Monday, June 7, 2010

the writer's life: Shuswap Lake and beyond

I recently attended the Shuswap Lake International Writers' Festival in Salmon Arm, BC. Interesting thoughts on the writer's life emerged from the presentations. I'll share some below:

-Almost all writing is desire. Writers are climbing a mountain in the fog. The more driven writers will find a way to get to the top.

-Words mean what they mean, not what you want them to mean [which is one reason most writers need to revise for clarity].

-A blank sheet of paper is God's way of telling you how hard it is to be God.

-Literary nonfiction is nonfiction that uses the devices of a fiction writer; e.g. narrative arc, flashbacks, characterization, dialogue, figurative language.

-Writing involves both art and engineering. The right side of the brain is the artist, the left the engineer. Give both their due. Sometimes it's a good idea to free-write for half an hour or other suitable period of time, i.e., simply write whatever comes to mind—no stopping. The left brain isn't involved in free-writing, only the right. Later you use your left brain/engineer to revise and shape what you wrote.

-If you need to shorten a piece of writing, generally cut only about 10% each time you work your way through it. Otherwise you run the risk of cutting things that should remain.

-When querying an editor or agent about one's writing, use their MOST RECENT submissions guidelines. The publisher's or agency's website is often a good place to find these.

-To be a successful book writer, you need to live the lifestyle. Become part of the writing community in whatever ways you can, e.g., by joining writing groups online and/or in person, taking writing classes online and/or in person, attending writing-related events, submitting articles to periodicals. Publishers and agents like to see that you're not a "cave dweller." Once your book is published, people in the writing community are more likely to support you if you cultivated them earlier. Some ways they can help promote your book: by buying it, talking to others about it, writing reviews, interviewing you, inviting you to be a guest speaker or guest blogger.


  1. Thanks for sharing these, Elma. Really interesting. I just found your blog as a result of a Briercrest social mention alert--and what a find! :) I'm a Briercrest grad and employee and a writer/editor. I'd love to hear about how you got into editing for major publishing houses. And a neat little detail: my in-laws live in Kamloops. :)

  2. Hi Elma,

    Some great little gems of wisdom! Thanks! They inspire!

    All best,


  3. Elma, thank you for sharing. Always such a pleasure to read your posts and resources. I had a conference this past weekend and was sad to miss this event! But am following the recommendations you mentioned - a small group of us are starting a little writer's circle!

  4. There's a lot of wisdom here, Elma! I especially like: "-A blank sheet of paper is God's way of telling you how hard it is to be God."