Week 61

Since the invitation came only the day before the party, Holly was, at first, going to refuse it but then changed her mind.


"The joy is in the surprise. It can be as small as a felicitous coupling of noun and adjective. Or a whole new scene, or the sudden emergence of an unplanned character who simply grows out of a phrase. Literary criticism, which is bound to pursue meaning, can never really encompass the fact that some things are on the page because they gave the writer pleasure. A writer whose morning is going well, whose sentences are forming well, is experiencing a calm and private joy. This joy itself liberates a richness of thought that can prompt new surprises. Writers crave these moments, these sessions. If I may quote the second page of Atonement, this is the projects' highest point of fulfillment. Nothing else - cheerful launch party, packed readings, positive reviews - will come near it for satisfaction."

~ Ian McEwan from The Art of Fiction interview CLXXIII, The Paris Review

Happy Holidays

Happy Holidays everyone! May the New Year be filled with health and happiness and the best writing you've done yet!

Week 60

Last year's Christmas gift from Earl was still fresh in Alice's
memory so she warily eyed the large box he was excitedly pushing towards her now.

First Drafts

Writing first drafts never gets any easier. Sorry, to be the one to break it to you. It just doesn't seem to matter how many stories, poems, essays, even novels, you write, that blank white page or flashing cursor never loses its power to intimidate.

But just because it doesn't get any easier to write flowing sentences or perfectly plotted dramas in a first draft doesn't mean the process can't be made more enjoyable. A simple change in the expectations you have of yourself and your writing may make the difference between suffering and celebrating.

Remember a first draft is an exploration, a journey. It is you discovering your story. It doesn't matter that the writing isn't perfect at this stage. When working on a first draft it is important to silence your inner critic. You'll need that critic later on during the rewriting process, but for now ignore that voice. I always give myself permission to be the worst writer in the world when I start a first draft. It helps free my creativity. I tell myself I can fix all problems in later drafts. That first draft is when I give myself permission to play. So the next time you sit down to write a first draft try abandoning your expectations. It might not make putting the actual words down any easier, but the time at your desk will feel more like an adventure. Adventures are exciting. And that excitement will infuse your writing with an energy it wouldn't have had otherwise.

Secret Diary Writing Exercise # 7

Pretend that you are a struggling actor and for the Christmas season you have been hired to play Santa at the local mall. Write an entry in your secret diary describing your new job.

Bonus: After writing your secret diary entry, or before, or even instead of writing it, (who am I to tell you what to do?) you might want to read "SantaLand Diaries", the hilarious essay by David Sedaris describing his experiences working as an elf at Macy's one Christmas. It's in his collection, "Holidays on Ice" and possibly other places as well. An audio version that is absolutely hysterical of Sedaris reading this story also exists - not sure where you can find it, but it is worth the effort. I have it on cassette tape - remember cassettes? I know, I know, that pretty much makes me as old as Christmas.

*Update - I found it on You Tube. It is in four parts. To find it search under David Sedaris Santaland Diaries - it's the one with the blue screen. I can't seem to get a link to work (sorry).

Week 59

Annie Toll was ten years old the first time she saw Jimmy Duddle's penis.


"First drafts are for learning what your novel or story is about."

~Bernard Malamud

Book Recommendation

As I mentioned before, I am a bit frazzled trying to not only promote my novel, "The Last River Child", but LEARN how to promote my novel. Well, I've discovered this great book that is quickly becoming my manual on all things book-promotion-related. It is called "Get Known before the Book Deal" by Christina Katz and I wish I had read it a year ago. But I've got it now and I'm grateful. If you intend to one day launch a book into the world - read Katz's advice. And if you already have a book published and are feeling confused and overwhelmed about how to get anyone to care in the least about your opus (I hear your pain) read it too! Though the book is aimed mostly at nonfiction writers there is plenty in there for fiction writers to think about.

And speaking of promotion I have finally done the dirty and signed up for facebook. Actually I don't know why I resisted it for so long, it's like one of those parties you were dreading but once you got there you had a great time, you know? So if you're on facebook come and join me!

Week 58

Andy had been a patient of Dr. Gregory's for seventeen years and until this revealing, and rather shocking day, the dentist had never spoke about anything other than Andy's steadily rotting teeth and the never quite satisfactory weather.


Read an interview with me about my novel "The Last River Child" and other writerly things here.

Week 57

When that great ocean liner, the Empress Henrietta, sailed into the harbour for the very last time, gleaming with the glamour of an almost forgotten era, only one person among the crowd of thousands wept real tears of sorrow.

Confessions from the Desk

Writing a book is hard work. And I thought (naively it turns out) the work would be over when the manuscript went to press and magically emerged as a book. Wrong. Since my first novel "The Last River Child" came out in October I have been in a mad dash trying learn as much about promotion as possible. Forget book tours and signings, forget basking in gushing reviews - when you are an unknown writer trying to get noticed your entire life is about hustle. I am overwhelmed almost to the point of paralysis with all the suggestions - build a website, sign up for facebook, post a video on you tube, send out press releases to every media outlet and bookstore you can think of, contact libraries, alumni organizations, hometown newspapers, forgotten friends, long lost relatives. Like most writers, this whole business of self-promotion makes me cringe. But I am trying. Who knows maybe I'll even get good at it. (I doubt it, but I'm trying to give myself a pep talk here.)

There have been amusing moments though. Like the first time I went into a bookstore with my mother and we saw two copies of my novel on the shelf. Mum scooped them up, carried them straight over to the nearest salesperson and announced, "My daughter wrote this book. And she is right over there!" The salesperson then very sweetly asked me to sign the books, which I blushingly did, trying for all the world to act like I did this sort of thing every day.

And I have found some wonderful champions. My Aunt Marg deserves special mention for carrying my book with her everywhere. She pretends to read it in public then strikes up conversations with strangers just so she can say, "This is a really good book!" Never admitting, of course, that the author is her niece. How cute is that?

As for all this promotion stuff I find it helps to remember I am not promoting me - I am promoting my book. I might find courage and hidden PR talents yet. Wish me luck.

Dialogue Exercise # 1

Here's how this exercise works: I give you a line a dialogue and you write a scene with it. The line I give you can go anywhere in this scene, at the start, the end, in the middle - just as long as it appears somewhere. Here's the line:

"What was the point of all that?"

(Tip for improving your dialogue - when you have finished writing, read it out loud. Then revise.)

Random Writing Exercise # 14

Write a short story that includes these three words: wave, giraffe, cosmopolitan.

John Updike

I've not read much by John Updike and felt like I should do something about that so I picked up the four books in the Rabbit series recently. Last night I opened "Rabbit, Run" and was awed by the opening few sentences. Here they are:

"Boys are playing basketball around a telephone pole with a backboard bolted to it. Legs, shouts. The scrape and snap of Keds on loose alley pebbles seems to catapult their voices high into the moist March air blue above the wires."

Updike has built a complete scene with such economy yet still managed to make it feel voluptuous. I especially love that third sentence - so poetic, yet cinematic too. Studying those few sentences is a master class in fiction, folks.

Week 54

Justin hated waiting.

Week 53

For their first date they went to a movie, which Frank hated, then to a restaurant, which Anna hated.


Creativity comes from trust. Trust your instincts. And never hope more than you work.

~ Rita Mae Brown

Secret Diary Writing Exercise # 6

Halloween has always been my favourite holiday. I love the spookiness, the candy, the dressing up. What writer doesn't love the chance to be somebody else? So, in honour of Halloween let's do a secret diary exercise. Today it is your choice - who have you always secretly wanted to be? Is it an actual person? A character from a book or movie? Maybe it isn't a specific person, instead maybe it is a job you've always hoped for the opportunity to do? Whoever or whatever it is, sit down at your desk, get into costume in your imagination and write an entry in their secret diary.

*Happy Halloween everyone! Any leftover chocolate you don't want can be sent to me, by the way.

Random Writing Exercise #13

Around here we usually start at the beginning with a first line. But let's shake things up bit, shall we? How about a last line - it is every bit as hard to write a great last line as it is to write a great first line. So this is the last line - you write the story that ends here.

Even though they knew they would never return, as they turned towards home they had no regrets.

Week 51

Stacey stared at her reflection in the mirror, panic-stricken.

Random Writing Exercise # 12

For this writing exercise you are going to need to view some paintings so I would suggest going to an art gallery (yay, a writing adventure!) or visit a library and look at art books, or look at art online. When you have found a painting that you find interesting study it for a while then ask yourself - if this painter had been a writer instead, what would their writing style be like? Don't think about this too much - just take out your notebook and quickly jot down a few sentences. Then move on to another painting and do the same thing. This is meant to be a very free flowing, creative exercise. There is no right or wrong way to do it, just let the words pour onto the page without much thought. The writing may not even make sense - that's okay! In fact that's great! Think of it a bit like jazz - but you are improvising with words instead of musical notes. And don't try to describe the painting - try to be the painter, writing. For example, if you were looking the painting by Claude Monet above you might write:

"Twilight dream,

let me never wake

from the mystery that is our love."

Have fun with this! If you would like to search for painters online here are a few names to get you started:

-Henri Matisse

-Pablo Picasso

- Jackson Pollack

- Georgia O'Keefe

- Emily Carr

Week 49

Steven stood in his kitchen wondering what had made him think throwing a dinner party would be a good idea.


"We do not write in order to be understood, we write in order to understand."

~ Cecil Day-Lewis

Secret Diary Writing Exercise # 5

You are an explorer (it is up to you where you are an explorer - somewhere on Earth? Or maybe in outer space? Another dimension?). After years and years of hard work you have finally made an important discovery. Perhaps you have discovered another species of animal? Of plant? Maybe an entire civilization? You know this discovery will change the world. You will write papers, perhaps books about it. You will be invited to give lectures. But before you tell the world the "official" story of how you made your important discovery, you will first confess the truth to your secret diary. Write that diary entry.

Week 48

When I was a kid I used to fantasize about running away to live in a department store.

Random Writing Exercise # 11

Use these three words in a short story: merry-go-round, somersault, tangerine.


"It's nervous work. The state you need to write in is the state others are paying large sums to get rid of."

~ Shirley Hazzard

Week 47

Pauline first noticed the toaster was missing on Saturday morning when, after sleeping in late, she padded into the kitchen, still in her pyjamas, intending to fix herself a full breakfast.

Secret Diary Writing Exercise # 4

You work for a fortune cookie company and your job is to write the fortunes! Cool job, huh? Or is it? Is it a dream creative job or just an overworked, underpaid grind? How do you dream up those fortunes? Are you secretly using them to spread your own subversive message to the world? Write a diary entry describing your job.

Bonus exercise: If you're feeling really creative write five fortune cookie fortunes.

(Okay, I'll admit it - I love the fortunes in fortune cookies way better than the actual cookies. I frankly don't understand desserts without chocolate. My all-time favourite fortune is: "Be kind to pigeons. One day there will be a statue of you." I swear I really got that one. I carried it around in my wallet for years.)

Week 46

September always makes me think of Drew.


"You must write, not just think you're going to...And you must widen your vocabulary, enjoy words. You must read widely, not in order to copy, but to find your own voice. It's a matter of going through life with all one's senses alive, to be responsive to experience, to other people."

~ P. D. James

Random Writing Exercise # 10

Read your horoscope for today. Write a short story using the predictions as inspiration.

Week 45

When I think of my grandparents' house the first thing that comes to mind, before the memory of the dim almost aquatic light, before the constant noise of the television set, before even how it felt to be wrapped in my grandmother's soft embrace, is the smell.

Week 43

Usually I post the first line on a Wednesday, but this week I'm going on vacation so I'm giving it to you early. For the last few months I've been working hard on editing my first novel (in bookstores this fall!) so I thought I deserved a little break. I'll be back in a few days time, hopefully refreshed and with some great ideas for this blog. If you have a favourite exercise or one you hate, or anything to say at all, please leave a comment! Have a great week and keep the words flowing.

Here's the first line for this week:

Every year someone drowned in that river.

Writing Adventure # 4

Go for a walk. Find a place you can sit down and people watch. The first two people to walk by you wearing something the colour red will be the two main characters in the story you are about to write. Who are they? Do they like each other? Love each other? Hate each other? Have they known each other long, or just met? Or maybe they haven't met yet at all? Tell their story. Go.

Week 42

After thinking about it long and hard, Marge decided to get herself a career, and so she signed on to be an Avon lady.

Week 39

Tracy was standing in front of the dairy case at the grocery store when the song came on the radio.

Imagined Conversation # 1

Imagine this woman sits down beside you. What does she say? What do you say? Write down the conversation that takes place between you.

Writing Adventure # 3

Go to an open house. Wander through the rooms then imagine the people who live there. What do they do for a living? For fun? What are their secrets? Are they happy? Sad? Write a short story about them.

Week 34

They met during the heatwave.

Week 33

Our family was the only one in the neighbourhood who had never been there.

Random Writing Exercise # 7

Write a short story that includes these three words: turtle, sky diving, thong.

Week 30

Jeremy stared down at the plate then cautiously took his first bite.

Random Writing Exercise # 6

See a foreign film. Try to find something set in a place you have never visited before. Pay attention to the scenery, the architecture, food and clothing. Afterwards imagine you are a tourist in this foreign locale and write a letter home describing your trip.

Week 28

The night it happened there was a thunderstorm.

Week 27

Chris had always hated the colour green, everyone knew that.

Random Writing Exercise # 5

Write a short, short story (try to keep it under 500 words) and use these three words: marshmallow, gold, loud.

Week 26

The sad gap left by the felled tree surprised William every time he looked out the window.

Writing Adventure # 2

Pick a place in your own city that you've always wanted to visit but never have. It can be a museum, an art gallery, a place with historical significance, a park. Anywhere. Go there, then use it as a setting for a short story.

Week 25

The dog sat with his head cocked, staring at the still figure of his master.

Random Writing Exercise # 4

Describe the room you had as a child. Don't just limit yourself to visual details - what could you hear from its window? How was it different in the night from during the day? Did you have a secret hiding spot? Be a time traveller and return to the one small corner of the world you knew best as a child.

Shout it From the Rooftop!

I wanted to share my good news - my first novel was accepted for publication yesterday! I've been walking on air ever since. Second Story Press is bringing it out here in Canada this fall, which is really, really quick in the publishing world. I've got tonnes of work to do in the coming weeks and months editing it. I'm on a pretty steep learning curve right now since this is my first book but I couldn't be happier.

Week 24

It was exhausting to even think about.

Week 23

Spring bloomed suddenly that year, catching even the optimists by surprise.

Secret Diary Writing Exercise # 2

Pretend to be silent screen movie star. Imagine it: the Roaring 20s, the Jazz Age, the glamour, the mystery and everyone so beautiful in black and white. Of course a silent screen star would have a secret diary. But what would it reveal? Write an entry in their diary.

Week 21

Frank stood on the subway platform waiting for the train to arrive.

Random Writing Exercise # 3

Write a paragraph describing the sky but do not use the word blue. And don't feel you need to stay with the sky, you may use it as a jumping off point.

(If you would like some inspiration I've posted the paragraph I wrote in the comments section.)

Writing Adventure # 1

Go to a coffee shop. Take a book or magazine with you. While pretending to read eavesdrop on a conversation. Imagine what the speaker's life is like. Where do they live? What do they do? What is their favourite food? Write a short story about what happens to them when they leave the coffee shop.

Week 20

The piece of paper fluttered slowly down and landed on the sidewalk in front of Erica.

Week 19

The first thing Pam did after her divorce was sign up for a yoga class.

Random Writing Exercise # 2

Write a letter. This is the kind of letter you will never, ever, send. Write down all those things you have been yearning to say to this person but know you will never be able to. Pour it all out on the page. Breathe. Writing the truth can be scary so let yourself feel everything then tear up the paper and let it go.


"All sorrows can be borne if we put them in a story or tell a story about them."

~Isak Dinesen

Secret Diary Writing Exercise # 1

Remember that crazy teacher from high school? The one you loved or hated, was intrigued by or a little bit afraid of? Pretend to be them and write an entry in their secret diary.

Week 18

I admit, it was a crazy thing to do.

Week 17

Rachel could not stop laughing.

Random Writing Exercise # 1

Write down the name of your favourite cartoon character. Your favourite colour. Your favourite holiday destination. Use these three words in a story.

Week 15

Josh had been walking towards the hill on the horizon all morning.

Week 13

It was annoying but Susan had to admit her mother was right.

Week 12

Except for that time when he was ten and had found a dead bird, Luke had never seen a dead body, until now.

(I've added a list of some of my favourite books for writers. Check it out.)