I got a book contract! And I bet you can, too.

I don’t know if this is actually true because I don’t know anything about you or your book. But it feels true, and it’s the spirit behind this series of articles. Maybe if I share my steps and stories, you will read them and think, “If she can do it, I certainly can!” My first bit of advice: get to know people who have a big, supportive “Yes!” inside. It helps a lot.

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And it has shaped me: my adventures, escapades, obsessions and how I respond to unwanted events. So I told those stories.

Even in story form, my colleagues only felt engaged by climate change if it was presented in a certain manner.

“That paragraph made me glaze over,” Rua said if I got too technical. Or, “Too preachy. I don’t want to be hit over the head with this stuff.”

I came to understand that facts about climate change aren’t interesting unless they somehow belong to a character who has captured the reader’s interest. Essay by essay, the group insisted that I find the deeper emotional realities in my material, both regarding climate change and my personal life.

These women, this golden writing group, came together during The Writer’s Studio at Simon Fraser University in 2011. For a year, we met every two weeks to discuss each other’s work. Our mentor, Brian Payton, had written one of my favorite books, Shadow of the Bear.

Shadow of the Bear by Brian Payton

 

 

Brian gave us a deep download of his art and craft as well as truths he’d learned from decades of writing books for a living. My favorite: Given the uncertainty of the outcomes, write about what you love. Otherwise, it’s a fool’s game.

We had to take a lot of different writing courses to get a certificate from The Writers Studio. In our first class the founder, Betsy Warland, discussed desks and chairs. I exchanged glances with other students. Really? We telegraphed to each other. Chairs? It seemed incredibly trivial compared to our bursting creativity.

“Completing a book requires a lot of time in a chair,” Betsy said. “It needs to be ergonomic or you will get injuries.”

Of course, she was absolutely right. I tried to write, or rewrite, for four hours each day. It was sometimes fun and sometimes a slog that I had to talk myself through as if I were an easily distracted toddler. “Now you sit in the chair. Now you open the story you worked on yesterday. No, don’t start editing at the beginning again. Start where you ended yesterday. Okay, a quick email run, but you can’t answer until after lunch.”

Sometimes I had to think really, really hard to be precise in what I wanted to convey. The best position for this was lying on the rug with my legs up a chair, eyes closed. “Get loose in the mind,” I told myself. “Get almost sleepy.” By and large, it worked incredibly well, as if my deeper mind was hovering in the background waiting to be asked for help. Sometimes it didn’t, but I’m not one to underestimate the value of a nap.  

The hard thinking lay down moments helped my sore back but it got increasingly painful to sit. After two years in a wooden kitchen chair, I remembered Warland’s advice and bought a real chair with cushy mesh and six levers capable of creating a few hundred different positions. It made a huge difference. Better yet would be a treadputer, but I will have to wait until I have more space in which to put it and a royalty cheque with which to buy it.

Warland’s practicality extended to agents, legal issues and how to organize one’s manuscript. Her book, Breathing the Page, gave us a vocabulary to analyze and shape our work.

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