It’s a new year. Maybe you’ve set up a new planner. Maybe you’ve been thinking about goals for your business. Maybe you’d like this to be the year that you finally finish that novel, find the time to go for more walks, meditate, read more books, or learn a new skill.
Or maybe you’re thinking that making plans is daft, because you struggle to stick to schedules and never met a goal you couldn’t miss, and—hey, doom scrolling much? Sure, why not. I mean, it’s been a year (or ten…).
Listen, I hear you. I know only too well about best-laid plans…you read the latest productivity hack, download a snappy new habit tracker, set up schedules, make lists of your goals…
But then nothing goes according to plan and you’re left feeling like a failure.
So, what to do?
After years of setting and failing to follow through on countless writing schedules, creating fancy new exercise plans, and generally setting unrealistic/unattainable goals, I realised that I was trying to fit my life into the plan when what I needed to do was fit the plan into my life.
So how do you turn things around? How do you make plans that you can stick to?
Before you try a new habit, take some time to get to know yourself. Are you more likely to exercise if you put your workout clothes out the night before?
Are you more likely to finish a project if you work on it first thing in the morning? In the afternoon? What about if you tied it to another activity that you like to do? Don’t be above bribing yourself! Nothing beats a little *reasonable* incentive to help get things done (but maybe don’t do the the one chocolate chip per math problem thing with your kids unless you want them pinging about like t-i-double-guh-urrs).
Ahem…where was I?…
Finally, if you’re setting goals or trying to build new habits, keep it simple! Take that first step and then decide what comes next. You don’t have to have all the answers now. Just have an idea of where you want to go and take a step that will point you in that direction.
Does it take effort, setting goals and building habits? Absolutely. Will things work the way you want them to every day? Not a chance. But life is not about perfection, it’s about being flexible, being kind to yourself, and ultimately, showing up for yourself every day.
Start with baby steps. One thing at a time. And don’t be afraid to abandon a plan that isn’t working. Think of it more like a dance than a march.
Case in point? This very blog. In 2021, I planned to blog every week. I had a beautiful schedule–colour-coded and everything. But the blogs I wrote were rambling and took far too long to write (not to mention the time to source photos, create hyperlinks, set up social media sharing).
So I sat down with a notepad and thought about what I wanted the blog to be. Which was more important: long posts or regular posts? The answer was regular posts. So I created a new format for my book reviews, which will hopefully keep them consistent and more straightforward, and set myself a shorter word-count. My goal for #TheBookshelf in 2022 is to share weekly snapshots of what I’ve been reading, tips for writers and editors, or new things I’ve learned.
So, here’s to 2022. It’s been a brutal two years, but we got this. In this new year, be kind to yourself and others, learn something new, and above all, never lose your wonder!
This week on #TheBookshelf, I’ve got some great reads for you by Indigenous poets and authors from all over Turtle Island.
There’s a lot I could say about the responsibilities of being part of a settler society, but if you’re here and reading this, then I’m guessing you already know much of what I might say, and you’ve already embarked on a learning journey of your own.
And if you haven’t, then maybe you can start your journey here.
We are never closer as people than when we walk a mile in another’s shoes. Reading fiction and non-fiction from cultures and experiences that are not our own allows us to do just that.
Stories have infinite power to connect us as human beings. Amplifying Indigenous voices–and promoting diversity in the arts as a whole–is important and necessary to us all.
Here are a few of the writers whose work–whose heart-breaking, heart-healing, exciting, hilarious, suspenseful poems and stories–I’ve either already read (and loved) or look forward to reading this summer!
Marilyn Dumont is an award winning poet and educator of Cree/Métis descent. One of my all-time favourite poems is her piece, “The Dimness of Mothers and Daughters” from her collection, Green Girl Dreams Mountains.
There is powerful magic in poetry and it always seems to find me just when I need it the most. I came across this piece shortly after my mother died, when her story–and mine–were all I could think about. These words wrote themselves into my bones. Here’s an excerpt of the poem, displayed at the revitalized Marina complex in Thunder Bay, Ontario.
You can read more about Ms. Dumont and her poetry collections here.
Joy Harjo is a poet of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation in the United States. She is currently serving her second term as the 23rd U.S. Poet Laureate. I love her collection, The Woman Who Fell From the Sky and in particular, her poem “Perhaps the World Ends Here.” For me and my family, the kitchen table has always been the most important place in our home, the place where we gather together at least once a day to share meals, to tackle homework, work on craft projects, to talk and share, to learn and celebrate and grieve. This poem captures the essence of family and of life itself–all in a single piece of furniture. Here’s an excerpt:
"The world begins at a kitchen table. No matter what, we must eat to live. The gifts of earth are brought and prepared, set on the table. So it has been since creation, and it will go on. We chase chickens or dogs away from it. Babies teethe at the corners. They scrape their knees under it. It is here that children are given instructions on what it means to be human. We make men at it, we make women." -Excerpt from "Perhaps the World Ends Here" by Joy Harjo
Visit the Poetry Foundation here for the full poem.
David A. Robertson is a prolific writer of picture books, graphic novels, YA novels, memoir, and more. He is a member of Norway House Cree Nation and currently lives in Winnipeg.
Strangers, released in 2017, and the first book in his Reckoners YA series, is near the top of my TBR list and based on the blurbs, is packed with intrigue, humour, and magic–I can’t wait to dive in!
His latest work (released in September 2020) is the graphic novel The Barren Grounds (The Misewa Saga, Book One) and has been called “Narnia meets traditional Indigenous stories of the sky and constellations.”
Yes, that sound you hear is my TBR list growing again!
Learn more about Robertson, his writing and his other books in this excellent Quill & Quire interview–or at his website.
Drew Hayden Taylor, originally from Curve Lake First Nation, Ontario, is a jack-of-many creative trades–from playwright, to author of both fiction and non-fiction, to filmaker, and (not surprisingly) stand-up comedian. His book Motorcycles and Sweetgrass is one of my favourite reads, and is bursting with trickster magic, clever twists on Indigenous folklore, family drama, and loads of magic, charm, and love.
Come for the mystery, stay for the…raccoons. Yes, you heard me. As a Torontonian, I’ve long had my suspicions about those crafty critters…
Rebecca Roanhorse is a speculative fiction writer from the US, whose latest novel, Black Sun, has been nominated for the 2021 Hugo Award for best novel. (She has won the Hugo Award in the past, not to mention the Nebula, and the Locus, as well as the 2018 Astounding (Campbell) Award for Best New Writer.)
While Black Sun will be on my TBR list soon, it’s the author’s debut novel that I’m cueing up first.
Trail of Lightning came out in 2018. Here’s the publisher’s blurb:
“While most of the world has drowned beneath the sudden rising waters of a climate apocalypse, Dinétah (formerly the Navajo reservation) has been reborn. The gods and heroes of legend walk the land, but so do monsters—and it is up to one young woman to unravel the mysteries of the past before they destroy the future.”
I mean, really. How have I not read this book already?! Oh, right. I’ve yet to find a job that pays me to read whatever I want all day. Ahhh…someday <cough> Tor.com <cough>. #dream #IDigress
Learn more about Ms. Roanhorse (she’s also written a middle grade novel for the Rick Riordan Presents series and a StarWars novel. I mean how freaking cool is that?!) at her website.
Last, but certainly not least, if you don’t live in Canada, you might not be aware of the national “Battle of the Books”–the literary Survivor–known as Canada Reads.
The 2021 Canada Reads winner was none other than Jonny Appleseed, a novel by the poet, Joshua Whitehead, a two-Spirit, Oji-nêhiyaw member of Peguis First Nation (Treaty 1).
Jonny Appleseed has been nominated for–or won–numerous awards and is described as “A tour-de-force debut novel about a Two-Spirit Indigiqueer young man and proud NDN glitter princess who must reckon with his past when he returns home to his reserve.”
Then I read the publisher’s blurb and was immediately hooked:
“You’re gonna need a rock and a whole lotta medicine” is a mantra that Jonny Appleseed, a young Two-Spirit/Indigiqueer, repeats to himself in this vivid and utterly compelling debut novel by poet Joshua Whitehead. Off the reserve and trying to find ways to live and love in the big city, Jonny becomes a cybersex worker who fetishizes himself in order to make a living. Self-ordained as an NDN glitter princess, Jonny has one week before he must return to the “rez”–and his former life–to attend the funeral of his stepfather. The seven days that follow are like a fevered dream: stories of love, trauma, sex, kinship, ambition, and the heartbreaking recollection of his beloved kokum (grandmother). Jonny’s life is a series of breakages, appendages, and linkages–and as he goes through the motions of preparing to return home, he learns how to put together the pieces of his life.
Sounds amazing, right? Seriously, my TBR list rocks so hard.
Wait, what was that? You’re looking for more?
Awesomesauce! Check out this fantastic round-up from CBC Books: 35 books to read for National Indigenous History Month. Covering adult fiction, non-fiction, YA, graphic novels, and poetry, this article includes links to some great interviews and loads of resources for further reading.
(And if you lovely folks at Tor.com are looking for a nerdy reader/writer/editor/gamer/knitter/plant girl…well, you know where to find me.)
Sometimes it feels like we’re drowning in information.
And that information–every text, Tweet, meme, slogan, or headline–takes the form of short writing.
It would be easy to assume that short writing is a product of the digital age, but in actual fact it has been used–often with significant impact–for far longer. From the graffiti-inscribed walls of Pompeii, to the final desperate telegrams dispatched from the Titanic, short writing has always played a vital role in human communication.
Today, in a world built on speed and information, it is more important than ever to be able to write short and do it well.
This week on #TheBookshelf, we’re looking at How to Write Short by Roy Peter Clark.
Clark is an author and editor who has taught writing at the prestigious Poynter Institute for Media Studies for more than 30 years. He has authored or edited nineteen books about writing, including his excellent craft book, Writing Tools.
Put it this way, what Roy Peter Clark doesn’t know about journalism and writing probably isn’t worth knowing.
As a freelance writer and editor, I do a lot of short writing–social media posts, book blurbs, titles, bios, etc.–both for clients and to promote WoodvineWrites–and I love to play with short writing, especially the challenge of a haiku or a 280 character Tweet, so I was eager to dive in and see what this book has to offer!
How to Write Short is, in itself, an homage to the art of writing short. Comprised of 35 bite-sized chapters, the book is divided into two sections: how to write short, and why we write short–including the practical uses of short writing.
The chapters are well laid out–with the student in mind. Each one begins with an anecdote that puts the chapter’s topic into context. Then comes the lesson. Here, Clark expands on the themes from the chapter intro with clever and accessible examples ranging from the Bible to Buffy the Vampire Slayer. In between you’ll find well-chosen examples of short writing by Oscar Wilde, Tom Petty, Dorothy Parker, The Sopranos, Abe Lincoln…and many more. Each chapter wraps up with a section called “Grace Notes”–short exercises designed to reinforce the chapter’s lesson and ultimately build a better writer.
Clark covers a lot of ground, from the often hilarious worlds of texts and online dating apps, to tombstones, tattoos, idioms, sales pitches and just about every other kind of short writing you can think of. He gives practical guidance for trimming your writing, including the vital lesson that “brevity comes from selection and not compression.”
Brevity comes from selection and not compression.
Roy Peter Clark, How to Write Short
In much the same way that Clark encourages writers to find the rhythm–the music–in their work, many of the lessons in How to Write Short are summarized in rhythmic, easy-to-learn 3’s or 5’s, like “perfect, polish, revise”, “focus, wit, polish”, and Joseph M. Williams’ “Five Principles of Concision.”
Even the book’s typography and layout lend themselves to ease of learning through the judicious use of bullet points, bold type and/or italics for key ideas, words, or concepts.
We all write. We use words to sell, to converse, to amuse, to explain. With the lessons in How to Write Short, you can make every word count.
Join me next week on #TheBookshelf for some self care for editors, writers, and anyone else tethered to a desk!
Today on #TheBookshelf we take a look at Nathan Bransford’s How To Write a Novel: 49 Rules for Writing a Stupendously Awesome Novel That You Will Love Forever.
Every writer I know has a collection of books about writing. Speaking for my own collection, think Smaug the dragon from The Hobbit and you’re not far off.
Some of these books are massive and cover the broader scope of story itself, like Alice LaPlante’s The Making of Story, while others are small enough to fit in your back pocket and distill their advice into it’s essentials, like Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style. Some are semi-autobiographical, like Stephen King’s On Writing, and others contain workshop-style exercises, like Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones.
And while some have a serious, academic tone, others are more akin to having a conversation with a writer friend.
Nathan Bransford’s How To Write a Novel definitely feels like the latter.
This guide to novel writing is a series of 49 rules, grouped into four sections: First Things First, Pen to Paper, Troubleshooting and Staying Sane, and Revising.
Writing a novel is a massive undertaking with a lot of moving parts. This book takes you through the process from concept to revision, covering bigger picture issues like the writing life and chasing trends (don’t), and the nitty-gritty things like formatting and (for the love of all things holy) backing up your work. There are rules for style, genre, ideas, plot and theme, setting, chapter beginnings and endings, and my favourite: tentpoles–the events that prop up your story like a circus tent. There are rules for things you could do, rules for things you should do, and rules for things that you absolutely must not do.
But it’s important to stop yourself from chasing after an idea by shaking your biography like a piggy bank to see what shiny things fall out.
Nathan Bransford, “How To Write a Novel.”
I really enjoyed this book. I re-read it and refer to it often, and I recommend it to writers at any stage of their writing journey.
First, the rules are short. I’m a freelance writer and editor working from home with two teenagers in remote school, a husband who is also working from home…and a cat. I am interrupted so much it’s should be comical–except it’s really not. In How To Write a Novel, each rule is 4-7 pages long and gets to the point without messing around. Easy to read a rule between interruptions!
Second, the advice. Within its pages, you will find valuable tools, tips and tricks that you can immediately put to use, no matter where you are with your current WIP (work in progress). Nathan’s rules are clear, helpful, and he uses relatable and familiar examples taken from his own work, popular fiction, and the classics. (It’s worth noting that while the foundational terms and theories he mentions are briefly-but well-explained, if someone is putting pen to paper for the very first time, they may want to check out a more detailed guide to the mechanics of story and then come back to this book.)
Finally–and most of all–I loved this book for the heart within its style. Nathan doesn’t pull any punches–writing a novel is hard– but time after time, I found myself laughing out loud at his take on the process. For me, his wit and tongue-in-cheek style are what make the rules easier to follow and remember. For some readers this casual, off-the-cuff approach might be off-putting, but I found it made the book more accessible.
When it comes to books on the writer’s craft, there is no one size fits all. The trick is to read widely and collect the advice that works for you from wherever you can. If you’re looking for guidance that is staid and/or academic, this book is not for you. But if it’s real talk and solid writing tools that you need, How To Write a Novel might be exactly the right book to add to your hoard collection!
For more information: Nathan Bransford is an author and former literary agent whose website and newsletters are packed with helpful information for writers. Find him at https://nathanbransford.com/