Monday, May 31, 2010

CANSCAIP’s Imagine a Story Conference, Montreal, May 29, 2010

Imagine a great first conference aimed at writing for children and young adults! The Yes Oui CANSCAIP Imagine a Story Conference, held at Dawson College in Montreal this past Saturday, was a wonderful first! The day was well organized and wasn’t over-programmed. There were two morning workshops with long breaks and a good lunch period that provided ample networking opportunities. In the afternoon workshop was followed by authors’ book signing through Babar Books.
I attended a wonderful morning session with author, Shelley Tanaka, titled “Through a Child’s Eyes; A Master Class in Writing for Children.” Shelley spent a packed 90 minutes sharing her journey, chock full of tips and how-to’s for writing children’s books. I came away from her session informed, inspired and with the message to “Just write!”
My second morning workshop was “My First Comic Strip: A Workshop” with Author-Illustrator-Cartoonist, Michel Grant, in which he shared the key steps in creating cartoon illustrations with writing. As a writer, this workshop helped me to see the important connection between illustration and text. An experiential workshop, we tried our hand at putting words with drawings on a reusable template that Michel provided. I just loved having the opportunity to immediately apply newly learned skills. I felt like a child again, creating a comic strip featuring an elephant character!
Lunch time arrived quickly and I was so thrilled to have lunch with my first university English teacher and dear friend, YA Author, Monique Polak (What World is Left, Orca Book Publishers, 2008) and her friend Mary, a school librarian and a champion of good writing! It was a real treat hearing about Monique’s writing success and her life over the years since we’d last been in touch!
I tore myself away from this reverie to attend my final workshop, “The Ultimate Blind Date: How Writers and Illustrators Meet to Create Picture Books,” with a panel of accomplished children’s authors and illustrators: Bonnie Farmer, Jennifer Lloyd, Suana Verelst, Brenda Watson and effectively moderated by author, Day’s Lee. This honest, enlightening panel discussion demystified the myriad of questions around publishing and illustrating children’s books, including their overriding message which was to not give up if you want to publish your children’s book.
My day was just wonderful. My only constructive comment (as I put on my adult educator hat here!) would be for CANSCAIP to provide an evaluation form to gather the great feedback it deserves for putting on such a marvelous first conference. Thank you, CANSCAIP—I look forward to your next Montreal conference!

Friday, May 28, 2010

HAITI--A Tribute and a Thank You!

Look at this picture...what do you see? You likely see a gorgeous sunset over an ocean viewed from a sandy beach. But do you also see an island where its capital was decimated by an earthquake, one that claimed over 200,000 thousand lives, left countless people maimed and rendered over a million people homeless and fighting for survival? This is Haiti. My friend Angel took this picture. Angel is a Canadian police officer currently on a peacekeeping mission, his second, in this ravaged land.

In my early 20's I traveled to Haiti. I remember well the bus ride from the country capital of Port au Prince, the warmth of the Haitian people, bartering on the beach using a mixture of French and Haiti's native Creole for their folkloric arts and crafts, and I certainly remember the stunning sunsets.

When I recently saw this picture on Angel's FaceBook page, I felt inspired to share it here. This is a picture of hope. It reminds me just how fragile we humans are against the forces of nature so much more powerful than us. This beautiful sunset also reminds me how wonderful each and every day we wake up alive really is. This picture is a tribute to the courage of so many people in a land most of us may never see, except for on the evening news. It could be any beach, but this is a beach in a destroyed land where people still have hope and where other people, like my friend Angel, are working to help them rebuild that hope. Thank you to all the "angels" out there helping Haiti rebuild. Bon courage, Haiti!

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Don't love it, need it or use it? Just toss it!

The miniature lighthouse, a holiday souvenir, sits on a shelf gathering dust. A juicer is abandoned beneath the sink after only 6 months of use. Past birthday and Christmas cards overflow from a credenza drawer that won't close. And of course, there's the myriad of shoes, replaced by newer styles, but never discarded, taking up space in the hallway closet. After all they might be good for...gardening, painting, you name it! Come to think of it, those worn out stilettos make great gardening shoes, and of course, the higher the shoe the better for reaching above door frames with a paintbrush!

Yes, we hold onto things, telling ourselves it's "Just in case I need it one day." According to Marla Cilley, the inimitable Flylady and Queen of Decluttering, those items we keep--that we do not love, need or use--only take up valuable real estate. At the current cost of square footage, have we ever given thought to what this amounts to over time? Not to mention, the emotional cost!

Clutter has the potential to stifle our creativity and our productivity. When we surround ourselves with clutter, our life risks being cluttered and thus so does our mind. Clutter never subtracts; it only multiplies as clutter begets more clutter. Have you ever told yourself that you'll get around to that (writing, painting, etc.) project or hobby, once you clear things out of a certain space or room? Somehow the clearing out never happens and instead, you may find yourself feeling guilt and resentment. As Flylady aptly says, "You can't organize clutter; you have to get rid of it to find yourself."

These quick tips, based on the Flylady approach, will help get you started attacking the clutter bug:

  • Approach clutter 15 minutes at a time. Your room or space didn't get that way over night. Rather than declutter an entire room and feel overwhelmed doing so, instead, tackle one drawer or one shelf. You'll be amazed at the results, which will motivate you to clear more spaces.
  • Get 3 boxes: one for items to give away, one to recycle and one for trash. Then, according to Flylady, just fling! Be ruthless as you ask yourself: "Do I love it? Do I need it? Do I use it?" Take pictures of special items such as your child's art/school projects--these take up very little space on a hard drive.
  • Make sure you put those boxes or bags OUT. It's still clutter if you bag or box it and then store it!
  • When you bring a new item home, get rid of the old one--search and replace! Immediately.
  • Maintenance is key! Don't let clutter build. If you wait until "spring cleaning" time, you'll be overwhelmed. Get into the habit of getting rid of clutter regularly.

Whatever your creative pursuits, wouldn't that creativity flow better unencumbered by clutter? There are many parallels here that can be applied to good writing; look for it in a future post. To learn more about decluttering your home, your life and your mind, visit Now, to echo the Flylady, go fling that clutter!

Monday, May 24, 2010

What's Really Important to You?

"All that is really important to you is here with you right now." were the wise words of our new-found friend, Gordon, as we sat at the picnic table in front of our trailer one sunny July afternoon while camping at a New York State campground some years back. We were discussing the costs and merits of tent trailers as our children played together. Gordon and his family went back to Ohio, but his words still echoed in my mind as I pondered a summer quickly drawing to a close.

It had been a rigorous winter for our family that year, culminating in my June convocation. Thesis finished, degree conferred, it was time to get back to the things that mattered most--family life. As if to prove it, our little family procured a tent trailer which had us out of town most long weekends and for several weeks at a stretch. Family time without the distractions of technology: phones, computers, television, modern conveniences--except a pop-up tent with a refrigerator and a propane heater, became a luxurious priority.

And what a great time of learning it all was! Meeting new people (Cordon and his wife, Patricia) and discussing new ideas, enriched our lives while helping us to gain fresh perspectives, weaving a social tapestry with new acquaintances. It made me think of adult education. Nature had her own lessons (Never sit on a crowded beach when seagulls are flying overhead!). We learned to fill our days with simple survival chores (cooking over an open fire, washing dishes in a basin) that brought me back to a time when I was merely a fleeting thought in my grandmother's consciousness.

Camping is a physical experience and it was indeed hard work. It was a great contrast to the frenzied lives we live at home. As the Adirondak mountain air and sunshine worked its magic on our souls, so slipped away the layers of a hurried suburban existence.

The next phase, like a chapter in a spell-binding book, is always around the corner. A summer of camping must come to a close, people part, places become memories and activities change. We change. Our souls grow. Summer melts into Fall, a return to the routines of a season spawning new beginnings. We reluctantly put the trailer away, our souls away…wait! Can we squeeze in one more long weekend, to perhaps see the autumn colors? Anyway, no matter what, I needed simply remember that all that is really important to me is here with me right now…wherever that may be.

* Note, the camping season is now upon us once again...hopefully this little article will inspire you to be present to yourself and to those around you wherever YOU may be this summer. Happy Trails! :-))

Friday, May 21, 2010

A Writer's Bucket List

One hundred things to do in this lifetime...and so goes my Bucket List: explore some remote corners of the world, swim with dolphins, snorkel in a cenote, ride a donkey into the rain forest, soak in a seaside mud volcano, trek up an active volcano. In Rob Reiner's 2007 film, The Bucket List, starring Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman, this bucket list refers to these men realizing a wish list of goals before they "kick the bucket" or die.When working with a group of students on goal-setting, I have them do this list. I usually suggest they write 50 things, which sounds ambitious where most people often can barely think of 10. However, once you actually sit down to the business of writing out your Bucket List, it just flows.

This got me thinking about a writer's Bucket List. It might include some of the following...
  1. Write a best-seller
  2. Get a web site
  3. Create a blog
  4. Go write in a remote or exotic place
  5. Do a book tour
  6. Turn my best-seller into a film

    Whatever that list, we soon realize the many steps--large and small-- involved in achieving our writing goals and any goal for that matter. This means setting goals that are, in a word, SMART: specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely. I like this acronym; it keeps me focused on the outcomes while allowing me to enjoy the process. It also lets me know that there is a time for everything and everything in its time.

    But I would add another letter to the end, and that is another T for "Tell somebody." When we commit to our goals to another person, this makes them come alive with possibility. It puts that goal out there beyond the print on a page. We can then talk about it. People will ask: "How's that book(/project) coming along?" And we have the opportunity to share, talk about it and maybe come away with new insights that will inform our writing/our goals. It also helps us to network. You never know who knows someone whose been where you're heading and they may be able to refer you for mentoring (or in the case of writing, maybe even to an agent or publisher or film producer!). You just might find yourself applying check marks to many of your bucket list items.

    In the meantime that bucket just might come in handy: use it by your desk as a reminder to achieve your goals or use it as a way to recycle the crumpled paper--the many revisions of that manuscript you're currently working on!

    Have you ever thought about your Bucket List? What would you put on it?

    Tuesday, May 18, 2010

    Dear Diary: Revisiting My Adolescent Writing

    Dear Diary:

    Today I opened the banker's box that lay tucked in a dark corner under the stairs, the one with a layer of dust covering its surface, masking the permanent marker printed "Kelly's Personal Writings." Yesterday, we revamped our storage situation and at the tail end of this onerous task, I courageously pulled out this Pandora's Box, hauling it over to the floor beside my desk. This morning, eager yet intrepid, I began reading some of its contents: journals, diaries, books of poetry and short stories I had written as a teen. I spent various parts of the day revisiting this writing of my youth...and wondering how I might revive it.
    My diaries and journals tell me secrets I'd almost forgotten. The collection of poetry and short stories speaks of grown-up themes voiced by an innocent child. It was a wild ride revisiting this writing and learning about myself all over again through adult eyes and perceptions. Here I am in a sense, living a second adolescence through my current writing. Back then it was serious stuff; the stuff of adolescent turmoil and uncertainty drove my writing. In contrast, today, it is the voice of confidence and life experience that defines my writing.

    Those were humble beginnings. But they are less humble than the ones I face now as I put my voice out there through my plays, poetry and personal essays. Isn't it interesting how life experience makes you more humble as a writer? Now, Dear Diary, I am looking forward to reworking some of my earlier writings--wish me luck! :-))

    All authors have a back story to their writing journey. How did your writing career begin? Can you trace it back to early journalling or story-telling? How has your early writing shaped your voice? Have you ever revisited pieces you wrote as a child or adolescent, and if so, how have they changed?

    Sunday, May 16, 2010

    What Makes a Great Blog?

    I don't know about you, but I'm still huffing and puffing from that Blog Jog last week! And I've learned a few things about blogging from that marathon. The myriad of layouts and creativity out there in Blog Land is awesome! So what makes a great blog anyway?
    • A theme - Does your blog have a purpose? What is it? Is it clear? It's a good idea to have a focus in order to attract a community. This will keep your readers coming back for more.
    • Clean layout - Busy blogs are one thing, but cluttered blogs just distract. While we're not all layout experts, manage your white space (the spacing between chunks of text) so that your reader can transition from one interesting area of your blog to another.
    • Creating interest. There are many ways to make your posts attractive. Grab your reader's attention with the pronoun "you" once in awhile. Use pictures in your posts to give your reader's eyes a rest from text and to help your reader make visual links with your topic.
    • Using correct grammar, syntax and spelling - While stating the obvious, sometimes the obvious is not so obvious! Have you checked these carefully before pressing "Publish"? If you're a writer, people are expecting you to dress like one! Even if you're not a writer, by virtue of the fact that you're writing a blog, your writing must be correct and correctly spelled.
    • Posting consistently! Someone was just telling me how their expectations have been created by a blogger they're following, so that when the posts dry up it can be off-putting! We all have times when life or writing gets in the way of blogging. Perhaps revise your posting schedule. Your followers will appreciate it if you strive for consistency rather than quantity.
    • Applying the KISS Principle: Keep it Short and Sweet, Sweetheart! This is where I need to follow my own advice (LOL!). Long posts risk not being read. Consider writing a Part II. We often say in adult learning: "Leave them wanting more!"

    There you have it! In keeping with the KISS Principle, this is my short list of essentials for creating great blogs. Do you have any others to add? Please share your Comment below and add to the collective wisdom of great blogging.

    Tuesday, May 11, 2010

    Learning from our Characters

    The characters in my plays and stories sometimes say things I would only think of! It often surprises me. At times I try to silence their voices, thinking someone will object. But they only get louder, almost shouting their release. Funny how writing does that, produces unique voices that belong to unique characters. We almost never know from where they hail.

    Creative writing can be a healing activity. It reaches down deep into the soul and pulls up feelings that we give voice to. These manifest in our characters, sometimes unsavory, darkly demonic or just plain rude and crass. I love that my characters can simply flow without my censorship. When the mother or superego in me presides and prevails, my characters are mere shadows of themselves. They aren't genuine. They don't come from a place of true struggle which I think is every writer's conundrum. It's that line between writing from the heart to release one's soul and writing without a soul.

    Let your characters lead and you may find they'll lead you into unchartered territory. It may be full of learning. It may enlighten and inform. But above all, it may be the greatest truth you've ever uncovered.

    Do you censor your characters? Do you feel compelled to write nice or do you write from a place of truth?

    Sunday, May 9, 2010

    Happy Blog Jog Day!

    Thank you for visiting my Blog! Please explore my Blog then jog on over to another great blog: Test your stamina and visit another Blog in the jog; go to Let's visit cyberspace one blog at a time!

    Saturday, May 8, 2010

    Editor's Block

    A picture is worth a thousand words. How appropriate this line is to me as I work to cut my childrens' picture book down to the prescribed 500-600 words. I know that along with the words, there will eventually be illustrations to tell the the story. A sage writing professor I had at McGill University once said that writing is recursive, words etched in my mind, often recalled and revisited like my own manuscripts. She impressed upon us how we need to take a break from our manuscript then revisit it with fresh eyes. Interesting how when we return to a written piece, editing happens seamlessly. It makes me think about the analogy to learning: learning is messy. So is writing. It doesn't happen linearly--we will veer off the path and come back to it. We learn as we blunder through the challenges of writing and editing to that final product.

    Just as there is writer's block, I have learned that there is editor's block. We may be too close and perhaps hold too tightly to our manuscript to let go for the ultimate transformation from unpolished to polished. It struck me this morning while editing my manuscript for the gazillionth time that this exercise is a necessary one, and that I had to start out with over 1000 words to appreciate the writing-editing process and learn from it. So I leave it for a while. I take that walk or visit with a friend or do something with my family. Then I return with fresh eyes.

    It's during these times that I appreciate the support of a wonderful writer's group--like-minded women who will take my manuscript to a place I may not be ready to go. Time to press "SEND" and post my work to our online group where I know the collectivity and objectivity will help me get my book to the next level. Looking  through their eyes, I will then be able to step back into my manuscript and add the final touches for a finished product.

    How is your writing-editing process? Do you find yourself laboring over a piece only to put it away then return, editing it with a vengeance that drives it to the next level? Do you get editor's block? Do you have mentors and support systems for feedback? Do you find writing linear or just plain messy? Is it worth it in the end?

    Thursday, May 6, 2010

    In my suitcase, I pack...

    The tickets are reserved! Yay! Our flight to Mexico was booked and we were leaving in just 3 short weeks! I remember packing, then repacking, adding, then subtracting, then multiplying and finally dividing! Careful review of Internet travel sites yielded lists of essentials, tips for efficient, economical packing, along with cautions against over-packing. I asked myself, "What do I really need as I travel to remote areas?" I was hauling a battered canvas backpack, emblazoned with a Canadian flag, attesting to other such adventures so that by now I should know better than to over-pack. Thus begins the adventure of traveling light. Now you're thinking this article is a timely piece about what to take on that end of winter vacation. This is only the pretext. Instead, let's talk about traveling light on our journey through life. You have only one bag to take on this journey, be it Gucci or department store special. It must not weigh more than X and be larger than Y. You must pack for a variety of contingencies, yet leave room for the souvenirs you will acquire along the way.

    What will you take on your life's journey? And whose baggage is it that you're hauling? It's my journey, my bag, so I will take only my baggage. As I would not pack my relative's underwear in my suitcase, I will not carry his chemical dependencies. Nor would I pack my obnoxious co-worker's toothbrush, so why would I pack her unkind words and gossipy attitude? I will carefully choose the words I receive and share, measuring their worth and usefulness on my life journey (Note: your toothbrush is a definite must!) Who, in our lives, pulls us down, and yet we drag them along, allowing them too much space in our lives and in our baggage?

    You will meet many people who are happy and willing to share their opinions. Take some of their advice and leave the rest. When we travel, we travel off the beaten track This requires an open mind and lots of planning. A Lonely Planet guidebook is a wonderful tool that helps us choose our destination and our best route. Besides a good guidebook, we use our intuition and inspiration. Our own motivation, willpower and feet will do the rest. Any time we journey through life, we are traveling off the beaten track. There is much to discover by living vicariously through your own life (Note: Find helpful guides and mentors to be your carry-on. Be fueled by your own energy and good sense!).

    Water found in oceans represents a vast expanse, an openness to the unknown and is symbolic of life and opportunity. We revere it and fear it at the same time. We know that rip tides, sharp jagged coral and large carnivorous beast lurk, so we exercise judgment and caution as we do on our life's journey. There are many hidden dangers and many unknowns along the way (Note: Pack a bathing suit and be aware, but take the plunge and enjoy!).

    As you journey through life you will collect souvenirs. These include: good friends, valuable skills, meaningful experiences, knowledge, passion and memories. Do you have room in your bags for these? What can you discard to make space? What are you packing in your bag for your life's journey? All you really need is a change of underwear, a toothbrush, a bathing suit and your guidebook. May your journey through life be exciting and laden only with rich experiences and beautiful memories. And may you collect as many good souvenirs as you've made room for! Happy Travels!

    Note: Inspired by my good friend, Eleanor Cowan, this article was first published in QAAL's Linking for Learning Newsletter, Spring 2002.

    Monday, May 3, 2010

    E-mail Ease or Language Dis-Ease

    What is it about communicating in electronic form that makes people forget all the conventions of written language? I'm a great fan of e-mail as a wonderful way to stay in touch that might otherwise not happen. But I have some serious doubts about the way in which people use--or rather misuse this medium of communication. Two questions arise around the lack of form in sending e-mail messages: 1. Is the lack of written protocol a disguise for what is simply and inability to use form in writing? 2. Does this lack of protocol stem from one's use of this medium as a time-saver and thus, we dispense with the formalities of writing? I suspect that this lack of protocol lies in both.

    Have you ever received an e-mail written in abbreviated words: "i am doing fine thanx. How r u? It was good 2 c u the other day. Let's get 2gether again soon." I find this difficult to read and very distracting. Perhaps the writer is saving time--their own time. Having to read and reread this message results in lost time.

    How about lack of a subject line or just "Hello." This can be interpreted by your receiver as spam and not even opened. Be specific in your subject heading. Moreover, by dispensing with form in terms of a proper salutation such as "Dear" or "Hello", and a proper close and omitting to write your name at the end of the e-mail you are sending a powerful message to your reader. Although traditional letter writing uses a formality that appears stuffy and perhaps intimidating, the modern-day e-mail message sometimes lies at the other end of the spectrum.

    Good manners in an e-mail message, do for you, the writer, what Mom said "please" and "thank you" do for how people perceive you--as polite! It also makes your message stand out as clean and courteous, reflecting its sender, much the same way a good resume make you stand out. Keep in mind that image still counts for something in electronic communication.

    So how do you navigate form in electronic communication? If you are the former type of writer who has difficulty with writing and spelling, take advantage of the built-in spelling check feature of most e-mail software. Remember that the more you write, the better your writing will become. Don't let challenges scare you from sending off e-mail. However, if you are normally articulate in your writing, then why change into e-mail clothes? Keep doing what has traditionally worked for you in writing letters, papers and even in publishing.

    Simple Rules to E-mail by:
    1. Capitalize at the beginning of sentences, especially the personal pronoun "I" and the first letter in your own name.
    2. Double-check for sentence fragments or incomplete sentences and run-on sentences that could be connected by the word "and."
    3. Remember to say "Hello" and Good-bye" and write your name at the end of your message.
    4. Before hitting "send," use the spelling check feature in your e-mail software. And proofread whether or not you have this function.

    By following these simple actions, you will already be ahead in your writing. And you will achieve better results with your e-mails, definitely casting a professional image of yourself as a writer. Above all, keep writing. The more you write, the more polished your writing will be. What did you say your e-mail address was again?