Thursday, December 6, 2018

Reflections of a NaNoWriMo Newbie

November has come and gone, which means that NaNoWriMo is officially over. I started the beginning of the month with some trepidation and uncertainty, but I finished it - and accomplished writing 50,000 words in a month - calmly and without fanfare.

But I did it! I completed my first NaNo, and it was pretty great. I just thought I'd share some of the things I've learned, and where I'm planning to go from here.

1. Slow and steady wins the race

NaNoWriMo is often associated in my mind with a desperate rush to the finish where you're writing 10,000 words per day to make your goal. I don't know why I thought this would be me, since I'm not a last-minute kind of person. In my five years of university, I never pulled an all-nighter. I just can't do that. Some people need the pressure of the finish line looming to complete things, but I don't. Basically, NaNo was a reminder that I really should be writing at least a little bit every day. On good days, I would write more than necessary and get a little bit ahead so I could relax on the days when I just couldn't squeeze in more than a few minutes of writing time. By the time November 30 rolled around, I only had an easy 500 words to finish off.

2. Writing in community is always better

Having so many people with the same goal as you, cheering each other on, is so valuable. Like I've said before, I've realized over the past few years that writing shouldn't be a solitary thing. It's so much more fun and purposeful if you have people writing alongside you, struggling with the same things, and have an understanding of what you're doing and why you're doing it. I also had people IRL cheering me on (if they slightly misunderstood), and that helped too.

3. Writing consistently is key

Having written in between homework and school stuff for so long, I'd often go for weeks without writing anything, and it's really hard to get back into wherever I was thinking for the story and characters after a few day or week break. It's much easier to keep a pulse on where I want the story to go when I'm immersed in it almost every day.

These are all definitely lessons that I've talked about before, but they're definitely things I need to keep reminding myself. And mostly that I just need to write. I just need to get words on a page, and after that everything comes more easily. It's kind of weird, how I've been writing for years but I feel like I'm only just starting to figure out how to be a writer.

As for what's next... well I now have two drafts of things sitting for a bit until I go back to touch them up and then do the scary part... sending them off to people I trust for edits. In the meantime, though, I've got some ideas for a fantasy story so I think I'm going to take some time to do some world-building this month. Anyone have any world-building tips or tricks? How was your NaNo experience? Do you find NaNo valuable if you do it?

Thursday, October 25, 2018

My First Time Doing NaNoWriMo

I am terrified.

That's what NaNoWriMo does: strikes terror into my heart. 50,000 words in a month, the goal of writers everywhere for November's dubbed National Novel Writing Month, is a lot. A LOT.

I've had many different relationships with NaNoWriMo. I've made excuses. I've publicly declared disgust for such an arcane practice so I could more easily get away with not doing it. I've used school, I've used work, I've told myself and others that's it's just too much, it's not for me. (And to be honest, if I was still in school, I would never do NaNo; November is an awful month for students. But that's another discussion.)

I've done less ambitious NaNos before. I've written 30,000 words in a month, twice. I've done Camp NaNoWriMo in summer (highly recommend for students). I've written two drafts in the past two years, more than I ever have, and if I happen to finish this current draft this November, I will have written TWO books in ONE year, which I don't think I've ever done. Ever.

I should be ready for this! Why am I not ready for this?

Maybe it's because I look at the month of November, think, 1,677 words a day.... I can't do this. What if I can't do this? I'm already behind! I'm not one of those writers that can write ten thousand words in one sitting! Sometimes I can't even get out five hundred! 

I can't do this.

But then I yell back at that doubting, panicking voice: it doesn't matter. I'm going to try. Self-doubt has plagued me before and has made me not want to write for years. I have a story I like, characters I like, and a great couple of critique partners currently to back me up. And, hopefully, I have you! If I've learned anything the last few years about the solitary activity of writing, is that it SHOULDN'T be solitary. It should be done in community with other like-minded, passionate individuals, interested in creating stories; with people who understand the ups and downs of this type of creative work. If you want to add me as a writing buddy, I'm asherlockwrites, or tweet me and we'll do sprints together or something!
Let's do this thing.

(also if you have any experience with NaNo whatsoever, please give me advice or tips, anything, thank you!!)

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Review: Whenever You're Ready by Shawn DeSouza-Coelho

I am not a huge theatre nerd. In school I loved watching the musicals that my friends were in, but I never had any desire to get more involved than that one time I volunteered to do stage crew work. Then during the first show I forgot to move a prop off so the cast could do their dance properly, and that was it for my stage career.

However, Whenever You're Ready made me want to immediately move to Stratford, buy a lifetime membership to the Stratford Festival, and start working towards my new career in the theatre.

Whenever You're Ready is a biography of stage manager Nora Polley, who worked for 52 years at the Stratford Festival in Ontario. It's hailed as one of the only stage manager biographies around, and I'm sure people who know way more about Canadian theatre than me would devour it. But I enjoyed it immensely and I hadn't even heard of most of the people mentioned in this book (which I sorely regret now; they all sound like fascinating people).

Whenever You're Ready is a unique biography, in that it's actually written in first person, as if Nora Polley herself wrote it even though the authorship credit is given to Shawn DeSouza-Coelho. If you believe the afterword that everything is true to Nora Polley's experiences, it has the effect of a beautiful, immersive dive into Nora Polley's life, character, and career.

And what a career. Whenever You're Ready covers her first foray into the festival, to what she gets up to after her retirement with an amazing collection of fascinating theatre stories and the trials and tribulations of stage management in between.

While Whenever You're Ready is the biography of a stage manager, and it does contain many stage management anecdotes and things Nora learned along the way, it also profiles many other theatre people; actors, artistic directors, and other people involved in the theatre scene. Nora Polley's character shows through in the way she describes the people she worked with; her admiration for them and their work shines, and makes you wish you knew these people as she did. But you do get a glimpse of these incredibly unique, creative people as you read about her own career. In her first person biography, Nora Polley shines through as someone humble and hardworking, but also someone imperfect, human, and often unsure of her next step.

In any case, Whenever You're Ready paints a fascinating picture of an era in Canadian theatre, one filled with entertaining anecdotes, fascinating people, and one rock of a stage manager there to witness and work through it all. I think anyone who enjoys interesting life stories and has even just a passing interest in theatre should pick this up.

Whenever You're Ready on ECW Press
Whenever You're Ready on
Whenever You're Ready on
Whenever You're Ready on Goodreads

Thursday, September 27, 2018

5 Strategies to Actually Enjoy Reading Poetry (+ Recommendations!)

Yeah, I don't really "get" poetry. Poetry is too complicated. Poetry goes over my head. It's pretentious. It's for English major nerds. It's definitely not for me.

These phrases or variants of them are probably things you've either said sometime in life, or you've heard someone else say. I have definitely both said them and heard them said. Poetry is often thought of as complicated work that is hard to understand and inaccessible to most people.

Well, I'm hear to tell you, no longer!

I've gotten a lot more into reading poetry lately, mostly the result of a writer's festival I'm volunteering for. A lot of the writers I was unfamiliar with, so I thought I should read some of their work. Most of them turned out to be poets, so I ended up checking out a bunch of poetry books from the library and fell in LOVE.

Anyway here are some things I've kept in mind while reading poetry that have helped make it an entirely more enjoyable experience*:

1. Just read 

Read poetry as you would any other book - for enjoyment, line by line, taking in the words. You don't have to worry about extracting a certain meaning from the text because this is your reading time. Don't worry too much about trying to understand the poem either, just kind of let the words wash over you how they will. Getting frustrated that you aren't getting something is a sure fire way of taking the fun out of reading poetry.

2. Skip poems you don't like

Is there a poem that puts you off, or is just way too out there for you no matter how many times you reread it? Instead of feeling like a failure for not understanding great art, acknowledge that subjective experience is a thing and you won't click with every poem. The fun thing about poetry books is they include a whole bunch of poems - some that will click with you and make you feel like you were punched in the gut, and others that you'll breeze through and never think about again.

3. Let them connect with you where you're at

One of the cool things about poetry is how they can really deeply speak to someone's experience. A certain poem you read may really impact you and speak to where your life or mindset is at the moment, and that's the really powerful, fun part of reading poetry. Hold on to those moments. Save your favourite poems to reread later when you're in that emotional space.

4. You don't have to read everything

Just like anything else, not all poems are for everyone! Find poems that *you* enjoy reading. There are so many different ways of writing poetry out there. Some styles might annoy you, so just stay away from those! Your pretentious artist cred won't be damaged if you skip over poems you don't like for ones you enjoy. Maybe you like T.S. Eliot. Maybe Rupi Kaur's simple but elegant style is more for you.

5. Don't care what other people think

Poetry is often given a bad image (mainly from terrible high school English classes, at least in my experience). In some literary circles, you can be put down from liking certain kinds of poets or liking poets that use language in a more direct way. You can be made to feel stupid for not understanding or liking old classic poets (probably old white men anyway), or childish for following your favourite Instagram poets. But I say poetry should be consumed and enjoyed, whatever way you might wish to do that. So don't care about the pretentious literary snobs. They aren't having as much fun as you.

So, now that you're super excited to get into poetry, where should you start? Well, I've got some great recommendations for you:

#IndianLovePoems by Tenille K. Campbell is a collection of poems on Indigenous intimacy, sexuality, love and family, interwoven with Indigenous cultural images. The poems are quick and easy to read, but they are also hilarious and bold. It's a stunning and confident collection which you should go read right now.

This Wound is a World by Billy-Ray Belcourt knocked me off my feet from the very first poem. I would dog-ear the entire book if I wasn't borrowing it from the library (I will buy it asap don't worry). These poems focus on themes of Indigenous and queer identity, and the sadness that can be encompassed in that, but also the beauty of feeling that sadness. Belcourt says in his afterword that his book is "nothing if not a tribute to the potentiality of sadness" and that sharing the feeling of being lonely or alone is a way to make new forms of collectivity. His poems are absolutely heartbreaking but in the best, most cathartic way.

questions i asked my mother by Di Brandt was a book that shook up Mennonite communities when it was first published, and it still has the potential to speak to religious communities today, with commentary included in her poems on traditional religious roles, traditional communities, patriarchy, women’s speech and sexuality. It presents these themes in beautiful unstructured poems that have incredible depth to them.

Unstable Neighbourhood Rabbit by Mikko Harvey is an absolutely fascinating collection of poems that turns the world on its head. These are the kinds of poems that after you've finished them you feel like you've been punched in the gut because they turn out to be about something different than you originally thought. I had the opportunity to hear the title poem of this book read aloud by Harvey, and after he finished it you could literally hear the audience exclaim under their breath in awe and wonder.

Well, there you have it. You now have all the tools to be a poetry connoisseur, and be exposed to some great, world-changing writing.

*Disclaimer: while these strategies can be useful for enjoying poetry again, they should not be used for poetry analysis for classes. Although I've found knowing how to analyze poetry actually aids in my enjoyment sometimes! However, this is basically just a guide to remove some barriers and get you started. 

Monday, September 17, 2018

Review: Nobody Cares by Anne T. Donahue

On the back page of Nobody Cares is the catch phrase "Just a girl, standing in front of  a reader, reminding them they aren't alone." That line pretty much sums up the feeling of the book: a simple book of relatable personal essays.

Nobody Cares is based off Anne T. Donahue's online newsletter of the same name, and you can definitely feel that Donahue has an internet audience in mind throughout her book. While none of the personal essays really hit me hard, it was partly my own expectations, and I still enjoyed it enough to read the entire book fairly quickly. In some parts I did wish she dug a bit deeper, but I don't think that's what this book is trying to do.

The personal essays in Nobody Cares are light, short personal lessons that the author has learned over the course of her life. Basically each one is in the style of an inspirational online article. It's half advice column, half diary entry. They cover a variety of situations in Donahue's life, from friendship and dating to just things you learn growing up. A lot of her essays also focus on her personal experiences with anxiety, and learning that "nobody cares." Donahue's honest voice and ability to laugh at herself makes Nobody Cares an entertaining read.

I think this book would be a good gift book for anyone in your life, perhaps especially people who suffer from anxiety since a lot of Anne's personal essays focus on that. It was very much a feel-good book of essays. A good quick, easy read for a sunny day.

Nobody Cares on ECW Press
Nobody Cares on
Nobody Cares on
Nobody Cares on Goodreads


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