Five Canadian Authors on my Reading List

For a writer, I don’t read nearly enough. But I do have a bookshelf, a nightstand, and some drawers full of pages waiting to be turned, most of them written by Canadian authors. Here are five Canadian authors on my reading list. Now if only I could stop time and jump into these books!

Five Canadian Authors on my Reading List

Canadian Authors to Read

Photo by Sov Sylvester Sin

Canadian Authors on my Reading List :: Kim McCullough

When I took UBC’s writing mentorship, Kim McCullough was the MFA writing student who helped me finalize my story. She’s been published in Room Magazine, Grain Magazine, Prism international, and more. Her novel, Clearwater is next up on my reading list.

Canadian Authors on my Reading List :: Lisa Moore

Lisa Moore judged Sarah Selecky’s Little Bird Writing Contest this year. Her first two books were nominated for the Giller Prize, which is one of literature’s most prestigious prizes. I’ve placed them both on my reading list, along with February, which was nominated for the Man Booker Prize.

Canadian Authors on my Reading List :: Jane Urquhart

I first heard about Jane Urquhart when I was studying creative writing in university. Her compilation of Canadian fiction was our required reading and I devoured every story assigned to us. Jane Urquhart is a Canadian author with over 15 titles to her name. It may be a challenge to read all of them, but my reading list is now plentiful thanks to her.

Canadian Authors on my Reading List :: Elizabeth Hay

A Giller Prize winning Canadian author, Elizabeth Hay came out with a new novel last summer. I’d like to put that on my reading list, but with nine books in her bibliography (only one of which I’ve read), it’s hard to choose where to start.

Canadian Authors on my Reading List :: Annabelle Lyon

Annabelle Lyon had just come out with her novel, Sweet Girl, when I was first looking into taking the UBC MFA in creative writing. Her work can also be found in Jane Urquhart’s short stories anthology mentioned above.

Canada has no shortage of talented writers, but as an emerging writer, it’s important for me to read more Canadian authors. Read more from my other favorite Canadian writers.

My Favorite Canadian Writers

With the United States as our neighbors, when it comes to role models, it often seems like Canada lacking. However, when it comes to literature, we are plentiful. Maybe it’s because I’m ingrained in the writing community, but I’ve always felt like Canadian writers are the ones to beat. Here are a few of my favourite Canadian writers (PS they’re all women)!

My Favorite Canadian Writers

My Favorite Canadian Writers :: Alice Munro

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Alice Munro is a Canadian writer who has mastered the art of short story writing. Her stories are rich, tragic, and thoughtful. I once saw an interview where she admitted she often felt like she wasn’t a good enough writer when she first started out. She won the Nobel Prize Prize for Literature in 2013.

My Favorite Canadian Writers :: Margaret Atwood

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Margaret Atwood is the iconic Canadian writer. She’s written novels, short stories, creative fiction, and poetry. She’s one of those writers who has created an enterprise of her work. I’d love to have a career similar to hers, and to one day have my work studied in high school classrooms, like hers was when I was behind the desk.

My Favorite Canadian Writers :: Sarah Selecky

Sarah Selecky has the writing business I long for. She’s created an online community where she both teaches and creates. I often felt like writing was a bit of a misfit, not quite seen as an art form and not quite seen as a valuable commodity. Sarah Selecky has shown how writing is both, and how it can be a lucrative career.

My Favorite Canadian Writers :: Margaret Laurence

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Margaret Laurence is another iconic Canadian writer whose work is studied in high schools across the country. My favorite are her Lake Minnewanka characters that pop up amongst many of her stories. She created a world that was both unmistakable Canadian and entirely fictional.

My Favorite Canadian Writers :: Ann-Marie MacDonald

Ann-Marie MacDonald is best known for two of her novels: The Way the Crow Flies and Fall on your Knees. She is also a host of the CBC Doc Zone series. Her stories navigate traumatic realities that many girls face with an elegance and truth that lingers long after the pages have turned.

How to Write a Bio that Doesn’t Put You to Sleep

When you think about how to write a bio, do you cringe with disgust? You throw up in your mouth a little bit, don’t you? You’d rather clean your cat’s litter box than think about how to write a bio so that it doesn’t put you to sleep.

Yikes!

It doesn’t have to be that gross, but it’s not easy, per se. Here are three tips on how to write a bio that draws attention.

How to Write a Bio that Doesn’t Put You (and Your Readers) to Sleep

how to write a bio

How to Write a Bio 01 :: Suck Up

Think about your audience. Who are they? What do they want? Start your bio by telling a story about their environment, their passions, their deep dark needs. Our world is full of about me pages that make big claims and feature long lists, but how often do you come across one that is so relatable you feel the writer has read your mind?

Here are ten questions to ask yourself to prompt a story about your readers:

  1. What are your readers doing right before they hire you or read your blog?
  2. What are their biggest challenges related to your topic?
  3. Where would you randomly run into them? A café? The gym? Under a big tree?
  4. What keeps them up at night?
  5. What gets them out of bed in the morning?
  6. Are they coffee people? Tea people? Green smoothie people?
  7. What problem do they crave a solution to?
  8. What do you have in common with them?
  9. What are their guilty pleasures?
  10. What is at stake if they don’t take action on your topic?

I kind of used this technique at the beginning of this how to write a bio blog post. How did it work for you?

How to Write a Bio 02 :: Be Passionate

Talk about your passions, not your skills. We so often fear we’ll miss a lead because they didn’t see their need listed on our website. But, we don’t get hired solely for what we do, but rather how we do it, and to what quality. The latter is our reputation, the former can be expressed through writing. What we believe in is just as important as how well we do what we do.

Check out my LinkedIn bio for an example of what I mean:

A lover of all art forms, I am known most recognizably for my practice in writing. A winner of the Alberta Foundation for the Arts Literary Arts Scholarship, my writing encompasses fiction, literary non fiction and poetry. I am also well versed in all forms of corporate content creation such as press releases, blog posts, newsletters, sales copy and all other communications materials. I am motivated by the elation of succinct and memorable prose. Sentences that stick. Words that, when united, matter.

I’m the type of person you can count on, both professionally and personally. Accustomed to leadership roles, I thrive in managing multiple projects with competing deadlines. Through imaginative influence, I seek innovation to challenge convention and aptly apply this originality to enrich my work, art and life.

Collaboration is an important value to me. Peaked by my curiosity, I aim to understand, listening attentively before responding and often encouraging deeper development of concepts through shared expression of ideas. This meeting of minds is magic. As is that space where uninterrupted inspiration cracks routine, whether solitarily or collectively stimulated. Mutual respect and engagement are essential to any pursuit.

I am also a performer, web designer, graphic designer and photographer. Ask me about any of the aforementioned and you may be pleasantly surprised.

How to Write a Bio 03 :: Party First

We’re trained to work hard to play hard. When it comes to how to write a bio, I say play first, work later. What do I mean by this? Start with a story, an anecdote, a joke, something more interesting than the list of services you slave over to “encompass all that you do!” You do a lot, give us a reason to read every item.

In my own about me page I first talk about my clients, then I talk about how I can relate to how my clients feel. It’s not until about half way in that I say what I actually do. Your bio is your place to shine. Readers can find out what you do in many other ways (i.e. home page, navigation, blog posts, social media), they don’t need a list!

Feel like your bio is full of holes? Want me to take a crack* at it? Get in touch now!
*Pun intended

Stay tuned in the coming weeks for a few bio writing formulas! Still feeling stuck? Here are a few thoughts on success to keep things in perspective.

Five Easy Persuasive Writing Techniques

Persuasive writing techniques take time. Persuasion doesn’t necessarily depend on the quality of your idea, but rather how well you communicate it. A great product goes unnoticed without proper positioning, whereas garbage is sold for millions with the right twist. I want to tell you about five persuasive writing techniques.

Five Easy Persuasive Writing Techniques

persuasive writing techniques - stylings and stories

I Think I Can

The Little Engine that Could got up the hill through that simple mantra, but the book wasn’t sold by saying “I think it’s good.” One of the best persuasive writing techniques is to drop “I think” and “I believe” from your vocabulary. By deleting those phrases, your sentence will have more power. This practice gives you instant authority.

Ditch the Adverbs, She Said Persuasively

Seriously though, if you want to be persuasive, ditch the adverbs. Using adverbs hints to your reader that you’re unclear of your statement, not to mention doubtful of their intelligence. Replace adverbs with better verbs. Don’t get hung up on perfection in your first draft. Revise, my dear friend, revise. Check out Stephen King’s thoughts on the subject.

Get Active

An active voice delivers direct, clear, and succinct messages with a punch. Writing in an active voice means the subject performs the action, for instance “persuasive writing techniques improved my writing” (active) vs. “my writing was improved by persuasive writing techniques” (inactive).

Ease Up

Have you ever had to re-read a paragraph or sentence so many times you forget why you started in the first place? For more persuasive writing, keep it short. That means paragraphs, sentences, and words. While your run-on prose may seek to clarify, it does the opposite. Readers will not only get lost in redundancy and ambiguity, but in puzzlement of following the words. Give them a break.

Once in a Lifetime Fail

How convinced are you when someone claims their offer is “once in a lifetime” or that their service is “state-of-the-art?” Not much? So why use this propaganda in your writing? Outlandish claims diminish authority. Ditch ’em as fast as you ditch adverbs. Replace these filler phrases with detailed examples that support your position.

Persuasive writing techniques take practice. And, like I said, don’t rely on your first draft to communicate effectively. Schedule time for revision and you’ll pack a meaner punch.

Need a copywriter for your project? Contact me now.

An Editor Fixes More than Just Bad Grammar

I’ve heard it so many times. “I hate writing. I’m no good at it. I never know what to say.”

Writing, it’s one of those things everyone can do, but few can do well. Still, most people don’t know that an editor can help them with that.

Editors are writers too. Editors know how to spot errors and fix them. They know which paragraphs to cut and which ones to tweak. They are conscious of voice, style, diction, and form. They are committed to perfection and love the thrill of a clean and concise sentence. Editors fix more than just bad grammar.

An Editor Fixes More than Just Bad Grammar

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Clarity

Ever feel like you’re not quite expressing your thoughts the same on paper as in your mind? Or, possibly, you’re misusing words and altering your message. It’s okay, everyone does, it’s common. But there’s a way around that. Editors just know. They’re bookworms, grammar nazis, perfectionists. Editors have a way of rearranging and replacing to create clarity for your work.

Consistence

If you’re not an editor, you would never think to check for consistent verb tense, word usage, or tone. You probably wouldn’t think to make sure certain words, like a company name, are capitalized (or not) and placed in the correct order. Many companies have a strict style guide for these types of things. Editors love this kind of stuff. It creates rhythm, balance, and credibility.

Style

Editors will ensure that you have a consistent tone and voice throughout your piece. They will make sure you sound authoritative, which establishes you as an expert. You don’t want to be playful and silly in one paragraph then turn serious and intense in the next. Editors will help you have a conversation with your readers.

Technique

Finally, editors will fix all those technical errors. This is the final step in editing. Many people struggle with writing because they don’t have a grasp on spelling and grammar. It doesn’t mean you’re a bad writer, it just means you need an editor.

What’s the difference?

Finally, I just want to leave you with definitions of the different types of editing. You can hire an editor for all three, or just the one you need.

Stylistic / Substantive Editing :: Making changes to structure and clarifying meaning.

Copyediting :: Checking grammar, spelling, punctuation and other mechanics of style.

Proofreading :: Verifying the proof matches the draft and is free of errors.

What’s your biggest struggle with writing? Leave me a comment + I could write a blog post for ya!

Six Books on How to be a Better Writer

Want to know how to be a better writer?

Writers tend to read a lot. They read books, magazines, online articles, cereal boxes, ingredients lists, and pretty much anything else you can think of. Writers read about writing too. We like to delve into the world of our idols to learn their secrets and somehow absorb their genius into our own work. It helps.

Here are six books on how to be a better writer.

Six Books on How to be a Better Writer

How to be a Better Writer

Writing is hard.

How to be a Better Writer Book 01 :: Bird by Bird

Bird by Bird is a cheeky memoir-esque take on writing written by Anne Lamott. This delightful instruction manual of sorts can even be applied to life in general. What I like about Bird by Bird is that Anne Lamott tells it to you straight. She tells you not everyone has what it takes to be great, that writing takes a lot of work, and that “good writing is about telling the truth.” What makes something true may be more complicated than you think!

“You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.” —Anne Lamott

How to be a Better Writer Book 02 :: Writing Down the Bones

Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg is my go to writing prompt bible. On many occasion, I’ve sat in a café with this lovely book and gotten lost in imaginary worlds by answering her creativity cues. This is a good resource for those of you looking for journaling ideas too.

How to be a Better Writer Book 03 :: Old Friend from Far Away

Another Natalie Goldberg book to help nudge your creativity is Old Friend from Far Away. This is another good resource for journaling as it focuses on initiating memoir writing. I find the writing prompts in Old Friend from Far Away to be more uncomfortable to delve into… in a good way.

How to be a Better Writer Book 04 :: Negotiating with the Dead

Margaret Atwood is an iconic Canadian author, and one of my earliest writing idols. She authored Negotiating with the Dead that answers the question “what do we mean when we say that someone is a writer?” This book on how to be a better writer is currently on my nightstand and reads like a memoir similar to Bird by Bird.

There are four ways of arranging literary worth and money: good books that make money; bad books that make money; good books that don’t make money; bad books that don’t make money. Those are the only four combinations. All are possible.” —Margaret Atwood

How to be a Better Writer Book 05 :: The Writing Life

If you want a quick read on how to be a better writer then grab a copy of Annie Dillard’s The Writing Life. I think I read the 111 pages in a single sitting back in the day. It’s rich with wisdom for how to be a better writer and hard to put down.

How to be a Better Writer Book 06 :: The Artist’s Way

The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron is not about writing, but you can learn a lot about how to be a better writer by taking care of your sensitive inner artist. I’ve read through this self-help book several times and always learn something new about myself. If you’re feeling the ache of writers’ block, then dive into this one—or try these some of these writers’ block tips.

What are your favorite books on how to be a better writer?!

Fiction vs Nonfiction :: Where do they Intersect?

What’s the deal with fiction vs nonfiction? In technical terms, fiction is cultivated by the imagination and nonfiction is plucked from facts. Where the seeds of fiction can drop out of the sky or rise up from the earth or plop into our laps off the back of a buzzing bee, the seeds of nonfiction are blown in by the current of our experiences. And, that’s where things get interesting. I’ll tell you what I mean…

Fiction vs Nonfiction :: Where do they Intersect?

fiction vs nonfiction, where do they intersect

Fiction vs. Nonfiction 01 :: Memory is Unreliable

When you think of fiction vs nonfiction you have to consider that there’s a certain degree of imagination in the recounting of our lives. Can you truly rely on the accuracy of your memory? The way you remember an event or a scent can be entirely opposite to the way another remembers that exact same thing. We all have an inner compass that directs us through right and wrong, but the way we navigate between the two differs greatly not only from each other, but inwardly within ourselves from season to season. Truth is variable.

“A typical biography relying upon individuals’ notorious memories and the anecdotes they’ve invented contains a high degree of fiction, yet is considered ‘nonfiction.’” – Joyce Carol Oates

Fiction vs. Nonfiction 02 :: We Tell Our Emotional Truths

Think of fiction vs nonfiction as a sliding scale of truth. Where research and journalism are at one end, science fiction and fantasy are at the other. Fiction vs nonfiction meet in the middle, somewhere between memoir and literary fiction.

When we tell the stories of our lives through memoir we’re not just relating the provable facts, we’re articulating our emotional truths. Since when were all our emotions logical and verifiable? Sometimes to convey an important emotional truth we have to exaggerate the verifiable truth. That’s not to say that we’re lying, it’s to say that we’re highlighting the strongest, most important truth. Similarly, in the telling of literary fiction, we are telling a larger truth about the human experience, which brings me to my final point.

Fiction vs. Nonfiction 03 :: It’s all Based on the Human Experience

Everything we write is based on the human experience. Fiction vs nonfiction, it doesn’t matter, you can’t escape telling a broad human truth. Try, I dare you. Someone somewhere will find meaning in your work. So what does that mean for fiction vs nonfiction? It simply means there’s a bit of both in everything we write.

What do you think? Where does fiction vs nonfiction intersect?

4 Daily Tasks that Invite Inspiration for Writing Ideas

Inspiration can hit at any time. Sometimes we search for it within books or faces or in the dust that collects on the windowsill. But other times, inspiration for writing ideas strikes in the midst of our daily tasks, like a flash of lightning in our brain that electrocutes creativity. Here are 4 daily tasks that invite inspiration for writing ideas.

4 Daily Tasks that Invite Inspiration for Writing Ideas

inspiration for writing ideas

Inspiration for Writing Ideas 01 :: The Commute

Why is it that inspiration for writing ideas seem to pop up when our hands are tied? The commute to your daily work is a fine example of such inconvenient, but inviting, inspiration. The familiarity to your route shifts you into autopilot leaving your mind free to wander. You can tune out or turn off the radio and let the characters play in your head. (You’re not crazy, you’re creative. I plomise!)

Inspiration for Writing Ideas 02 :: The Shower

Maybe it’s the comfortable heat, maybe it’s the cascade of cleansing water, but either way, the shower is a deep sea of inspiration for writing ideas. You’ll have to keep a pen + notebook within reach (+ maybe a towel) to catch the idea before it follows the flow down the drain. Also, be careful your imagination doesn’t take the time away, you don’t want to be late + waste too much precious water.

Inspiration for Writing Ideas 03 :: The Dishes

The daily task of washing dishes is another one of those necessities that leaves your mind free to wander. As such, this can be the perfect time to invite inspiration for writing ideas. As your hands take over in the bubbles, you can follow your imagination into the depths, take hold of that new writing idea and swim with it. Who cares about prune fingers? Amiright?

Inspiration for Writing Ideas 04 :: The Walk

If you’re feeling particularly stuck (or better, particularly creative) take a walk. Work up a bit of a sweat and get the juices flowing. Leave your iPod at home and keep company with your own thoughts. The action and relaxation of your body will squirt some well deserved inspiration for writing ideas.

Inspiration for Writing Ideas :: Bonus Tip

You can also take an active role with inviting inspiration for writing ideas. It’s so easy to get caught up in your daily dialogue of to do’s and to don’t’s, but if you actively contemplate inspiration for writing ideas, you open a floodgate for your creativity. In the car, ask yourself where your newest protagonist will go next. At the kitchen sink, decide where your story will be set. It’s all in there, you just have to listen!

Still feeling blocked? Check out my tips for overcoming writers’ block.

A Sentimental Dedication to Thankfulness

It’s an interesting time for me. I’m taking a break. I’m on a reprieve. I’m making decisions + not making decisions at the same time. I think it’s the right thing to do, right now. I really only have one thing on my mind lately, and it’s not business. It’s love. Yep, love. Not that I have a person right now, beside me anyway, but in thought, and he fucking knows it no matter what he’s trying to prove. He started it, for goodness goodness. And I’m sure there are others who know it too, not that I can ask or even say his name out loud, but maybe one day I’ll try. (Doesn’t he just want me to wait?) Sigh.Besides that, my kitty was sick for a while and weighed under four pounds. He was withering away in front of me, but he’s got his medicine and is surely gaining his weight + his groovy groove back. I love him. Here goes.

A Sentimental Dedication to Thankfulness

Thankfulness and Buttons

I’m thankful for…

My kitty gaining weight + health + playfulness. My kitty sleeping on my bed right now. A job that pays for B School. This new game called Mind Meld. #DesireMap. Tea + scones. The cute guy who gives me tea + scones in the morning. Hey baby I wrote you a love letter. His love letters I haven’t read yet. Fart jokes. New friends. Old friends. Friends with benefits. Sleepiness. Seeing him in everyone. Everyone seeing him in me. Being Charlie Cheeks. Taking pretty pictures. Free samples so that I don’t have to commit to a $48 foundation I haven’t tried yet. This Beyoncé video. Pablo Neruda. Rihanna. Just hold on we’re going home. Coming home. Coming. My butt. Him liking my butt. Him liking my butt teaching me to like my butt. That the 99 B-Line bus is rarely monitored so I don’t always have to pay my transit fare, though I do when I can. That I pay my transit fare when I can so I have a collection of old tickets to sift through in case I get caught. The fact that I have an innocent face + can get away with it. The fact that he’s still going to pretend he doesn’t know me even after reading this post just so that he can plan a surprise. Me actually being sad so that I can play along for as long as it takes. Hoping that maybe he’ll ditch the surprise and cuddle me tonight. Eventually being okay with whatever happens next. Rain. I fucking love rain. Writing again. Writing for him again. Animated gifs that get the point across. A couple pretty polaroid pictures I took once. Thinking it’s possible to be friends with celebrities one day. Thinking it’s possible to be famous one day. That my mom thinks it’s probable I’ll be famous one day. That it’s probable he’s crying right now. Happy crying. No wait, he’s got something in his eye, both eyes. No, just cutting onions. Inside jokes. That he’s, PS, not gay. Yin yoga. These old poems. Realizing that after our first kiss, first hug, first cuddle it’s anytime for the rest of our lives. When eventually he’ll sing to me. That he’s perfect. That he thinks I’m perfect. That we’re perfect together. That I miss him so much it hurts but I still get to meet him for the first time in a long time. That my heart breaks sometimes when I think about him. That other times it bursts. That it bursts not only in my heart but everywhere else. That he feels the same way. That I know so because he said so. That because he said so I know so. Tomorrow. I really really really really really really really really really really really hope tomorrow. Or the next day. Or the next. Or the next. Please let it be tomorrow. Or tonight. Tonight would be the best. Right now in fact. Okay. One day. Thank you for listening.

How to Overcome Writers’ Block

How to Overcome Writers' Block

“Just write,” they say. “I don’t believe in writers’ block. It’s all in your head. Here’s a pen.”

I want to stick my tongue out at they. They doesn’t even know how it feels to have such genius ideas dancing a sexy tango in your head only to become floppy 1990’s boy band choreography on the page. Not only is it a total mess, it’s embarrassing.

It’s like one of those bad dreams where you show up to work in your underwear and everyone laughs, only it’s actually happening and you’re not caught in your underwear but a tacky neon leotard and everyone just stares uncomfortably because they can’t tell if you’re joking or not.

It’s not a joke.

So, writers’ block, instead of working her tacky neon leotard like a Cirque du Soleil acrobat, awkwardly sits at her computer fidgeting with her hair, shoveling snacks down her throat, and wiping away wet mascara running from the frustrated tears that pour out.

Never. Typing. A. Single. Word.

Maybe they has good advice after all. Just write.

Just write the cringe-worthy choreography, get it out of the way so you can smooth it into a sensual, heart-stopping tango. Wear that leotard like hot red lipstick.

I’m tellin’ ya, if you work it, those stares will be wrung with jealousy, because secretly, deep down, we all want the confidence to squirm in our most embarrassing indulgences. We fear our most intimate desires because they aren’t what we thought they would be, they aren’t what we were told they would be. They’re more like cheesy boy bands and bright, clingy spandex.

Trust me, once you’re done with it, people will want all your tacky like a popsicle in the summer sun, like beer by the barbecue, like kisses in the morning and cuddles at night.

I mean, you’re stuck in that damn leotard anyway, might as well make the best of it.

If that doesn’t work, just give up. Become a clown like all those high school career tests told you to. You’re half way there anyway, right?

Wrong. Big fat wrong.

If working it isn’t your style, chill out, there are a million ways to get out of your rut. I like to start with taking a break. Go for a run, walk through nature, meditate, make lunch or dinner or midnight snack, take a shower, call your mom and cry your poor little encumbered heart out. It’s okay. Everything is going to be okay.

Then, pour yourself a tall glass of malbec and sit back down to your notebook, or laptop or napkin, and write.

Just write.

Here are some writing prompts to get you started:

  1. I remember …
  2. The last time I …
  3. The more I think about ____ the more I wish …
  4. I wish …
  5. If I were …
  6. The colour ____ always reminds me of …
  7. My mom thinks I’m ____ but I’m really …