Writerly Wednesday: The Hike

 

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We stared up at the steep, chain-linked climb that began the six-hour trek to the top, at Kjerag, Norway.

Were we really doing this? 

A sick feeling settled in my stomach. I’d read about people getting stuck or lost on the trails at the plateau, which are sparsely marked with stones, and the chains, which aren’t always still attached to the rock faces we’d be climbing up. Or… the ever-present edge of the trail, which was a long way down to the fjord. What if we got lost and couldn’t find our way back before dark? 

“We don’t have to do the hike,” said Matt.

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I shook my head. For some reason, I had to get to that boulder. The hike was long and beautiful in places. After a while, we got used to hefting ourselves up steep inclines by the chains. We rested in green valleys with sheep grazing in them and swore our way up the last crazy-steep set of rock faces until we reached the plateau, which was cold, silent, stunning.

I lined up to stand on the boulder. I got out of line. I lined up three times before I forced myself to step out on the narrow rock ledge, 3,228 feet above Lysefjorden anyway. The chain that used to help hikers leverage themselves out on the rock was broken, so I had to feel my way along the smooth ledge. Standing on the boulder with the wind whipping around me was intensely powerful, but not as much as what happened next.

 

Between a Rock and a Hard Place

As I turned to leave, I wobbled. My legs were unaccustomed to so much physical exertion. I looked down. And then I panicked.

I was stuck on the boulder. 

I had envisioned myself doing yoga poses like all of the people on Pinterest and Instagram, waving flippantly at the camera as if standing so high and vulnerable was no big deal. Instead, I felt the hot shame of tears streaming down my cheeks.

“Hey! It’s okay–grab my hand!” shouted a voice.

I looked and saw that the other hikers had formed a sort-of make-shift chain with their arms. With the help of a group of strangers that I will probably never see again, I was back on solid ground. We hugged.

It’s not About the Climb

At first, I felt embarrassed, but on the way down I saw hikers helping each other all along the way. Somehow, in my frenzy to make it to the top, I had missed this camaraderie of fellow travellers.

Writing takes you places within yourself. If a good writing process means making yourself vulnerable to get to those authentic places, it is equal parts about reaching out and asking for help when you get stuck.

 

Have you ever been stuck somewhere terrifying before?

 

 

 

 

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10 Reasons Why you Should Write Thank You Notes to Authors you Love

Writerly Wednesday

Recently,  I got it into my head that it would be fun to write a thank you note to a writer that I have loved. It felt like her words had changed my life in a cool way and I wanted to let her know it. Normally, I would be too shy to do anything like that. Maybe it was the full moon. Maybe, it’s because I’m trying to challenge myself to not hide in writerly solitude in my Nerd Cave all day. I don’t know.

So I wrote this letter and sent it out into the universe and that was that.

A short while later, I found a curious email with–gasp!–my beloved author’s name attached. She had actually written me back! It felt nice to know that I had reached this person in some way, even just to say thank you. I mean, hey, saying “thank you” is nice.

On a more selfish note, there are other cool perks to writing your literary heroes:

  1. Who doesn’t need a happy little pick-me-up? Even literary super-heroes can use some good writerly karma.
  2. Taking the time to sit down and think about why you liked someone else’s work that you admire gives you a chance to discover new ways that you can strengthen your own writing.
  3. Writing thank you notes is weirdly meditative, and having a meditative state of mind is great for writing real, honest work. (Aka the good stuff).
  4. Maybe said Literary Hero has some Super Awesome Advice for you? You never know until you ask.
  5. Doing nice things makes you feel better. Again, karma, man.
  6. Reaching out fights Resistance (aka the Darth Vader of writing progress). What do you do when the rejections start piling up? Reach out to other writers and suddenly you don’t feel so alone.
  7. Even though writing is a solitary task, it’s also about starting conversations. So why not join the conversation that your literary hero started? Let them know what you thought and join in.
  8. Talking about writing–in any way–even to compliment another writers’ awesome work puts you in a good frame of mind for creating your own awesome work.
  9. Reaching out to other writers makes you feel more connected. And hey, don’t stop there. Why not reach out to as many writers as you can? Find a writerly group online or in your hometown and you might just find a new writerly BFF.
  10. And hey, maybe, you and your Literary Super-Hero will become BFFs? I mean, you never know…

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Have you ever written to your Literary Super Hero? Met them in person? What was it like?

 

Writerly Wednesday: A List of Short Story Contests in July & August

Writerly Wednesday

 

Summer is almost here, but that doesn’t mean that all things writerly slow down! If anything, summer is the best time to write like crazy and send more writing out into the world. In the spirit of keeping myself honest and accomplishing my goal of not being a shy writer who hides in her writerly cave, quietly editing her works forever, I’m compiling a list of contests to enter in the summer months.

Why not follow along with me and see how many you can enter too?

  1. Glimmer Train Press – Short Story Award for New Writers. 1,000 to 12,000 words for  a short story by an unpublished writer whose work has yet to appear in a magazine with a circulation over 5,000. Deadline: June 30th.
  2. Bellevue Literary Review – Fiction Prize.  If writing about health is your schtick, then this contest is for you! There’s a $1000 prize, which is good, since the entry fee is $20.  Deadline: July 1st.
  3. New American Press – 2018 Fiction Prize. There are no limits in this contest. Enter your short story, novel, novella, collection of stories or hybrid fiction! With a $1000 prize and 25 contributor copies, that’s nothing to sneeze at. Deadline: July 1st.
  4. Nimrod – Francine Ringold Awards for New Writers. Open only to writers with no more than two previous publication credits in their genre.  5,000 words maximum. Open internationally. All finalists will be published. $12 entry fee. Deadline: July 15.
  5. Haunted Waters Press –  Fiction, Poetry, & Flash Fiction. If you’re a writer of all things spooky or supernatural, this contest is for you. Deadline: July 31st. 
  6. Crazyhorse – Short-Short Fiction Competition. Submit 3 short-shorts of up to 500 words each. $15 entry fee includes a one-year subscription to Crazyhorse. Deadline: July 31st.
  7. The Capilano Review – 8th Annual Robin Blaser Writing Contest. $1000 CAD plus publication in an upcoming issue of The Capilano Review. Each submission includes a 1-year subscription to TCR, valued at $25. Length: Maximum 6 pages per entry. Fee: $30 for Canadian entries, $40 for US/international entries. July 31st.
  8. The Orison Anthology Awards. The Orison Anthology is an annual collection of the finest spiritually engaged writing. Entry fee: $15. Deadline: August 1.
  9. Gival Press – 15th Annual Short Story Award. Stories must be unpublished and between 5,000 to 15,000 words in length. There is a $25 reading fee. Deadline: August 8th.
  10. Aftermath – The End of Our World Short Story Contest. Open worldwide, this contest focuses on climate change and environmental disaster. Submit a piece of fiction between 1500 to 5000 words. $1000 prize. Entry is FREE.

 

What are your favourite writing contests? Are there any that I missed? Let me know in the comments below!

Writerly Wednesday

 

Writerly Wednesday

 

When I first started this blog, I wrote a lot about writing. I was in the throes of editing the first novel I’d ever written and it felt important to document it. Since then, I’ve written five more novels, among other things.

For a long time, I felt like I needed to write alone, in secret after that first novel. I didn’t want to talk about my writing. I wanted to write for myself. But over the years, I’ve discovered that while writing for myself has helped me in many ways, some of the best and most surprising learning experiences have been from talking to other writers.

So I’m starting Writerly Wednesday as a (somewhat) regular feature here at Murmurs in the Margins in the hopes that other writers might find me in my little corner of the internet. Come for a chat, check out prompts and updated submissions lists.

Motherhood of the Travelling Diaper

I have always written slowly, first in a notebook, poring over my scenes until I am sure that they are well polished and later on the computer.  The whole process of piecing together a story always drove me a little nuts (can you drive yourself nuts?) My inner perfectionist was constantly holding back the more productive parts of my brain.  So when I happened upon this article in the New York Times, I began to wonder which process is better: fast or slow?

In this age of instant entertainment, is the slow writing process still relevant?

If Robert Heinlein Says So…

1.) You must write.
2.) You must finish what you write.
3.) You must refrain from rewriting, except to editorial order.
4.) You must put the work on the market.
5.) You must keep the work on the market until it is sold.

This is the advice that Sci-fi guru Robert Heinlein once wrote.  It’s not new advice.  In fact, it’s been kicking around the e-verse for a good long while.  In some ways, I can see how this advice is still relevant for the digital age.  Sites like Wattpad and other online reading sites certainly promote a faster writing process, but do they warrant the quality that goes along with the quantity?

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Binge Readers Anonymous

Recently, I’ve been obsessed with a new Jonathan Strauss series, Lockwood & Co.  Luckily, Strauss has been cranking out the latest instalments of the series out pretty quickly, about several months apart.  I should also point out that Lockwood & Co. is a fantastic series.  Strauss isn’t the only author doing this either–Jeff VanderMeer’s Annihilation series is another prime example.

While I might have been tempted to pooh pooh the whole fast-writing phenomenon, I kind of love it.  Who doesn’t want to find out what happens in their favourite book series ASAP? I know I do. And there’s nothing more infuriating than a writer who puts out an awesome first book in a series and then just never finishes the series… (*ahem* Jasper Fforde, I’m looking at you, friend.)

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Larry D. Moore CC BY-SA 3.0

 

Since it is so easy to access entertainment online, it makes me wonder if this new trend has to do with the fact that our consumption of TV and movies is on average more of a binge-watching experience.  I could probably reminisce about the days of yore when people actually had to wait for a certain night to watch their favourite show, but I’m not that old and some people probably still do that.

 

 

 

So, here’s the thing: I can totally see how this fast-moving, binge-reading trend could continue.  I could get on that bandwagon.

Except…

I write really really slowly, so that bandwagon might just run me over.

Motherhood of the Travelling Diaper, Or No Time to Write (Among Other Things)

It was while jiggling my son on my knee whilst also attempting to use the bathroom (all the while a creepy clown melody from some evil toy echoing across the hallway) that I realized I was a mother.  I mean, it’s not like I was like “oh look, I have a baby,” but let’s just say that it was one of those defining moments.

Several weeks passed before I showered, slept or wrote.

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“Wide eyes” Mikamatto

 

Since becoming a mother, I’ve discovered a new appreciation for slow progress. The day that my son first lifted his head (after several weeks of physio) I began to think that maybe there was something to this baby steps thing.  For a newbie parent, it’s kind of comforting to think about things as taking some time to develop.  Watching my son wake up to the world around him has made me understand something about my own writing:

Slowing down and living in the moment means that we appreciate it more.  Maybe we don’t know how the story will go just yet, but in that moment, the clarity that comes with slowing down is worth everything.

Oh, and Jasper Fforde, if you’re out there, I’ll forgive you for taking an eternity to finish writing Shades of Grey Two.

What do you think? Are you a fan of book series that are quickly produced? Or is good reading still worth the wait?

Art as Confession

Rap isn’t my favourite music, but the other day when I heard a podcast on CBC about rappers being arrested for the content of their lyrics, I was intrigued.  Sure, there’s a lot of violent ideas floating around the rap-o-sphere, but the crux of the segment on Q was this: is it fair to use art as evidence of a crime?  I would take that argument a little further: If we consider the old adage “write what you know,” is it okay to hold an artist accountable for what they write?

Truth isn’t Always Stranger than Fiction 

It could be that using art as evidence is totally bunk.  I mean, yes, Sylvia Plath was kind of loony.  Her writings were creepy and she met a rather grisly end.  In this way, it’s kind of easy to see how art imitates life in a real way.  Way back in the day of pantaloons, Voltaire got sent to prison countless times for making fun of the government and the Catholic Church in his writings, which were used as evidence too.

Voltaire and his…pantaloons?

But here’s the thing: not all art is representative of real events.  Dare I mention James Frey and his not-so-true memoir “A Million Little Pieces?”  The Oprah of 2003 was mighty peeved when she learned that Frey was stretching the truth.  It was verisimilitude, he claimed (I think)–or maybe other people argued that for him.

What it makes me think is this:

Truth and fiction are kind of intertwined.  So just how much do you want to read between the lines?

Marketing Gone Awry

Later in the CBC program, it came out that in many cases, those rappers whose lyrics are being used against them openly say that they have committed these acts of violence and drugs as a marketing strategy.  Some of them never actually dealt drugs, but the act of spreading that “truth” gives their brand credibility.  It seems a lot like a less PG version of verisimilitude–a popular literary strategy where authors imply that at least some parts of a work of fiction are true based on elements inside the text, song, what have you that are real.

Treasure IslandRobert Louis Stevenson’s hand drawn treasure map is one prime example.  When the book came out, there were even people who searched for the fictitious treasure island because of the map.  Okay, so a treasure hunt is not the same as the rather violent lyrics of many rap songs today.

BUT.

I still can’t help thinking that it is just a tad creepy that any artist–regardless of what they write–would have their words used against them in court.

Write What You Know

Let’s forget about the rappers for a while.  What about the other side of this whole art as confession argument?  Let’s say for the moment that truth and fiction are hopelessly blurred, and sometimes it backfires.

In other literary news, John Green is in the doghouse for his latest work, “The Fault in Our Stars,” because he is neither a teenage girl, nor is he (hopefully) dying of cancer.  Some readers were outraged upset about this real-life detail, since it was not his experience to write about.

One reviewer writes:

Was this John Green’s story to tell?  None of the readers of this novel who have not experienced the kind of loss depicted here have a right to laugh at any  of it.  (Read more of this review here).

…It’s a pretty complicated issue.  John Green arguably hasn’t lived that experience.  However, I would argue that many writers haven’t really experienced what they write about first hand.  I mean, let me know if I’m wrong here, but J.R.R. Tolkien never went on a long journey to Mordor, nor did he know any trolls or wizards.  The jury is still out as to whether or not he was a hobbit.  And if Terry Pratchett only wrote about what he knew, Discworld probably wouldn’t exist, considering that most of the things that he writes about are fantastical (but awesome).  

By: T. Jacques

By: T. Jacques

If writing not entirely truthfully means being disrespectful and singing or rapping about violent acts can land you in the slammer, what’s an artist to do?

What’s your take?  Should art be used as evidence in a court of law?  Just what should writers be writing about anyway?

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.