Tag Archives: canscaip conference

Top Ten Pieces of Writing Advice From David Robertson

David Robertson writes everything! I recently read an opinion piece he’d written for the CBC. Several weeks ago I attended a workshop where he explained how he writes his graphic novels.  David is the author of a biography of Helen Betty Osborne and in 2017 his children’s picture book When We Were Alone won a Governor General’s Literary Award.  The latest novel in his young adult trilogy The Reckoners just hit bookstands and in 2014 he released an adult novel called The Evolution of AliceListening to writer David Robertson talk about the projects he’s completed and the current projects he has in the works at the recent CANSCAIP Saskatchewan Horizons conference was a little overwhelming. How does he do it all?  And don’t forget he has five children. Then there are all the speaking engagements and school visits and ……… he still has a full-time job besides all of that.  And did I mention I recently started following Dave on social media where he has a prolific presence? 

Dave was part of the Vision and Voice panel at the CANSCAIP conference along with Arthur Slade and Miriam Korner

At the conference, we heard Dave speak three times.  He was part of a Vision and Voice panel, he was interviewed by children’s writer Alice Kuipers and he presented the keynote address.  

Dave gives his keynote address.

We learned a lot about Dave and his family, during those sessions but he also gave us some great advice to help us with our writing. I’ve pulled out things he said in his various presentations at the conference and compiled them into my own top ten list.  

1.  Serious writers work on their writing regularly.  It’s a  habit. They schedule a time to write into every day. They put it on their calendar like it’s an important meeting they must attend. 

2. Writing new stuff should take up about 20% of your time. Editing, revising, going through your works in progress line by line will take about 80% of your time. Your first draft is just a big blob of clay that you will constantly shape and reshape. You will never think you have edited and revised enough, but eventually, the book will have to go to publication.  

3. It can be helpful to establish a quota for yourself.  You might set a goal to write 1250 words a day on a new project and edit two chapters a day of a work in progress. 

4. Read widely. The more kinds of books you read the easier it will be for you to find your own voice. You can integrate the style of the writers you read into your own work. 

5.  When you are determining what you want to write ask yourself  …..What’s been done?  What hasn’t been done? What gaps are there in writing for children that I might fill? 

6. Write across the genres. Writing different kinds of children’s literature- picture books, graphic novels, middle-grade novels, early reader books, autobiographies, poetry- helps you develop all kinds of new skills as a writer.  It gets you out of your comfort zone.

7. Give thought to what you want to accomplish with your work. Always write from a place of passion. What is it you want to do to change the world? 

8.  Don’t forget to be good to yourself. Writing can be mentally and physically exhausting.

9. Although you may have to write in all kinds of places to get your work done, have a familiar home base for your writing. You might want to pick certain music to play, set the mood with a certain kind of lighting, or even wear certain clothes to write. 

10. Stories never die. They come to life as soon as they leave our mouths. The stories you write should encourage kids to tell their own stories. Stories are our life!

Dave is interviewed by Alice Kuipers

This is just my list- but hearing Dave tell the stories that illustrated each of the points he made was so engaging and interesting.  You can order a video that shows him doing that here. 

Other posts………

Writing that Heals

Timing and Luck

Vision and Voice

Leave a comment

Filed under Books, Writing

Timing and Luck

Timing and Luck!  Those are two key elements in getting a children’s book published today according to editor Shelley Tanaka.  

Shelley knows what she’s talking about because timing and luck are how she got into the book editing business. After completing her Masters in Comparative Literature at the University of Toronto she applied to fifty publishers for a job and was given only one offer- to work as a secretary at Clarke Irwin an educational publisher. She had to fill in when the editor in chief position was left empty and so she learned the business and became a children’s book editor in her own right.

In her thirty-six years as an editor at Groundwood Books, she has worked with some of Canada’s finest children’s writers. Shelley is also an award-winning author of more than twenty books and teaches in the masters writing program for children and young adults at the Vermont College of Fine Arts.  I heard Shelley interviewed by children’s writer Alice Kuipers at the CANSCAIP Saskatchewan Horizons Conference in Saskatoon.  

Alice asked Shelley what she is looking for when she reads a new manuscript. “Something that isn’t like anything else,” Shelley said.  She is drawn to books that are wonderfully written, and are about something that matters, books that ask important questions. Shelley has a soft spot for manuscripts that are quirky and humorous with hints of irony.

She gave examples of two books she has recently edited whose authors were in attendance at the Saskatoon conference. Rolli is the author of Kabungo.  Shelley described his book about the relationship between a modern city girl and her cave dwelling best friend as hilarious and weird. Another book Shelley talked about was  Swan Dive by Brenda Hasiuk, the story of a young refugee from Bosnia who is living in Winnipeg.  He tells a reckless lie and has to face the consequences. 

Shelley encouraged those of us who are trying to get our work published to read the kind of works we aspire to write ourselves. She talked about the value of critique groups where writers support one another. Shelley also recommended two lectures by Louise Hawes to us. One was on overwriting and the other on how desire drives the plot of our stories.  

Other suggestions from Shelley for writers included………..

  • becoming your own editor and learning the mechanics of writing. 
  • becoming an enthusiastic advocate for your own work. 
  • putting your soul into your writing.  
  • considering who your audience is. Who is on the receiving end of your book?  Who is your reader? 
  • writing across the genres – picture books, middle-grade fiction, non-fiction, graphic novels, teen fiction, young adult fiction, early reader stories.  

Alice engaged Shelley in a fascinating discussion about psychic distance and the current generation of writers who are capturing the stories of previous generations.  You can learn more about that by subscribing to the videos of the conference here. 

Although Shelley did say timing and luck were two of the key ingredients in getting your work accepted in the current competitive mainstream children’s book market, she also provided lots of other great ideas to help pursue the goal of becoming a published author. 

Other posts……….

Write Don’t Wine

Vision and Voice

Writing that Heal

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Books, Writing

Writing As A Healing Art

Did you know that writing in a journal can lower your heart rate and blood pressure, increase your pain tolerance, help you sleep better, give you self-confidence and make you more empathetic? My second day at the CANSCAIP, Saskatchewan Horizons conference for children’s writers started with a journaling session led by Kristine Scarrow.

Photo of Kristine from her author website

Kristine is not only the author of four novels for teens published by Dundurn Press she is also a writer in residence at St. Paul’s Hospital in Saskatoon where she is part of a team that provides services in the healing arts to patients. She works alongside visual artists and music therapists. You can find out more about that program here. 

I learned a new term from Kristine’s presentation ‘narrative medicine’. It is an approach that uses people’s narratives or stories in clinical practice, research and education as a way to promote healing. Kristine told us a narrative medical approach can help doctors to understand their patient’s whole story and not just their symptoms. 

Kristine led us through several healing writing exercises.  One was called Captured Moment where we wrote a short journal entry about a happy, sad or challenging moment in our lives. Kristine encouraged us to use lots of sensory details.  

Another writing prompt was the Character Sketch, where we described ourselves or someone else. It could be someone we admired or liked but it could also be someone that was a difficult presence in our life.

Finally, we did a journal entry called Perspective.  We thought about something that we hoped would happen, or we knew would happen, in the future and wrote about it as if we were already in that future moment. Kristine told us she used this technique to give her perspective when a heart condition had her bedridden for months.  She imagined a future when her life would return to more normalcy and that helped put her situation into perspective. 

Although I have used writing as a tool to help me through some of the most difficult periods of my life, it was great to get Kristine’s ideas for some new healing ways to journal and to learn how the arts are becoming recognized tools for healing by the medical community. Kristine’s workshop provided a nice contemplative beginning to what was going to be a jam-packed day full of learning and networking at the conference. 

Other posts……….

Writing is the Way I Think and Remember

A Pool of Possibilities in Our Own Back Yard

Keeping a Record

Leave a comment

Filed under Books, Health, Writing

Vision and Voice

Arthur Slade, David Robertson, and Miriam Körner are some of the most successful children’s writers in Canada right now.  Between them, they have published a raft of books and have won all kinds of awards.  I listened to them last night as they shared their vision and voice in a discussion at a Saskatoon conference for children’s writers. Their exchange of ideas was led by Alice Kuipers a children’s writer who helped to organize the conference. 

Arthur and David listen as Miriam talks about her writing motivation

It was interesting to note what motivates each writer. Miriam is passionate about Canada’s north and loves sled dogs and sled dog racing.  In her books, she is trying to share that passion with others.  

Arthur told us his latest book Crimson was written especially for his daughter who he and his wife adopted from China in 2010. He wanted to create an authentic story for her.

David talked about trying to be an example for young indigenous writers. He wants them to feel that they too have powerful stories they can share. 

As you can see the discussion wasn’t all serious. Alice and her panelists were having a good time.

When Alice asked each writer to talk about how they present themselves to the world Miriam laughed and said she would rather not have to think about presenting herself to the public.  She wishes her books would speak for themselves and she could just spend all her time in her cabin in the bush in La Ronge Saskatchewan with her husband and sixteen sled dogs.  

Arthur talked about the persona he needs to maintain on social media and how it is hard to balance the work that involves, with his need to find space and time for writing.

David shared his thoughts about wanting to present himself as an indigenous writer. He hasn’t always embraced that role but realizes there are many things Canadians need to know about his culture.

Why does each author choose to write for young people rather than adults?

Miriam writes books for young teens because she thinks that is such a crucial time in their lives when everything begins to change for them and the world they had taken for granted suddenly looks so different. Many young people believe they can change the world and Miriam wants to capture those youthful voices in her writing.

Arthur told us he fell into writing for kids accidentally.  He was writing adult novels and someone evaluating one of his manuscripts told him it would be a great teen or young adult novel.

David says he writes for kids because he wants to have some input into shaping the children who will be our leaders of tomorrow.  He thinks about what he wants young people to carry with them so they can create a different reality for our country and the world. What will his books teach them?

The Vision and Voice panel was a great way to kick off the conference and really got attendees thinking about their own motivations, public persona and why they have chosen to write for young people.  

Other posts……….

Reading Pictures

A Top Ten List From a Top Notch Speaker

Writers All Around

1 Comment

Filed under Books, Canada, Childhood, Writing

What’s the Answer?

Before I went to a writing conference in Toronto earlier this month the members of my writers’ group here in Winnipeg helped me to come up with questions for a panel of book editors from various publishing house who were going to field questions about getting your book in print.  I submitted the questions and the moderator of the panel used almost every one as she led the discussion.  I promised my writers’ group the Anitas, that I’d provide them with the answers – so here they are. 

The panel of editors that talked about getting published.

What is hot in books for children, teens and young adults rights now? 

For teens and young adults it is gothic, horror, ghost stories, fantasy and science fiction. Nothing is too edgy to write about for the young adult audience.

What’s popular comes in waves. Editors are looking for books about diverse experiences and unique characters. Historical fiction is a little flat right now.  A book in that genre works if it hits a modern-day nerve.

For picture books editors want stories that aren’t too long, that are humorous and based in reality or personal experience. They don’t have to be about some big important issue to be meaningful.

Middle grade books need to tell diverse stories and publishers are seeking unique and diverse authors as well.  In non-fiction for kids social justice issues are big right now and its important to make sure that although your book addresses an important topic it is written in a way kids can relate to and understand. 

What chance is there of a new author getting published?  

It’s tough because publishing houses need to honor the commitments they have to authors they have already signed and promoted.

You can go the self-publishing route and then hope a big publishing house will love your book and pick it up for wider distribution. Some publishers however receive a dozen self-published books a day and may pick one a year to publish.

Some publishers only look at things they get from an agent, others tend to use their contacts in the industry to find new authors but there are some publishing houses who actually do go through every single manuscript that is submitted to them. 

Does an author need to have a social media presence in order to get published? 

Publishers will look for people who are active on sites that appeal to school markets because it means they can reach out to schools.

They do want to know about your social media contacts and your activity.  It is very important that your online presence is something children can see and read without their parents worrying about your online content.

Sometimes they do publish books by people because they already have lots of great online content that appeals to kids and they have established a group of specific, dedicated followers.

You should follow authors and illustrators, publishing houses and professional writing groups online if you are looking to get published so you can see what is trending and what is going on in the publishing  world. How do you know if a book is going to be successful, if a book is one you want to publish?

If it makes me laugh out loud!  

If after I read the book an elevator pitch for it  just pops into my head.  

It’s a gut feeling but it’s always a gamble.  You never know. Sometimes you publish books you think will be big successes and they’re not and other times you publish books you are worried won’t sell and they are a huge success. 

Does an author need to have an agent? 

You can survive in Canada without an agent.

About a quarter of the authors we publish don’t have an agent.  

An agent can make your relationship with a publisher easier in some ways and more difficult in others. 

Other posts………

Relentless Persistence

Writers All Around

A Top Ten List from a Top Ten Speakers

3 Comments

Filed under Writing

Writers All Around

At the Packaging Your Imagination conference I attended in Toronto for children’s book writers and illustrators I met so many interesting people, all eager to talk about their writing projects.  It was just great! Inspired by the drawing of one of presenters Ruth Ohi and emboldened by several books I’ve read recently about how everyone can be an artist, I decided to do some quick sketches of ten of the writers I chatted with to give you an idea of the variety of folks I met.   

 A television weather reporter who has an idea for a non-fiction book explaining weather to children.  A young mother working on a book inspired by her kids about a loaf of pumpernickel bread and a pickle.  An accountant who has finished a book about friendship he wrote for his two sons. A woman who loves the north and has written a book about grizzly bears.  Her husband is a nature photographer who took the pictures for the book.  A former garment industry executive who has finished a book about a raccoon that lived on the streets of Toronto. An auntie who has attended the conference several times before and writes poems for her nieces and nephews. The mother of an employee at a major publishing house who has written a historical fiction novel that involves time travel. A woman who wishes she were Italian but isn’t and has published two books for children- one about hoarding and another about food intolerance. The owner of a Newfoundland dog who has published a book about how autistic children deal with sensory overload. 

The mother of two film producers who has written a middle grade novel about a girl who has to move to France where she doesn’t speak the language and doesn’t know anyone. 

And that’s just a sample of the intriguing writers  I met. Although the speakers at the conference were great – chatting with the interesting people who are also working on children’s books was just as fascinating. 

Other posts……..

The World is Full of Interesting People

A Fascinating Conversation in a Tiny Wine Shop in Lisbon

Our Guides in Asia

Leave a comment

Filed under Toronto, Writing