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The best writing exercise for creative flow

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Are you looking for the best writing exercise to get your creativity flowing and launch you into your next project? Well I think I just found it.

Disclaimer: some of the links in this post are affiliate links. I would earn a small commission if you were to purchase through one of them, at no additional cost to you.

I recently listened to David Morrell’s THE SUCCESSFUL NOVELIST (which I highly, highly recommend). And in case you don’t know who he is, Morrell wrote the books that would later be turned into the Rambo movies, starring Sylvester Stallone.

In THE SUCCESSFUL NOVELIST, Morrell shared his own creative writing exercise when starting a new project. I tried it for the first time last week, and I think I’ll be using it for ever and ever. But first, a bit of backstory.


Writing advice fell in two camps: planner or pantser

If you’re interested in the subject of writing, you’ve probably already heard of these two polarizing approaches to writing. There is one camp of people who think writing takes meticulous planning. That you should plot out each scene, and its goal, and chart the trajectory of each character. And then there’s the other group that likes to just sit down in front of the computer with nothing but an idea and see what happens. Let the characters show up and tell the story.

Neither of those two extremes have ever felt good to me. The former seemed too formulaic and labour intensive. And the latter felt more like treading water in the middle of the ocean, looking for land.

But what if there was a third option, a little closer to the middle?

David Morrell says that he finds the concept of plotting too constrictive, but that simply sitting down and writing into the ether is a little too loosey goosey for him as well. (In case it isn’t obvious I’m paraphrasing here.)

Instead, he uses a brilliant strategy that is 1 part creative writing exercise and 1 part loose plan.

The best writing exercise explained

He writes out a conversation between himself and his ‘muse,’ discussing this new idea for a project. That’s it.

It’s simply a couple pages of dialogue, written between himself and whatever entity he believes would be interested in this new idea. And they go back and forth about it.

It’s genius because it allows the you (on the page) to take a stab at trying to explain the project for the first time, in a really non-pressurized way. And it also allows you to tap into your creativity to see if your idea might really have legs.

You might even find yourself shocked by the insightful questions your muse character asks, which helps you flesh out the concept.

Choosing your muse for your writing exercise

My muse for my current project just so happens to be the devil character, Sheera, from another story. And before you read too much into that, just be aware that I wrote her as a complex character who was more morally grey than evil.

Sometimes you need a bit of an edge to come up with a story idea.

Anyway, I’m doing something I’ve quite literally never done before here. I’m sharing my drafted conversion that outlines my idea, because I think we all need to get over ourselves and publish things at different stages.

I wish I had heard of this kind of creative approach to story-telling years ago. Maybe reading this and trying it out for yourself will show you what a difference it can make to engage with your creativity right from the jump. 

I wrote this at 6:30 in the morning in about 20 minutes, and then went back and updated it with a few more details afterwards. And that was all I needed to catapult myself into a new world of my own making.

I’ve been able to sit down and produce the first few chapters of this one with (relative) ease. Compared to the years of toil and confusion it took for my first full-length project.

David Morrell says you can use this conversation as a guidepost, coming back to it however often you need to recenter yourself within the story.

My example of the best writing exercise

Sheera: Well good morning, Emma. Long time not talk.

Emma: Hi Sheera. I had a new idea for a book yesterday. Do you mind talking it through with me?

Sheera: Sure, we can do that. What’s it about?

Emma: Well I had the idea when I got ghosted by this guy.

Sheera: Wait, you got ghosted by a guy? You?

Emma: I know, right? There’s a first time for everything, I guess. But anyway don’t side track me. It was a good thing in the end, because it gave me this idea for a story.

Sheera: Okay, go.

Emma: What if there was this witch, but her only power was to write love stories into existence.

Sheera: That’s pretty funny.

Emma: Right? And so lovelorn women would come to her. Maybe some men also, who knows. And they would ask her to write them a story, but she would only take one client a year.

Sheera: Because birthing a novel is an evil, drawn out process and takes time.

Emma: Exactly.

Sheera: I’m liking this so far, but where’s the drama?

Emma: Well essentially the MC is a hyper-independent woman who has always done everything on her own, and she sees what love does to people and doesn’t really want to take part.

So people ask her all the time if she ever thinks about writing a story for herself. And she always says no, it doesn’t work that way, or she makes up an excuse.

The truth is that she absolutely could write one for herself, but she only ever wants to find love the old-fashioned way. She’d obviously never tells her clients this, but she judges the ever-living fuck out of them for coming to her in the first place.

Sheera: That’s a fantastic detail. So her goal at the beginning of the book is what?

Emma: Well maybe she’s nearing the end of her rope, because she doesn’t really want to do this anymore, she wants to do something ‘more’ with her life, but she doesn’t know what she would even be good at outside of magic.

Sheera: Okay, so she wants out of the game.

Emma: Yes, so she agrees to write her last story, and something happens. And then one day, she makes a typo that changes everything.

Sheera: Hah. Little nod to the absurdity of the industry there.

Emma: Yeah, so she accidentally puts her own name into the story she’s writing, and she essentially writes herself into a love triangle.

Sheera: Okay, that’s brilliant.

Emma: You think so?

Sheera: I’m Lucipher’s sister, I know evil genius when I see it.

Emma: Thanks. So here’s the part that actually makes me feel more inspired: she isn’t going to end up with the guy in the end.

Sheera: Inrtruiging.

Emma: Maybe they’ll all be friends, maybe not. I’m not sure, but the moral of the story is that the two women are going to end up friends. Because maybe soul mates don’t have to be so much about romantic love, maybe our soul mates can be our family and our community and all the other people in our lives and we are approaching an era where we don’t have to put all our hopes and dreams into one singular human to fullfill so many of them.

Sheera: Well I do love a bit of chaos normally, but that melts my little black heart. I think you’re on to something there. Don’t tell the church.

Emma: So I have your blessing to continue?

Sheera: You do.

Emma: Will you do the thing?

Sheera: Of course. Take a deep breath. In and out. I bestow upon you the blessing of the writer, ideas flow to you and through you, and onto the page with ease. The characters and their arcs are clear, their goals are defined. Now sit down and write.

Summary of the best writing exercise

So what do you think? Would writing out a conversation between yourself and your muse give you enough structure to start a new project? Or are you sticking with one of the two camps?

Using this exercise for the first time made me feel so inspired and it’s like I managed to give myself a confidence boost at the same time. If you want to read more thoughts on David Morrell’s THE SUCCESSFUL NOVELIST, feel free to check out my full review here.

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More writing advice from a prolific author

Text on beige background reads: Prolific writing advice from the author that inspired Rambo
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Sometimes prolific writing advice comes to you when you least expect it.

Stay with me here. I listen to a lot of audiobooks. About 40 of the 70 books I read last year were via Everand. So I am well-versed in getting throttled by Scribd/Everand’s reading limit, which sounds more intense than it is.

If they feel you’re taking in too much content, they’ll start restricting what you can access. It’s how they can keep their subscription service ‘unlimited’ while still making sure they aren’t paying through the nose for royalty fees on new releases.

And while that enrages some people, I kind of love it. I feel a sort of pride whenever I realize my account has been restricted. But the even better thing about it is that it forces me to discover new content I simply wouldn’t have otherwise.

Case in point: coming across THE SUCCESSFUL NOVELIST by David Morrell. I had never heard of David Morrell before reading this book, despite the fact that he’s the writer behind the 1972 film franchise, Rambo, and a multitude of other successful thrillers and comic books since then.

His guide for writers was so fascinating and hit on so many different points. Or maybe they were old points that had never hit home because they hadn’t been explained in a way that really stuck.

Finding your own unique voice is a common theme in his book, and many others on the subject. But below is some of the best writing advice I found he delivered in a completely new, or fresh way.

My top three pieces of writing advice from THE SUCCESSFUL NOVELIST

  1. Start with a conversation with your muse, discussing this new project.

    I loved this idea so much I wrote an entire article on it. I even shared my draft conversation. But here’s the Cole’s notes. Essentially, Morrell came up with a way of turning plotting into a fun, quick, creative writing exercise.

    When you have a new idea for a story, he suggests you sit yourself down at your desk and write out a conversation between yourself and another character, explaining the plot. The exercise allows you enough distance from the story to see if it would make sense to another person.

    It’s also a really creative way of engaging with the content and characters right away, instead of having to go through the (often) dry and boring process of plotting out acts and scenes.

    At the end of the day, it’s about finding whatever works to get words onto the page, and this approach definitely worked for me.
  2. To be a writer you must have an inexplicable need to do it, despite the fact that it will mean certain pain and little ROI.

    Much like Anne Lamott’s advice that writing is the actual gift, Morrell states the following:

    “You’ll find it revealing if, after asking yourself “Why do I want to be a writer?”, you ask yourself, “Why do I want to write this particular kind of fiction?”

    “Because I need to.”

    “Why do you need to?”

    If you follow the logic in the progression of these questions, if you pay attention to the ferret that’s gnawing inside you, you’ll have a subject matter that’s your own.”

    The essential ingredient to becoming a writer is needing to do it, despite everything and everyone telling you that you shouldn’t.
  3. Write dialogue attributions into the action to help with flow and reduce repetition.

    I’ve been writing since I was a kid. When I was 8 I wrote 25 pages of Beauty and the Beast fanction and made my family check it out of my ‘library.’ I also hold diplomas and advanced degrees in Journalism, English literature and publishing, and yet the above never really clicked for me before.

    What Morrell means is that instead of simply using a line of dialogue with the attribution of, ‘so and so said.’ You can simply illustrate an action to attribute the line to them.

    Example without Morrell’s advice:

    “I can’t be here right now,” Marina said.

    “Where’re you gonna go?” Todd asked.

    “I don’t know. Anywhere but here.”

    The above is fine, but you can see how it would get repetitive and boring if the entire novel were written as such.

    Example with Morrell’s advice:

    “I can’t be here right now.” Marina’s eyes flashed back to the door as she continued stuffing clothes into her bag.

    “Where’re you gonna go?” Todd asked.

    “I don’t know. Anywhere but here.” Marina shouldered her bag and let out soft sigh.

    There is so much more depth to the second example, and it’s still completely clear who is speaking.

Summary

Perhaps another takeaway here, is that if you want to earn degrees in creative writing and you can afford it, then more power to you. But if you want to learn practical advice from people who’ve already cracked the code, hit the books.

So what do you think? Which books on writing have offered the best advice?

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Survival and deceit in Kimi Cunningham Grant’s new novel

An image of an open book held up in front of a mountain setting. Text on the image says Book Review: The Nature of Disappearing by Kimi Cunningham Grant

Pub date: June 18, 2024

One sentence summaryThe Nature of Disappearing follows a talented back-country fishing guide who gets roped into the search for her former best friend turned influencer, who has suddenly vanished into the Idaho wilderness.

Rating: ☆☆☆☆

Disclaimer: Some links in this post are affiliate links. I would earn a small commission if you click through or purchase, at no additional cost to you.

Review

Initial thoughts

Okay. Right out of the gate I will say that I was immediately turned off by the God references. I have always been a little uncomfy with the roots of organized Christianity. And to be fair, this title wasn’t categorized as religious or even spiritual. So I didn’t feel like I had signed up for any of that based on the description.

But, despite the fact that there was a character nicknamed ‘Reverend,’ the references weren’t too heavy handed. The concepts of trust and faith were introduced as a way of telling the reader that this would be a book about letting things unfold. Overall, it made sense to include them. I can definitely agree, letting go a little and trusting in the process of life can be vital.

What to Expect

I read and enjoyed one of Cunningham-Grant’s other books—These Silent Woods—so I was looking forward to this one. I expected another book rich in imagery, with a heavy dose of ‘human vs nature.’ And I was not disappointed.

As somebody who worked as a sea kayak guide, I find books often get back-country survival stuff wrong. But this one got it right on so many levels. I loved that everyone involved in the story had extensive experience with being in the wilderness. There’s nothing more annoying than reading a story about somebody who is supposed to know what they’re doing, and they are doing literally everything wrong.

The Stakes

That being said, you would think that everybody knowing their way around the back country would make the stakes feel lower, but it was actually the opposite. Because the reader knows how skilled all the characters are, we also know how frightening of a situation they are in.

Seeing as I don’t like to give too much away about the plot, I will say that for a while it seemed like everyone was going to get into a situation where they would have to out-wit each other with hunting, tracking and survival skills.

The Ending

I appreciated the direction that this story went in the end. It was sightly unexpected, but it was realistic and satisfying. This is a difficult book to talk about without giving things away, so I will say that there were a couple of plot twists that were slightly out of left field to me, but I understand the need to add those kinds of details to appease the short attention spans we all have today and add in some extra drama.

The Writing

The writing was quippy and never felt overly fraught. The characters were easily distinguishable, albeit a little subdued at times. But I very much appreciated some solid ‘girl power’ moments in this one, and I am always here for strong female characters and friendships.

This book came with me on vacation, and it was the perfect read for lounging in a hammock, next to a cenote.

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A review of Kristin Hannah’s new book The Women

An image of a teacup with an open book beside it. To the left there is text that reads: Book Review: The Women by Kristin Hannah.

Pub date: February 6, 2024

Version: Audiobook, Macmillan Audio via NetGalley

One sentence summary: The Women follows Frances ‘Frankie’ McGrath as she defies her conservative upbringing and enlists as a nurse in the Vietnam war, despite the objections of her family and the greater country she chose to serve.

Rating: ☆☆☆☆☆

Affiliate Purchase Link: The Women: A Novel

Side note

If you’re looking for a plot summary you won’t find it here. I find it mildly irritating when Goodreads reviews go over the plot in detail. Just tell me what you liked and didn’t like about the book already, please. That being said, if you need more than my one-sentence summary up top, you can find many more via other Goodreads reviewers here! I thought @Rachel Hanes’ summary was particularly well done. In my reviews, you’ll always hear more about the writing and story telling itself.

The actual review

I couldn’t stop thinking about this book for days after I finished it. In the past, I haven’t read much historical fiction. BUT THEN I read/listened to The Four Winds (also by Kristin Hannah), which is set during The Dust Bowl in the 1930s, and I was riveted.

So going into The Women, I was already a new but tentative fan of Hannah’s work, but this one exceeded my expectations. I have my own personal connection to Vietnam and Southeast Asia, so that kind of positive association definitely played a role in my enjoyment. Familiarity and proximity are what make news and all that. But it was also the fact that this was set over 60 years ago, and still felt so deeply relevant in today’s political climate. Women needing to fight to be seen and heard all over again.

The Women was a sweeping, beautiful, compelling story that brought up every emotion you could ever want to experience as a reader.”

-Emma, from the review you’re currently reading

Pacing

Hannah (or perhaps her editors) have plotting down to a near science. The pacing was almost on the verge of a being a thriller, and yet it never felt overly rushed. All the major plot points were spread out and built on one another to a natural crescendo. Though the ‘right’ amount of detail in a book is entirely subjective, Hannah’s ability to hit a balance is noteworthy.

Descriptions

The reader is provided with enough info to ground them in the scene, without bogging them down in flowery descriptions. So often with historical fiction, we get endless (and I mean endless) information; descriptions of clothing, ancient processes or even grocery store prices. Maybe it was the fact that a lot of this book took place in a base camp during the Vietnam war, so the clothing and food weren’t exactly something to write home about. At only 426 pages, I found the whole thing much more accessible than other titles in the same genre. The first book in the Outlander series is over 1000 pages, and The Pillars of the Earth is over 1500.

I was surprised when the book took a turn at the halfway mark and Frankie returned home from Vietnam, but it turned out to be a pleasant one. It wouldn’t have been a book about war, if we didn’t have to read about the aftermath. The reception of the troops when back on home soil was something I hadn’t ever thought about.

Themes

I was hoping that the book would find a way to touch on the major issue we still see today with vets being at a higher risk of experiencing homelessness. And though Hannah started to veer in that direction we never get full recognition of that fact. Though I suppose it wouldn’t have made any sense for an affluent character like Frankie to actually experience those realities.

As Hannah states in her acknowledgements, this is one of those books that was in the making for decades, and it shows. She found a way to make this story both relevant and necessary in a modern world. And she did it in a way that was somehow new and nostalgic at the same time. Overall, The Women was a sweeping, beautiful, compelling story that brought up every emotion you could ever want to experience as a reader. It was impeccably well researched and evocative from beginning to end.

Also, I only want to listen to books narrated by Julia Whelan from now until forever, thank you.

Opposing reflections:

Another thing I like to do after finishing a book is to look at the reviews that are the exact opposite of mine. So if I gave it 1 star, I’ll look at the 5s and vice versa. I usually do this for no other reason than to entertain myself, but I thought it might be an interesting way to spark some conversation, to see if there’s anything in the 1 star review that I also agree with. We aren’t trying to change minds here, just gathering info and welcoming in opposing ideas.

A one ☆ review

For this book I’m looking at the one and only 1 star review thus far, written by @Lisa of Troy. The book doesn’t publish until February 6, so there will inevitably be more after that.

I found Lisa’s first point really interesting. She mentions that, “This book had no plot—it is based on one character. The problem is….Frankie isn’t likeable. She is an entitled, spoiled rich girl. She has everything handed to her, and her reason for going to war was to be on the hero’s wall and not wanting to work her way up at the hospital.”

I’m actually a big fan of unlikable characters, Gillian Flynn is a master of them, but the difference here is that we were supposed to like Frankie. If the reader is meant to cheer on the MC, but can’t find a way to get behind them, the whole thing is going to drag. Even though I didn’t particularly care for Frankie, I was still drawn in to the story because of the setting and my own lack of knowledge about the Vietnam war.

Final thoughts

It’s interesting with books, because you never know for sure what will cause you to connect with the plot, setting or a protagonist. But it usually comes down to either relatability or total alienation; you can either see yourself in a character, or setting or place, or you feel like you have nothing in common with any of it. Take from that what you will!

Thanks to NetGalley, Macmillan Audio and Kristin Hannah for the audio ARC of The Women.

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I Won? Thoughts on Anvil Press’ 3-Day Novel Contest

Photograph of teal typewriter on a wooden table, with open book and pair of glasses. Words read, "I won?" in the center, with "Anvil Press 3-Day Novel Contest" down right hand side.

I’m thrilled to finally be able to announce that a novella I wrote as part of Anvil Press’ annual contest will be published in Spring of 2022. For those of you that don’t know about it, this contest has been running for 44 years and hundreds of people always enter, but it’s not for the faint of heart. The rules are simple, you can plot and plan, but you can’t start writing before midnight on the Friday of Labour Day Weekend, and not a word can be recorded past midnight on the Monday. In short, it involves locking yourself in a room, drinking pot after pot of coffee and trying to remember how sentences work for 72 hours.

Never in a million years did I think I would be able to do this. The thing is, I’m not sure if I could have done it alone. I am indebted to my desk angel, Zoé Duhaime, without whom I never would have entered, let alone finished this contest. It was Zoé that checked in and kept me going when I was certain that I’d already used every word I knew and there was nothing left. And I hope I did the same for her.

Writing for 16 hours a day for 3 days straight is bonkers, and when I pressed submit on the entry I literally shuddered and put the manuscript away in a deep, dark, virtual drawer, with no plans to look at it ever again. The experience of writing something under these kinds of restraints was just so foreign and uncomfortable for me. It wasn’t until the long list was announced in March that I re-read my draft for the first time and realized it was kinda funny and quirky and weird and maybe it was okay after all. And I’m so honoured to think that somebody else thought so too.

But the fact remains. Writing can be a real kick in the teeth. It took me 7 YEARS to finish a draft of my first novel, and I’ve gone back to the drawing board with it more times than I can count. But what the 3-day novel process taught me is that if you just close your eyes and let go a little, maybe you’ll tap into something that’s been there all along. This story deals with themes I was thinking about a lot at the time of writing, and the experience helped me put my thoughts in order, because that’s what writing does; gives you a kick in the teeth when you need it.

If you’re pretty sure there’s a story inside you too, I hope you’ll join Zoé and I (and all the other writers) for the 2021 competition. You can sign up here: https://www.3daynovel.com/registration-3/

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Do You Buy These Kinds of Books?

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I’ve been travelling or living abroad for the last seven years, so I haven’t been able to own much stuff. I’m also a minimalist at heart. A lot of clutter really stresses me out, because it just feels a bit superfluous. I think it’s important for things to have purpose and practical use. Knick-knacks? No, thank you.

In the last couple of years I’ve started using more reading technology like my Kobo and an iPad, because it allows me to have limitless books at my fingertips when I travel. BUT! There are certainly some things, some books, that just demand a tactile experience. For me, that’s cookbooks. Though it hasn’t always been that way.

Until recently, I’ve been using my flour-caked fingers to double check a recipe in the middle of baking. It wasn’t until living with my previous roommate and seeing her use sauce-covered cookbooks that I realized how enjoyable and important that experience is.

I think this change also has to do with my recent discovery of a practice called Intuitive Eating. I’ve struggled with my relationship to food for over 10 years, but now I’m starting to find more freedom and flexibility through this approach. Basically, (big surprise here) Intuitive Eating involves actually listening to your own body, understanding your hunger cues and being fully present while you eat. It’s unbelievable how much of a difference this has made for me. (I’m still making my way through Intuitive Eating: A Revolutionary Anti-Diet Approach by Evelyn TriboleElyse Resch, review to follow.) But in the meantime, buying an actual, hardback, glossy-paged cookbook has been so helpful in getting me slow down, disconnect from the world, and reconnect with what I’m eating. But let’s also keep it real here, it’s another kind of delicious to eat a bowl of pasta and watch Selling Sunset, so I refuse to count that out entirely. I can’t say I’ve been perfect with the Intuitive Eating approach, but the best part about the practice is that it’s forgiving. If my already stained copy of Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi is any indication, I’m on the right track.

So how about you? Do you use actual cookbooks? Or do you utilize digital formats for everything?

cover plenty by yotam ottolenghi
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The best writing advice from Anne Lamott

Books pages and pens on a bed

The best writing advice from Anne Lamott

Many years ago I read Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott, and it remains my favourite book on writing. Despite turning 30 years old this year, it still offers up some of the best writing advice of all time. And I will die on that hill.

“You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.”

― Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird

Originally published in 1994, Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life has become one of the quintessential texts for aspiring authors. I have known I wanted to be a writer since I was a kid, but this book never found its way into any of my stacks before 2020.

At the time, I was stuck in limbo due to the covid-19 pandemic, and this book saved me from complete and mental collapse. In 2019, I moved to Toronto to complete a post-grad program in book publishing.

But thanks to the virus, I wasn’t able to graduate from my program, my placement was cancelled indefinitely and I lost both my serving and yoga teaching jobs. Needless to say, I was panicking. But this book brought me back to myself.

How can someone I’ve never heard of give the best writing advice?

It’s possible you’ve never heard of Anne Lamott. I hadn’t until this book came across my desk. I would say she is best know for writing about writing, but her more popular books are also non-fiction titles.

And the funny thing to me is that writing advice doesn’t necessarily have to come from the Stephen Kings of the world. A prolific writer has a handle on how to produce, and Stephen King’s On Writing is another classic of the genre.

But what I love about Lamott’s guide is that is focuses so much on what the process of writing gives back to the writer. I have read dozens of other books on the subject, but they really didn’t resonate like this one.

Nothing else I’ve ever read on the subject so eloquently captures the process; the crippling self doubt and insecurities, matched with the sheer elation of getting a sentence just right. At the same time, Lamott offers actionable steps that will help writers write.

I literally can’t stop reading this book. As soon as I finished it I flipped right back to the beginning and started again. also felt a wide range of emotions while reading. Lamott wanted exactly that, because it mirrors the process of living and writing.

Write your best and worst experiences

I am over a DECADE into into writing my first full-length novel. And I remember telling one of my creative writing teachers about the material I was planning on using. “It sounds like you have about ten years of writing ahead of you. You better get going.” And she was right.

It took that long because I had to process my own experiences, piece by piece, so I could transform bits of them into fiction. It’s painful, it’s ugly, but it’s also so, so freeing.

The best writing advice

And thats the biggest takeaway I got from Lamott’s work. “Publication is not what it’s cracked up to be,” she reminds us. “But writing is. Writing has so much to give, so much to teach, so many surprises. That thing you had to force yourself to do, the actual writing, turns out to be the best part. It’s like discovering that while you thought you needed a tea ceremony for the caffeine, what you really needed was the tea ceremony. The act of writing turns out to be its own reward.”

And she goes on like this for another couple hundred pages; gorgeous prose punctuated by important lessons. The subtitle of the book certainly doesn’t lie. While she does veer offtrack at times, she always has a plan. She brings her rambling thoughts and experiences back around to make her point.

More advice from the book

There are over 461 quotes from this book on Goodreads, so it was hard to pick only a few to highlight. But these are some of the ones that jumped out at me.

“For some of us, books are as important as almost anything else on earth. What a miracle it is that out of these small, flat, rigid squares of paper unfolds world after world after world, worlds that sing to you, comfort and quiet or excite you. Books help us understand who we are and how we are to behave. They show us what community and friendship mean; they show us how to live and die.”

And possibly the single best writing advice…

“Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life, and it is the main obstacle between you and a shitty first draft. I think perfectionism is based on the obsessive belief that if you run carefully enough, hitting each stepping-stone just right, you won’t have to die. The truth is that you will die anyway and that a lot of people who aren’t even looking at their feet are going to do a whole lot better than you, and have a lot more fun while they’re doing it.”

The writing

She continually offers up some of the best writing advice I’ve read. And what more could you ask for from a book about the cyclical process of both writing and life? What about you? What is some of the best writing advice you’ve ever read or received?

Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott offers the best writing advice. Image of book on top of grey typewriter.
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I Think I’ll Start Buying Myself Flowers

I used to be really opposed to flowers, as I didn’t see the point of cutting down something living just to put it in a vase and watch it die. But then in September of 2019, I moved to Toronto for the publishing program at Centennial College. One of the few required texts for the course was the Canadian Oxford Dictionary. I had planned to just order it from the campus bookstore, fully prepared to pay for the convenience of picking it up on site. But after spending the day with my folks roaming around my new neighbourhood, we popped into a thrift shop to look for some essentials. It was there in the basement, alongside all the other dusty books, and discarded furniture, that my Mom pulled out a copy of the very dictionary I needed.

Afterwards, I placed it on my shelf and forgot about it until the course started and I needed to lug the 1888-page hardcover to school. So it wasn’t until weeks later when I flipped through the pages that I discovered some perfectly pressed flowers, like a gift left from the previous owner.

Suddenly, flowers were not something that just lived and died, but something that could actually be preserved. There were no notes attached to the two sheets of papier ongion the flowers were pressed within, but I started to imagine the particular field they may have come from, and who had placed them in the book, and for what purpose. Were they saving the flowers for someone? Were they supposed to become art? Needless to say, my imagination was sparked. And the symbolism of a seed being planted was not lost on me. So, I think I’ll start buying myself flowers. And if you’re ever in a thrift shop, take a glance through the dusty books it looks like no one wants, maybe you’ll uncover something I left for you to find. 😉

Even as it falls apart, it’s still beautiful.
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There’s Always Room to Grow

I’ve started up and abandoned a number of blogs over the years, because at a certain point something always ended up feeling inauthentic about them. I had a travel blog for a while, but it just started to feel a bit vapid and HEY, LOOK HOW GREAT MY LIFE IS, and that just isn’t the audience I want to connect with.

So I’m trying to come at this new blog from a more authentic place. And the only thing that’s remained truly, completely authentic throughout my time here on Earth, is my love of books.

I’m currently completing a postgraduate program in book, magazine and electronic publishing here in Toronto, and I realized through that experience just how much books really mean to me. Specifically, the ones that contributed to my growth because they made me think, or evaluate parts of myself that would have otherwise gone ignored. While the magazine side of things was really interesting, I love the expansiveness and the journey you get to go on in a book. (Character arcs are life!) So that’s why I started this blog. I absolutely adore speculative fiction, because I think the genre helps us question what’s possible, and shows us what we want to avoid. And after seven years of post secondary education, and literally COUNTLESS certifications and courses over the years, I’m nothing if not an eternal student. So I think there is a real intersection between spec fic and nonfic, and that’s what I’ll be exploring here. Think Isabella Tree’s Wilding meets Michael Christie’s Greenwood. If I find a connection and it moves me, I figure it might move you too? And it would be great to get into why.

Rather than giving out proper ratings, because let’s face it, ratings are kinda mean, I’ll just let you know what I learned, and why the book moved me, or why it didn’t. ‘Cause honestly, connection and realness are what matter. And I can’t imagine anything better than books to help us do both.

So let’s get started!