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Creative writing resources: an appeal

I’m only allowed 90 minutes of sitting per day, and the doctor suggested I used these minutes for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Ha! Leisurely breakfast be damned! I’m going to blog for 27 minutes and then wolf down some Raisin Bran.

I’ve said before that the blog knows everything. If I need to know how to get paint stains off leather, or how to get rid of invasive weeds, or how to introduce a cat who doesn’t like dogs to a dog who doesn’t like cats, I just ask the blog. And the blog responds with its collective wealth of knowledge, wisdom and brilliant ideas.

Today’s blog appeal is about creative writing resources: workshops, courses, groups or other resources.

I want to be a writer, because I absolutely love writing once I get into the zone. I’ve felt driven to write all my life, ever since Mrs. Cadigan taught me how to print my ABCs. I was the kind of child whose best friend was a notebook and pen. Harriet the Spy was my kindred spirit. But when it comes to fiction, I’ve always been thwarted by a lack of good story ideas. I’m pretty good once I get going, but I tend to get stuck in that pre-getting-going phase. I’ve tried forcing ideas and I’ve tried waiting for them, but they continue to elude me. It’s frustrating.

Every day I set the timer and I write non-stop for 20 minutes. This is fun and easy, because it doesn’t have to be a story or have a beginning, middle and end. Sometimes interesting stuff emerges from this process. But I want to take it beyond that. I want to write stories.

I think I would benefit from a good creative writing course, or program, or perhaps a writing group. Something that would help me generate ideas, and give me homework and assignments and force me to start, and then force me to finish?

(I’m not as pathetic as that last sentence might suggest.)

So, Blog readers…can you recommend any good writing resources, either in Ottawa or online? Something that will help free my inner writer? Something that will help me get past my impediments, and get the keys clacking once again?

24 comments to Creative writing resources: an appeal

  • Anonymous

    Take a look at bywords.ca for various literary events, workshops, writing groups, etc.

    My wife also really enjoyed a writers group at the OPL at the Nepean Centerpointe branch that runs on Thursdays at 10:00am. Most other branches have their own groups if Centerpointe is out of the way for you, though she recommends that specific group as it was very welcoming of newcomers compared to others she tried.

    It had a mix of published and unpublished authors in various genres (funnily enough Ottawa has quite a few successful sci-fi and fantasy writers) and even included a few who wrote primarily poetry vs. narrative fiction.

    The structure was 1.5h writing, then a hour of voluntary sharing of what you wrote, including critiquing of what you wrote if you wanted it, though you were not pressured to share, some people just wrote.

    Search for these library based groups here:

    http://programmes.biblioottawalibrary.ca/oplevent/events/libraryevent_e.cfm

    Another option is online classes, such as those offered by Writer’s Digest.

    http://www.writersdigest.com/GeneralMenu/

    Finally, you have your traditional writing programs at any of Ottawa’s institution’s of higher learning… or even anywhere in Canada as most offer distance education opportunities now. Most can be done on a part-time basis if need be.

  • Nat

    These are more technical writing seminars but the Canadian Editors Association has workshops that are usually very reasonably priced.

    I know position is an issue but the school board also offered a course once. I just had a hard time with the actual submitting of the stuff… I like to write it I just don’t like the show it.

  • Humber College in Toronto has a good week long workshop if your health allows it. Another option is a correspondence course they offer, I hope they still do. It’s been a long time. I took the workshop in the mid-90′s.

  • Julia

    I discovered and loved “The Artist’s Way” by Julia Cameron. It is an entire industry now but don’t let that detract from the inspiration of the original. Get the book, c. 1992, not all the other stuff – there’s a workbook that is bound like the book.

  • Laura Payton

    Yay! I am so glad you are doing more writing. I will be first in line to buy your book.

  • I took a creative writing course at my local community college (Mohawk College in Hamilton) – I’m sure a local Ottawa college has something like that. Humber also offers a correspondence course – which I took as well – where you work with a published author – http://creativeandperformingarts.humber.ca/content/writers_correspondence.html

  • Jo

    I don’t know of any courses or groups, but the two books that I’ve found the most helpful (in concrete ways and for inspiration) are Stephen King’s “On Writing” and Lynda Barry’s “What It Is.” The Stephen King one especially helped me immeasureably with structure, story, plot, and with just making myself get writing already.

    Are there other bloggers who want to write fiction but are having trouble? Maybe we need a Bloggers Fiction Writing Group.

  • Malva

    I’m going to second Linda Barry’s “What It Is”. Didn’t you blog about her or was that someone else? I borrowed it from the OPL after hearing her on Writers and Company. The interview with Eleanor Wachtel is probably available as a podcast.

  • I can’t help you with fiction, but I’m curious: the 22.5 hours you’re spending not sitting, is that to be spent lying down, or are you allowed to stand and walk, too?

    And for lying down, can you sort of lean up a bit? I.e. can you set up a computer by your bed, with the monitor around head height, and use a wireless keyboard and mouse on your lap to type? (I suppose touch-typing is a necessary skill for that; I can’t recall off-hand where you fall in that category)

    - RG>

  • XUP

    My opinion is that courses, books, magazines and workshops just serve to help you procrastinate from actually writing. You just need to sit for hours (not minutes) a day and write – that’s what writers do. Because it all boils down to you and the keyboard. Creative writing is not a group activity for the most part; or anything that can really be taught; it’s just something you have to do. And it takes lots of time to plot and organize your story, develop characters, etc. You can buy novel or short story “template” type things online which may help you get started. They ask questions, give you options, ask you to fill in the blanks. They’re pretty cool.

  • I think there are some writing circles/courses run out of Collected Works. Or at least there were. Maybe give them a call? I have also found the Artists’ Way useful in the past. Annie Dillard also has some good books abour writing.

    There are also these folk: http://www.dustyowl.com/workshops.htm

  • Rachelle

    Hi Zoom,

    There is a 6-week Sketchbooking course at Carleton coming up in November that’s meant to stimulate creativity. There’s also a writing course . Don’t be put off by it being part of Learning in Retirement. Everyone is welcome. The course is $95 plus supply fee.

    The sketchbook can play several roles in a creative life. It can be: “exterior mind,” sanctuary, reference, conceptual space, and archive. The sketchbook is a tool for thinking as much as a wrench is a tool for pipe-fitting. Learn methods of spontaneous and deliberate expression using the sketchbook as a medium for personal observations, scribbles and sketches, design ideas, experiments, and various forms of writing. This course is for artists and non-artists alike wishing to open the door to a comprehensive and creative form.

    Lectures, discussions, working with mixed-media

    Instructor Michelle April is a long-time keeper of a sketchbook. Her other activities include mixed-media painting, creative writing, playing music, theatre, pretending to garden, and working in the public service. Michelle has studied fine art and graphic design and is a life-long student of creative expression. Michelle’s formal education includes a Master of Public Administration degree (Carleton, 2003), a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree (Laurentian, 1999) and a diploma in Advertising Art/Graphic Design (Sault College, 1996).

    http://www.carleton.ca/cie/linr/courses.html

  • I can’t believe no one has said it yet — NANOWRIMO! Nanowrimo.org — National Novel Writing Month. It’s not till November, but in November a whole whack of crazy people get together and write a novel (or thereaboute) of 50,000 words. You write as fast as you can, no editing allowed. It’s supposed to be crap. But out of that, you find astonishing things, really. Later. After November is over, at least. You’re not allowed to look until then. It’s a wild ride. I recommend Chris Baty’s book No Plot No Problem, and the site, and all things Nanowrimo. I’m thinking about my plot now…. (My book coming out in March from HarperCollins is my first Nano book from 2006 — results not typical. But it does happen.) xo

  • Thanks Anonymous. That library group looks good. Unfortunately the timing coincides with my radiation treatments for the next while but I’ll check it out after radiation. For some reason I’m not finding much in the local institutes of higher learning, and not as much as I would expect in the distance ed department. I’m not sure why not. Maybe they’re there and I’m missing them somehow? I just checked out the Writers Digest courses. Some of them look very interesting. Can anybody vouch for them?

    Nat, I’d be interested in the school board continuing ed courses, but only if someone could recommend a teacher. From what I’ve heard, they’re pretty hit and miss. Some are great, others are a waste of time and money. Can anybody recommend a good writing teacher in the area?

    Lilian, I’ve checked out Humber’s program a few times. The summer workshop looks good, but the distance ed requires that you already be well on your way to a book. Did you get a lot out of your workshop?

    Julia, I took a stab at the Artists Way a few years ago, and found it wasn’t for me. I can’t even remember why now. The morning pages were useful, and I still do a modified version of them.

    Laura, thank you for the vote of confidence! I look forward to that day.

    Valerie, good idea – I’ll check out Algonquin. What did you get out of Humber’s course?

    Jo, I just ordered both those books! I’m not crazy about Stephen King’s writing, but he’s a good storyteller and you’re the second person in two days to recommend that very book. A bloggers’ fiction writing group? I’m in!

    Malva, it wasn’t me since I just heard about it here. But I’ll look for the podcast, and I just ordered the book. Thanks.

    Grouchy, I’m allowed to walk/stand a little bit. She said I was overdoing that too. But I can walk about 45 minutes a day, preferably in at least two sessions, and I’m allowed to stand more than sit. As for my computer setup, I bought a Macbook earlier this year because I suspected it might come down to this. As of yesterday, I can now type while lying on my back.

    XUP, my fear is that you might be right. There’s nothing I like better than writing when the keys are clacking and the words are flowing. But I’m one idea short of a book, and I seem to need some help coming up with it.

    Miss Vicky, thank you, I had forgotten about the Collected Works writing group. I’ll check into that one again.

    Rachelle, thank you. I’m not sure about the sketchbooking course, but there was a memoir course on the same page that looked perfect – except it was full. Maybe I’ll give them a call and see if I can get on a waiting list for the next time it’s offered. That’s a great resource – thanks!

    Rachael, I was just talking to someone a couple days ago about Nanowrimo, and I told him about your success with it! I might actually do it this year. I’d like to go in with an idea, for starters, and a bit of a plot or outline. I just ordered that book you recommended – No Plot No Problem – in case I am still plotless by November 1st. (I can’t wait to read your book, by the way.)

  • Tom Sawyer

    You wanna be a writer, or do you wanna write? If it’s the latter, then do it. Write. Likely you’ll develop your own style, ideas, even quirks that’ll engage readers like no other.

    As for resources, that’s a fulltime job in itself. XUP’s hit the nail on the head here.

    I found the Humber course crap. Others swear by it. Who’s to say what will work for you, but be prepared to give up your hard-earned pay.

    What may shine for you is sharing with others for critique, criticism, honesty. But you’ll have to filter: When someone says something don’t work, you’ll have to figure if they’re right or wrong, and then know enough to change it or leave it alone.

  • Oma

    Well … I am going to try the Sketchbooking course! I took 2 LInR courses a few years ago and was disappointed … but I think it was because there were no hands-on courses then … and without any expectations of the participants, six short sessions of a watered down academic course didn’t do it for me.

  • Glad you can type lying down now! Just make sure the laptop doesn’t put too much pressure on wherever you’re resting it.

    - RG>

  • I don’t think anyone here mentioned Natalie Goldberg and her books. She also does workshops, etc. Abigail Thomas is another. I too like to write, but I like to write about ME! Unfortunately, that is mostly interesting only to ME! Hope you continue to heal.

  • Not sure if this is what you had in mind, but I found this ideas site a while ago and I pick a random number from there if I need some inspiration
    http://creativewritingprompts.com/

  • TechWood

    Check out Rasputin’s – I believe they have a weekend writer’s workshop. Also, check into Dragon Naturally Speaking for the Mac, now would be an excellent time to train it for your voice and it really does work quite well. I know a couple people that use it all the time.

    Cheers,
    Rob.

  • Simone

    my super friend Chris runs writing workshops in toronto. I’m taking her satellite memoir course (I’m in Vancouver). it’s great. I think she does individual writing coaching as well or would maybe know people who do. not sure if she knows many people in Ottawa. If you want to check her out she’s at http://www.footprintmemoirs.com/

  • Zooooom ~

    So glad to find you here. What a gorgeous, touching blog.
    I am the Chris that Simone talked about and indeed, my life revoloves around writing and creating fun, thoughtful, innovative places for people to do the same!

    The next Satellite class doesn’t start until January, but we can get you hooked up with some material sooner if you like. Sounds like you’ve got the time right now. No time like the present!

    Also, NANORIMO is a wonderful idea. If I weren’t so far away, I’d stop by with the book the founder wrote “No Plot No Problem”. I’m pretty picky about my writing books (OK, *really* picky) but I liked this one.

    I did the 3-day novel contest this year and it was one of the most surprising and amazing weekends of my life. It’s incredible what a deadline (lifeline) will create. It is labor day weekend every year, see http://www.3-daynovel.com.

    Happy scribblings! I’ll be in touch.

    Grin ~
    Chris

  • One of the things that *really* helped me get going was deciding to try National Novel Writing Month (http://www.NaNoWriMo.org). 50,000 words in 30 days. So far, I’ve “won” every year but one, and I’ve got one ready-to-ship-to-publishers manuscript out of it. The no-holds-barred-just-write-doggoneit! approach (and keeping in mind you can edit later) frequently has my characters doing things faster than I can type to keep up with them, which I love.

    Plus, the nanowrimo.org site has a SLEW of writing resources as well!