by S.J. White
Image: creativedoxfoto / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
There is probably nothing that we know less about when we start, than serious writing. School gives us the rudiments but not much more. One way of short-cutting a long process is to join a group of writers.
The basis of most groups is the workshop, poetry or prose or sometimes both. Its purpose is, fundamentally, editing. Not just the correction of the occasional typo or grammar error, but suggestions on how the work can be generally improved. Also being a member, gives us the opportunity to try out our poems, our stories, before a group of our peers.
Sometimes workshops are scheduled on specifics: how to write certain kinds of poetry, like Haiku, for instance, or how to generate ideas, how to get published.
Another advantage is that some of its members will be better writers than we are. Some of this is bound to rub off. The old cliché of: ‘It’s not what you know, but who you know’ is still prevalent. It is easier to get published among writers who are familiar with your work. Many groups publish anthologies from time to time, and sometimes, on a regular basis. You might even run into publishers who are members. All this helps in getting you into the swim.
Many groups have websites, and like this one, even a blog, and frequently publish newsletters. We all have to start somewhere and in my experience, this is one of the best ways I know.
Stan White has published three books of poetry and numerous chapbooks. His poems have been published in the usual literary journals and anthologies. He is retired and lives with his wife in Brantford, Ont.
Image: Idea go / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Since no one person has all the answers, we’ve starting gathering around-the-table tips from members on subjects that affect us all. What follows is some of what came out of our discussion on writer’s block.
Lee Anne Johnston:
I journal every day. In my formal writing, I write in the first person so the characters seem to develop themselves and tell their own story. I also am a very slow writer. I write historical mysteries and I just love learning the gritty details about the past that will make my story come to life.
There you are writing away, the words flowing from you, gushing out, you can’t get your thoughts down on paper fast enough. Your mind is working faster than your pen. And then it happens – you hit a brick wall, your mind closes (more like slams shut.) Your pen comes to a screeching halt. For me- it’s always two reasons – I’m tired of sitting in the same spot for hours or I’m not knowledgeable about the topic I’m writing about. I get up, get a coffee, take a break and come back refreshed and ready to do research. The joys of Google and from the research, ideas pop into my head like crazy just from reading what someone else has written even though it’s dry, boring facts. And then I’m back at it – full speed ahead, refreshed and armed with new knowledge.
The key for me when I want very much to write but cannot get thoughts to flow IS TO NOT SIT AT MY DESK. Rather, I turn my attention to some of the mindless household chores that always get delayed being done: dusting, vacuuming, cleaning floors, hand laundry, etc. etc. etc. It also sometimes help to put favourite instrumental music ( no vocals) on my stereo. That often sets the stage for the magical flow of poetic expression. And it’s good to have paper and pencil handy around the house so I can easily pause to jot down ideas, expressions, particular words that must be captured before they fly from my head.
- I try to write something everyday to keep the muse happy and coming back.
- I read from something published every day. There’s always something to be learned from someone else’s successes.
- I critique at least one unpublished work every week. Figuring out on my own what does and doesn’t work for me, and why, is more helpful to me than anything I’ve learned second-hand (through a course, instructional book, etc.).
- I plot out my stories, then don’t write them sequentially. If I’m blocked on something, I write around it. Once I have the thing surrounded, it usually surrenders.
- I stop writing mid-sentence or mid-scene. That way I don’t really have to face a blank page the next day. I already know how that sentence or scene should end.
Diane Attwell Palfrey:
- I get a lot of inspiration from news stories or articles I read via different search engines. I like to research a topic and then write about it. So when the idea train has left the tracks – I head for the PC. I like to write about people and relationships, the human condition etc. News is full of items that can be turned into poetry.
- I also get ideas from Facebook. I’ll read my homepage and that will inspire me. Sometimes I can’t quite believe the kind of things that people blog on a public forum. But then I think – well – it’s giving me a subject to write about.
- Sometimes I ply myself with chocolate and listen to music. It soothes and helps the ideas flow.
- Most of my writing is done after midnight. That’s when the house is quiet, the phone has stopped ringing and there are no more e-mails to deal with.
- I’m not above asking others for ideas. I’ll often ask someone to give me an idea. I’ll just say, “hey, I need to write a poem – do you have an idea for me – tell me a story and I’ll turn it into a poem for you”. My mother is a great source for that.
Have you ever suffered from Writer’s Block? How did you overcome it?
Happy Summer everyone!
Like many others, the CWC membership plans to slow down a bit for the summer to give ourselves time to rejuvenate and be inspired by all the season has to offer.
Through July and August, we will post scheduled updates to this blog monthly, on the first Sunday. Weekly posting will resume in September.
We hope you take this opportunity to stop and smell the roses as well.
Image: Arvind Balaraman / FreeDigitalPhotos.net
by Becky Alexander
last updated by Wendy Visser, Apr 2009
The purpose of critiquing is to offer ideas and suggestions to help a writer improve his work. Critiquing sessions should be a productive yet enjoyable experience for the giver and the recipient. Some guidelines:
- Presenters must provide signed copies of their work for distribution.
- The CWC does not comment on CONTENT. All genres regardless of theme are acceptable.
- Critiquing must be kind, friendly and encouraging with the end result seen as constructive support for each other.
- You may offer verbal or written comments or both. Written comments should include your name on the presented piece to allow the author the chance to ask you any further questions about your suggestions.
- Phrasing etiquette: “I think”, or “Perhaps”, “Maybe you could”, or “ I might”, or “ I like the way . . . but” are polite ways of showing respect when making possible improvements to a writer’s work.
- Do not prolong individual comments. State your point or points as there is only so much time allowable for each writer in order to accommodate all presenters.
- Presenters should not offer long-winded preambles to their work. A little commentary is acceptable but is often not warranted as pre-presentation talk reduces valuable critiquing time.
- ALL opinions are valued and should be expressed by EVERYONE. It is disappointing to have work returned after a session with very little feedback especially if that individual tries on a regular basis to give suggestions, etc to others.
- Characterization, imagery, use of metaphor, simile, alliteration, word choice and use, point of view, use of dialogue, development of plot, theme, mood, suspense etc. are aspects of literature we look for in presented work. Focus on one or two of these aspects to comment on.
- It’s okay to disagree with a point someone else raises but just say so and why and move on. It is up to the writer to consider all comments and make the final decisions. Group discussion is encouraged but arguing is not. It is the responsibility of the meeting chair to keep the critiquing on track and to ascertain the amount of time given per reader, which depends on the number of presenters.
- Try to give specific examples of elements you like or why the work appeals to you. “ I think the strong sounding verbs in your piece really add to the theme”. “ I like the title because it hints at the sense of foreboding present in your story”.
- It is always the work that is being evaluated not the writer. If you don’t like some aspect of the work, try lead-in comments such as, “Perhaps”, “ ‘I don’t think you need to use . . .” “ I might use softer sounding words here to help convey the mood you’ve already created by your use of . . .”
- Typos, grammar and spelling errors and punctuation suggestions can be highlighted on your copy and returned to the presenter for later correction.
by Becky Alexander
photo © 2010 Hiromi | more info(via: Wylio)
- In what year was the CWC founded, and by whom?
A: In 1991, the CWC was founded by local author and business woman Jill Summerhayes.
- Who was the first president of CWC?
A: Jill Summerhayes.
- Where was the first CWC Writers’ Retreat held?
A: This first fabulous retreat was held at Crieff Hills Community Centre. It was in 1994 or 1995—I forget which, and I’m too lazy to look it up in the archives. We stayed in the Matthew House, two to a room, and 13 people attended. It began on Friday the 13th that fall (September, I believe) and we included a midnight walk up the road to explore the cemetery, resulting in many fine pieces of writing.
- How many founding members still hold membership at CWC?
- Who holds the record for attending the CWC for the longest total time period?
A: Becky Alexander.
- Who is the only member ever to be granted a Lifetime Membership to CWC?
A: This was granted to former fiction writer Jim Dennison, who died a few years back. His health prevented him from further attendance. He was ‘our’ Clint Eastwood, and we miss him.
- Where did the title of our blue ribbon, The Moving Finger Award originate?
A: This was the brain child of former member David Hobson. Ribbon title is from Omar Khayyam’s Rubaiyat, Chapter LI (51): “The Moving Finger writes,and, having writ, Moves on’…
- How many contest anthologies did the CWC produce, and what was their title?
A: We produced ten contest anthologies, all entitled Writers Undercover.
- How many copies of the above anthologies have you read?
A: You must provide this answer.
- Where would you be able to obtain copies of the anthologies, for a nominal fee?
A: Copies can be purchased from an executive member for $2.00–$5.00. Some editions are sold out.
- What is The Grand Gift of Laughter?
A: This was the title of our millennium project for 2000: a collection of pieces by CWC members. This project was sold out.
- Name two other places where the CWC met, prior to the creation of the Cambridge Centre for the Arts.
A: Earliest meetings were held at members’ homes, then at St. Augustine’s School, then the Galt Little Theatre, and we moved into the Durward centre next door while the CCA was being built.
- Name at least three places where the CWC held readings, eventually leading to the belief that ‘we’ closed those establishments (with the ‘CWC kiss of death’).
A: Some such places were: Saratoga, on Dickson Street, Nadeen’s Cafe, on Water Street, Cafe Calisa, in Preston. And many, many places involving readings in Elora and Fergus have long since closed their doors, although these were not solely CWC reading events.
- Which former CWC Member coined the newsletter title: In Orbit?
A: Nancy Olwen Morrey, former member, winning a contest to select this.
- What is the CWC motto?
A: writers helping writers
- Who was the first CWC newsletter editor?
A: Jill Fox, poet and former member
- Who gave the CWC the gift of The Moving Finger Plaque, and why?
A: This gift was presented to us by Marta O’Reilly, and Norm Johnson, two terrifically motivated CWC members who gave so much of their time and heart to the CWC. When they were moving out to Nanaimo B.C., this was their parting gift to us.
- Name at least three former and/or present CWC members who have a brick on the Founders’ Wall in the lobby of the Cambridge Centre for the Arts.
A: The Founders’ Wall consists of ceramic bricks naming anyone who believed in the building of our arts centre, and who donated cash to help build it. Some names are Jill Summerhayes, Stuart Summerhayes, Bill Ashwell, Becky Alexander, Pat Oliver, Dan Watt.
- What special event do you suggest that the CWC hold to celebrate its Twentieth Anniversary, in September 2011?
A: Please make any suggestions in the comments section or to the incoming CWC executive for 2011.
Welcome to the Cambridge Writers’ Collective Blog. In this space we hope to tell you more about our Writing Group, as well as provide tips and inspiration for your writing.