Why Good Writers Copy

Leonardo Da Vinci

Leonardo Da Vinci

Before I knew that I wanted to be a writer, I used to hand write out the books and passages that I loved.  I didn’t keep them anywhere special–this was grade five.  I kept pages of copied words in my desk.  Every now and then, I would take them out and read them over.  Except one day my teacher saw what I was doing and pulled me aside.

“That’s cheating,” he said.  “You can’t do that.”

“I’m just trying to keep the words,” I said.

My teacher frowned.  “People who copy end up in jail,” he said.  “That’s just the way it is.”

Horrified, I threw out all of my copied pages and I gave up the copying game for building The Most Amazing Snow Fort Of All Time.

It wasn’t until a little while ago that I started to see what it was that I had been doing.  I’d always known that there was never a nefarious scheme to steal the words that I had written down, but I’d never realized that my goal in all of that tireless scribbling had been a form of writing practice.

A little while ago, I had the pleasure of meeting Michael Winter at a local writing seminar.  In person, he is affable and easy to talk to.  While telling stories about his own writing practice, giving examples of writers that he likes and even singing a song, there was one piece of advice that really stood out to me:

michael winters quote

What I realized was that all of the great writers start out by playing with the writing that is already out there.  It’s not illegal to write in somebody else’s voice! (As long as you are telling your own story).  If you’re feeling adventurous (or maybe just in need of something new to try) why not choose a story that challenges you?  Write in the voice of that author to find out how it feels. At the very least, you’ll discover something new about yourself.

 

*Photo by Michael Caven.

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Hell Going: Short & Sweet

         eating between the lines

 

 

Sometimes, short stories get a bad rap.  In school, we read those dark and moody stories about women who claw at yellow wallpaper and men who invariably always seem to be plotting some sort of murder-most-foul.  While there are many fantastic short story collections out there, Hell Going is among the best.  Irreverent and precise, Lynn Coady’s nine new stories are sure to dazzle readers at every turn. hell going

Ranging from a nun charged with helping an anorexic girl eat again to the perspective of an alcoholic reporter, Coady captures the humour in even the darkest situations.  Her descriptions are quirky, adding a playful tone to the narrative style.  What I liked the most was the way Lynn Coady plays with structure in every story. In “Wireless,” she uses italics and a lack of quotation marks to denote a character’s drunken state.  In other stories, the reader must work to piece together the narrative, because it skips back and forth, keeping the momentum zipping along. While some may find that the endings do not offer the reader a big surprise, they always leave the reader with something interesting to think about.

In one word, Hell Going is contemplative.  It challenges the reader to connect with characters that might at first seem odious, but like an onion (to borrow from Shrek) they are multi-layered.  This, I think, is the fascinating part of Coady’s stories.  She opens up several worlds and allows the reader to explore unusual situations.  Even if you don’t traditionally read short stories, the quick and witty narrative will draw readers into the unusual and deeply fascinating stories.

In Honour of Fall and some really sweet SHORT stories…

Pumpkin shortcake with Apple & Pear Compote:

1/2 cup pumpkin puree
1/2 cup milk (I used 1%)
1/4 cup water
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/3 cup packed brown sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
Pinch ground nutmeg
1/4 cup cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

Cooking spray or butter
1 teaspoon granulated sugar mixed with a dash of cinnamon

Apple  & Pear Compote

1/2 cup water
½ tsp vanilla extract (or to taste)
1 tablespoon honey
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
Pinch salt
1 apple, sliced & peeled

1 pear, sliced & peeled

How to Make It:

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

  1. Strain your pumpkin puree to get rid of any extra moisture—this can be done with a strainer over a bowl or by using cheesecloth, or paper towel (if extra thick).
  2. Combine in a medium bowl: pumpkin puree, milk, water.  Stir until fully integrated.
  3. In a separate bowl, whisk together flour, brown sugar, baking powder, cinnamon, salt and nutmeg in a large bowl.
  4. Add the cubes of butter until they are nicely ground up.
  5. Combine pumpkin mixture with dry ingredients and stir until smooth (ish).
  6. Space dough approximately 2 inches apart on your buttered baking sheet (about ¼ cup of dough per shortcake).
  7. Sprinkle with sugar and cinnamon.
  8. Bake for 15 minutes or until golden brown.
  9. Devour awesome shortcakes with fantastic short stories!

 

pumpkin cake