Here I will list out to the best of my ability all the writing advice I’ve received in September’s emails, via the CBC short story contest newsletter.
“Take good care of your body and mind. Having a healthy body and calm mind allows us a clearer and smoother journey in finding and sharing our stories.”
Tanya Roach is Inuk and Scottish with roots in Nunavut and Nova Scotia. Her work can be found in Up Here magazine and Write magazine. She was a reader for the 2018 CBC Short Story Prize.
“Read good stuff. There’s little to mentally edit because if it’s good, you forget you are reading. Also, good writing is humbling. We go back to our own work well advised and, depending on the day, depressed or inspired.” J. Livingston was born in Edmonton, Alta., and now lives in British Columbia. Livingston’s fiction is about people, stuff they do and say, and sometimes, stuff they don’t do and won’t say.
“Carry a notebook. One of the smartest things I ever started doing was carrying a notebook with me, literally everywhere I go. My best ideas come to me in transit, so I’ve gotten into the habit of rehearsing them in my head until I get somewhere where I can write them down. Adding a notebook to the process just enables the process far more smoothly, which means I end up with lots of new material to input into whatever file I’m currently working on. Worst-case scenario, most phones now have a Notes function which allows you to tap in a quick version and email it to yourself. Very useful!” Gemma Files is a horror writer, film critic and journalist. Her story The Emperor’s Old Bones won the 1999 International Horror Guild Award for Best Short Fiction. Her novel A Book of Tongues won the 2010 DarkScribe Magazine Black Quill Award for Small Press Chill.
“Read poetry (and some song lyrics). The way poetry breaks grammar rules and distils imagery and emotion can inspire juicier word choices and a more interesting cadence.” Nola Poirier is a writer, environmental researcher, punk-choir member and binge television viewer. Her short fiction has been published in Canadian journals, including Room, Prairie Fire and Vancouver Review. She made the longlist for the 2018 CBC Short Story Prize.
“How to start writing? Just write. Take a few deep breaths, clear your mind and write down the first word that comes to mind. Then write about it as fast as you can. Get the feelings down. Do not think. Don’t let yourself get in the way of the story. You’ll be surprised at the characters and places that have been waiting to come out. You already have the heart and blood of a story. Now you need the bones.” Linda Walsh has been a regional winner of the Commonwealth Short Story Prize and she made the longlist of the 2018 CBC Short Story Prize. She is currently working on a novel about tango.
“My advice is to build a world you love to write in. Breathe in its histories and cultures, cultivate its societies and peoples, and bring that world to life through the eyes of your main character.” Chiante Guretzki spends her days creating plots and worlds in notebooks meant for lecture notes and drawing character sketches in the margins of assignments. Chiante is a logophile, bibliophile and an ailurophile. For her, an ideal day is when she can put all those things together. She was on the longlist of the 2018 CBC Short Story Prize.
“Patrick Lane, the poet, was on The Next Chapter the other day talking about his new novel. Shelagh Rogers asked him something about the difference between writing fiction and poetry and he said, ‘You wait for poetry to happen, you make novels happen.’ That really resonated with me. I write both forms too and I know exactly what he meant. A poem requires inspiration. But fiction, short or long takes perspiration. Sit down at your keyboard and make something happen.” Dave Margoshes writes short and long fiction and poetry on a farm west of Saskatoon. He has published seven collections of short stories and has been a Journey Prize finalist. He was a reader for the 2018 CBC Short Story Prize.
“Set a quota. Give yourself a word count and stick to it every day you have any time to write, don’t vary it and don’t make excuses. It’s mechanical, but you’re building something — there has to be a mechanical, slightly plodding aspect to the work or it won’t get done. Make the quota low, so you don’t beat yourself up when you can’t reach it, and that way you get to feel on top of the world when you exceed it. Filling up the empty space of the screen or the page each day rather than waiting until the moment is right will lead to more ‘right’ moments.” Kate Cayley’s first collection of short fiction, How You Were Born, won the 2015 Trillium Book Award and was a finalist for the Governor General’s Literary Award for fiction. She was a reader for the 2018 CBC Short Story Prize.
“Write constantly. Read deeply. Do your best not to despair. In moments of darkness, know that every successful writer has shared that same darkness. As in all things, persistence beats resistance.” D. W. Wilson is the author of the short story collection Once You Break a Knuckle and the novel Ballistics. He won the Manchester Fiction Prize and the CBC Short Story Prize in 2015.
“Next to reading lots and writing lots, giving and taking criticism is the single best thing a writer can do to sharpen their craft. Just like you can’t really tell what your voice sounds like when you speak, your own writing will always look different to you than to others. Join a writer’s group, make some writer friends. Like iron sharpens iron, so writers sharpen writers.” M.W. Cook was an evangelical preacher and missionary until he had a crisis of faith. Now he lives in Toronto with his wife and children, finishing a belated education at the University of Toronto and writing as if his income depends on it. He was on the longlist of the 2018 CBC Short Story Prize.
“Trust your work. When you don’t know what should happen next, let your fingers find inspiration on the keyboard. The work will produce its own ideas.” Steve Thornton began his writing career in 1974 after graduating from Georgian College. He has worked as a journalist in Ontario and British Columbia, and has studied the craft of writing fiction along the way. He was on the longlist of the 2018 CBC Short Story Prize.
“Do lots of free writing in order to go deep inside your characters. Explore them thoroughly, especially their dark sides. Find out how they think, but more importantly, how they feel and strive to show that. Emotion and conflict are vital to building a connection with the reader.” Karen Kemlo was born in Alberta and grew up in Ontario and British Columbia. She received a BA from the University of Victoria and moved to Toronto, where she graduated in journalism from Ryerson. She was on the longlist of the 2018 CBC Short Story Prize.