Writing beyond the Grave

 

When waking up at 3 a.m. and having the memories of a very ancient obituary writing assignment on my mind for absolutely no reason at all, I decided to get up and write this blog so as to contemplate how death and dying is represented in different writing forms and the difference in the way it is conveyed in social media and literature.

Obituary writing is not all it’s cut out to be. When I was first assigned to write the obituary of a living person as a learning assignment while studying journalism I think I would have sooner chewed my arm off. I did not want to decide someone’s method of dying when they were still on the planet breathing the God given air we have. I was not worthy or meant for such a fate. By luck, or misfortune, the person to whom I had been assigned learned of the true nature of my assignment by chance.

It turned out that the person to whom I had been assigned was particularly superstitious and by the next day I was forbidden from completing the assignment and given an alternate one in its place. But that didn’t excuse me from learning the ins and outs of what an obituary must include.

In the digital age many readers are thirsty for information, as much of it as can be dished to them as possible and many are fooled by death hoaxes circulating on social media.

Writing about death in its many forms is an industry of its own and it is the elephant in the room that demands to be heard.

While it is unpleasant and no one particularly enjoys discussing it (okay some people do) death has amassed its notoriety for its ability to employ the masses writing obits, doing feature news reports, collecting hits on social media platforms and writing memoirs of famous and fictional people who pass.

Have you ever examined death in literature? Because writing is such a fine art the writing of a character’s passing can be particularly painful for the author and sometimes, just as hard on the reader. Why? Because even though these people are fictional (unless you’re writing a memoir) and often times play smaller roles in the novel, as authors and readers we invest our time and our minds to “getting to know them” and what they represent: their values, hobbies, likes, dislikes, hurts and triumphs, all that life has to offer for a character in a book, especially a good book, leaves us often wishing for more time to “know” the character that was created. Other times readers are glad the S.O.B (whomever it is) has finally kicked the bucket and that means a happily ever after ending they have so painstakingly been hoping for, doesn’t it?

The writing process that goes into killing off a character or revealing a character’s death is different for every author. Sometimes, ‘he died’ is all one needs to write to make the desired impact the author is searching for, other times it is more beneficial to draw out a character’s passing over an entire chapter through other characters’ dialogue, setting up the location to reflect something morose and let the circumstance of the person/character’s death make the impact on the reader.

Does life ever end happily ever after? Is there happiness in dying? Is there a reward in writing about dying? You bet there is. For the life of a writer it is all part of making a living.

 

 

 

Advertisements

Five Unwritten Rules in Writing You Haven’t Heard (from me)

 

  1. Writing query letters to editors and book to proposals to publishers is fun (okay I’ll be honest, it’s really not) but it doesn’t guarantee you will get a reply or a sale. (It also doesn’t mean you won’t). Listening to what editors suggest to you in their feedback just might help you get that contract.
  2. Writing articles on spec is the only excuse you’ll have to take yourself on a date night alone if you have kids. (Maybe even if you don’t but you just want to get away.) #movienight #girlsnight #coffeedate #manicure #facials #finedining #needIgoon
  3. Write a children’s books and you’ll have a break from reality. Write a non-fiction novel and you could live vicariously through those whom succeeded doing the same thing before you and went on to make the bestsellers lists.
  4. Blog for a day you may attract readers. Blog for life and you may gain followers. Blog because you like the writing process and you could make an income if you have both.
  5. Many of the great writers are known for their solid work ethic. How much of your free time are you dedicating to writing these days? Coming soon an interview with one of Ottawa’s classiest Influencers in the business and writing world.

Money for Nothing: Cheques For Free

Mr.Sandman…

I pulled a #StephenKing last night. I awoke shortly after four in the morning and wrote from start to end a very fluid dream that I think has the potential to make a great story. Before actually getting up to write it down I dreamt I was writing it down on anything I could find. In my dream I remember saying to myself, I’m not really writing this down am I? In that moment decided to let myself actually wake up to make sure I didn’t lose this jewel covered in dust.

I am also practising in this moment what Writing Fiction by Janet Burroway which I studied while pursuing Creative Writing in college suggests: Immediately upon waking the first thing you do is go straight to the keyboard and write whatever comes to mind without hesitation and allow no interruptions and as it was this story that came out. (This blog has been heavily edited).

It has been so long since I have woken up to the call of a good story, in fact I have let many story ideas go because at the time my children were quite young but they sleep a little longer these days. When is the last time you woke up to the call of a great story and wrote it down? What was the long term outcome? Was is just a loss of sleep of was it really rewarding in the long term?

 

The Morning after Effect

todolist

So it’s the morning after I sent my manuscript out and let’s be honest, I’m still working on my first cup of coffee so that is the only plan of attack at this moment. It’s been a helluva week though filled with (blank space) still waking up, or as Janet Burroway, author of Writing Fiction, A Guide To Narrative Craft refers to the blank space, it’s the critic, keeping me from moving this blog forward, so I’m going to keep writing and hope this all makes sense when I’m done. (It is only 6:30 a.m. in my defense). I’m re-reading that book again, because every now and then I like to refresh what I know about writing and sharpen writing skills that perhaps I didn’t work as hard on or even missed reading it the last time around.

*8:30 now and I’m awake enough to remember that the week was filled with milestones for my writing career (none of which I will repeat at this time) suffice to say, good morning.

What amazes me as I write this blog, is that the kids are still asleep, which of course only happens when I wake up for no good reason before them. On the bright side, it’s the weekend (for some of us anyhow). I do not include myself in those lucky enough to bask in it though, since I have self-imposed deadlines that need to be met for other writing projects I am finishing.

Speaking of deadlines, I always find it amusing that writers are often not taken as seriously as people whose deadlines are imposed by others. I wonder why that is? I think it’s similar to a person who doesn’t have kids telling one who does that they are tired, the reception is often not something that smooths over as easily. After all how could a person with no children tugging at their ankles all morning, afternoon and evening possibly relate to one that does? The answer, I think, is universal: responsibilities and people to answer to, we are only as accountable as writers (I think) as we hold ourselves to be.

What are my responsibilities as a writer and mother? To balance the life I have created for myself in a way where I don’t find myself in over my head at the end of the day and yet still get stuff done. How do I do that? I create priorities and don’t get side-tracked. (Memo to me after getting the kids breakfast: as a mom of two I often get side-tracked.) The trick, I find, is to be side –tracked while keeping one hand (metaphorically) and when possible, at the keyboard.

 

If I can’t be writing I can generate story ideas. Some better than others.

 

When I get to writing I work on my paid assignments before working on long term projects for myself. Some days I only get fifteen to twenty minutes of writing done. (Okay I admit I’m a social media addict – of sorts) so if I could step away from some of those apps I would be a bit further ahead in the game. But, those fifteen to twenty minutes that come between colouring, crafts, outdoor play and other endeavors add up over time. That was how I wrote my novella, between the chaos and joys of parenting. And that is how today, I begin writing my novel. That, and a little sleep deprived.

A Writer’s Resolutions

 

 

 

 

 

 

Money for Nothing: Cheques For Free

Startup Stock Photos

I love my life. Want an assignment? Here you go. Have an idea for a story? Send it to us. Have an idea for a blog on a topic you love? Write about it and we’ll pay you to do something you love. Sometimes it feels like I am being paid to live life to the fullest, if only every freelancer were so fortunate.

Over my writing career I have had the pleasure of interviewing local celebrities, change-makers and activists working towards improving social issues in the community. I have met athletes, politicians, musicians, actors and people in the writing industry whose views and experiences have changed the way I see my social landscape.

I have encountered first- hand what it feels like both to succeed and fail on rollercoaster wavelengths and I have come out of these failures feeling stronger, more determined and as focused as ever on producing results never before seen compared to — myself.

In a recent conversation with a person whose tenacity and success I admire it was pointed out to me that we are our biggest competitors. It is not the writer whose paycheques are bigger or smaller than my last that I need to focus on but the writer who yesterday wrote social statuses on social media instead of spending time in a Word program writing fresh work.

We can only do better today than we did yesterday if at first we put the idea in our heads that we ought to always be pushing ourselves to write more, produce better quality pieces and not settle for what we think is our best work (at least according to another writer I know who swears that *they are never satisfied with their work and thus the end result is brilliant and highly successful). Oh wait, I’m doing it again. Seems the person who I was talking to was right – I do look at the writer to my left and to my right. I think a lot of us do. That said, is it necessarily wrong if our intention is to empower ourselves to do better by aspiring to what another has already achieved? I am told, it in fact is ill-advised.

Do you ever find yourself questioning why someone you know got the book contract and you didn’t? How have you felt when receiving rejection letters from publishing companies? What were your coping skills? How did you improve on your next query from your last? Have you used advice offered in responses from editors?

As writers I think we all begin at the start line of the metaphoric race that is our writing careers, preparing ourselves by learning the tools of the trade. Accumulating resources on writing, studying authors and periodicals with work by people whose work we admire.

It ought never be the goal to do anything other than your best, whether your best is a best-seller, an award winning article, or something you write that never gets published and is for your eyes only.

Writing as a hobby is relaxing, stress-free, exhilarating and enjoyable. Writing as a career is getting paid to live writing while enjoying all the stress-free, relaxing and exhilarating experiences life has to offer. Doing both, you can’t ask for much more.

Keep your eyes on the finish line and try not to look too much at your competitors, it will only slow you down.

 

 

D-I-V-O-R-C-E,Commitment and the Writer

weddress

 

I’ve divorced myself from the writing lifestyle. That is to say, I’ve been away from regular hours in the office typing away at a keyboard. I haven’t committed to writing exercises, carrying around books to study the plot and character structure or even just to bask in a café and enjoy the winter scenery of page after page of even my favorite author and I’m not about to apologize. In fact, it is quite possible the healthiest thing I have done for my writing career to date.

Minus a blog here and there it’s been nothing but leisure activities including but not limited to photographing everything under the sun, family time and watching some great flicks. (As long as I can keep my eyes open after the kids are asleep that is). More than one person has suggested and I agree they are right, that perhaps it’s too soon for my little ones to be watching Misery or Carrie so I save the horrors and thrillers for when they are sleeping  CryptTV.com streams some of my favs. Then there’s the action movies I have to choose from and my fav actors to watch. I never tire of films with Johnny Depp or Meryl Streep (Ottawa’s local actors are also quite good but I’m not naming names. You know who you are.)

I love watching One True Thing for the thousandth time. I cry every time I watch Losing Isaiah. The Deep End of the Ocean is a touching drama that will pull at heart strings too, I love that the protagonist is a mother and a photographer. I’m a fan of Finding Forrester. Alice Through the Looking Glass and Maleficent is a go to when I just want to get away from it all. G.I Jane, Far and Away, God Bless the Child, my absolute favorite local film is, I can’t say actually (I have a few preferences) but ottawashortfilms.com has a collection of great shorts.

I’ve been pressed for time to make it to the theatres but I would have loved to see La La Land,

A Monster Calls and Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.

I drink less coffee and more tea these days, my Stephen King book, Blaze, came in handy when I had to go to the emergency room in a matter where everything worked out; I got to read little more than a paragraph that night. Like I said, I really have not been living the writer’s life as of late.

I meet people in person over chatting online. I talk to strangers but I don’t take notes. I ride the bus but I don’t use my senses to explain the experience of being transported from one end of the city to the other, I don’t bother to take note of the sights, smells and other senses. Instead, I chat with my children playing silly mom and daughter/son games. I speak loudly when it might be better to whisper. I remember who I am when I’m not a writer. I breathe.

Life. It’s all about life and living. But I’m here now, committed once again to the writer’s lifestyle and the dedication and focus I need to recommit to get manuscripts polished and sent out and queries ready for publishers. Really, I went on a Writer’s Vacation, I plan to do it again in the future now that I remember. I remember who I am when I am not a writer.

Sometimes, you just have to say no to the workload and deadlines. Sometimes, you have to choose yourself over your work, your health over a hefty paycheque. Sometimes saying no is what writers’ like me really need to do to really want to say yes when all is said and done. This is what I want. This is what I do.

What do you say?

 

 

 

Hot Topic to kick off 2017

 

I believe there is truth in the statement that art imitates life and some of the most compelling stories ever brought to light in film and novels have been of real people going through real life tragedies.

I have been a freelance journalist for a bigger portion of my life. I have been assigned, thought of and written firsthand accounts of people from all walks of life .Cat’s out of the bag so to speak. I won’t claim that I have *never found at least *one idea from real life that didn’t appeal to me to write as a work of fiction but there were a lot of things I would have taken into consideration *if I had moved forward with writing from real life experiences.

I would also argue that the truth can be a powerful thing in the hands of an experienced writer. Like all things though, the truth can have dark sides that sometimes no one should be privy to and the question becomes, how far would you go to keep a secret if you were asked? When is drawing stories from real life events beneficial or is it possible that long term it could be harmful? What would you do when faced with possibly the biggest story of your career and the subject was someone you knew? The real question is: How ethical are you as a writer in drawing your writing ideas from real life and writing them into existence?

Have you ever had deep conversation with someone about their life and then wanted to tell their story on the page? Is it ever okay to use someone else’s pain for profit? Would you have the guts to ask someone for their permission to write their life story? How would you answer if someone asked if you, ‘wrote them’, into a story without their knowledge?

Writing people we know and turning them into characters in a story is something that hypothetically, could be done. In memoirs, the subject is fact and the people (most of the time) are from real life. As a fiction writer, if you were writing from an idea drawn from a person IRL you could make a few changes to the sex of the character, the dialogue and gender you could absolutely spin a tale about someone you didn’t like or who had wronged you using a storyline you overheard or a conversation you had until that character or someone else you created was in h*ll in a handbasket so to speak and possibly feel no remorse (okay, maybe you might feel remorse) or maybe you want to write someone out of a bad real life ending and conclude the story with some happily-ever-after idea. That’s the great thing about writing. Anything is possible. The power stays with the author during the writing process.

Let’s say Bob tells Jane that Sally left Tom because he’s an alcoholic. Would you go write a story about Tom? Probably not. But, if you know Tom really well then we can safely say you know his mannerisms, his hobbies, that he picks his nose too much and that his hair colour is really blond. Let’s also say for arguments sake, that you’ve decided to write an essay about alcoholism and how it destroys families but you don’t want to call out Tom so as not to embarrass him or Sally should anyone read your work who knows you, here’s how you write about Tom without causing a fuss:

Choose from these: change his age, location, height, weight, gender, social etiquette (so no nose picking throughout the story) hobbies, hair colour, gait, and make his ex-girlfriend the opposite of what your friend Sally is, or also like Sally but a different ethnicity, from a different religion thereby changing the type of activities she’d be involved in or lifestyle she’d leave.

To take storytelling skills a step further I suggest you research more and speak to people who have experienced what you want to know about or who are experts in their field. For instance, I once wanted to speak to people whom had experienced homelessness. I didn’t have to look far on Ottawa’s downtown streets to meet someone who had been displaced. I sat down with this person over coffee (my treat) and asked them what life was really like. It would not have been ethical to write their life story and pitch their head shot for the cover of People Magazine or some other glossy periodical with mass subscribers but it was logical to take general facts about the lifestyle that was described to me and apply it to the character I created from thin air.

Anytime there is a question of what to leave in and what to take out where questioning if it is ethically acceptable to write or print stories with personal material from sources I ask myself two things: Is what I have written defamatory? Is it libelous? (If you do not know what these terms mean I suggest looking them up). When in doubt, take it out, is a popular rule of thumb used by many authors I have met whose writing I admire.

Then there’s what I have described as the question, “Mother may I?” In fact, it is nothing more than my fancy way of saying, would you be comfortable writing this information about your mother or would you be asking “Mother may I include this or that in my story about you?” (Or swap the word mother with another person you respect or admire). If the answer is no, you might be best to not tell it directly if you include it at all and certainly in no way make any reference to the person whose dialogue inspired you but you could perhaps show it in a third-person narrative with a newly developed character, this would make things a lot less personal between the reader and your work.

Writing in the first person is intensely more personal and direct than describing the same information happening to someone else.

So the next time you find yourself listening in on someone else’s conversation whether accidentally, because you are a captive audience or otherwise consider whether there is a story there you want to tell or that is deserving of telling, and sweep up the breadcrumbs you leave behind as you write deeper into your story, unless you are writing a memoir. Even then you may find yourself asking, “Mother may I?”