Archive for September, 2008

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Word on the Street.

September 29, 2008

We read to know we are not alone. ~ C.S. Lewis

 

On the weekend, I attended Word on the Street – a book and magazine festival held in Queen’s Park, Toronto.  It was a booklover’s paradise that showcased hundreds of book and magazine exhibits, readings, performances, workshops, and panel discussions.  I was in heaven.  I can’t say how refreshing it was to see so many people gathered to appreciate and celebrate literacy in Canada.  It was also encouraging to see the number of children getting involved.  I personally think reading and creativity is a fundamental aspect of early childhood development, so it was uplifting to catch families sitting under trees together reading newly bought books.

 

I attended a talk by freelance writer Nate Hendley entitled “Survival Tips for Freelance Writers”.  It was quite enlightening on some topics such as financial and business matters.  He also offered some great motivational strategies.  However, he did preach about rules that I have heard can be beneficial to break.  For example, he emphasized the one-page query letter rule, which I don’t totally agree with, especially after reading through the Renegade Freelance Writer book series.  He also suggested that freelance writers begin at the very bottom and work their way up.  While I agree that landing the cover story of The Globe and Mail is highly unlikely for a newbie, I’m not so sure going for less is a strategy that should be adopted either.  I think it’s better to aim high – really go for what you want – and if you aren’t successful, accept that limitation temporarily.  But never just settle for the lowest paying gigs or the ones that offer the least exposure if you don’t have to.  Who knows if that query you only presented to smaller publications might have been accepted by your dream magazine?  I think you at least owe it to yourself to try. 

The worst you can get is a “no”.  And who knows, you might be surprised by the response.

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Man in Black.

September 27, 2008

The past is still, for us, a place that is not safely settled. ~ Michael Ondaatje

I’ve decided that I’m going to try and make weekends my time to be innovative and creative when blogging.  After all, I’m a creative writer at heart.  Fiction is my secret love.  It isn’t so much about constructing a story for me.  It’s about having characters loitering in the empty rooms of my mind, demanding attention, sometimes pounding with headache-inducing fists on closed doors.  They want out.  They are the ones with stories to tell.  I am nothing more than their outlet or medium, and they seem to use me as they see fit.  And despite always hating the act of writing poetry when I was younger, I have somehow come to appreciate the thought and detail that goes into weaving a spiderweb of words, which must somehow find their ties to one another in the end.

For those of you who have difficulty finding the time to get a creative writing session in among your regular freelance writing, I urge you not to forget that side of your writing personality.  That little pearl of innovation that hangs on the thread of sanity must be nourished and celebrated

In my creative writing sessions throughout university, one exercise my professor suggested for getting the juices flowing was a simple task.  Write a descriptive paragraph.  The whole point is to envision an image in your head.  This can be a person, place, or object.  Anything your heart desires.  Then describe it in as much detail as you can muster and in as unique a way as possible.  Your goal is to transmit the picture in your head to your reader through words without losing anything in translation, essentially bringing your thought or idea to life for someone else.  You might call it crafting a sensory experience.

I think every writer should give this exercise a try.

I have written about something from my past…perhaps an image that will always haunt me to some extent.  It’s an unsettling memory that reminds of the danger I managed to escape when I was a young woman, enraptured with the wrong kind of love, but faithful to it nevertheless.  I’m sure I’m not the only one out there with such an experience.  

Anyways, here it goes.

 

You remember him in the beginning.  You found him hunched against the schoolyard brick with a womb of leather draped across his back, legs outstretched like a basking hunting cat.  His face was a rainbow of pinks and blues, making his eyes appear a startling black, and there was the faintest hint of dried blood on his chin.  He had a permanent scowl stapled to his face.  It marred the feminine appeal of his swollen lips, but the curiousity of his kiss still flashed in the recesses of your mind.

He really wasn’t your type.  His skin was coarsened by the injustice of puberty, although striking for its cinnamon hue.  He reminded you of some exotic vagabond stolen from one of your forgotten fantasies, with a scar etched on his brow like a brand of danger.  A chain link ensnared his neck, passing for fashion, but it was no better than a dog collar.  He tongued his Malboro cigarette in a provocative fashion while you admired the gristle of his unshaved face and relished the bitter October winds that tousled his out-of-bed hair.  He finally looked at you – predatory, slow, and deliberate.  He held eye contact so long it became insulting, yet everything about him baited you…even the inky tresses and hostile grimace.

Your gaze descended to his tethered boots, which held the imprint of scuffmarks.  You tried to imagine him stalking the city streets at all hours, alone and indifferent. 

His faded jeans sat oversized on his jagged hips, shapeless as a curtain, but his t-shirt clung to his form as if he had just escaped a torrential downpour.  It made his ribs visible, poking past the barrier of his clothes, if only little.  He wasn’t your typical looker.  He wasn’t trying that hard.  There was just something about the unbreakable, violent artistry of his body that turned you on without meaning to – angular cuts, sharp curves, square jaw, and ravenous eyes.

He was your father’s worst nightmare.  In the end, falling in love with him was inevitable. 

 

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The Loneliness of Rejection.

September 26, 2008

I take rejection as someone blowing a bugle in my ear to wake me up and get going, rather than retreat. ~Sylvester Stallone

 

In following Anne Wayman’s postings on The Golden Pencil, I was struck by how openly she discussed her struggle with rejection for being left off the Top Ten Blogs for Writers after being on the hot list for two consecutive years.  As a beginning freelancer, this was balm on my soul. 

I don’t relish another writer’s failure, don’t get me wrong.  However, Anne’s confession proved to me that rejection is not something only newbie freelancers are facing.  Maybe this gave me hope.  Perhaps my optimism for my own future shot through the roof.  But I think why this resonated with me so much was because it reaffirmed that it’s acceptable to react to that big slap in the face.  In fact, it’s expected.  Many years down the road, even if I’ve earned my pass to success, I will still get those rejection slips in hand and they will still grind on me.  Anne’s post made me think…so what if I get irate when that happens?  Will anybody fault me for mashing the paper in my sweaty palm and throwing it halfway across the room?  Would that be so bad?  Is any writer supposed to take rejection easily?

I mean lets face it, rejection sucks big time.  Yet Anne recognizes that, in many ways, it’s a gift.  A lesson.  I think she’s right.  One has to use it as a call to arms.

I have to admire the fact that, not only is she willing to admit to her own defeat, but to also share with readers the voice of her lousy inner critic.  I know as writers, we all have one.  For me, it’s the niggly voice that demands perfectionism and delays my own progress in turn.  It makes me question and doubt myself when I should just trust my heart and judgment.  But it will always be there…I just have to learn how to put it in its place.

That’s why I’ve decided when embarking on my own writing career that I will save all my rejection slips and draw big, obnoxious smiley faces on them with the words: Their loss.

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It Started with a Dream.

September 25, 2008

I learned that, if I ever go looking for my heart’s desire again…I shouldn’t look any further than my own backyard.  Because if it isn’t there, I never really lost it to begin with. ~ Dorothy, played by actress Judy Garland in The Wizard of Oz.

It has always been my heart’s desire to write.

When I was a little girl, I watched The Wizard of Oz everyday-often more than once-to the point where my parents seriously considered telling me they had ‘accidentally’ lost the VHS tape.  I’m sure they would’ve been relieved to see it smothered under a foot of dirt.  At least they could finally escape the helium-induced squeals of munchkins.  The only thing that probably stopped them from doing so was the oafish grin that took up half my face when I sat down to watch it, my bulgy rodent-eyes transfixed on the screen.

I couldn’t help my addiction.  I was obsessed with the world ‘beyond the rainbow’ that Dorothy sang about.  I dreamed about it.  I talked about it.  I wrote about it.  The ideas started sparking in my head of fantasy worlds where one could be forgotten and live amongst fairies and magic-makers.  Where wild, unseen creatures roamed and the skies were a kaleidoscope of radiant hues.  Back then, I thought if I created such worlds, they might actually come into being.  That my words could breathe life into them.

When I was fresh out of high school, I began telling people that I wanted to be a writer.  After all, I had won a writing award in my senior year for getting 99% in my creative writing course and I has won an essay contest in which I competed against 500 other students a few years prior to that.  I didn’t think encouragement would be lacking.  Like many of you, I’m sure, my admission was met with deadpan stares and gaping mouths.

The classic line was: “What?  A writer?  You mean you can actually make a decent living doing that?”

Needless to say, this was a bit…discouraging.  So I settled for going to university and studying English, which was as close as I thought I would get.

During those years, I tested the same confession on my peers.  Although slightly more supportive, I was often told to “maybe look into teaching instead” because I’d probably make more profit.  I can’t say I was surprised.  So I lost sight of my dream to be a writer, graduated with my M.A. in English/Fine Arts and a minor in History, and accepted a job as a medical web content developer right out of school, writing education scripts for online e-learning modules (or so I was supposed to be, but find myself doing more mundane administrative duties the majority of the time).  This translates into me being confined to a detention cell desk, with a chair that leans more to the left than the right, earning a barely satisfactory wage to make my rich doctor bosses richer. 

Yes, I’m making a steady income.  I’m writing, sort of.  Am I happy?  Hardly.

About a month ago, I began to seek out my lost dream again.  I read about successful freelance writers and decided it was something I was motivated to do.  I ate up books on the topic in the early morning hours or late at night before bed.  I got excited.  I started talking to fellow writers who had shaped a full-time career out of freelance writing and started a business from the ground up.

The writing community is amazing and supportive, I must say.  I was greeted with compassion, advice, and funny anecdotes.  Above all, I was told that being financially comfortable as a writer was possible, and that one could make it a full-time career with the right attitude and work ethic.  I think overjoyed about sums up my response!

So here I am.  I’m in the early stages of marketing.  I’ve got a fantastic friend who is developing a website for me (the first recommendation that was made to me).  She is pursuing a freelance career in web design and photography, so we are helping each other out in a way, since she needs work samples for her portfolio and I am in dire need of her services.  This is the first lesson I have learned in networking with fellow creative freelancers: help one another out through exchange and trade whenever possible, because you will be thankful when the favour is returned down the road.  And this is the first post in a blog that I intend to use as a documentary of my freelance writing journey-the ups and downs, and everything in between.

For now, I am enduring the dull, ‘normal’ job that is paying my bills.  Of course, there’s also that old man who sits across from me with the St. Bernard face, runny eyes, and fishy smell.  But in time, I’m going to take a shot at full-time freelancing.  I think I’m going to relish jumping ship on the corporate world and taking the plunge into a career that doesn’t just make ends meet, but fulfills me.

For once.