Want to be a better writer? Here’s my first five tips. For more tips, click here.
Hey, teachers and librarians!
Book me for a writing workshop this Fall to help get your students writing. With great writing prompts and plenty of advice for overcoming writer’s block, my workshops inspire kids and teens to create. Popular workshops include Stories Inspired by Real-Life and How to Create a Believable OtherWorld. You can check out more of my workshop ideas here. Customized workshops are also available.
For current rates and availability, please contact Karen, or Authors’ Booking Service at firstname.lastname@example.org. Funding assistance is available through The Writers’ Union of Canada Readings Subsidy Programs.
“After Karen’s writing workshops, my students were so motivated that they set their goals high and began producing the beginnings of novels for their fantasy stories. Some of their best work this year came from Karen’s workshops.”
Kris Madill, Grade 5/6 Teacher, Beaches Alternative School
“The workshop in my opinion was freaking awesome. I enjoyed it a lot. I love to write. It is one of my favourite pastimes. It helps you figure yourself out as well as clear your head. The only thing about the workshop that I did not like was the fact that it was rather short, and in my opinion, it would have been more effective and entertaining if we were able to have you come back for a full day! The one aspect of the workshop that I really enjoyed is that the creativity level of each participant was phenomenal. Everyone was really creative, motivated, and descriptive in their short stories.”
Workshop participant at Covenant House
In May 2016, I came across this article naming Toronto “the most multicultural city in the world,” and I’ve been thinking about it ever since.
My first reaction was pride. I love living in “the most multicultural city in the world.” I love the range of cultures I’m exposed to, I love seeing how diverse cultures can work together, and I love learning new things about the people I interact with. We only need to look to media reports to see that, in the world today, there’s too much hatred between cultural groups, and I value the daily proof that multiculturalism can work. Yes, we have a long way to go to battle prejudice and disharmony. Yes, too many groups still suffer unfair treatment. Personally, I fight this battle by writing books that point out biases and promote acceptance and understanding of differences. I feel this is particularly important when writing for kids and teens.
Over the last few months, I’ve been outlining a new novel for teens. As I developed my racially diverse characters, I began to realize how often I draw from my daily life experiences to write multicultural books. I need only look to my diverse group of friends and family members as well as strangers I meet. I can also draw from the personal bias I’ve experienced as a woman and an advocate for those groups without a strong public voice.
Within the pages of my fiction, I’ve written about genetic reproductive rights and disability in Pure, survivors of domestic and sexual abuse in Punch Like a Girl, people with mental health issues in Take the Stairs and Cut the Lights, racial bias and terrorism in Bog, acceptance of sexual orientation in Take the Stairs and Punch Like a Girl, elder care and interracial families in The Yo-Yo Prophet, and so many more aspects of diversity. Although I’m a Canadian woman with roots in the Scottish highlands, it’s easy to write diverse books when I base it on the multicultural community I love.
My family members are ever-present observers of my creative process. Often, when I complain about feeling blocked on a project or feeling doubt about whether I can complete a project, they nod knowingly.
“Oh, that stage,” they say. “You’ve been here before.”
At that point, I typically rant, explaining how this time is different. How they don’t know what they’re talking about – until I think it through.
Each time I face doubt, it feels like a fresh, impossible challenge. So I spent the last few weeks pondering the role of doubt in my creative process. Upon reflection, I’ve noticed two main stages where doubt can creep in.
First, there’s the restless stage. I may have writer’s block. I may say that I have nothing to write about. I may worry that I’ll never have another “good” idea.
If I do have a writing idea, I may procrastinate. I want to write, but all I seem to do is complain about writing and how hard it is. I may compare myself to other writers and idealize their creative processes.
The good news is that this stage usually precedes a time of focus, when I dive into a new project, commit to it, and write madly.
At some point in a project, maybe mid-way, I may lose focus and doubt myself. How will I end this book? What if I can’t actually write it? What if I fail?
The good news is that this stage usually precedes a leap of courage, where I dive back into the project, taking risks, exploring ideas, and immersing myself in it once again. (See my post Stuck in the Messy Middle? My Tips for Completing a First Draft for suggestions on how to handle this stage.)
I must admit that my family is right. I’ve hit similar stages of doubt on many of my projects.
Identifying these stages is a good first step to understanding them. Doubt seems to have some role in my creative process, and perhaps this is true for other writers too. I suppose that a healthy dose of skepticism helps me to evaluate a work-in-progress. It helps me to think harder and search deeper than I would otherwise have done. I ask questions that I don’t know the answers to. I expose the vulnerable side of my creative self. I explore the uncomfortable.
That’s when writing feels hard. When I can become blocked. Yet doubt seems to have value in the creative growth of a project.
Maybe I need to embrace doubt with an open mind. Maybe I’m lucky to have my family around to remind me of that, over and over again.
At Authors for Indies Day last year, I recorded this short interview for Turning Pages, produced by local cable channel CogecoTV. The show looks at what’s happening in the world of books and publishing through conversations with authors, readers, and publishing professionals. Thanks to host Roxanne Beale, owner of Roxanne’s Reflections Book & Card Shop, a well-stocked independent bookstore in Fergus, Ontario. It was a pleasure to chat about books and writing, and to visit her store for Authors for Indies Day. Here’s to supporting our indies!