Tag: VIRA

19 Things I learned from Laurie Schnebly and Zoom

My writer’s group, VIRA, held an all day workshop on Sept. 19, 2020 with Laurie Schnebly. The day was planned a long time ago — before Covid-19.  Since then our border closed, so Laurie could not come in person. Instead, we did a virtual workshop using zoom.  Here’s what I learned about zoom workshops.

  1. Commuting from one room in my house to another room in my house is really quick and easy.
  2. Showing up for a workshop in jeans is really comfortable.
  3. Seeing people only on screen is lonely — especially when many of them turn off their video.
  4. There is virtually no conversation between participants.
  5. The “chat” feature is really useful for catching up on missed information.
  6. A full-day workshop, even at home, is tiring. My brain was reeling by the time we signed off.

So, that’s what I learned on the technical side. On the creative side, the workshop confirmed what I already knew. Laurie is a terrific teacher. Here are some highlights from the day.

  1. From “Putting the Joy Back in Writing” I learned I’m not alone in finding publication can steal the joy I felt when I first put pen to paper (literally, I’m that old.)
  2. Determining why I write, either for myself or for others can put me back on the “joy” track and away from the “have to” track.
  3. Letting go of the results of writing and focusing on the process of writing frees up creativity.
  4. I should re-read Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way. It is on my bookshelf.

 

From Braiding Your Book I picked up pointers on

  1. Genre Expectations and the need to fulfil those expectations for readers.
  2. Plot – it’s all about goals and conflict, with the love story added in for my genre.
  3. Plot has a shape — the writer must build hope, then dash those hopes and build them again.
  4. Character is the third strand in the braid. 
  5. A character’s origin (backstory) is an invaluable aid in figuring out who your character is and why (s)he acts as (s)he does.
  6. A character’s belief system is key.

 

From Blurbs & Promotion to Suit Your Personality I learned

  1. I’m not the only one who is really poor at promotion because I dislike it.
  2. Laurie’s background is in advertising so it’s not surprising she suggests a blurb is an ad.
  3. Seeing promotion as an advertisement for a product makes it less intimidating than seeing it as a judgement on my worth as a human being!

 

As you can tell, we had a very full day. I was exhausted from listening, I can’t imagine how Laurie kept up her enthusiasm and humour all the way to the end and then took questions.

As a bonus, she held a draw and I won free admission to one of her courses. With so many wonderful choices I had to wait over the weekend until my brain had returned to full function before I made my pick. In March I’ll be taking Plotting Via Motivation.  It’s one of the earliest courses on offer, so I can still take some of the later ones too. 

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Celebrate Writers

authors rockValentine’s Day was twelve days ago but it’s never too late to celebrate. On Saturday my writers group, VIRA, held our annual luncheon. At one time, we held a formal ceremony with volunteer awards, writing awards and mentorship awards.  Over the years we’ve simplified. We’re all volunteers, so we all got a box of chocolates. Instead of a few door prizes, we all took home a party favour. I got a painted stone that says “Authors Rock.”

We used to arrange a set meal, now we all order individually from the menu. It makes life easier for the organizers and each attendee gets her own choice of food.

What hasn’t changed is the good will and good wishes. With 27 women and 1 man in a small room with bare floors, bare walls and a bare ceiling, the din was deafening. But it was a cheerful din, punctuated with bursts of laughter and lots of cheers.

We heard from a writer who wrote her first book while living in the Yukon with three small children at home. The weather was too cold to go outside and the view from her window presented only a landscape of white.

In search of her sanity, our author decided to write a book. She composed at twenty-one words per minute on an electric typewriter. By the time the book was finished, she’d achieved 60 wpm and a request from a publisher. Major celebrations followed. Sadly, the publisher decided to pass on the finished ms.

More stories followed and life went on. With the children grown and gone, our author re-edited her masterpiece. This time, 37 years after she first put fingers to keys, her book was published with a traditional publisher.

From the joy in the room when this tale was told, one would think we’d all been offered a writing contract. Writerly kindness in abundance.

It’s been said many times that writing is a lonely and often discouraging business. That’s why it’s important to celebrate even the smallest of steps, and to find a group of friends who “get” what it means to be a writer.

It was a lucky day for me when I found this group of authors. There is so much kindness and encouragement — and the most interesting people.

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Christmas Book Bonanza

pile of books As mentioned on other posts on this blog, I love getting books for Christmas. This year my wishes were answered with a nice pile of literature under the tree. The haul included history, romance, mystery and biography. Since we are having a series of snow days, the additions to my TBR pile are most welcome. snow dayBefore Christmas I discovered a Louise Penny mystery that I hadn’t read before. What an unexpected pleasure. Apparently she modelled her detective hero, Armand Gamache on her late husband. No wonder Armand is drawn with such love and sensitivity and compassion. Ms Penny is an expert at drawing the reader into the world and characters of her books. Her works are excellent examples of the kind of deep POV we all strive to attain.

Last week I started a collection of “writerly kindness” anecdotes. Laura Langston wrote a beautiful story or how a neighbour encouraged her. See it here.

This week I attended a meeting of my local writers group. Here writerly kindness was much in evidence from shared information, freely offered advice and a gentle reminder to set some goals for 2020. Thank you to Cora Seton and all the members of VIRA.

The snow continues to fall, the fire is lit and my TBR pile beckons. What are you reading?

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Character and More

Vancouver Island Romance Authors held its annual all-day workshop last weekend with presenter Eileen Cook. Eileen is a member of The Creative Academy and one terrific teacher. Before becoming a successful YA author, she studied psychology and worked as a counsellor. Using that training and experience she is able to provide unique insights into personalities — both real and fictional — that helps her to create complex, interesting and captivating characters. She shared some of her wisdom with us.

One of her hints in the first part of the workshop was to create a character timeline from birth to page one of your novel, from that character’s pov. If an event was positive, you wrote it above the line, if negative, below the line. This showed that, apart from the event itself, we learned the character’s belief about that event, and thus had insight into her motivations and goals.

                  I tried the exercise for my own real life and noticed that many of the events I would have put below the line in real time, in hindsight went above the line. An interesting outcome that matches my optimistic outlook. For a character in a book, having her hang on to the negative might make for a more interesting story.

                Eileen emphasized that “belief” about an event could be more powerful than the event itself. It is the character’s belief about her body, her parents, her job, her boyfriend . . . that creates the consequences that lead to story.  I’ve been watching for that concept in real life. I know a couple who has left their church because they “believe” they can’t make connections. When I look at their circumstances, as an observer, it seems to me they had plenty of friends. Yet, in terms of their action, it is their belief, not my observation that counts.

                Similarly, I look at my heroine, racked by guilt. In my gentle, authorly way, I want to remove her burden and show her she’s not to blame for an accident, but that would be the end of the story. Much better for her to suffer and struggle until, with the love of the hero, she forgives herself.

There were more wonderful lessons during the day, but Eileen ended with a talk about the life of a writer. It ain’t easy! We meet with rejection in the pre-publishing world and we meet with damning reviews in the post-published world. Family, friends and colleagues may ask why we “waste” our time writing “that stuff.”

Mark Twain said: Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that, but the really great make you feel that you, too, can become great.” 

Eileen echoed that advice and encouraged us to use positive self-talk as well as to cultivate supportive friends. VIRA is a lovely group of writers who encourage, engage and empathize with one another. Most writers need something like VIRA, whether it’s a formal organization or a few supportive friends. We want our characters to be kind to children and puppies. We should be kind to ourselves.

All in all, it was a wonderful way to spend a Saturday. Attendees have all been raving about how inspired they feel, how eager they are to get back into their work, and how many ideas are raging through their imaginations. A workshop that doesn’t end when the day is over is a gift. Thanks, Eileen.

To connect with Eileen about your own writing, go to https://ccscreativeacademy.com/ You’ll benefit from her wisdom along with others.

 

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Writers Extraordinaire

Thanks to Marion Ann for the photo

Summer time and these writers are taking it easy.  This is my local authors group, VIRA.  On a hot, sunny Saturday we retired to the front porch to enjoy a picnic pot luck and talk writing.  The food was delicious.  The company was entertaining and the writing was downright terrific.  Part of the day included an anonymous reading for one or two pages of a member’s wip.  The pages were all dropped in a basket. Volunteers selected one submission and read it out to the group.  We then did a little kindly critiquing.  And we weren’t being kind just because we’re nice people.  We were kind because the writing was excellent.  We had to really nit-pick to find something that could be improved.

I’ve always enjoyed and admired the women in my group, but this week I really applaud them for their creative talents, their command of language, and their ability to spin a tale.

I recommend you check them out here.  There’s a new release page on the website.  I’d encourage you to look at both the romance releases and the non-romance.  These writers are funny, clever and daring.  Read one of their books.  You’ll be glad you did.

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The Wisdom of Susan Wiggs

 

On a rainy Saturday, I attended a workshop given by Susan Wiggs and sponsored by my local authors group, VIRA. Wonderful way to spend a gloomy day. 

Being in a roomful of writers is a bit like going into the sunshine.  This group is positive, upbeat and cheerful – most of the time.  The workshop was no exception.  The room buzzed with energy and “reunion” conversations between Susan’s lessons.  While she spoke about her writing journey, you could almost hear the wheels turning as each writer present took in the information and considered how or if a similar strategy might be useful in her own path to publication.  I say “her” because it was an all female event, by accident, not be design.  Then again, the “femaleness” of the day may have contributed to the ambiance.  I’ve nothing against men, I’m quite fond of many of them, but a gathering of only women does have a certain vibe not present at mixed events.  I’m sure all-male events could say the same thing, although the vibe would be different.

Anyway, back to the workshop. Our group had send a list of topics we’d like to hear about.  I expected Susan to pick one or two.  Instead, she tried to touch on the entire writing journey from newbie to old pro and from idea to finished product.  A jam-packed day to say the least. 

Although time was limited, she did give us a few minutes to write down our three writing gurus, three essential writing tools and three writing triggers. Sadly, there wasn’t time to share, but even thinking about my own answers helped me to see a pattern in my process.  If I can exploit that pattern, perhaps I can increase my productivity and my craft.

One of my triggers is a clean slate.” That means a clean house, a clean desk, and a mind free of “musts” and “shoulds.”  For someone who procrastinates endlessly about housework, this creates a problem.  I have a cousin who sews and says she can’t work unless her sewing room is spotless and organized.  So long as I can find the sewing machine, I’m good to go.  Unhappily, I can’t apply that technique to writing.  Perhaps that’s why my second trigger is a coffee shop.

I believe the reason I escape to a coffee shop to write is because it provides that “clean slate” for me.  If there’s a streak on the window, it’s not my problem.  If the used cups are piling up in the bin, it’s not my problem.  If the lawn is a muddy mess, it’s not my problem.  At the coffee shop, the only requirement for me, is that I write.  Having coffee and chocolate for fuel doesn’t hurt. 🙂

My third trigger is research. I love to poke around in the library, the internet and newspaper archives for arcane bits of information.  Sometimes the research answers a question in my ms, sometimes it sends me down a whole new path.  I’d add a caveat to the research trigger though.  Be careful that it doesn’t take the place of writing.  Scholars have spent lifetimes on research.  A writer of commercial fiction can’t afford that luxury.  I try to make sure my research is focussed and doesn’t take me into a rabbit warren of facts that detract from the prime task of writing.

I’d love to hear from other artistic types. What triggers your creativity?  Can you work in a hurricane?  Can you balance your laptop on top of a to-do list and still make progress?

Leave a comment and get your name in the draw for a free copy of my Christmas short story anthology, The Man Who Hated Christmas.

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In the Company of Adventurers

The Hudson’s Bay Company, long a staple of Canadian shopping centres and a significant part of our history, was officially termed, “The Company of Gentlemen Adventurers.”  Formed in 1668 by edict of Charles II of England, the company received exclusive trading rights to all of the waters in North America that drained into Hudson’s Bay. It became the longest, continually operating commercial venture in Western history.

Saturday, I spent time with another company of adventurers, VIRA, the Vancouver Island Romance Authors. We have no relation to the Hudson’s Bay Company, there’s not a gentleman among us. Men are not prohibited from membership, but at the moment we’re a company of Lady Adventurers.
Why adventurers? For starters we’re all exploring the dangerous waters around writing and publishing romance novels. Some through traditional methods, others, bravely launching their work into the self-publishing stream.
We write about adventurous women. Some involved in derring-do, like steam punk heroines or secret agents, others in the shark-infested waters of families and small towns.  Some of our heroines look the part, with super-powers and enough gadgets to make James Bond envious.  Others, appear demure, conforming and obedient, but beneath the crinolines and behind the fans they are every bit as adventurous as their fantasy counterparts.

We “ladies of the company” trade in information.  We share data and strategies for finding an editor or an agent.  We discuss the tools of self-publishing where fellow-travellers are more important than ever.   We need to know how to utilize facebook, twitter, algorithms, blogs, websites, cover artists, formatting tools . . .  the list goes on and on.  Alone, in front of the computer, the task is daunting.

On a Saturday afternoon with other lady-adventurers it’s fun.  We laugh, we commiserate, we encourage, we read and edit each other’s work.   We go home energized and filled with hope.  Thanks VIRA.  I enjoyed your company.

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