Category Archives: Books

Communication: Avoid a Breakdown!

The Writer’s Midwife is currently undergoing changes! Ch-ch-ch-changes! However, we are still conducting local workshops as we design the online courses. If you would like to stay current with us, please go to http://www.thewritersmidwife.com/ and sign up for our emails. We are sending weekly newsletters with many awesome tips for writers and would love for you to stay part of the community!

 

Thank you for all of your support!

 

~Samantha

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Book Addiction. Are you a Pro or an Amateur?

I have a problem. Book buying has become an addiction. Another shelf has been added to the already limited wall space in our open-concept home. The new shelf puts it up to five bookshelves in our house. Two and a half are dedicated to fiction, one to children’s books, one to spiritual-minded or self-enrichment books and half of a book shelf is dedicated to poetry plus a couple of poetry baskets on the floor by the fireplace . This doesn’t include the books that are stacked on coffee tables, side tables and night stands. Books take over my house. But you know what? It makes me happy. Yes, I did say I have a whole shelf dedicated self-enrichment and spiritual books and many of those are Eastern philosophy.  Therefore, I get that ultimately “things” cannot make you happy. However, perhaps it is the ideas in the books, the connection to the authors on some level, the creativity and inspiration that pours out with every inky word. When it is a rainy day environmentally or internally, I head to a book store or library for solace (Libraries are the best because books can follow me home every time without any bank account guilt!). Two of the independent bookstores in Calgary have actually curbed my addiction by encouraging me to hold books until I have read a couple ha ha! I get asked that a lot, have you read any of the books you have bought? I am reading all the time, usually twelve on the go at one time. Here’s the thing I am beginning to notice: Although I have a library in my house with so many to choose from when I finish one, the books find me at the right time.

Exhibit A: Overflowing bookcase

Exhibit A: Overflowing bookcase

 

The Writer’s Midwife is in the process of growing wings and expanding to offer online courses by the summertime. Currently, I am enrolled in b-school and it begins tomorrow. It is an eight week online business course that helps you launch your online business. We were sent bonus material to begin our journey and one of the things Marie Forleo talked about in one of her videos was the book The War of Art  by Steven Pressfield. Ding! I knew I had that book somewhere! I had never even cracked it open but I had it for years. Twenty minutes of searching and I found it! I read the part Marie was talking about on being and amateur vs. a professional. This section of the book hit me between the eyes. Basically, Pressfield defines a professional as someone who shows up everyday. I show up to my mat everyday to do yoga. That’s great for my mind, body and soul, but writing? Writing and procrastination go hand in hand for many and I am one of them…until now. I am tired of being “The Writer’s Midwife” but cannot birth myself on the page day after day. I have been an amateur. Now, I am showing up to the page every day. This blog doesn’t even count. It needs to be journaling or creative. Moving me towards the poetry book I so desperately want to publish.

When I teach yoga, I highlight whether or not the practitioners are cheating on their mats. Are they actually lowering themselves to hover in Chattaranga Dandasana? Or are they making it look like they are as they swoop into Upward dog when it was about to require  a lot of strength? The same can be applied to the page and I will not allow myself to cheat by blogging or making notes about a book I am reading. While those things are important, they will not get me closer to the book I want to birth.

Pictures taken by Jamie Hyatt Photography

Pictures taken by Jamie Hyatt Photography

I had the amazing opportunity to meet and hug and hang out with Chris Hadfield. Just being around him “lifts” you up. He is the hero you want to meet. After meeting him and reading his book, he taught me a valuable lesson in turning dreams to manifestation. From the time he was a child, he asked himself whether an astronaut would make the decisions he would make. Would an astronaut eat ice cream or broccoli? He ate broccoli. Would an astronaut sit on the couch eating potato chips and watching t.v. or would he/she run around the block? Hadfield would run around the block. Would a writer answer the phone in the middle of  a writing session? Or would they ignore it? Would the writer write after the kids go to bed or watch t.v.?

It all depends on whether you want to be a pro or an amateur. I’m pretty sure I have my answer.

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You Call Yourself a Writer?

I am currently reading Therese Anne Fowler’s Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald. Fictional or not it is always a fascination of mine to be taken into the world of some of the great writers. The appeal of writing and writers is that it is such a vulnerable act that humanness bleeds through everything they commit to paper.

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The Fitzgeralds via google images

A topic part of the book explores through Zelda’s eyes is how one knows whether or not they are a writer. Zelda asks Scott about this question and he says he knew he was a writer because without it he would cease to exist. Through our writer’s workshops, which is comprised of 100% women, many struggle with whether they can attach “writer” to their identities. We have many preconceived ideas about what a writer is. We categorize and often venerate or glorify what it means to be a writer and stop ourselves from attaching it to ourselves. One workshop, we had a homework assignment where people were required to tell total strangers that they were writers. The assignment was difficult for many and they felt as if they were lying or fraudulent. The strange thing was they thought of themselves as writers enough to take a writing workshop. I am guilty of the same thing. One of the main things I tell myself is that I am not a writer because I am not published. I have tried to abandon this limitation in my writer-self by asking myself who would I be without writing and would I be okay if I could never write again? The answer is that I would not be okay without it. This is my mode of self-expression over painting, sculpting, singing, acting etc. When I received my first rejection letter, I asked  myself if I could call myself a writer then? This is only when I think about other people’s perceptions. Perhaps others will not accept me as a writer until I am published. When I am alone, in silence, in connection with the deepest part of myself, I am a writer. I am a writer because I write. Yes, there are days when I will choose picking up dog poop over being with my pen, but ultimately I need writing like I need air.

For the past two weeks and going on a third, my husband has been working twelve hour graveyard shifts trying to get High River, Alberta back up and running after the worst flood they have ever seen. I see him for two hours a day and I have taken on twice the load at home, especially when it comes to being a parent. I have no time to write and the time I was able to steal away, I needed babysitters to help. After two weeks of this, I felt as if I was going insane and falling further and further out of touch with myself. This is because I need writing in my daily life (at the very least every second day). I need writing like I need to shower.

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Image via google images

Perhaps this is the question we, questioning writers, need to ask ourselves: Can I function without writing?

We would love to hear about your explorations on this subject! Please comment.

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Spotlight on Guy Gavriel Kay: Our Favorite Author Find for May

A close friend of mine introduced me to  the works of Guy Gavriel Kay about a month ago when I was admiring the cover of River of Stars  at a local bookstore. She began almost jumping up and down upon discovery that he had released a new book and she promptly whisked me away to the fantasy section to show me more of his works. After, reading a couple first sentences in his novels, I needed no more convincing and immediately downloaded The Lions  of Al-Rassan when I got home.

River of Stars

Last night he graced our city with a visit to our public library and with his new book in hand, I realized I was listening to one of the greats in  Canada.  Last night, he taught me something about the fantasy genre. How much of a playground fantasy truly is for the writer and how much imaginative freedom one can find in this genre. Kay described himself as having “chronic grad-school syndrome” when it came to research for his novels. A place where you always need to get one more footnote, or find one more article. It never ends. Finally, he gets to the point where he just has to start to write the book based on all of the notes he made (which are handwritten in Moleskine notebooks). He said that was his least favorite part because, “writing is bloody hard work!” Kay mentioned that the reason he chose fantasy, although he is on the edge of historical fiction, is that he doesn’t want to pretend to know what historical figures did in privacy. Fantasy gives him the room to imagine what they did and how they thought. One reviewer of his work described him as having a “quarter turn to the fantastical.”

During the question and answer period, many people asked different question about his writing process. He proceeded to tell us that he “hate[d] authorial pontification” and that author’s will always give you conflicting information on what works for them. He gave the example that Margaret Atwood recommends having a Thesaurus beside one’s writing desk at all times, where as another author whom I can’t recall, said to take a Thesaurus out to the garden shed and lock it up and throw away the key, essentially. I also know that Stephen King advises against a Thesaurus and says  that if you need a Thesaurus then it is clearly the wrong word. Although writing has a community surrounding it, it is ultimately a solitary act. This can be terrifying and liberating at the same time.

Another inspiring tid-bit about Guy Gavriel Kay is that his story began with an opportunity to work at Oxford for a year (I missed the details of what he was doing there) and after that year he decided to go to Greece and become a writer. One of the professors at Oxford warned him not to “leave a winning ball-game, Mr. Kay” but he did anyways and look at where he is now. I can already tell I am going to go back to that story over and over whenever I feel discouraged in this business (which is often).

Kay also shared his method for revising and he  said he “write[s] endlessly as [he] goes.” Every two weeks he goes back and rewrites what he wrote in those two weeks and then every six to seven chapters he takes a break and re-writes again, etc. etc. Although, he really stressed to writers to do whatever works best for them, he also shared his disdain for the separation between an engaging story and the language. Some reviews Kay has received mentions how Kay delivers both an engaging story and language. He expressed that there should never be a separation because it is in part the language that does make the story engaging. If I could have I would have high-fived him right then and there. The only way I will read a book is if it has both of these elements.

Lastly, when I finally got to speak with him in the book-signing line he was personable and made you feel as though he really cared you were reading his books. I have been to many books signings and not all authors possess this quality.

Thank you, Guy, for making lasting fans out of the midwives! Now we better get reading!!!

Guy Gavriel Kay

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Uncharted Creative Territory: Why e-reading is a Game Changer and the Paperback Balancing Act

The other night, I came across an article on CBC regarding the future of books. Frankly, a couple of days later I am still slightly trembling. Partly because of the content of the article and having to imagine a world where paper books are a “cultish” thing. Partly because after I read that article, I bought a couple of books from the store and came home and checked the price on Kobo. I would save about ten dollars and quite a bit of space that I currently don’t have from an ongoing book edition. I marched back to the store and returned the books after I watched the alternately download. Did I ever see myself doing this to save a dollar? Never. I think I may have lost a piece of my soul. Or have I? Economically it does make sense and it is a real space saver.

Exhibit A: Overflowing bookcase

Exhibit A: Overflowing bookcase

Furthermore, the article goes on to recommend some books that are changing the e-reading game. One is an app on the iPad for T.S. Eliot’s poem, The Waste Land. I checked it out and fell in love. Yes, I bought it. Yes, I am also in awe that in one place I can not only explore this poem by reading it but T.S. Eliot’s voice reads right along side me from 1933 and 1945! I can also see a video of someone else performing it, not to mention listening to all the other authors who have read it such as Seamus Heaney. Not to mention if I turn the iPad just right, footnotes pop up and I can read all of the behind the scenes details on the poem. It truly is a poet-nerds dream. One of the things I miss most about University is this. Hearing a poem by different readers, discussion about the poem and research on the background of a poem. It is a lot harder to research stuff when you no longer have the fancy passwords to get you into the land of academia. Plus, it saves me time from having to. It’s right there in one app. It blows my mind and this is why I am scared.

I never thought I would embrace the digital age in this way. Now I am beginning to see the possibilities are endless. As a writer, this opens my world up as well as my audience. The technology we have today allows us to enter uncharted creative territory. As the article states, Margaret Atwood has jumped on the bandwagon and has released an interesting book through Anansi Digital. The book, previously, had only had fifteen copies released. Discovering this website almost blew my mind. Books are being resurrected in this format for only $9.99 CAD! Will I ever abandon the feel and lure of a paper book? Never. At least I hope not. I will hang onto my current collection with conviction, even if I have to convert my closet to a library. I will also still buy the paper version. However, I am giving this digital reading a world a chance and who knows I may even really enjoy it. If T.S. Eliot is any indication, then certainly.

More books in the bedroom

More books in the bedroom

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Book Signing Nightmares

I used to get quite star-struck over writers. On any given day, I could run into the likes of Brad Pitt, George Clooney or Beyoncé and not even take a second look. To me, they are just people. Alright, maybe if I met Johnny Depp, but only because I think he is phenomenal at what he does. Authors, however, leave me speechless, sweaty and dizzy with giddiness. Every October, until recently, I was faced with the same challenges at Wordfest where I get to be up close and personal with the writers. I stand in line with my book to be signed and I go over a speech over and over in my head. I try to come up with witty things to say, I try to come up with a quick exit if the author and I experience awkward silences, and I make sure my book is on the right page to be signed so that I avoid fumbling. Sometimes these preparations work to my advantage and sometimes it all falls to  pieces.
I wasn’t always like this at literary events. I remember going to see Margaret Atwood at the University. It was when Oryx and Crake had just come out and she was speaking to a roomful of geneticists. I was amazed at her bravery and her ability to step into her own power and speak to an audience who would anything but embrace her outspoken views on how genetic tampering would ruin the world. I felt so empowered by her bravery. I was thrilled to get my book signed afterwards. Although, having my book signed by Margaret Atwood was anything but what I expected. People were getting small pieces of paper while waiting in line so that they were able to write what they wanted Margaret Atwood to say in their books. The logic to me was outrageous! Who tells Margaret Atwood what to write in their books? The gall! So I approached her without a piece of paper in my hand and announced to her that I would not be telling her what to write in my book because she is the expert. She stared at me and then said, “Everything I would write is already right here,” and she tapped on my copy of The Handmaid’s Tale. I was immediately humbled and walked away with an autograph and a ‘best wishes’ sentiment.

My Margaret Atwood autograph

My Margaret Atwood autograph

Another time at Wordfest, my favorite spoken word poet, Shane Koyczan was attending. I was really excited to see him again. We had met at Mount Royal when he performed at the college. Afterwards he had beers with us at the college bar and he even asked me where I was going when I had to leave early. I thought we must be close friends at this point so I went to Wordfest in the hopes he would remember me. I eagerly lined up to the book signing table and was first in line with my best friend behind me. When I approached Shane with a smile on my face, his eyes were blank. I quickly realized that he only saw me as a stranger. A little disheartened but still hopeful he would write something inspiring in my book, I slid it towards him in anticipation. As he scrolled, “wishing you joy,” I was baffled. How does this person who uses such colourful language and pairs words together in such a way that my heart skips when I hear the creative combinations give me nothing but a cliché. In that moment, joy was not even close to what I felt. To make matters worse, my friend who was behind me had Shane writing “stay beautiful” in hers. Not only did he not remember me, but it was obvious who the better looking one was in his eyes. Again, I was humbled and quite obviously disappointed.

Visiting Hours by Shane Koyczan

Visiting Hours by Shane Koyczan

Since these two encounters, I have met many more authors and have had some extremely positive experiences. One author who stands out in my mind is Ami McKay who I also put on a pedestal, yet when I met her we had a really great time talking. She was so down to earth it just made me love her more. The truth, as I see it, is that writers are people. They are people riddled with similar insecurities and fears that we all have. I still put many authors on a pedestal, but I try harder to see them as the human beings they are.

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Read Like a Writer

My favorite places on earth are bookstores.  However, it didn’t always start this way. When I was a child, I had a mother and a grandmother who spent hours in bookstores leaving me to my own devices in the kid’s section. I remember the excruciating boredom and I was always perplexed at how they could want to pile on as many books at the cash register as they could manage. Finally, as an adult, I get it. I can’t stay away. I always ask myself why I do or feel the things that I do. I think I may have figured it out. Once I got past the playful childhood stage, my passion became words. It was always there in whispers and I can even hear it in the recording of my three-year-old self reading nursery rhymes. Still, why do I have an obsession to the point where my walls and shelves cannot contain the volumes I have? Yes, books open up your world, but my addiction goes beyond this.

Walking through the familiar aisles in search of more titles to tantalize me, it hit me: I read to write. I am an avid reader, but I am first and foremost a writer. I would probably crumble if I did not keep writing. I have always reached for books that are written well. I am thoroughly disappointed in books that do not utilize poetic writing. An author could have the most fascinating plot and characters, but they do not interest me unless the language is juicy. One of my favorite books is God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy. Besides my mild obsession with India, I devoured this book because she managed to take the most exciting words in the English language and put them in never-before-seen combinations. The way she wrote made me look at things differently. In fact, I will never look at orange pop the same again and will probably never drink it…ever. The reason is not because she told me about the abuse one of her main characters suffered in the name of an orange drink. It was because of what she showed me through the senses. She wrote it so well that I now have an association with that event and that drink as if it happened to someone I know. This is the power of good writing. The old writerly advice, “show, don’t tell” isn’t just there to drive writers crazy. It is there because it will affect the writer to the core, if you are able to master it.

 

Kim Addonizio, in her book, Ordinary Genius, puts it bluntly when she says, “if you don’t read, your writing is going to suck.” Books are your best teachers if you want to be a writer. No mentor on the planet can help you write well if you do not read. I am applying this to myself when it comes to poetry. I consider myself a poet, but I am a major slacker when it comes to reading it. I do struggle with re-visioning a poem, so I am taking Kim’s advice and reading every poem I can get my hands on. Many times, I hear myself chanting that I wish I could write like them. Eventually, I will. Eventually my poetic voice will override what I have read. However, I will have carried pieces of their mastered voices into my own craft.

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