Category Archives: The Writer’s Board

The Three Things Every Writer Needs

Credit: Travis Modisette

For this article, I scanned flyers, blogs, Kickstarter, bookstores and office supply warehouses.  The elves of online shopping outlets were happily pulling my finger tips to the keyboard and I was ready to start to linking delightful little gifts, everything from boot slippers to writer’s magazine subscriptions.

But here’s the thing:

Writers don’t need the cutest pens to write prize-winning essays.  We don’t need stylish terrariums with air purifying plants to spark inspiration.  We don’t need the latest writing software to create dynamic and compelling characters.

Don’t get me wrong:  these things are amaaaaaazing.  And most writer’s like stuff!  (I would personally be thrilled to receive a pair of boot slippers, as cold feet are the bane of my existence, and a major distraction when writing.)

There are several top 7, 10, 35 and 40 essential items for writer lists scattered across the internet.  There are even lists saying what not to get writers. You can get a wordsmith almost anything from anyone of these lists, but above all else, writer’s can always use these three things:

1.  Support  

It may sound cheesy, but it’s true…

Does the writer in your life know that you’re on their side?  That you respect their passion for writing?  That you don’t really mind their idiosyncratic tendencies such as shouting out possible character names or drawing timelines on napkins in the middle of dinner?  Do those writers near and dear to your heart know that you’ve got their back, and they can come to you with their problems, both real and fictional?

If you’re supportive and you know it, and you really want to show it, here’s a few ways to do so:

  • The basics.  You know, listening, smiling, asking questions, respecting their boundaries, empathizing when they don’t know how to kill off a character… those kind of things.
  • Supply the equipment.  This is where you can get to shopping!  It can be inspirational wall art, notebooks, an external hard drive, writing fuel (that’s red wine and honey roasted peanuts for me, but it varies), the list goes on.  Ask your lovely author what they need.  They will tell you.

2.  Time

Most writers don’t have lazy afternoons to spend filling moleskin notebooks with imagery, or write their time travel mysteries at Starbucks waiting for a certain barista to ask about them about it.  Most writers have day jobs, families, errands, housework, and they’re left to sacrifice a few hours sleep for the opportunity to scribble some dialog and plot points down.   How can you help?  You give the gift of time.  Let’s repeat that:

You can give the gift of time. 

So how do you do that?  Here are a few examples:

  • Babysitting.  This one only works if they have kids, keep in mind, but if they do, you’re in luck!  Take them to the movies, to the park, or to the library!  Free that writer for an afternoon from those cute little sticky-handed distractions.
  • House Cleaning.  If you live with this lovely literary type, by taking the lion’s share of the chores, you leave a lot of time left over for writing.
  • A no-date date.  The idea is that you set the mood for a great night of writing… just your writer and their date: their Lenovo IdeaPad (or non-Franzen endorsed computer) a note book, and preferably, a cool pen.  A beverage of choice, a prepared meal and a few word games can be a dreamy evening for any aspiring author.  Just pour that drink and give your writer a little privacy…

3.  Readers

Writer’s are naturally going to be very protective of their books (or blogs).  After what may feel like ages, they will present their finished, or finished-for-now products to you, hoping that you will vomit praise and rainbows all over it.  Gross, but true.  They will also want constructive feedback, questions about the story, a discussion about publishing and what they will do when their writing has made them internationally famous.

How do you do help here?

  • Read their work.  If a writer comes to you with their blood, sweat and tear-soaked manuscript, one of the  greatest gifts you can offer is to just read it.
  • Talk about it.  Ask the author questions, talk about what you like, and talk about what you didn’t like, or didn’t understand.  Give them a forum to discuss their ideas and intentions with the book, and offer your own original feed back.
  • Tell others to read it. Of course, this is only if their product is finished, and they want you to share it.  If so, recommending it to friends, family, colleagues, grocery store clerks, Good Reads, anybody and everybody is sure to put a smile on their face.

So, friends of writers:  Are you encouraging, time gifting, or reading for the authors in your life?  Great!  Still need to wrap something to go under the tree?  Fine.  Take a look-see at these lists:

‘Tis the Season: 5 Ways to Give Back to the Book World

credit: Paper Cat

Happy Hanukkah, and happy Thanksgiving to our US friends.

For many of us, this weekend means  celebrations with friends and family, marking the beginning of the holiday season. The hustle and bustle of winter is upon us.

The to-do lists are piling up.  There are turkeys to cook, presents to buy, friends to see, cards to sign, holiday parties, decorating, gift-wrapping, snow shovelling… and you really can’t skip out on your favourite seasonal movies marathon (Home Alone, anyone?).

There is a lot to do this time of year, no matter what you’re celebrating… how on earth are you to make time for a little literature appreciation, you may ask?  Fear not, fellow bookworm.  Here are 5 easy and inexpensive ways to give a little nod to your favourite readers and  writers:

1.  Shop indie.

While online book buying has its allure (pyjamas sans showering!), a visit to a few of your local bookstores is a little more special.  Whether it’s a friendly conversation with the shop owner, a treasure in the bookshelves, or that latte you were able to treat yourself to, you’ve made your day a little brighter than it would have been otherwise.  Plus, you’ve supported local business.  Good job!

2.  Share some Twitter love.

Give a little shout out to your favourite authors this season.  Mention them with your appreciation, link to their website, or let your followers know where they can find their books!  Isn’t it great when people say nice things on Twitter?  Total cost is two minutes and one hundred and forty characters (or less).

3.  Participate in a book drive.

If you’re overstocked on kid’s books, classics, cookbooks or contemporaries, you’re in luck: you can donate them to a community in need!  Whether your books are destined for your local library, high school or across the world, all you have to do is ensure that the condition and content meets  the needs of the drive.  Easy as pie.

4.  Host a book swap.

Some of us may leap at this idea with excitement: it’s another opportunity to get together with friends and food!  Yes!  Alas, some of us really don’t need to add another social event to an already packed calendar.  If you fall  into the second group but are loving this idea, why not combine it with an already planned party?  Instead of a Secret Santa, ask your guests to a bring a book, or box of books for fellow party goers to trade or lend to each other.  This is a great option if some of your books look a little too loved to donate.

5.  Start a tradition.  

Make a little time to share the love of reading with someone else, amidst the craziness of the season.  If you have little humans that call you things like mom, or dad, why not choose a favourite story to read every year?  That story, not matter how silly it seems with hold memories of every Christmas, Hanukkah, December 10th, etc.

No little ones adding to your Christmas to-dos?  That works too!  Curl up with your favourite book, yuletide beverage and read to your heart’s content!  How is this giving back you ask?  It’s keeping the reading spirit alive and well.  Excellent job.

How do you celebrate reading over the holidays?  Let us know by tweeting us @sumbolacosi, #booklove.

Writer’s block? Create Structure.

credit: Alan Kleina
credit: Alan Kleina

Sometimes, it helps to create rules when you don’t know what to write.

For example, tell yourself to write a fifty word story without checking Twitter in twenty minutes, before your coffee.

Write something stirring.  It can be bone-chilling, heartwarming or whatever you choose.

Write, and before long….

You’re done.

Either that, or you’ll feel energized, inspired, and ready to keep writing.  Drop those rules, grab your morning coffee and use those fifty words as a starting point for something new!  Something better.  You can try creating other rules, restrictions or limits to get your creative juices flowing, like:

  • Describe everything you can about your kitchen while you wait for your kettle to boil. Stop when you hear the kettle pop (or whistle).
  • Writing without using the word ‘and’.
  • Describe a picture with 1000 words.

How do you break through writer’s block?

10 Reasons Not to Write (And How to Get Past Them)

Photo Credit:  Ben Timney

Sometimes the idea of writing is daunting.

The thought alone of stationing yourself in front of your Macbook or Lenovo IdeaPad (for you Franzen fans) can leave you feeling defeated.  The voice in the back of your head is echoing the chastising sentiment of countless blogs and best-selling authors: “why do you want to be a writer if you don’t want to write?”.

To make matters worse, most of us don’t have countless spare hours to spend bleeding ideas on to a typewriter.  We have jobs.  Family.  Social commitments.  The need to cook, clean, run errands, volunteer, and, oh yes, sleep.  It’s okay that we don’t always want to write, right?

Below are ten completely acceptable and realistic reasons to put off writing… but how you can get past them and write anyways.

1. You’re too tired (or sick, or emotional, or worse, apathetic).

November brings us colds and flus, an influx of social obligations, and for many of us… a disgusting amount of mud, slush and snow to clean up after.  The technical term for what your feeling after all this is “blaaahhhhhhh”.  The cure? A hot cup of tea, a Snuggie (or normal blanket) and a simple writing exercise:  Stream of consciousness.

Instead of racking your brain for something edgy and exciting, just spill your brain into your note book.  You’ll either find a gem in that mess, or the strength to keep writing.

2. Your parents are visiting in an hour.  

Dinner to make?  Cushions to fluff?  Dog to walk?  Tylenol to find?   Take ten minutes to write the anticipated dialogue of the night ahead.  Consider it an opportunity to see the humour in your absolutely normal chaos of family stopping by.  Plus, you can later adapt it for your novel.  You could even stretch that into 40 minutes of writing, because really, your parents have seen your messy room before.

3.  Because, the Internet.

Have you heard of Emergency Kittens?  Recipe blogs? Pinterest?  The Facebook? Margaret Atwood on Twitter??  Memes!?!?  Yes, the internet is a magically delicious, disturbing and distracting place.  I have five words for you:  Pens.  Paper.  Pretend power outage.   Get to it!

4.  Because, kids.

Sorry, I can’t help you here.

I have cats, not kids, and they are not the same.  For this reason, I wont pretend that  I have a plan to keep your two year old from putting her socks in your teacup, but hey, consider it inspiration for when they finally fall asleep, and you’re writing stream of consciousness.

5.  You are out of ideas.

FREEBEE WRITER PROMPT: Name 10 insensitive things people say to their friends who just broke up with (or was dumped by) their significant other.  If you’re not crying by the end of it, this exercise should stir up some conflict for your character’s social life.  If you are crying… that was a terrible writing prompt for you.

I am so sorry.

6.  You don’t want to suck. 

You can’t suck at something if you don’t do it, right?  Drop that line of reasoning write-ahem-right now!  You are a writer.  That is the person you want to be and that is the person your dog believes you are too!  He thinks you are the BEST. WRITER. EVER.

If you don’t have a dog, don’t fret: you write better than any dog ever has!  Now take that inspiration and get to scribbling.

7. You miss seeing people.  

Ah, human interaction.  We all need it, even if it’s just in small doses.  Hop over to a crowded local coffee shop, make some small talk with the barista, and get to eavesdropping on patrons beside you.  Whether you’re next to two suits discussing how ridiculous the afternoon’s Powerpoint was, or bachelorette party planners, you have got your healthy serving of socializing and incredible fodder for your story.

Don’t forget your notebook.

8.  You’re just not in the mood.  

Sometimes the candles wont be lit and the lightbulbs need replacing.  Sometimes, instead of rose petals, you’re surrounded by left over pizza crusts. Write anyways, because the desire to write grows with writing.

9.  It feels like work.  

Well, it is.

Fanciful notions of a bohemian or aristocratic lifestyle where you spend a few hours writing on a sunlit balcony (after a night of bumping shoulders and sharing witty banter with other elite artists) are not constructive.

Writing is work.  You won’t always want to do it, and you won’t always be in the mood, but to be a writer, you have to push through it.  Anything worthwhile WILL take a little bit of work.

10.  You’re too busy kicking yourself for not writing sooner.

Okay, I lied.  This is not an acceptable reason for not writing, but it’s one so many writers  fall back on consistently.  We punish ourselves sulking over the time we spent re-watching Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, and now that’s two hours gone that we could have spent writing.

Take a breath, forgive yourself and take advantage of the time you do have to write, right now.  It’s that easy.

What other acceptable reasons for avoiding writing to you fall back on?  How do you push through them? Leave a comment below or tell us on twitter, #writeanyways.