Late last September, and very shortly after moving back to the area, I began my search for local NaNo WriMo groups on the internet. Not finding anything in the Kenora area, I extended my search to 'Northwestern Ontario'. I didn't find exactly what I was looking for, but I did come across a Facebook posting for a writing workshop in Dryden. I was cutting it close both for time and space, but I managed to contact the folks at NOWW and snagged one of the last slots for the event.
I was not familiar with the author, and though I gleaned through the event description, I was more excited about the 'writing' part and finding other local writers, more than anything. When I last lived in the Kenora area some 20 years ago there were no writer groups or anything that could be considered a workshop. There was a writer’s conference one year when I came back to visit, but I have not heard much about that since. I tried my best to go with few expectations. The description gave it a very childlike feel where we could 'play' and 'doodle! and 'mess around' and reminded me of all the adult colouring books that have become so popular in the last few years. It promised to be a fun time. Kathryn, a Toronto based writer, has just recently earned her PHD in Philosophy, and has taught her creative journaling and imaginative exercises both in and outside of the academic world. Many of the exercises and topics she covered were your basic categories for first-year writing classes; Characters, setting, POV, scene building, and dialog. Kathryn, though, approached it all with a unique tactic to try and trick the brain that it was doing something fun, and not just tedious work.
If you haven’t been to the Dryden library, I highly recommend it. It is a treasure trove of creativity and artistic expression. Every nook and cranny has an original piece of artwork, including a fireplace with comfy chairs.
Crayons were the first order of business. To heck with the No. 2s and Bic Rollers, we went straight for the colourful and cursive. Kathryn had us write the alphabet, over and over, in the old school style. At least everyone in the class was familiar with cursive, so I don’t know how well this exercise will go over with anyone just graduating high school. Maybe not as exciting as most will think but her theory was sound. By using a very different writing instrument from the beginning of the class, this simple change set off a part of the brain that made you pay close attention to what you were doing. It took us out of our automaton brains and into the more right-side of the creative mind. As well, it takes most adults back to a time when crayons were a staple, and they most likely didn't worry about what it looked like.
This idea of using crayons, or markers, extended to Kathryn’s writing journal. Filled with brainstorm bubbles and landscape sketches, hers is also full of character drawings, doodles, fancy writing, square printing, and all in different mediums: Crayons, watercolor, ink, graphite, markers, coloured pens, and more. We would also be using them for the rest of the day.
A deck of tarot cards was the next rabbit she pulled from her bag of tricks. Though she was not about to read our publishing fortunes over a cup of loose-leaf tea. There is a popular book that uses tarot cards and their meanings to create a character's background, traits, and then build some situations for them. Kathryn took a more visual route with the classic Rider Waite Smith deck and had us draw a character based on the image on the card we each drew randomly. It was an invigorating exercise that ended up going in many unexpected directions, giving us a rockstar angel, a knight’s horse, and a woman playing eternal hide-and-seek. She then had us partner up to create a dialog with a given prompt. This was especially fun when the horse magically began to talk. These exercises for building a character, their voice, and dialog with another person, was fun and put the group in a playful mood that continued for the rest of the day.
My favorite exercise of the day was the Object of Desire. This, like most of the others was multi-stepped. She had us begin like the tarot card exercise with a drawing of something we desired. We made a brief list about how having said object would change our lives. Then, using just the object as subject just start writing. It was an intense writing, quick, timed and without any prompts other than what came to mind with the object.
The final step in this exercise is the one that resonated with me the most – take one line from that last paragraph of intense writing, anything that jumps out at you, something that doesn’t sit well, or you have no idea where it came from. Now, rewrite it for the beginning of the next paragraph and go from there for another minute or two of intense free-writing. Rinse and repeat once more, and however many times you want after that. Basically a 'go deeper' exercise, each paragraph or two building on the last one. Every writer has their own version of free-writing, and Kathryn’s took it up a notch by starting with drawing and growing it with intense micro-bursts, much like watching a sped-up video of a sprouting bean plant.
I came away energetic and appreciative of the Creative Journal aspect of the workshop. It was more formless, right-brained and less uber-organized, bullet journal left-brain. Kathryn gave the class permission to break rules. Previous workshop teachers I have had had been adamant that rules are cardinal and sacrilege if not followed. One of the major rules she encouraged us to break is the idea of never changing POV mid flow, as in a chapter, or having more than one in a story. Not just character POVs but going so far as going from an 'I' POV to a 'He/Her'. It was refreshing to hear analternative to the normal drone of do's and do-not's and be given a more Why Not! approach. Kathryn Kuitenbouwer knew her subject very well, and you could tell she was having fun while teaching, doing all the exercises, including the dueling dialog, along with us. She answered our questions honestly and with a strong assurance that there is no wrong way, just any way your imagination wants to take you. Allow it to happen. Don't be critical of yourself. And, just get the words flow on the paper. The doodles in the margins are a good thing.
As a side note, when the event was listing ‘different mediums’ to be used, I decided to take along one of my many typewriters. Kathryn promptly laid claim to it and set it up by the fireplace as a ‘line-by-line poetry’ experiment. I can’t say we turned out a masterpiece, but it was fun as people took turns and added their own lines to the crazy poem. And Kathryn has since acquired a typewriter of her own.
Author Angie Abdou opened her May 5th workshop for over 20 people with these words: “Trust the process”.
Abdou—also keynote speaker for NOWW’s LitFest Gala—described writing as an exercise that may or may not generate results. Athletes train daily and for long hours so they will have the skill and discipline for infrequent events. In order to be a writer, she said you have to take the same approach.
Abdou’s first novel dealt with Olympic athletes, so her advice to treat writing like a sport is based on experience in both pursuits. Writers should write daily, she said, with the intention that while their word count will accumulate over time, much of what is written may never be published. To that end Abdou recommended writers adopt a practice that includes timed writings that are either free flowing or prompted by a broad concept. Leave the mind open. When the time comes to review what you have written, take what works and don’t worry about what doesn’t.
“Write hard, write raw, write what hurts.” Ernest Hemingway
Abdou discussed how writing needs to engage the reader. It is not enough to write pretty words; the reader should feel emotion and urgency and believe that the stakes in the story are meaningful. She explained how we write about objects can convey emotion, rather than having the author describe how characters feel. In order to better understand this concept, Abdou gave workshop participants three writing exercises. First, we described an object special to us and second, we wrote about someone threatening that object. Then we put together the two for the beginning of a story. I wound up with a few hundred words that demonstrated how an object I own embodies my emotion and how a threat to it, threatens me.
Abdou discussed how important it is for the first few pages of a work to capture a reader’s interest. She provided openings to two very different books and asked us to explore what made them work (or not) and how they might be improved. No surprise that openings can come in many forms but need to provide characters that readers will care about. They also need to raise questions that create suspense without generating confusion for the reader which may take them out of the story. From the participants’ feedback, it also became clear that what hooks one reader might not hook another.
With a collection of short stories, four novels, and her first nonfiction book Home Ice to be released this fall, Abdou has a solid track record in publishing. She drew on her experience to let us know what we should expect when we have a novel that we consider ready to bring to the marketplace. The short answer is “more work”. Editors will ask hard questions, Abdou said, and writers need to be ready to listen and consider what is being asked. An editor may not request a rewrite, but a few well aimed questions may give the writer pause to consider if the material deserves one. Abdou’s message: the writer-editor relationship has been around for a long time. Trust the process. While she does not see an agent as a requirement for publishing in Canada, the right agent can help to open doors in other countries and address the business side of publishing.
I went to the workshop ready to hear how to hook a reader. I learned this—and more. If we want to publish, we need to review our writing critically and listen to what others have to say. But first we need to write.
Charles Campbell is an accountant by day and writer by evening and weekend. Although he has had successfully submitted his tax returns for decades, he is far more proud of having his plays selected for the 2015, 2016 and 2018 10x10 Showcases. Charles joined NOWW to get away from financial statements and to dedicate more time to develop his writing, but much like Michael Corleone, he's been pulled back in and is serving as Treasurer.
I’ve been asking myself different versions of the same question for years: “Could I make money from my writing?” You know, write as a side gig?
Although I’m grateful for the modest sums I receive from my writing, I return to my day job to really pay the bills. Writing for (more) money remains a bit mythical, an idea that generates more questions than actual dollars.
For freelance writers Graham Strong and Bonnie Schiedel, writing isn’t just a side gig, it is their day job. At a NOWW workshop held at the Waverley Library on March 20, 2018, Strong and Schiedel shared their best advice on how to make money from freelance writing, answering some of those many questions in the process.
Although Strong and Schiedel both make their living from freelance work of various types, they’ve taken very different routes to get to that point, proving that there is no “one size fits all” solution to breaking into the industry.
Schiedel was introduced to the world of magazine writing while working for Chatelaine in Toronto. Her articles have appeared in many of the consumer magazines we think of as household staples – Reader’s Digest, Canadian Living, and Best Health. She adapted to a changing economy by writing content for corporations.
Strong’s career began locally by writing for a community newspaper and editing the Robin’s Donuts employee newsletter. Within a few years, with the rise of digital content and internet advertising, Strong had connected with clients all over the world who employed him to write everything from web content to television scripts. Variety is what makes his work interesting. “For me, freelancing is a perfect fit,” he said during the workshop.
As full-time freelancers, being generalists—offering a wide variety of services—has been successful for both Schiedel and Strong. Schiedel recommended specializing in an area of knowledge or interest for writers who are looking to freelance part time. “It’s easier to market yourself if you have an area of expertise,” she said.
Strong and Schiedel quickly confirmed my long-standing hunch that success as a freelance writer requires more than strong writing skills.
Schiedel emphasized accuracy, adaptability, and the importance of having an approachable writing style—one that is easily understood without sounding simplistic. She also cautioned that working freelance does not mean working in isolation. She’s made good use of her ability to work with a team and develop a rapport with interviewees, skills that obviously transferred to her role as a presenter.
Strong emphasized the value of professionalism and good communication. For him, these qualities are even more important than his skill as a writer. He takes deadlines seriously and underscores the need to be self-motivated and to gracefully accept criticism and feedback from clients.
Both presenters conveyed information in a casual and approachable manner, welcoming questions and dialogue with the audience. The fact that they are peers in our local writing community—rather than professionals from faraway cities – made the presentation even more effective. Humour and personal anecdotes added a new dimension to the content of the workshop and to potentially dry topics like negotiating rates and contracts. I was happy to leave with an extensive list of additional resources, not in the form of a stack of handouts, but as a slim business card that directed me online to nowwwriters.ca/workshops.
Strong and Schiedel engaged the audience further by presenting an “elevator pitch” exercise, challenging us to think critically about how we would introduce ourselves as freelance professionals if we had only 30 seconds to do so. For me, the exercise brought another set of questions to the surface – “How do I want to present myself?” and “What skills and areas of expertise should I emphasize?”
Ultimately, I walked away from “Side Gig” feeling that many of my questions about a career in freelance writing had been answered. What surprised me was that I valued the questions the workshop posed—bigger, more career-defining ones that only I have the answers to—even more than the information I’d received. Thanks to Strong and Schiedel, the process of writing for money seems a little less mythical and decidedly more tangible.
Emma Christensen contributes regularly to The Walleye and indulges her love of fiction through reading and writing. She’s currently working on the second draft of a novel. Emma lives with her husband in rural Thunder Bay, where hiking, cycling, kayaking and other outdoor hobbies continue to fuel her creativity.
“We are all apprentices in a craft where no one ever becomes a master.” —Ernest Hemingway
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."
Review of "Out Loud: Speaking Volumes with Spoken Words" Workshop
By Sarah Walker
I could give you the dictionary definition, but after attending Betty Carpick’s workshop on Tuesday, October 11th I am not. It would not give the evening’s presentation enough justice. Instead, I will give you my own thoughts and if we agree great! If we do not that is fine, because sometimes we are not supposed to agree.
Spoken word is a theme, an idea and expression. It is a thought a feeling an emotion. It is playing with words that might not play well together. Spoken word is a story about a girl who likes to listen to people walk and talk, while she sits in the park.
It is a story about a boy who listens to his favourite song a thousand times, he begins to speak in beats and move to the melody created by the vibrations of the music’s bass.
"Out Loud: Speaking Volumes with Spoken Words" Workshop with Betty Carpick
Spoken word is a poets love, heartbreak, anger and laughter. Spoken word is an actor performing a piece and realizing they are an activist. Or an activist so deeply entwined in their passion, their right, their belief that they stand in front of millions and their fear of public speaking becomes a performance. It is that powerful.
In two hours, I learned the importance of listening, feeling and understanding what I am writing or what I am writing to perform. It does not matter how many years you have creating your craft. What matters is how you choose to present yourself and how confident you are in your own presence.