Margaret Atwood

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Despite not “winning” NaNoWriMo (See my blog post called “NaNoWriMo update, part 3“), I was very proud of myself to have started writing a large project. But after November I stopped writing all but this blog. And even then, I haven’t been writing as often or as in-depth as I used to. I would like to say that the holidays took over. I was too busy shopping for Christmas presents, making Christmas presents (all of those homemade, hand-bound books I made went somewhere), and wrapping Christmas presents. I was too busy planning events or going to events, seeing friends and family, and too busy printing letterpress cards (well, that part is kind of true). Work was busier too, so I didn’t have as much down time at work as I normally do in which to write or work on my other various projects. Although December was a busy month overall, these are all just excuses that don’t hold much weight. Despite added responsibilities, a true writer makes time for writing — something I have not been doing.

My writing as of late has been placed on the back burner; it is no longer a priority. I’m not sure why, but I’m beginning to explore the various possibilities. Hopefully, by gaining awareness of why I no longer make writing a priority, I can figure out how to move beyond my issues so that writing once again becomes a large and important part of my life.

I recently came across a “colourful” but enlightening web article called “25 Things Writers Should Stop Doing (Right Fucking Now)” by Chuck Wendig (h/t to Nate Crawford at the Writers’ Federation of Nova Scotia for posting this on the WFNS Facebook page) that opened my eyes and helped me focus on some of the issues I’m experiencing with regards to my writing… or, more appropriately, my lack of writing.

Stop running away

Wendig says, “Your writing will never chase you — you need to chase your writing. If it’s what you want, then pursue it.” I do want to be a writer. And by that I don’t necessarily mean I expect to be the next Margaret Atwood or Salman Rushdie. Nor do I mean I want to quit my day job and live in a beach house with a typewriter in the South of France (although all of these things would be awesome times infinity). I doubt I’ll ever get published or be able to write full-time. I mostly want to be a writer for myself, but being a writer won’t just fall into my lap. Writing takes effort, but this is something I need to remind myself of ever day. Perhaps that is because writing hasn’t become habit for me. Or perhaps that is just because writing is hard.

Stop thinking it should be easier

Wendig reminded me that “[a]nything truly worth doing requires hella hard work.” Writing is hard work — if someone tells you that writing is easy then s/he is probably lying — and sometimes getting the motivation to work hard is, well, hard. It can be difficult to come home after staring at a computer all day at work and want to stare at a computer all evening to write. Or if I’ve had a particularly busy or difficult day my brain doesn’t want to do any more thinking. I’m certainly aware that this is a challenge for me. Yet, like exercising, I may not want to do it, but once I’m in it or have finished I feel so much better. The hard part is getting started.

Stop waiting

I wait too much. I tell myself, “I’ll write tomorrow.” I tell myself, “I’ll write again when the next idea comes to me.” I’ll tell myself, “I need to figure out where this is going before I continue.” And so forth. I need to stop doing this and just sit down and write something. If it turns out to be crap, then oh well — at least it’s “writing practice,” as  Natalie Goldberg says in Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within. However, ideas are more likely to come to me while writing than while watching television or doing the dishes.

Stop deprioritizing your wordsmithy

Wendig makes a good point in his article: “You know you’re a writer because it’s not just what you do, but rather, it’s who you are. So why deprioritize that thing which forms part of your very identity?” This is point enough as to why I once again need to make writing a priority. A part of me is missing. And I feel it.

Stop treating your body like a dumpster

All sorts of Christmas goodies haven’t helped this, but to be honest I started treating my body like a dumpster long before the holidays. Added responsibilities in the evenings that make cooking a nice dinner difficult have led me to start eating a lot of take-out (the opening of a Smokes Poutinerie in Halifax hasn’t helped), and plain laziness has resulted in choosing easy (but unhealthy) lunch options such as canned, processed, and high-carb foods. Although I don’t really believe in New Year’s Resolutions because changing aspects of your life that you don’t like shouldn’t be relegated to a single day during the year, now that the holidays are over I have made it a point to once again start eating healthier and exercise on a regular basis. As Wendig says, “[t]he body fuels the mind. It should be ‘crap out,’ not ‘crap in.’ Stop bloating your body with awfulness. Eat well. Exercise.” Good advice.

Stop blaming everyone else

My tendency isn’t to blame other people, but to blame other responsibilities or life events beyond my control. Work was too busy. I’m tired. I don’t have time. I have too much else to do. I have a headache. And so on and so forth. In reality, the only thing I have to blame for not making writing a priority is myself.

Stop overpromising and overshooting

Wendig’s advice is to “[c]oncentrate on what you can complete.” Although I was happy to have started something big during NaNoWriMo, I was disappointed in myself that I couldn’t reach the 50,000 word goal; I didn’t even reach 10,000 words. But even though everything I’ve written above are poor excuses for not writing, I am a busy person with other hobbies and responsibilities that I need to juggle. My goal is not to drop everything else in life and focus only on writing; rather, I need to work on time management and include more writing in my life, even if it’s only a goal to write 250 words a day.

Stop being afraid

Wendig says, “Everybody who wanted to be a writer and didn’t become one failed based on one of two critical reasons: one, they were lazy, or two, they were afraid.” He has certainly hit the nail on the head there. Laziness is definitely a part of my problem (writing is hard and sometimes I’d rather not do it for this reason). But, mostly, it is fear that holds me back. Fear of failure. And maybe even fear of success because of what that might mean for my life and how that might change things. Fear of success is understandable because change can be scary. But not doing something from fear of failure is so silly because — by not doing it in the first place — I’m already failing. Although my brain knows this on an academic level, it is still a hard challenge to overcome. Perhaps the hardest. I suspect it was fear of failure after not completing NaNoWriMo that led me to stop writing in December, rather than an excess of holiday responsibilities. My thought process throughout November went from “I can do this; I can write 50,000 words in one month” to “I can’t do this. I can’t write. I am not a writer.” So, if I’m going to make any New Year’s Resolution, it is to change my thought process: I can do this. I can write. I am a writer. I am a writer on my own terms, and at my own pace.

What challenges do you have to overcome as a writer? I’d love to hear some of your experiences and what you do to overcome the challenges you face in order to write.

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Margaret Atwood signing books at Sunset and Champage with Margaret Atwood event in BridgewaterI met Margaret Atwood. Besides being shorter than I expected, I recognized her immediately. As would many Canadians (sorry Doug & Rob Ford). She is certainly a Canadian icon and, also, my favourite author. I met Margaret Atwood because she was the guest speaker at a fundraising event hosted by the South Shore Public Libraries on August 23rd, 2011. The benefit, called Sunset and Champagne with Margaret Atwood, was held as a way to raise money for the construction of a new library in Bridgewater, Nova Scotia.

The price of the ticket included a hardcover copy of The Year of the Flood as well as (delicious) champagne and Maritime-inspired hors d’oeuvres. During the event, Atwood talked about her connection to Nova Scotia, her parents and her upbringing.

Champage with Margaret AtwoodAtwood then went on to discuss the outrage in Toronto regarding the Ford brothers’ desire to cut funding to public libraries. “I didn’t start it,” she explained, but she did tell us that in her family it is easy to “get the Atwood up.” However, “Atwoods don’t start,” she said; rather, “they respond.” And as Atwood has responded to various issues and controversies through her writing, she has responded to the Ford brothers by speaking out on the importance of public libraries. For example, she mentioned how studies show that children who are surrounded by books do 20% better in school. She also discussed the importance of the arts in school, and even the necessity of gym class. After all, “the life of the mind is connected to the life of the body,” she said.

The evening ended with Atwood reading about language and libraries from her novel Oryx and Crake before she began signing books. I, of course, keener that I am, sat in the very first row. The downside to this is that I ended up being one of the last in line to have my books signed at the back of the room. But it was certainly worth the wait. I brought my first edition copy of Alias Grace for her to sign. Not only is Alias Grace one of my favourite Atwood novels, but my first edition copy was a gift purchased with love and meaning, and so I cherish it.

Margaret Atwood signed my Master's Thesis!I also brought my bound Master of Arts thesis with me to the event, hoping — but not expecting — that she would be willing to sign it. I wrote my thesis on Atwood’s works and also won the 2010 Margaret Atwood Society Award for Best M.A. Thesis, so I was very appreciative when Atwood said, “Sure! I’ll sign it.” Many authors will refuse to sign something that is not their direct work so it means a lot to me that she did. She also drew three stars for winning an award from it — either that or I was glowing so much she just couldn’t help herself.

For more information about the proposed library in Bridgewater or to donate, please visit the South Shore Public Libraries’ website.

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Margaret AtwoodI found out that Margaret Atwood is coming to Nova Scotia to host a benefit for the South Shore Public Libraries on August 23rd. The benefit costs $100, but that includes a cocktail, entertainment, and a copy of The Year of the Flood (of course, if you’re an Atwood fan you probably already have a copy — but give it away because she will be signing these ones).

For more information see the promo poster: Sunset and Champagne with Margaret Atwood. Select items will be available for auction and all proceeds of the benefit go towards the South Shore Public Libraries’ initiative to build a new library and library administration office in the Lunenburg County Lifestyles Centre located in Bridgewater, Nova Scotia.

Not only is Margaret Atwood supporting the growth of libraries in Nova Scotia, she is also currently fighting the city of Toronto’s mandate to reduce public funding to libraries and outsource some library operations to private companies, ensuring the closure of many local branches of the Toronto Public Library. OurPublicLibrary.to‘s Project Rescue explains how:

Library users would see higher user fees, fewer books and less access to the information and other vital services our public libraries offer for little or no cost as hours of operation are limited. The cuts to library staff that have been going on for years will be accelerated. . . . We would lose a powerful educational and cultural force that opens books and opens minds, taking from Toronto a public service that all other great cities jealously guard.

I do not currently live in Toronto. These may not be my local libraries, but they are still part of my greater community as a Canadian. Libraries are essential to each community because they are an important source of information and education for Canadians and therefore require sufficient funding. When I visit Toronto or if I decide to move to Toronto I still want to have access to these important educational and cultural tools. If you feel the same way sign the petition and/or support the South Shore Public Libraries’ initiative to improve libraries in Nova Scotia by attending the Sunset and Champagne with Margaret Atwood benefit.

I’m excited — not only because Atwood is supporting Nova Scotia libraries, but also because she is coming to my region. I wrote my Master of Arts thesis at Dalhousie University on the works of Margaret Atwood and much of her oeuvre has been an inspiration to me. I look forward to the event.

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As I’ve been walking, working, riding the bus, doing dishes, falling asleep, I’ve wondered what to write about for my next blog post. And then when I get through that, what do I write about next? And then next? And next? I have wanted to start a blog for the last couple of years, but was afraid that I had nothing of value to write about. Now that my blog is live there is a nagging voice in my head that says, “You don’t know what you’re doing. You have nothing of value to say. You don’t know how to write,” etcetera and so forth. Then it occurred to me that this style of thought permeates all of my attempts at writing, whether it’s a poem or an academic paper, or that novel I’ve had collecting dust for the last three years in the back of my brain. I’m a relatively confident person (except maybe when it comes to networking) and I think I have a healthy amount of self-esteem. I did well in school and have written two theses so I must have some master of the language and know how to write academically. And, although none of my poetry has been published, it’s probably due more from laziness and a lack of submitting my work rather than a lack of skill (albeit I’m definitely no Margaret Atwood, Jan Zwicky, Sue Goyette, or any of the other amazing Canadian female poets whose work I can relate to). So, why then, do I think I have nothing to offer? It has been said many times that artists are their own worst critics. Do other aspiring writers feel the same way?

Perhaps my problem is that I compare myself to others too much. I recently started reading Sue Goyette’s new collection of poetry, Outskirts, and am blown away by how beautifully she masters the language and the art of metaphor. Normally I breeze through a book of poetry in a sitting or two, depending on my schedule, but I can’t with Outskirts. I need to pause after every poem to let it permeate. I need to repeat lines over and over again until they become a part of me because her metaphors make me feel awful: full of awe. I stop with wonderment and think, “Why haven’t I seen that before? Why didn’t I think that?” And I also need to pause after each line or poem because I can’t help but think that I will never be that skilful in my writing—that I will never master the metaphor the way Sue Goyette has in Outskirts. It’s a form of torture that I inflict on myself in other areas of my life as well. Learning to play the guitar, for example. Mistake after mistake I put it down; I will never be as good as I want to be. My brain tells me, “That’s what practice is for; practice and you will improve. You’ll be able to hold a B chord and play that song; you’ll be able to write that poem, that novel in your head.” It’s hard to stay motivated when you’re on the bottom, and when you get home from a long day at work, tired, to dinner and dishes and cleaning and bed.

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