By: Sheridan Barnett
“We are all apprentices in a craft where no one ever becomes a master.”
As a re-emerging writer with a day job, I have never considered writing as an industry. Writing has always been for me a necessary form of self-expression, an exploration of self and other, a way of understanding and placing myself in the world. I had signed up for the Northern Ontario Writers Workshop event entitled, the “Business of Writing” more out of curiosity than a burning intention to earn a living from or even to publish the products of my imagination (read: in-progress). As I battled my way through the remnants of Friday’s snow storm toward the Mary J. Black library, I second guessed my reasons for attending the event. But upon arrival, I quickly found a welcoming group of self-proclaimed introverts, who I later learned meet writer-type crises with supportive conversation over glasses of wine and hot-tubbing. Suffice it to say, I felt I had found my place in the world!
Quite beyond the quiet satisfaction of finding myself among a group of peers with a common interest in writing (and maybe more importantly, reading), the workshop itself was a welcome surprise. It was facilitated by two local authors – Jean E. Pendziwol and H. Leighton Dickson – one a renowned children’s author turned “upmarket” novelist, the other a former zoologist turned fantasy writer, and each with a distinct journey to becoming published authors.
The title, “The Business of Writing” could be construed as a controversial one. After all, isn’t writing an act of pure creativity, an art form born of the desire or necessity to communicate? To quote Virginia Woolf, “Every secret of a writer’s soul, every experience of his life, every quality of his mind, is written large in his works”. Does that sound like a business to you?
But seen from the perspective of our facilitators, while the act of writing is indeed an “art”, the business of writing is also a “science” with a distinct process that we too could follow. Achieving that balance (think yin and yang) will dramatically increase a writer’s chances of becoming a published author in whatever genre he or she chooses. As a professional mediator, I have a strong proclivity for process. The facilitators’ concrete, analytical, and well researched approach—laid out in the workshop in power point slides and accompanied by engaging tales of their personal journeys--appealed to me greatly.
In its essence, this workshop answers the question, “How does a writer actually get published?” The facilitators took us through an extremely detailed plan to do just that. They provided advice and information on identifying your genre and placing yourself within the marketplace, creating a writing community, the importance of word count, the multiple phases of editing a piece for publication, finding an agent (who knew twitter has a real-world function?!) or choosing the self-publishing route, and negotiating a publishing contract.
Whether you are a writer with a finished product or a burgeoning writer with a novel that must be written (like me); whether your interest is fiction, non-fiction, romance or literary, the “Business of Writing” is an essential guide. Now all I need to do is write!
Sheriden Barnett (LLM, ADR) is the President of the Boreal Centre for Dispute Resolution, a boutique firm specializing in the resolution of complex, multi-party conflicts, human rights and Indigenous rights disputes. She is currently writing her first novel entitled, “Ar Muir: At Sea."
How long have you been a member of NOWW? Many years a member.
What do you normally write? Regional history, non-fiction articles, humour pieces, mystery thrillers.
Do you have a favourite book or favourite author? The writer/historian whose subject matter I love and whose prose style I seek to emulate is the late Pierre Berton. In the mystery novel genre, I long admired and collected the works of Ross Macdonald (The Moving Target), and was analyzing his story structures long before I published my first novel, The Beardmore Relics, in 2011. In the field of humorous and whimsical writing, I recall that Stephen Leacock, Eric Nicol, and Arthur Black have been major influences. A lot of my current serio-comic posts aim to raise awareness of the great country we live in and the opportunities to preserve and to improve our way of life
Let’s get to know you a bit better. Tell us a bit about yourself and how you found your way to writing: Born in Saskatchewan, I grew up in the bilingual streets of Sherbrooke, Quebec, before returning to the Lloydminster area for a bucolic sojourn of three years. My family moved to Geraldton (Greenstone) in 1953, and in many ways I have never left. When I travelled as a high school Air Cadet to summer camp in B.C., I wrote letters home inspired by the scenery and the experience. From thence I date my writing compulsion. Sadly, no letters have survived. I married Olga Fedorus, and together we raised Rob and Laura, now retiring from their careers. I began my teaching career in elementary schools and moved into high schools, specializing in English language and literature. I settled permanently in Geraldton in 1970, and immersed myself in community activities and volunteerism. In 1975 I launched the region's first little magazine of arts, literature, and history. It was called The Squatchberry Journal. I also conducted interviews of old-timers with no other aim than to record their experiences for posterity. The Town of Geraldton commissioned me to write an official history for the town's 50th Anniversary in 1987. From that point on, history became my passion, and I continued to develop my writing skills in other genres. For the record, I am an indie publisher. I cannot abide the complicated and years-consuming process of agents and submissions that legacy publishers require.
Tell us a bit about your writing? My current book project has the working title of The Last Link: Completing the First Trans-Canada Highway. In mid-winter of this year (2016), a former resident of Geraldton phoned me up and asked if I were aware of an important date approaching. The year 2018 will mark the 75th Anniversary of the completion of Highway 11 between Geraldton and Hearst. In 1943, for the first time, there was an all-Canadian road connection between East and West. Very few people today seem to be aware of the historic event that occurred when Canada was fighting in a World War. By the time we're finished, we anticipate that a huge number of Canadians will recognize the national significance of the event, which can be compared to hammering home the last spike at Craigellachie in 1885. So much of this history has been lost forever, and the research is the most challenging I have ever faced. At every trade show and craft market that I can afford to attend, I set up a table and preach the gospel. In Thunder Bay, come visit my tables in November and December.
Can we see you at any upcoming events in Thunder Bay? I will have a booth set up at the December Dreams Exhibition at the CLE Coliseum December 3-4th!
Where can we learn more about you and your writing? E.J. Lavoie's Blog : ejlavoie.wordpress.com, WhiskyJack Publishing Website: WhiskyJackPublishing.ca, Facebook Pages: Edgar Lavoie, Edgar J. Lavoie, Greenstone History, Twitter Handle: @WhiskyJackPub and on my website is a list of 13 published works, with the latest (Bush Histories I) being released this fall. Several regional outlets carry selected titles, including Chapters/Indigo and Thunder Bay Airport Gift Shop. Enquiries can be directed to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
And to end things off, tell us something surprising about yourself! I never work so hard as when I am having fun, as in portaging canoe and baggage over the Diablo Portage into Santoy Lake, or climbing the Palisades of the Pijitawabik simply to enjoy the view.
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How long have you been a member of NOWW? I have been a member of NOWW for just over a year.
What do you normally write? I write mostly poetry, although I have written some plays and stories as
Do you have a favourite book or favourite author? I like many types of fiction and poetry. Ian McEwan is a favourite. I love Alice Munro, Margaret Atwood, Jim Harrison, Doris Lessing, Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Julian Barnes Anne Marie Macdonald, Jane Hirshfield. Recently, I have really enjoyed all 3 of Joseph's Boyden's novels, particularly, "Through Black Spruce". I love many poets and back when I studied film, I made a film based on the poem "Walking Around" by Pablo Neruda. It was shot in Montreal and is bleak and moody.
Let’s get to know you a bit better. Tell us a bit about yourself and how you found your way to writing: I came to poetry again in a big way after years of writing sporadically I think because of my years of meditation practice and time spent in nature where no pretention or artifice exists and also because after years of being a very active mother with a full-time job it did not leave me with a lot of time and energy for writing. But I studied and made films when I was younger and I have always loved films and was recently asked at a NOWW event whether my love of film affects my writing. I did not answer the question very well at the time, but I think actually the imagery of film and poetry share some similarities. I often start with my experience of images in my poems, like a bird on a branch, an unusual cloud, hydro lines crisscrossing the sky, a tired wrinkled face. And my meditation practice has given me a certain freedom to sometimes have the ability to avoid the tired predictable ruts that my cognitive linear mind imposes. I can just be and hear and see what is around me and connect with it to write about. This connection is very powerful which I use to discover what is really important to me.
Tell us a bit about your writing and what writing means to you. Where do you find inspiration? I recently won first prize in the NOWW poetry contest which was a complete surprise to me, to know that my work can touch others. I see writing poetry as play, as allowing me to be a child in an adult world. As I get older, I care less about being a respectable and responsible adult, and want to enjoy the beauty of the world. Natalie Goldberg, who is a Zen practitioner like me and a writer who has written a lot of books about writing, has been an inspiration for me by encouraging me to kill my censor and just write. I write constantly, almost 3-4 poems a week and it is an escape in a highly busy stressful job. I have a confession. There is a meeting room in Toronto I go to regularly, and so many offices are full of ugly art, but this room has a painting of a cowboy beside his horse facing a mountain. It looks like Montana. And I sit so I can face that painting, and when I need to, I just go into that painting to exist under that sky beside that horse, feeling the wind and the sun. That is what I do. I am planning a month long trip to the wilds of Mongolia in June because it is one of the places left in the world, where people are nomads and live very directly with the earth and nature. I love adventure and would be a nomad if I could. Poetry allows me to be nomad in my mind, using my imagination to travel and see and hear and feel the wonder of the world under my fingernails, down the street, across the world.
Can we see you at any upcoming NOWW events? I will be reading at the November reading and plan to attend the workshop in November as well. I really enjoy going to these nights and hearing other writers.
Where can we learn more about you and your writing? I have a FB author page called Siobhan Hilary Farrell, but tend not to use it very much. I will try to do more of that. I have not published much yet besides The Walleye, NOWW and Literary Thunder Bay but I am now making a concerted effort to start publishing more as I have amassed hundreds of poems.
And to end things off, tell us something surprising about yourself! A detail about me that not many people know is that I have a small tattoo of a hummingbird sipping nectar on my back, which I got 2 years ago in a small village in Thailand. I had a sunburn at the time, but my daughters dared me, and since it was done in the traditional old-fashioned, dip a needle in ink and jab multiple times into your spine method, it was quite painful. When it was over, I was so teary that the nice tattoo artist gave me a bunch of lychee fruit he had picked. I ate them with my girls later.
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By Jean E. Pendziwol
I attended elementary school in the 1970’s, when Thunder Bay schools were bursting at the seams, where St. Vincent on Redwood Avenue had portables in the playground and two grade six classes sharing the gymnasium. Our librarian was the enthusiastic Mr. Christie, who always managed to make our weekly trips to borrow books an adventure, offering suggestions for great alternatives to the standby favourites, helping students find the most recent Nancy Drew book, and demonstrating how to use the Dewey Decimal System. He recognized that the awkward gangly-legged child checking out stacks of books each week had a particular interest in playing with words, in creating character, and weaving story, and offered to publish my very first work of fiction. What a proud moment seeing my story, bound with a piece of scrap orange wool and illustrated with crayon drawings, tucked on the shelf next to all the other “real” authors in the St. Vincent school library. I even had an entry in the card catalog.
It was some years before I again had that thrill of seeing my work on a library bookshelf. My early career as an editorial coordinator and writer for commercial magazines allowed me the opportunity to craft with words, but I didn’t pursue fiction again until after my children were born. It was then that I fell in love with picture books, enjoying the challenge of writing in a genre that necessitated a constraint of words; that demanded excellence while simultaneously requiring a story that was engaging and entertaining for both my reader and my audience (not the same in the picture book world, but that’s another blog.) And although by this time I was comfortable with the commodification of my writing, it was different when I viewed that writing as art.
It is interesting to examine our responses to the business of being published – when a work of art becomes a product. It’s something many people struggle with. Does commercial success somehow diminish artistic merit? Is it because our work – our writing – is so tied up in our sense of identity? Can we separate our “self” from our “product” or book? How do we respond professionally as we journey the road to publication? These were all questions that I grappled with as a newly published author.
When I finished writing my debut novel, The Lightkeeper’s Daughters, and decided to pursue publication, I was faced with additional challenges I hadn’t experienced previously, in spite of successfully publishing numerous picture books with two different houses. I waded into the world of beta readers, agents, international book deals, foreign rights, and the need to build a “platform.” And I became aware of some minor differences between the commercially driven US market and the Arts Council funded, awards-driven, literary Canadian market. It became important for me to keep the art – to keep my story – at the heart of every decision I made, while at the same time recognizing that in choosing to follow the publishing route, my story was becoming a book, and a book is a product.
In the words of Nicholas Sparks, “Writing a great novel is the most important thing you can do to become a success, but sometimes it's not enough.” That’s where a community of writers can help. Heather Dickson and I are looking forward to co-facilitating the upcoming NOWW workshop on The Business of Writing. We don’t have all the answers, but we are happy to share our own journeys in the ever-evolving world of book publishing. It is our hope that by understanding the business aspect of being an author, you will have the confidence to make informed decisions about your work and where you’d like to see it end up, whether that be in your private collection, on a bookstore shelf or in the eager hands of a child, waiting to check it out of a school library.
Every book is a different story; every writer has a unique journey. Publishing is the intersection where art becomes business and poetry becomes a pitch. Sometimes harsh, rarely lucrative, always complex, we welcome you to grab your pens, roll up your sleeves and prepare to get down to business. The Business of Writing.
Jean E. Pendziwol
By Tessa Soderberg
Every year I saw the question on the writing e-groups I’m a member of asking, “who is doing NaNoWriMo this year?" I thought: Not me, 50,000 words in 30 days—I couldn't do that!
In 2010 I discovered that I could. I was trying to write a novel about civilians during World War II. I already had half a dozen false starts. NaNoWriMo was about to begin, and I thought why not try it? I've never been a disciplined every day writer. When an idea grabs me I sit down and run with it, leaving the editing for later. First, I get the whole gory mess on the computer.
So NaNoWriMo was perfect: it provided incentive in the form of the daily word count. I was also hoping NaNoWriMo would provide the kick I needed to start writing every day throughout the year. I signed up, filled out my author profile, and registered my vaguely formed idea of a novel. On November 1st I put fingers to keyboard and got on with it. Twenty-five days later, what I ended up with was raw, cliché-ridden, full of spelling and grammatical errors and plot holes you could drive a tank through. But I had done it—50,000 plus words and the seed of a story. This year, after much editing, the first chapter of that story won first prize for novels in the NOWW Writing Contest. My 2014 NaNoWriMo first chapter placed third in the same contest. I've taken part every year since.
Why do it? NaNoWriMo makes me write. Have I become the disciplined writer I'd like to be? No, not yet, but perhaps this year. It provides me with first drafts to struggle over throughout the rest of the year. The online word counter lets me track my progress to see how I'm doing compared to others who are taking the challenge. It's not about having the highest word count; it's about having one and adding to it.
In September I start getting excited: what will I write about this year? I brainstorm, running plots and characters through my head. In October I begin tearing my hair out trying to come up with an idea that will sustain over 50,000 words. On November 1st I sit down with my keyboard, and with luck the words will be there. One then two then three, and suddenly I've got 1000 words. I sign in and put my first word count into the counter. I've begun: I'm a participant once again. Now the challenge is to keep up the momentum.
In November I admit I am slightly distracted. Every waking thought and some sleeping thoughts are about my novel. What will happen next? Last year I agonized for days whether to murder my main character. It would play hell with the tentative ending, but it was an option. I decided against homicide. A wounded and suffering heroine would make a much longer tale than one suddenly dead, with only details of who what when and why to tidy up. Besides, I liked her. I had already done terrible things to her and I felt that murder was going too far. I know, some of you are wondering about my sanity. In November my characters kind of take over the place. So the October question is: “Who am I going to meet this year and what am I going to do to those poor souls?”
The point is to focus on character and plot. Ignore your inner editor completely. Misspellings—you can fix them in December. Write “I am” instead of “I'm” because it's two words and every word counts. I love watching my word count grow from five thousand to the half way mark and then fifty thousand. I validate my word count, and get my winner certificate.
I also enjoy the online contact with local writers. It's nice to see what other writers in the region are doing, thinking, and writing about. We have write-ins—get-togethers to meet, write, and share encouragement.
NaNoWriMo is my excuse to sit down and write. The first draft may be awful, but I've got the whole year to edit it.