hand and has all her shopping done by the end of October. Unrealistic?
- GTFO. We're planning a fall trip to Algonquin! I will be turning my phone off for an entire week and just staring at the lake.
- Decorate the house, or something. Pumpkins, right? Or gourds, or whatever.
- Wear sweaters. So many sweaters.
What are you planning for this autumn, writing-wise or otherwise?