A Year of ‘No’

My entire life I have been a person who jumps into new projects and then has to try and figure out things along the way. It is like jumping into a the shallow end of a swimming pool and trying to learn how to swim. This philosophy has been both a benefit and also a bit of a hindrance.

Take for example when I applied to be in the Fringe International Theatre Festival. Having a show in the Fringe was on my life list so I was going to try to check it off. When I entered I choose a Musical I wanted to write. I didn’t have one lyric, or word written when I applied in winter. When my play was chosen, I had a few months to write the play, lyrics, hire a songwriter and learn more about theatre. Overall, the process was wonderful and I learned so very much and met some amazing people. Fringe is defiantly an event I would be excited to embark upon again, but with a team of people so the work can be spread out and be given as much time as required, versus the time that could be focused.

I had to be more selective of how many projects I take and how much time they will take. This in of itself has been an interesting challenge. Sometimes amazing opportunities pop up unannounced and it is hard to say ‘no’.

2016 was the year of ‘no’ for me. I didn’t go off the deep end and say ‘no’ to every opportunity, I just have learned to take every opportunity into consideration. I weighed how much time it will take, will it interfere with any of my responsibilities or obligations, will it affect my health in the short or long-term, will it put a strain on any people in my life? Will the activity spread my time thin and take away from something other? Is this activity going to come around again or does it have to be right now?

As I made my way to the end of 2016, I found that while it has been a process to say ‘no’, the year was amazing. Time is very precious and so the activities and opportunities that I approved, had more of my focus and time put into them. They received more attention and were special. In general this experiment had short and long term effects in my life. There was not a rush and stress to finish so many projects by set deadlines. My brain was not always having to race from one activity to the next. I actually had some downtime in-between projects so I could spend time, in the moment time, enjoying the world around and people around me.

2016 was amazing, and while 2017 will be a new year of consideration versus ‘no’, being able to select activities also means there is a wonderful chance to select my yes activities.  

 

 

 

 

 

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Editing – Making You and Your Writing Look Better

By: Rick Lauber – Author of Caregiver’s Guide for Canadians and The Successful Caregiver’s Guide

So, you have written a stellar story and it’s now ready for publication, right? Perhaps, but your work first requires editing. Editing can greatly enhance your writing; however, it isn’t always easy. There are a number of tricks to editing – here are a few tips:

Take some time away before beginning editing. By allowing a day or more after you complete writing and begin editing, you can better guarantee having “fresh eyes” – and a fresh perspective – to devote to the latter project. 

Read your work out loud while editing.  Work backwards through your work. Block off one line of copy at a time using a ruler. Change up your font, size of font, and/or font/paper colour. These ideas can help you slow down your reading and better catch any mistakes.

Consider the format. Can you edit more effectively reading from your desktop computer, your laptop, or from printed pages? 

Ask somebody else to edit. Find a critic, rather than a supporter of your writing. When writing my books, Caregiver’s Guide for Canadians and The Successful Caregiver’s Guide, I worked closely with my book publisher’s editor and implemented all of her suggestions to fill in some holes and improve what I had written.

Write first, edit later. Your first task is to write … editing along the way will only slow you down.

Be wary of spellcheck. While somewhat handy to pick up misspelled words, this tool will not recognize improper usages of homonyms, omitted punctuation, and/or typos.

Consider your environment. Editing requires your utmost attention. You will need a distraction-free time and place to edit. Stay off Facebook! You may prefer to edit in a quiet coffee shop rather than at home to avoid interruptions.

Remember your audience. Who are you writing for? Canadian and American readers for example use different spellings of many words. Canadians will spell “favour” while Americans will spell “favor”.

Follow your style guide. If you have been supplied a style guide or writer’s guidelines, follow these to the letter. This is what your client wants and expects. Be attentive to desired word count. Write and supply a bit more, if you wish, but don’t provide less than what is expected (it’s easier for an editor to chop words than to add them).

Set a False Deadline. Waiting until the last minute to complete your editing project may lead to regrets. By setting (and sticking to) a false deadline before the job is required, you (and your client) may be breathing easier if anything unexpected occurs. And don’t wait until the eleventh hour before your false deadline to start your editing!

Accept your own limitations. Editing can be taxing work requiring intense mental concentration. Limit your editing to several hours per day. Pay attention to your physical restrictions and edit ergonomically. Sit in a comfortable, supportive, and well-placed chair and break away from your editing to walk around for a few minutes each hour.

Rick Lauber is the author of Caregiver’s Guide for Canadians and The Successful Caregiver’s Guide (both published by Self-Counsel Press). He has also seen two of his contributed stories accepted and published by Chicken Soup for the Soul and is an established freelance writer. Check out www.ricklauber.com and https://twitter.com/cdncaregiver.

 

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A Collaboration of Dimensions

When I wrote my first children’s book, Don’t Eat Family, I knew it was going to be a three book series. Well that was the plan to be determined by the response from the first book. The response was favourable with several adult readers suggesting that I write another.

Last year the journey of Help from Friends started with the spark of an idea. I am very lucky to have an editor who tells me like it is. With her feedback, I was able to clean up the manuscript and make changes that my illustrator could enjoy creating.

When writing a novel, it is about the story and the pictures it creates for the readers, but for my children’s book, it is also about the written images the illustrator can use. In my mind, I tried to select interesting places and items that could be illustrated. Then it was up to the illustrator.

With the text submitted, I wondered what would be chosen as the images. All this time the characters and places and I shared somewhat of a long distance relationship. While I had a sense of their particularities, the exact tangible reality was still somewhat of a mystery.

When the illustrator shared the proofs of all the pages, the text had finally found the missing pieces of the puzzle. The places and characters that lived in my mind, were now on the page. This was the first time I was introduced to what four new characters looked like. Her process of taking text and creating images, places, and characters is an art that I am in awe of.

My children’s book is just flat one-dimensional text, but with the illustrations, the characters are two dimensional and live in a world as bright as every reader’s imagination.

Come and join us to celebrate the launch of Help From Friends.

Date: Saturday October 1, 2016

Location: Words in the Park – Book Sale and Fair                

Strathcona County Library               

401 Festival Lane, Sherwood Park, AB

Time: 12:00 PM to 3:00 PM

Join us as we celebrate the launch of Fluffy and Levi’s continuing journey in the new children’s book, Help From Friends. You can meet author Alison Neuman and illustrator Katherine Restoueix, create your own stickers of characters from the book, and decorate and eat your own book-themed cookie. 

Front Cover Icon

 

 

 

 

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Introducing The Sunset Syndrome

The Sunset Syndrome — Emily watched her husband of 60 years fight a battle with dementia and its related complications. A few years after his passing, she too is diagnosed with dementia. As Emily struggles with difficult decisions about her future, she reflects on important moments from her past.


While watching the news one evening, I was inspired by a story about a dementia patient who chose to take her own life rather than lose herself and be a burden. I wondered how a person would set out to justify – or not justify – such a decision. This was my spark for my play. I struggled with my play ending and whether my character would take her own life or choose time. If you want to know her choice, you will have to come and see The Sunset Syndrome.

After being mentored from February to July 2015 through the Alberta Playwrights Network’s RBC Emerging Artists Mentorship Program and Conni Massing, I was left with time to sort issues such as who was the main character was talking to, what were the pertinent details of dementia and their place in Emily’s journey, and how could I enhance the love story between Emily and Samuel and the sometimes messy dynamics of family.

With a focus on the art and community opportunities, The Walterdale Theatre From Cradle to Stage New Works Festival was my choice as a home for my play. Sherilyn Brady Cook’s play, Bottled Up, had been accepted as well. We had not met prior, but both of us shared the festival journey.

My 8-month journey began with an amazing group from the Walterdale Theatre and Edmonton Theatre Community. The day I met the Festival Coordinator Vlady and my dramaturgs, Brian Dooley and Rohan Kulkarni, I was a mix of excitement and nerves. The Sunset Syndrome is only my second play, and I felt there was so much I still needed to learn. I met and exchanged emails with Brain and Rohan to address how the characters, messaging, and story were presented and my intentions for each. Each time I was able to focus on finding meaning and messaging that could be better visited and transitioned.

Then, in December, a first read was arranged at the theatre with a group of actors and I met my play’s director, Catherine Wenschlag. Having the actors read from the play was powerful and pointed out areas that required polishing. There was also chances to borrow ideas from the actors in how they played the characters and how the dialogue flowed. It also provided an opportunity to see which scenes were emotionally and visually connecting and which were not. Watching Catherine’s process also taught me about directing and how she saw the play, actors, and staging.

Each reading and discussion provided a chance to focus on the content that was the strongest and cut the content that was frivolous. In each rehearsal, I was able to see what information the actors required to build the characters and watch their skills and talents take each character from one dimensional to three dimensional.

The From Cradle to Stage New Works Festival nurtures the playwrights and their process. I was able to be at the auditions, a reading, and every rehearsal that I wanted to attend.

Monday night I attended some of the Cue to Cue for The Sunset Syndrome to see how the lighting cues are set up. When we pulled up at the theatre, the festival poster was in the marquee and there was my name on the poster! While all along this process it has felt real, it seemed so much more official to see it in the Marquee. It took so much energy to stop myself from letting out a squeal!

Walterdale Theatre Sunset Syndrome Marquee: Photo by Cale Walde

Photo is by Cale Walde

The Walterdale Theatre From Cradle to Stage New Works Festival opens on Monday May 16th, 2016. Performances of The Sunset Syndrome and Bottled Up run every night, May 16-21, 2016, at 8pm and alternate first and second positions.

For ticket information check out Tix on the Square

Thanks to the following special people for making The Sunset Syndrome possible: The Walterdale Theatre Team, Anne Marie Szucs, Vlady Peychoff, Brian Dooley, Rohan Kulkarni, Catherine Wenschlag, Rebecca Bissonnette, Kevin Heaman, Peg Young, Andy Northrup, Roseanna Sargent, Shelby Colling, Grace Chapman, Patrick Maloney, Richard Hatfield, Joan Hawkins, Geri Dittrich,  Alan Weston, Tom Lam, Louise Mallory, Cale Walde, Janine Hodder, Glenna Schowalter, Emilia Eyo, Athena Gordon, and Kristen Finlay.

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To Dust or Not To Dust

Most writers have a project they have written that is sitting in a computer or a drawer just collecting dust. Myself, I have two fiction manuscripts and two screenplays that I am very aware are still around. All are full length. The pieces range from being written as far back as sixteen years ago to as recent as 2010.

One novel is a story about a woman who loses her memory and the lengths the people in her life will go to in order to get her missing memories and a mysterious item she has hidden. The other novel is about an investigator who goes undercover to protect a former boyfriend and his child from a situation in which he is in the middle. One screenplay is about a researcher who travels to Brazil to find the answers to mysterious deaths in the monkey population and finds himself kidnapped and tortured by his past. The other screenplay is about a death investigation team and an eager crime reporter who becomes part of the story she is researching. All are plots and themes which still, to this day, interest me.

That said, new ideas pop in my head and they seem to have an urgency over the previous material. After all, the material is written and I know the ending. The new material and characters have yet to be discovered.

With each project I write, my skills grow. As they grow, when I open previous projects, each error is obvious. As I look at my previous projects, it becomes evident the amount of energy that will be required to bring each project to the final state. For each previous project it is a test to my interest and energy as to whether it will be dusted off and worked on.

 

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A Gentle Reminder

“Movement never lies. It is a barometer telling the state of the soul’s weather to all who can read it.” ― Martha Graham

Every person has an activity he or she loves. An activity that the person just ‘gets.’ For some it is flying or cooking or painting or chess. I love writing and dancing. In 2014 I was privileged to dance in several pieces as well as emerge as a choreographer. As with any dancer, my health affects my ability to dance and I recently had to take ten months off of dancing. I felt a disconnect between my brain and my limbs. What it was desperately trying to get my limbs to do was different than the actual actions that were the end result. I struggled as each movement, large or small, caused pain in arthritic my joints.

However, in this time I had a wonderful opportunity to be a choreographic assistant. For five months I watched another choreographer’s process from the infancy stage to the final performance. As the choreographer explored the movements and the story of the dance, I was learning about how effective abstracts were. Learning use of the stage. Learning to help each dancer grow. Learning costuming. Learning.  

The dancers were the same who I had been lucky to dance with for the last five years. I’m not going to lie, as the months progressed, I missed dancing. I missed being able to escape the body barriers I experience. While this may sound strange, when I dance seated in my wheelchair I’m able-bodied. Yes, my arthritic fingers are permanently bent, but when I dance they extend. My joints that arthritis has deformed are no longer deformed. Dancing is about my ability.

I kept reminding myself that not dancing was not permanent. The months as a choreographic assistant taught me the art of choreography and still allowed me to be part of the dance community. Deep inside I was missing movement. Missing dancing. My confidence as a dancer was low.

As the months and my health progressed, a concept for a dance tip-toed around in my head. Wanting to bring the idea to life, I contacted another dancer in our community to see if she would be interested in working on a duet. She agreed. I booked studio time. I had the song. I was ready to step into dance once again.

The first rehearsal was amazing. Together we played with movements. We played with the meaning of the piece. We played with sound. It was like being a child in a candy store. On the drive home, I was filled with an energy and a happiness that had been missing. The next day my joints reminded me of my limitations, but my soul reminded me of the freedom and love for dance that had been missing.

For eight weeks, the other dancer and I met weekly to work through each phrase until we were able to string them together into a story. At the end of the process, I found my confidence and a gentle reminder what was missing in my life. Dance. A gentle reminder we need these activities and passions in our lives, even when they are challenging.

 

 

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A Timely Gift

Every year I tell myself that this Christmas is going to be the year I’m going to invest time and put some effort into making a present for the special people on my list. Prior years I have failed, been unable to create something that would be suitable.

My Mom used to knit, but due to the arthritis in my fingers, shoulders and neck, I have not been able to follow in her footsteps. Then, while shopping in the craft aisle of a local chain store, I spotted a round loom. I used a tiny one when I was a child, but these were people versus doll-sized.

My Aunt spends months knitting hats, which she donates to the city’s disadvantaged. She came over one day and was knitting hats on the loom. One hat took her a few hours. It sparked my interest wondering if the loom could help me to achieve my goal and overcome my arthritic joints. Living in Canada, our winters can be long and cold. A nice hat would be perfect for most of the persons on my gift list. 

So at the end of July, I decided to start my holiday gift-making quest. Instead of using standard yarn, I purchased a large skein of Bernat Blanket yarn. It is soft, colorful and extra thick. This meant I only had to wind each peg with one string yarn instead of two. I found a video to show me how to start and I was on my way.IMG-20150727-00242

While I can only loom knit for a half hour a day due to my joints, energy and pain levels, I was able to knit a hat in roughly a week. As the hat grew, I must admit that I was unsure as to how to get it off the loom once I was finished. Again I referred to a video, which gave instructions to tie off the end row.

With the large skein of yarn I purchased I will be able to make several economical gift hats. And each person who receives a hat has something that I made with my own two hands, something not sold by the hundred in stores. Each person who receives a hat will receive a gift of my time.IMG-20150801-00248

 

 

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Are you done yet?

“We are all apprentices in a craft where no one ever becomes a master.”  Ernest Hemingway

No matter what the length of the project in front of me, at some point toward the end of the project, I always wonder, am I done yet?

Novels require so many drafts. Once the writer has the story completed, there are themes, characters, plot, dialogue, and the grammar, layout, and overall readability to consider.

I’m not sure if a writer ever feels as if the project is finished. After all, he or she has spent minutes, hours, days, weeks, months or years working on a piece, and have toiled to get it to the best it can be.

When writing a novel, I enlist readers to provide a manuscript evaluation. This provides me an opportunity to see the material from a reader’s point of view. It allows my writing to speak for itself without all the background information of which I am aware. Readers’ opinions allow me to know if the amount of information is too much or not enough. Readers’ opinions provide a view of what should be added and cut out.

Subsequent drafts can weed out some of the areas that raise red flags or take the readers out of the world of the story. A world in which I want them immersed. A world where they are not spending too much time analysing and trying to figure something out.

Then there is phrasing and wording. There is nothing as powerful as being able to string together just the right words to create a phrase, a sentence, a paragraph, a page. For myself, this process can be never-ending. It can be a challenge to find that right arrangement, that elusive ‘perfect’ word.

My useful trick is to read the project backwards. From backwards I mean the last sentence, then the next sentence. As the sentences are not in order and are essentially standing on their own, they have lives all to themselves.

My judgement as to the point of knowing if my project is complete is when I do the addition test. Is there anything that I can still add to the project? If all the points have been checked, reworked, drafted, and explored, then this ‘baby’ I have been working on is ready to go out into the world.

 

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From Inspiration to Creation

“If you can tell stories, create characters, devise incidents, and have sincerity and passion, it doesn’t matter a damn how you write.” – Somerset Maugham

So a writer gets an idea in his or her head and the long journey starts. I must admit I find the process an adrenaline rush and yet daunting at the same time. With an idea, there must be enough content to not just fill those pages, but also to provide readers with a book they want to finish.

For my first published novel, I just jumped in and figured out timing, characters, and the story as I went along. Comments from the readers have been ‘we didn’t know what was coming next.’ The characters led my story and the readers were along the ride. That said, I ended up having to do multiple rewrites and movements of entire sections of the book. While this was part of the editing process, I wondered if I would be able to keep that same wonder for the writer and the reader but still be able to have some kind of outline to follow and cut down on editing. An outline that would lay out all the important details, plot, characters, and themes.

I hesitate because I find myself wondering if the outline will stifle my creativity. The New York Book Editors website argues against an outline. They explain, “planning your novel ahead of time increases its likelihood of being dead on arrival.”

That is a terrible outcome for a new novel, so I went on a search to find some advice on a way to organize my writing, while still allowing me the freedom to create and let myself write. Lit Reactor had eight methods to try.

My two favorites methods, which I plan to try, are ‘The Skeletal Outline’ and ‘Free Writing.’ I feel those will provide me the framework of an overview of the journey my story and characters will take, but will allow me the flexibility to let the story develop naturally.

 

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Tools of a Wordsmith

Guest Post by Jaclyn Dawn

I struggle to put words in a new pretty book. The pages are so clean and full of potential. Will what stains the pages be poetic, beautiful? Will it tell a story of love or adventure, or both? The possibilities paralyze my pen, for it can also be awful. A waste. Musings of a want-to-be wordsmith, someone turning the new, pretty book into something ordinary. The thought makes me sad to an illogical degree. The new book offers a means for expression and creativity. To be able to express myself is something I crave and have craved since I was in elementary school. I see the world around me in words, letters of the alphabet pushing and shoving to line up in the order that best describes that event, this feeling, those people, or any inspiration. So give me a cocktail napkin or a scrap of paper from the recycle bin. My words will cover every bit. It is the writing that matters. I do not like the pressure of my new, pretty book.

 

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