Category Archives: Advice

The perfect couple

One of the (offensive) pieces of advice often given to young (female) writers is this: marry rich. As someone who did happen to marry a man in a far more lucrative profession, I admit it’s entirely useful. But it’s also (a) blatantly unfair that society places so little monetary value on the arts, (b) not a situation to accept lightly, and (c) certainly not a valid career plan.

I DO have an opinion on the ideal match for a writer, though. Writers should marry extroverts.

Most of us spend hours a day communing with our notebooks or laptops, and blinking half-focussed owl eyes when another human being attempts to communicate. At writing workshops or conferences, the first half hour is often silent, as people file in one-by-one and pretend to busy themselves because they’re not sure how to begin conversations with strangers. It’s excruciating, really.

Far more than I value Min’s earning potential, I value his confidence. I can take him to an event, choose anyone in the room, and say, “I’d like to meet that person.” Within minutes, Min’s introduced us, cracked a few semi-inappropriate jokes, and made everyone feel comfortable.

I had coffee with Deborah Hodge last week, and we talked about this phenomenon. She, too, married an extrovert. We agreed that not only do you benefit from extroverts in social situations, you also learn from them. Having lived with gregarious husbands, we’re both more likely to introduce ourselves to strangers and reach out during those silent, awkward moments. (Still working on the inappropriate joke part.)

So there it is. Marry rich if you want to. But it’s better to marry an extravert.

(While I’m talking about Deborah Hodge, you MUST read Rescuing the Children. With a box of tissues close at hand. It’s a poignant and thoughtful book about a time and place where families made choices now difficult to imagine.)


In which I take the advice of a nine-year-old

Conversation with my daughter:

Her: How many people read your blog?

Me: Not that many.

Her: If you posted singing Cookie Monster videos, you’d have more.

Me: But that’s not what I’m interested in.

Her: Mommy, that’s what THE PUBLIC is interested in.

How can I argue with that? Here we go:

Though, personally, I’ve always been more of a Swedish Chef fan.

Galavanting again

I just don’t stay where you put me, do I? This time, I’m visiting Denise Jaden’s blog with some of my favourite writing tips. Denise writes both YA novels and non-fiction, and her upcoming book — Fast Fiction — is about how to churn out a book so fast you barely have time to pee. (Okay, that’s not exactly what her copy says, but honestly, I don’t know how she does it. I think a catheter might be the only explanation.)

Hope you stop by!

The best gifts

I went out to dinner last week with the Dirty Girls Running Group Which Doesn’t Actually Run and received two lovely belated birthday gifts. Books, of course, since the DGs are the girls who know me best!

So I’ll be cracking the spines soon on The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, which sounds exactly like the quirky sort of book I love…


… and Lean In, which is apparently going to make me a take-charge woman of power. (Not that I’m not already supremely powerful. In my own mind.)

lean in

I also received an amazing piece of orginal art from my friend Joanna, incorporating this quote:

You must write every single day of your life. You must lurk in libraries and climb the stacks like ladders to sniff books like perfumes and wear books like hats upon your crazy heads… may you be in love every day for the next 20,000 days. And out of that love, remake a world.”
— Ray Bradbury

Isn’t that a perfect slice of inspiration?

Incidentally, I asked these dear friends for their advice on preparing for my book launch. They suggested that I:

  • wear a short skirt and no underwear
  • buy a highly eccentric writerly hat
  • speak in tongues

I’m thinking they’re better at gifts than advice, no?

The juggling act

I get asked fairly often how I’ve managed to write while juggling kids and life. This is a hard question to answer, because most days I feel anything but prolific. Most days, I feel as if there’s a mountain of words to dig through, and I’m equipped only with a teaspoon.

However, now that I have both kids in school during the day, and have maybe a wee bit of perspective on the writing/juggling life, here are my answers… just in case they’re of use to other teaspoon-using mountain movers.

The Conspiracy Theory
One of my UVic writing teachers, Stephen Hume, told us that society conspires against writers. And so whenever I’m tempted to sign up for one too many volunteer jobs in my “spare” time, or book one too many coffee dates, I remind myself that society is conspiring against me. Of course, it’s usually ME conspiring against me, but calling myself “society” somehow makes it easier to push the “no” button and get back to writing.

The 10,000 Hours
This is the Malcolm Gladwell Outliers thing. Apparently, to get really good at something, you have to practice for 10,000 hours. In practicality, this means I put the kids to bed at 8, I lay like a vegetable on the bed for about 20 minutes, thinking I’ll never be able to move again, and then I say to myself “10,000 hours” and get back to writing.

The Real Job
The alternative to this writing gig would be to get a real job. And how awful would that be? I haven’t had a real job since 2000, years before I even had kids. There’s no way I could work one of those phones with multiple buttons, and no way I could follow the directions of a — gasp! — supervisor. So I’d better get back to writing.

And now…

Yes, you guessed it. Back to writing.

How to find a writer’s group: the sequel

Today, for some light comic relief, I present the story of how I ignored most of yesterday’s advice, and nonetheless found my writing group.

I went to a writing workshop. This particular workshop was about electronic publishing and on-line presence. But here’s the thing about writing classes of any form: 99 percent of attendees are introverts, and at least half of the remaining one percent are… um, how to say this nicely… wacko. So, you turn up at this exciting class, and you find a whole room of nervous-looking people writing notes (before anyone’s said anything) and trying to look busy, because after years spent in front of their computers, they have no idea how to interact with strangers.

Being one of those people, I got out my notebook and began taking copious notes. I continued to scribble right up until the moment when we were supposed to write down our goals for the coming year. Then I wrote “FIND A WRITING GROUP” in big letters, and left my notebook conveniently open, hoping the writer sitting next to me (Rachelle Delaney, whom I sort of knew from CWILL meetings) might glance my way.

I went home and waited. And waited. And waited a bit more. And lo and behold, she called me and said she and her friend Kallie were starting a writer’s group. Did I want to join?

Well, glory hallelliuah! I did.

I never asked whether she actually saw my secret message.

How to find a writer’s group

Last week I promised advice on finding a writer’s group. Turns out, it’s a little like dating.

1. Hang out where other writers hang out. This might be at CANSCAIP meetings, or workshops, or even conferences. In Vancouver, you could try events at the Lyceum, or Roundtable presentations. And if you don’t have time for an evening class, try an on-line one like WritersWebWorkshop.

2. Once you’re at a workshop or event, talk to people! If you find someone who seems relatively normal, ask if she’s in a writing group. Tell her you’re looking for one. Be brave!

3. Network. If you don’t want to ask people directly, say something like, “Hey, I’m looking for a writing group or a critique partner. If you hear of anyone looking, let me know.” No pressure.

Of course, this only works if (a) you’re willing to read other people’s writing and (b) you can pay for a few workshops. There are varying degrees of time-committment and expense. But, if you’re pursuing writing as a career instead of a hobby, you’re going to have to invest a certain amount of time and money. You wouldn’t try to become a lawyer or a dentist by spending all your time by yourself in front of a keyboard.

Anyone else have helpful writer-dating advice? Feel free to leave suggestions in the comments! Or tell me the story of how you met your critique partner. I’m posting my (socially inept and rather embarrassing) story tomorrow.

Q & A time: finding your illustrator

Last question recap from Monday night’s VPL panel. This one came after the official discussion had ended:

How do I find an illustrator for my work?

Good news! You don’t have to. In fact, it’s probably best if you don’t try.

Publishers have files of samples from professional illustrators all over the world. And they have editors with particular opinions. So, if your manuscript happens to strike an editor’s fancy, and she has a vision of what it would look like when realized by a particular New York artist… then you get a call!

On the other hand, you could ask your best friend’s cousin — who happens to give amazing watercolours to her entire family every Christmas — to create samples for your book. But you risk an editor glancing at the first image, rolling her eyes at how much she detests watercolours with overtones of green, and hitting the reject button before even getting to your brilliant writing.

Plus, it’s pretty darn fun to send your writing into the world and see it brought to life by someone you’ve never met. The illustrator for the 50 Questions books lives in New Zealand. Possibly in a commune. Sometimes with a chicken on his head.

Q & A time: first drafts

Here’s another question from Monday’s VPL panel:

I’ve finished my manuscript. What should I do next?

First of all, congratulations! Finishing a first draft is a huge accomplishment. You should spend at least a few days imagining your future book launch, practicing your autograph, and writing your speech for the Academy Awards. (You were asked to write the screenplay for the film version, of course).

Next, you should send it to your mother, or someone equally biased. She’ll read your manuscript and rave about how brilliant you are. Then she might say something like, “Dear, the man named Dave in chapters one through seven, was his name supposed to change to Thor in the second half of the book?” Because, of course, she’s so enamoured with your skill that she assumes your mistakes are references to experimental fiction techniques and not real mistakes at all.

Once you’ve gone through that round of “editing,” and you’re feeling strong, pass the manuscript to a critique group, sign up for a workshop, or even take your pages to a conference. (More about critique groups coming later this week.) Basically, you’re ready for a skilled and honest round of edits. You need people who will point out that chapter seven is self-indulgent, chapter nine includes seventeen flashbacks, and prologues are passé. Listen to these people, rewrite, and submit again.

All done those stages? Now, pop your manuscript in a drawer for at least a month, until you can read it with fresh eyes. While you’re waiting, read a couple books on plot, character development, or voice.

After your next round of revisions — maybe! — you’re ready to submit.

I know this process seems ridiculously long. I know that the wait times are excruciating. But, like publishing, writing is slow. And the mantra that writing is rewriting… unfortunately true.

They think I know what I’m talking about…

Tonight I’m giving my SiWC presentation — The Changing Landscape of Children’s Books — to a group of writers and illustrators from CWILL BC. And while this is a more experienced group than my previous audience, meaning some of the graphic novel and app info will be better known, I still think many of us have a long way to go toward incorporating our knowledge of new markets into our book ideas and proposals.

Because publishers are facing tighter markets, and because we’re all exploring formats (formats so new there are really no “experts” to guide us), there are plenty of things we can explore when planning projects:

  • the competition: what similar books are doing well, and how is my book going to stand out?
  • new platforms: how easily could this book become an e-book, and what apps would tie in? What would the website design look like, and what contests would work?
  • connections: what related organizations, industry connections, or on-line communities could help this project succeed?
  • educational market: what are the curriculum tie-ins, what teacher’s guide can I design, and who are my contacts in the educational world?
  • personal branding: what sparkling personality traits do I have on display via Twitter, blog, newsletter, or traditional newspaper/magazine column, and how can I use those to draw a bigger audience for my book?

So that’s what I’m going to talk about tonight. Except, hopefully with more funny stuff thrown in.