5 Writerly quirks I have and maybe you do too

Writers are weird. Sure we’re human and put on our pants one leg at a time, but let’s face it, some of the things we do may seem a bit odd to the casual observer. Voluntarily chaining ourselves to our desks every day for  the sake of telling a story we’ve taken months, or even years to piece together is in itself kind of odd. I mean, it’s not like any of us are in it for fame and dames. And the big bucks, or any bucks at all, may never come. Still, we keep toiling away with our manuscripts, immersed in our creations, not willing to give in to the alternative.

On top of this, many of us have a slew of idiosyncrasies tied up with our craft. You know, things that are a little offbeat or bizarre. I sure as heck do. In fact, I have at least a dozen but here are the ones I’m willing to admit to.

Waking up before the crack of dawn to write
It’s 5:30 in the morning as I string together these sentences. But in fact, I’ve already been at it for the last hour or so. And it’s not the first time. In all honesty this early a.m. ritual has become something of a habit, even though most people think it’s kinda strange. But as it turns out, this is the best time of day for me to write. Since seemingly forever, the wee hours of the morning are when my mind is the sharpest and my resistance is the lowest. And lately, it’s also the only time I can consistently carve out to practice my craft. Between working full time and momming a pre-schooler, it’s the one precious uninterrupted moment in my day where I can create. Getting up early is not a sacrifice: it’s a godsend.

Strong opinions about punctuation
Ever have a visceral reaction to a misplaced comma? Or a kind of queasy feeling when an apostrophe is missing? Or maybe the overuse of exclamation marks drives you dilly? If so, know two things: you’re not alone and this is not what most people would consider normal.

For instance, if you polled a random sampling of the population and asked them where they stood on the Oxford comma, I’m pretty sure most would check the box marked “don’t give a flying fuck.” Us writers on the other hand have powerful reactions to such questions and will joyfully debate with the full force of our intellect where and when those lines, dashes and dots should go. Weird, no?

Write every day or feel like a failure
You know that feeling when you suddenly realize you forgot to call your grandmother on her birthday? That it was two days ago and you just outright forgot? Everything just kind of shrivels up inside you. You’re now the world’s most heartless creep, overcome with shame and regret that drowns out any good feelings you once had about yourself. If you can at all relate to this experience, then you should be able to understand how it feels for me when I don’t write. Though I plunk myself down at my desk for seven hours every Monday to Friday at my day job, I still feel like an abject failure if I don’t take the time to toil over my own creations.  It’s more than a little weird and maybe just a little unhealthy that my sense of self-worth is so tied into whether or not I write. But I don’t think I’m the only writer that gets caught up like this. Am I?

Never enough books
Though I’ve never counted, the number of volumes I have in my library must tally up to somewhere in the hundreds. My bookshelves are pretty much bursting at the seams. And because I tend to give away novels after reading them, the majority of fiction titles I own are as yet unread. Still, I can’t walk into a bookstore without acquiring one or more new editions. Even though it will likely take me years to read all the ones waiting for me at home. Some might categorize this kind of behaviour as nonsensical. Or maybe compulsive. Possibly eccentric.

Keeping you’re work in progress top secret until its done
Writing is magic. Anyone who says otherwise doesn’t know what they’re talking about. We get the opportunity to inhabit our inner worlds and dance with our creations. But as with any magic, there’s a price to be paid for using it. We must sacrifice our time. We must “bleed through our finger tips.” In doing so, the magical forces build up around us like a whirlwind. A thing of nature that ultimately catapults our creations into living, breathing works. But the tempest that we stir with the act of writing needs our care to keep it alive and moving. It requires something vital. Of our essence, of our deepest selves. And to name it too soon could undo it.

I know from experience that the energy pulling me towards writing something can mysteriously dissipate. That the magnetism of the story can vanish if I speak it before I type or pen the words first. So, I keep the details of anything I’m working on under wraps. At least until the first draft is complete. Lovers, children, parents and editors are all politely told to pry elsewhere, and to kindly be patient in awaiting the first draft.

What to do about our quirkiness?
Embrace it. Our oddities are beautiful and interesting and sometimes inspiring. Besides, it’s not like we’re the only tribe with our idiosyncrasies. Ours just happen to be more, well, writerly.

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10 Things every writer should do this summer

So I know I’m being something of a bossy pants in telling you what to do with your summer. Hey, I get it. You’ve got your own plans. You don’t need some listicle of a blog post telling you how to make the most of the next few months, even if my ideas really are super awesome. Suit yourself then and just scroll past points one to nine and head straight to 10. 

1. Crack open your summer reads
The first order of business? Choose your companions. But choose them wisely, choose them well. No idea what to read? You can borrow this list, but it’s probably better if you create your own. Just be sure to include at least one beach read, even if you’re not technically going to the beach. 

2. Go to the damn beach
Unless you hate the beach. Then don’t. But do something else then that makes you feel illuminated and buoyant, full of texture and magic. Something that touches on your senses profoundly and stirs in you a feeling of utter enchantment. For me that’s the beach—birthplace of my first poem not coincidentally.

3. Hit-up garage sales for cheap but good books
I can’t be the only writer that does this? Up here in my neck of the woods, there’s nowhere cheaper to buy goodies for my home library. And living in Canada, garage sales are pretty much a summertime only thing. So if you’re in the same boat, go out and get ‘em while the gettin’s good.

4. Do a DIY writer’s retreat
If you’re doing an actual writer’s retreat like one of these then please enjoy. Maybe Instagram it so the rest of us can catch some of the afterglow. Everyone else, feel free to do what I’m doing and create your own. Though I considered staying at a hotel with decent room service and free Wi-Fi, I ultimately went for the economy package: a long-weekend at home alone while my daughter stays at Grandma’s house. As a single parent, an uninterrupted few days is beyond amazing. It may not be Banff but ultimately if the writing’s good, then who needs the Rockies anyway. 

5. Practice the fine art of the siesta
Is there anything more sublime than the siesta? Lolling about on a warm afternoon, toes dangling over the edge of a mattress stripped to just its sheets? Or suspended in a hammock or cocooned on a couch? Of course this practice is particularly fabulous for us early a.m. scribblers, but nearly every writer I know could benefit from an extra little doze here and there. 

6. Support the arts
I don’t know about you, but I find the work of other creators inspiring and uplifting and even influential. And yet I haven’t been to a show or a gallery or bought a new album in forever. And I don’t even remember the last time I went to a reading. So this summer, I’d like to do each of these things at least once. And I invite you to vamp up your own patronage of the arts, in whatever ways best ignite your creativity. 

7. Pitch magazines your fall and winter article ideas
Many print publications are three or more months ahead in terms of what they’re working on. So even though we’re still in June, it’s quite likely editors have already made some decisions about what content they’ll publish in September. This can be really helpful when trying to determine what kind of ideas might get grabbed up by a particular magazine. Your fall-themed pitch is far more likely to be considered than one that’s out of season.

8. Get ready to submit literary work for the fall
If you’re a poet, essayist, or fiction writer, you may wish to spend some time this summer polishing up your best pieces. Many literary magazines start accepting submissions in the fall and if you want to enter contests, the majority of those also have deadlines in mid to late autumn.

9. Add a splash of fun into your writing routine
Remember when you were a kid and school would let out for the summer, what a relief it was to not have any homework? Well, being a writer isn’t like that. The vast majority of us keep at it year-round. Still, that doesn’t mean we can’t inject a little summertime fun into the regular routine.

Personally, during the summer months I prefer give myself over to projects that are geared around my own whims rather than pay. This summer, the only new work I’ll be taking on will be directly related to my novel in progress. So, yay! Summer!

10. Write your own summer to do list
The blog post you’re reading here is adapted straight from my own personal to do list. Though I think my ideas are quite good, it’s still probably best if you create your own.

You can start by asking yourself what you want to accomplish in the long run and then consider actions you could take to make those things happen. Choose some of the most important-to-you ones and then prioritize them. Set goals. Schedule tasks. But don’t forget to also do things that uplift you and make you feel happy to be alive. As writers, we need to both keep pushing the nib forward and finding inspiration in the world around us. Happy summer, everyone.

How to write an article that’s 250 words or less

If you’re used to writing longer pieces, making the switch to a much more constrained form can be a real challenge. When I first started writing 250 word articles, I had no idea what I was doing. It would actually take me longer to write the short pieces because I spent so much time culling back content to meet the mandated word count. Truth is, I still find it tricky at times but the following tips help keep me in line.

Find examples
Hit up your local library and spend some time going through various magazines and newspapers. Look out for short articles—in magazines they’re usually closer to the front sandwiched between those endless ads—and read a bunch of them to get familiar with how ideas (or an idea) is approached, in both content and form. Take notes, draw pictures or snap shots (discretely?) on your preferred device. Doing this will give you a strong feel for the short article and what it can and can’t accomplish.

Go in with a plan
When it’s time to write your article, make an outline of what you want to cover. Try to figure out upfront how much you can reasonably fit within the allotted word count. If you want to provide more in depth reporting, you may have to choose just one small aspect of your original topic. Alternatively, you could skim the surface of your broader subject and not go into as much detail. Either way, making these kind of choices upfront can steer you away from potential overflow as you write out your first draft.

Get to the point
Those cute turns of phrases and long ambling introductions have got to go. You won’t have room for them. More importantly, in order to give your reader the meatiest bits, you’ll need to make sure you don’t mince words. The introduction will likely be only one or two sentences and to wrap-up the article, a one-sentence conclusion is best.

Use bullets to convey more with less
There’s absolutely no shame in using bulleted lists to share information succinctly. Bulleted lists are:

  • Easy to scan
  • Visually interesting
  • High density

Use them anytime you want to pack in a lot of high-value content that’s easy for readers to digest.

Cut out the fat
If you’re anything like me, despite your best intentions, your first draft will creep past the 250-word mark. Maybe a lot past. There’s only one solution: go in like a butcher and get rid of the fat. Some of those tasty nuggets that are packed with flavour may need to be lopped off. Anything that veers too far from your main point will definitely need to go. And your sentences must be scrutinized for and freed of all unnecessary bits of language. 

But keep it readable
What you should be left with is a highly compact article that’s interesting on its own, but may also be part of a much bigger story. Keep your readers in mind as you revise to ensure you don’t leave any gaping holes in the piece and that your sentences are coherently stitched together. And keep your language interesting. Even writing that’s low in fat should still have some spice.