Category Archives: writing experience

Reading Paralysis

Not only do I suffer from writing paralysis, but also from reading paralysis – long stretches where I am unable to read anything of substantial length that requires focus and memory.

This past year I wasn’t able to make it through novels. I kept short story collections by my bedside but even these were only read every so often.

It’s frustrating and somewhat embarrassing as a writer and editor to have trouble engaging in longer manuscripts. It’s happened throughout my life, but so has the opposite where I’ve found myself ravenously reading book after book.

What accompanies these dry spells makes matters worse. When I can’t read; I can’t write. At least not in any great capacity. I write first drafts like I read chapters, losing concentration quickly.

Recently wondering when and if this drought would break, I met a writer who is a voracious reader and a collector of first editions. I knew he admired Salman Rushdie, so I asked what book he would recommend to a first time reader of his work.

Instead of just offering a Rushdie title, he sent me a beautiful letter that expressed his gratitude and excitement for being asked. Then he went into detail why The Satanic Verses may not be the best place to start, and that most people recommend Midnight’s Children, but why he thought it wasn’t quite right either. He wrote about Rushdie’s craft of story and style, suggested two books, and ended with…

“…try it, and if you don’t like it, I always believe life’s too short to chug through books you’re not enjoying. There are too many others to read…”

His generous response to my simple question not only made an impression, but also gave me the courage to get reading again. He lent me The Ground Beneath Her Feet and I was nervous because I thought, what if I can’t get through it.

Well, I did read the book and loved Rushdie’s playful use of language as well as his beautiful storytelling narrative. I travelled through decades of rock ‘n roll alongside three characters caught in a love triangle, with the Orpheus myth threaded throughout. Highly recommended!

Finishing the book, I felt excited to work on my own fiction and to continue reading. The two are always intertwined. My new friend also inspired me to start a series of blog posts called Ravenous Reader which will ask avid readers to answer questions about their fondness for the written word, book collections, favourite authors, reading rituals, and yes, dry spells.

Writing Resolutions

I used to jot down yearly writing resolutions, goals that I hoped to accomplish in the twelve months ahead. After a few years, I realized most of these were simply part of the day-to-day, month-to-month, year-to-year life of a writer. Alas, no need to write them down now… but here they are anyway.

Write write write. Stories, chapters, plays, poems, and screenplays. As much as you can, whenever you can. Waiting for the right mood only leads to writing paralysis.

Read read read. This helps to keep the inspiration juices flowing. When my reading falters, I notice my writing slows down as well.

Submit to magazines and journals regularly. You want to maintain that thick skin for the ongoing rejections that are inevitable. Oh, and keep good records.

Attend more lit events, readings, fairs and festivals. Drag your introverted self out to at least a few of these every year.

Sign up for a creative writing class. Or a grammar class or a screenwriting class. Something related to the craft. If you’re lucky, you’ll meet a writing buddy or two. Maybe a mentor.

Join or start a writing workshop. Having other writers critique your work through revisions can help you stay focused. A group keeps the wheels turning.

Read aloud. Finally checked this off my list last year with my first reading. It was terrifying, to be sure, but like everyone said, the second was a tad easier.

Blog and tweet. Meaningful thoughts and nonsensical crap. Hey, writing is writing. A great way for hermits to connect with the outside world, with other writers.

Expand your vocabulary. Sit a dictionary by your bed. When you wake in the middle of the night, read a page and let new words sink in to your subconscious.

Record dreams. An excellent source of inspiration for new work or revision problem solving. Keep a notebook by your bed, alongside the dictionary, to write down dream memories while they’re still fresh.

Enter contests. Although I’m not much for contests, it’s another way to get your work read and possibly published. Entry fees often include a subscription.

Apply for grants. Get to know what’s available (some grants only require one publication.) True, they’re a pain in the ass to write and decisions can be super random, but writing applications does get easier with practice.

Journal. Go buy a shiny new notebook at the dollar store. A place to scribble random thoughts, ideas, and dialogue that come without warning.

Revise or finish older work. Sift through those half-finished abandoned drafts lurking in the shadows. Find a gem desperate for your attention.

Write outside your comfort zone. If you always write in first person, try third. Love the past tense, try present. Always writing realist works, try a sci-fi tale. Your comfort zone isn’t going anywhere.

Research publishers and presses. You know, for when you finally get that book done.

Write a better bio. I need to do this. Still trying to think of something clever without sounding like a jackass.

Believe believe believe. Keep your delusions of grandeur alive and well. Hard work and patience do pay off, but daring to dream the impossible helps one persevere.

Do you have writing resolutions? Will you keep them?

“The Rats and the Cockroaches” in The Lion and the Aardvark

The Lion and the Aardvark is here! This beautiful hard cover anthology of modern fables includes my story “The Rats and the Cockroaches” as well as stories from writer pals Richard Scarsbrook and Dan Perry.

Illustrations by Rachel Kahn

I was contacted last February by Robin D. Laws, Creative Director at Stone Skin Press, who asked if I would like to participate in the project.

The anthology is available in bookshops across the UK and can be ordered through your local book store. Stone Skin Press will soon have their online shop up and running.

Read an excerpt from “The Wolf and Death” by Julia Bond Ellingboe from The Lion and the Aardvark.

Read my Fable Experience in an earlier post.

The Next Big Thing

The Next Big Thing is a literary game that is spreading across the internet. Writers tag one another and answer questions about their current work-in-progress. I was tagged by Dan Perry. Each writer then tags another five and so on… It’s a great way to check out what other writers are working on.

What is the working title of your book?

Men and the Drink

Where did the idea come from for the book?
I didn’t have a specific idea for the collection until it was halfway done. Then I  noticed themes and characters that repeated. When I wrote the title story, I knew that would be the book title as well. My mum says these are my areas of expertise. I’m not an expert on either, but I am fond of both.

What genre does your book fall under?
Short fiction. I did come up with the term lonely romanticism which might fit. Readers have described my stories as gritty, evocative, economical, and unsentimental. 

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
At 20 stories, I’ll need a lot of actors. Here’s a few ideas…

Matt Dillon – 20 Grit/Eddie in the trilogy “20 Grit”, “Crappy Little Job” and “Separated” (right look, age, and voice).

Richard Dreyfuss – the professor in “Derry Daring Rides” (dark and funny).

Helena Bonham Carter – Minnie in “The Inkling” ( a mix of Marla from Fight Club and Margaret from Margaret’s Museum).

Saul Rubinek – the crass gallery owner in “Summer Sublet” (think Lee Donowitz in True Romance.)

Friends would play extras in bar scenes.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
Isolation, anxiety, and degradation infect lives that are served no easy baked solutions.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agent?
I don’t have an agent. I’ll be submitting my manuscript to publishers early next year. 

How long did it take to write your manuscript?
Five years of writing and revisions.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
I can’t compare to other books. I’m a fan of Bukowski’s style of first person tell-it-like-it-is writing, and I think my work reflects this appreciation.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?
Life experiences as well as my family, cats, dreams, and the neighbourhoods of Parkdale and the Byward Market have inspired my stories.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
My writing is subtle and often leaves room for readers to interpret and imagine different aspects and endings. This does frustrate some, but it also sparks debate and discussion. For those who don’t like to be left hanging, the collection includes two trilogies that track characters over a period of years. 

Check out what these great writers are up to:


Rules of the Next Big Thing:
Use this same format for your post
Answer the ten questions about your work in progress
Tag five writers and add their links

“Rivals” in Joyland

“Rivals” is the story of hockey card collecting sisters who share more in common than sport. Read now at Joyland.

This story was primarly inspired by the 1998-99 NHL season. Other influences include Parkdale, the CNE, and the real life Wookie. 

Fact checking was a priority. Up until publication, I was still finding things to correct. The Yzerman card mentioned is a one-in-two-hundred, not a one-in-one-hundred print run, and I had Jarome Iginla’s name and rookie year wrong! 

I also had the pleasure of meeting and working with Joyland Toronto editor Emily M. Keeler. 
Other online fiction:
“The Promise of Puppies” in Dragnet Magazine
“Hybrid Love” in Lies With Occasional Truth

Ditching Drafts

When I began writing, I’d come up with an idea, write a first draft, and revise until it was done. Repeat process. I’d heard of authors keeping folders full of abandoned drafts. The idea of unfinished stories reminded me of plants yearning for a drink.

In an early effort to avoid online draft hoarding, I sat down and wrote a list of story ideas with a few points around plot, character, etc. This would keep all my ideas in one tidy place. I was green, thinking I could control the writerly brain from doing what it wanted.

Alas, I have a bulging drafts folder, where first drafts, half-drafts, ideas, and story tidbits are kept. Nothing moves from here until it is submission worthy, then it graduates to the almighty folder: Julie’s Stories. Let’s just say the drafts folder is getting a lot bigger than that of the finished works.

I try to clean up my files every so often because redundant crap irritates me. Before computers, I hated keeping papers of most everything. If I got a bill, I paid it and then promptly threw it away. I’ve also been known to recycle newspapers before people have a chance to read them.

So what to do about this ever blossoming drafts folder? A part of me wants to take the whole thing and throw it in the trash. Why not, another one will grow in its place. A voice inside says NO, you can’t get rid of anything, you never know when you might go back to an idea. I agree to a point, but clutter, whether it’s on the computer or in my immediate environment gnaws away and infects my creative process.

I will be discerning and only let crazy nonsensical ramblings make their way to the bin.

Files labeled Fucking Idiot, Perverse Dialogue, Sneezing Attack, and Housewife have been deleted, and it feels great.

10 Freelance Editing Perks

1. Multi-tasking. New schools of thought label this as ineffective, that you don’t get as much accomplished as you think. If I can have laundry going while combing a piece for inappropriate commas then hallelujah.

2. Chores don’t feel like chores. I’m not a fan of sitting in front of the computer for hours so I chop the day into little pieces. A break is either a trip to the gym or an errand in the hood. I’ve never enjoyed grocery shopping so much.

3. No transit. Sure, I’d try to make the most of my time on buses, streetcars and subways – reading, sending emails, or revising. I could be in a fantastic mood after spending a day on the island with little friends, but after riding public transit an hour home, surrounded by grumps, I’d get off miserable and agitated. Now I only go downtown when necessary.

4. Pajamas. I do get dressed most days and walk to the office, a few steps from my bed. It’s knowing I don’t have to, and that I could stay in my underwear all day, that gives me an extraordinary amount of pleasure.

5. Take it, or leave it baby! I say this at the moment because I have a steady client for editing work, but I’d rather struggle a bit financially and have time to work on my fiction. No matter how bad it gets, I refuse to edit articles on subprime mortgage meltdowns (whatever those are?!)

6. Writing Improvement. At school we are taught editing as it pertains to textbooks, manuals, magazines, and non-fiction, but the skills do carry over to fiction. Grammar for Writers and Editors has been my favourite class so far. I thought I knew grammar – I knew nothing!

7. A Place for Perfectionism. It can infect all areas of one’s life and becomes annoying not only to you but to those around you. Editing is a place to focus this defect. As with story revisions, you need to know when to stop.

8. Strange Learnings. My goal is to edit fiction, other than my own, but in the meantime I’m working on all sorts of subjects outside my realm. Recently I’ve learned about cuddle parties, SEO, and Corey Hart’s upbringing.

9. Family Time. My kids, who just happen to have fur, like to have mum around. I never have to feel bad about leaving them alone for twelve hours a day anymore.

10. Introvert’s Paradise. Alone time an introvert needs and craves after extended socialization is the day-to-day. The catch now is recognizing the opposite – when to go out and connect with humans. This coin flip also makes me appreciate my time with others more.

There are challenges working from home, but the good stuff outweighs them by far.

Twitter Explained

I live in The Land of Twits, and I like it. Well… most of the time. I haven’t met ninety percent of the people I follow because my “real life” friends don’t participate, but they are curious.

I created my first account two years ago during a bout of insomnia. I didn’t tweet much in the beginning, not understanding the point of it all, so just lurked about, reading what famous people were saying.

Then one night, I convinced myself that Twitter was an extension of the Illuminati – I listen to Coast to Coast a lot! I deleted my account and vowed never to return. Six months passed, and another sleepless night had me back on.

Questions from those keen on joining the Land of Twits:

Who should use Twitter?
Anyone who wants to connect with a particular community, locally or internationally. I use it as a way to network with other writers. There’s a niche on the site for everything. Or… anyone who has time to fart around, reading what celebrities are blathering on about.

What do you Tweet?
Most of my tweets are writing related – process, events, links to my blog, articles, other writer’s sites, quotes, and yes, the odd cat photo. I generally dislike Facebook updates but, for some reason, don’t mind sharing random thoughts and activities with people I’ve never met.

How often do you Tweet?
Sometimes a few times a day, sometimes not for days. My quantity is reliant on mood. I tweet more when I’m in a good head space.

Do you engage with people on Twitter?
I don’t unless someone tweets something I can’t resist replying to. You can communicate through the newsfeed which is visible to followers or direct message which is a private internal email system.

Do you follow someone if they follow you?
This is the polite thing to do. If someone follows me, I check out their account to see what they talk about. I need to be interested in what someone has to say to follow them.

How long does it take to build a following?
I don’t focus on this aspect, mine has been gradual. You can increase your followers by following like crazy because most people are polite.

Is it a waste of time?
I was on it a lot more when I first joined and thought it was a bit addictive. Now it’s more in my periphery. I do enjoy the connections I’ve made; it would be cool to meet some of these people in person.

What annoys you most about Twitter?
I think it’s a great way to praise and promote others’ work and passions, but I’ve seen a fine line between this and being a sychophant. As with most things, moderation is key.

Do you think Twitter will be replaced by something better?
Probably… either that or the Illuminati will gain control, and I’ll be forced to quit again.

Why do you tweet? Or not tweet?

Writing Mentors and Meanies

How to Tell a Mentor from a Meanie

Mentors . . .
– are genuine
– discuss craft over drinks
– inspire and motivate
– laugh at themselves
– laud work of their peers
– teach more than what’s in a curriculum
– encourage feedback on their teaching style
– share personal struggles and achievements
– teach without personal bias
– make themselves available outside the classroom
– never make you feel dumb, no matter how inane your question is

Meanies . . .
– read your work and say with a straight face, “To be honest, I thought you might be crazy.”
– hand out lists of writers and then pass judgement on students who haven’t read them
– ask students what kind of stories they write and then respond, “You won’t be writing those in here.”
– talk incessantly about their achievements that have nothing to do with writing
– say they are leaving a program to avoid class feedback forms, and then return the next semester
– expect you to know what you came to learn
– bring in their mentor who is really another meanie (this is when you have that Aha! moment)
– have no interest in your goals
– push their own style and interests on students

I have been lucky to find two mentors since I began studying writing and editing. Along the way I have also met meanies, whose wrath I have escaped or been forced to suck up. What can you add to these definitions?

First Reading Experience

I did my first reading at the Dragnet Magazine 5 launch party. It was a journey getting there, not just the week leading up, but the years of dreaded public speaking.

I was extremely shy as a kid. In high school, I’d take a zero for papers rather than do class readings. When I did presentations in college, I turned beet-red, shook, and had trouble breathing.

In the first creative writing class I signed up for, the instructor told us we would be reading a page of our written dialogue in the second class. I dropped out immediately. Five years passed before I signed up for another.

After Dragnet accepted my story, an editor told me there would be a launch and asked if I would be interested in reading. I said I would definitely attend the launch but wasn’t sure about the latter (my polite way of saying no).

When they sent me the details, the event listing printed my name as one of the readers. What? I hadn’t agreed. How could they do that? I sat and stewed for a couple of days.

My friend Rob said, “When you have a book, you’ll have to do readings.” I knew he was right unless I wanted to piss off publishers. And my mum said, “You’re not going to pull that anxiety crap, are you?” which really got me mad because I’ve never seen it as something I had control over.

I knew no matter how long I prolonged it, there was always going to be a first reading. If it was a horrible experience, I would never have to do it again. If I fainted, puked, or peed on stage then at least I would be memorable.

I had another motivation: Annabelle, my cat of eighteen years, recently passed. I could see her look of disapproval if I didn’t do this. I would read for her.

I told Dragnet I’d give it a go. Now, it was on to the mental and physical training. I didn’t drink for a week to clear my mind. I didn’t talk about the anxiety – it had no voice. I went to the gym (“Eye of the Tiger” played in my mental tape player). And I practised reading my story twice a day.

The day of the launch, I had a few moments of nausea, but carried on, almost pretending it wasn’t going to happen. I did stop at the liquor store following an afternoon stint at the gym. My motto has always been “It’s better to have booze you don’t want, than to want booze you don’t have.”

Nadia Ragbar, who has two short fictions in the issue, cabbed with me to the launch. I met Jeremy Hanson-Finger (publisher), Andrew Battershill  and Jena Karmali (editors) – all lovely.

I wasn’t chugging beer or chain smoking. Friendly faces showed up, and there wasn’t a stage with bright lights. No bigs, right? Dragnet played their intense Theme Song Video. Then I was called to the microphone. I had worn my blue hoodie security blanket but took it off.

Apart from massive shakes, I thought it went well. My voice felt strong and clear, and I read at a good pace. Before I knew it, the story was over. I said “That was for Bubs (Annabelle),” but no one heard because they were clapping.

Will I read again, given the chance. Yes.