Tag Archives: writer

No Arguments? Father Knows Best

As some of you may know, the Globe and Mails’ Facts and Arguments recently celebrated its 25th anniversary. To mark the occasion, the national newspaper held a contest inviting submissions for The Essay that centred on a moment of truth.

As a group, each of the Restless Writers has at one time or another submitted an essay to the Globe and Mail in the hopes of it being published in The Essay. It’s a right of passage for a new writer. We followed the submission guidelines, kept to the word limit, carefully critiqued and then revised our pieces to get them just right. We pressed send on our computers, anxiously awaiting a reply and then zip. Nada. No traction. Among the four of us, we’ve submitted a total of nine essays and have only managed to crack the secret code once with the publication of Maria’s entry about starting a second career.

Despite these terrible odds, some of the Restless Writers decided to once again dust off their keyboards and submit an essay to the moment of truth contest. They were good. One made us cry to read how life can change in an instant when faced with a personal health emergency. The other made us laugh with tales of kicking a serious caffeine habit. Again, we read the criteria, kept to the word limit and worked to polish our drafts. And you know what? That’s right. No dice.

So all of this has got me thinking, what DOES it take for a submission to make it past the steely guards surrounding the desk of the Facts and Arguments editor? In honour of Father’s Day today, I thought I’d ask the one person I know who’s actually had something published in Facts and Arguments – not once, but twice. My dad, Barry.

Writing is something my dad started in his retirement. He’s had some great success with personal essays and travel articles published multiple times in the Toronto Star and travel magazines.

So I asked him.

Me: What advice would you give to a writer looking to have their personal essay published in the Facts and Arguments section?

Dad: I have given it a lot of thought and here are my Top 5 tips.

  1. The editors are looking for a very good story. It doesn’t have to be “professional” but well written.
  2. Write about an honest personal topic, something unique. Humour helps too. Be self depreciating, you don’t always have to look good.
  3. Avoid having an axe to grind or making others look bad.
  4. Make sure your title is an attention getter. Think of what’s trendy in popular culture, alliteration can work well. In my case, an essay titled “A Wedding Trauma” became “One Wedding and a Trauma.”
  5. Give your piece a strong closing that puts it all into perspective.

So there you have it, some insider tips from a real life published Facts and Arguments author.

Believe me when I say, the man knows unique personal stories. One of his published essays detailed the time he accidentally walked into a metal sign and split open his forehead 30 minutes before he was due to walk me down the aisle on my wedding day! He ended up with five stitches. Did I mention it was in the middle of the SARS epidemic in Toronto?

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Me and my dad on my wedding day. Bandages and all!

While I don’t suggest personal injury as a route to publication, I do hope some of my dad’s tips might inspire you to not give up on the quest to be a part of the exclusive Facts and Arguments club.

Rejects Rejoice
In the meantime, for everyone who’s ever had their Facts and Arguments submission passed over, there is now a place where you can share your essay with the world as you intended.

The Restless Writers are proud to introduce a brand new blog called Restless Rejects – the site that will take your Facts and Arguments submission and post it. The only requirements? The essay must have been submitted to and rejected by the Globe and Mail and be under 1,000 words.

If you are still shaking your head wondering how the editors could have passed over your piece, we want it. Read more about the new blog.

P.S. Happy Father’s Day to all the dads out there and a very special thank you to my dad for lending his support with this blog post and every other single thing I’ve ever done – including making it back from the hospital in time to walk me down the aisle! Now that’s a good dad. Happy Father’s Day.

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A reflection on vulnerability, writing and character

TissuesI just watched a TED talk by Brené Brown about vulnerability. I love TED talks. Every time I watch one my perception about life shifts a little bit, and as a result, so does my approach to writing. In the case of Brown’s talk, I was in tears as I thought not only about my own vulnerability as an artist—clearly her message was hitting the mark with me—but also the importance of vulnerability in the characters I create.

The thing is most of us hate feeling vulnerable. We hate feeling out of control. We get paralyzed by “what if I put myself out there and I get turned down or ridiculed or end up going down a road I didn’t want to go down?” Yet, as humans we have a fundamental need to be connected to the world and to each other in order to feel truly alive. Therein lies the struggle: to feel connected, we need to be vulnerable and show who we are, but our instinct is one of protectionism. As writers we become vulnerable every day we create. It’s part of our calling. We describe and reflect the vulnerability of life, so others will be moved and their lives shifted as a result.

But vulnerability takes courage, and writers are human. We all struggle to be courageous day in and day out. I mean, how can you keep feeling courageous when a piece gets rejected or ignored over and over? How do you continue to write a story that takes you to dark places in your own life you’ve probably worked years to bury, but is needed in order to make the story authentic? Yet that journey is exactly what is necessary. As Brown even says, “vulnerability is the birthplace of creativity.”

And what does this mean for our characters? Our characters have to reflect the same human struggle we face ourselves in the most real way. If we can effectively show a character’s struggle for connection, readers, in turn, will feel a deeper connection to our work. (Maybe this is partly what Maria was talking about in her last post about finding her character’s voice.)

So, how can you create characters that reflect this inner humanity? Well, one way, of course, is to start with yourself. Examine when you feel vulnerable. I mean, really examine it…without fear. The better you understand your own humanity, the better you can reflect the humanity of your characters. As a start, I found some ideas from Writing Through Life journaling blog.

Another way is to start with those around you and then turn what you discover onto your characters. Here are some steps:

  • Describe when they feel vulnerable and why. Is there some memory triggered?
  • What physically happens to their bodies in that state? (e.g., forehead tenses, palms become sweaty)
  • What do they say in reaction? (e.g., turn to blame someone else? Try to exert control in the situation or command that they are “right”?)
  • What do they do as a result? (e.g., many try to numb the feeling of discomfort by drinking or eating excessively or taking pills. When developing your characters, remember these actions also numb joy and love at the same time, like Brown indicates.)
  • Now, write when they feel the opposite, i.e., in control. What does that look like? You can repeat the other steps from this point of view.

As Brown concludes her talk and I’m near the end of my Kleenex box, she reminds us that what makes us vulnerable makes us beautiful. So, keep your courage to be vulnerable as you write because it is fundamental to what makes your work beautiful too.

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Anatomy of a Restless Writers’ Meeting

We writers have been meeting monthly for almost a year now. Our meetings can take many forms, in various locations (this month: my place), but there are certain constants: calorific snacks (I decided to test out cumin jelly and brie on baguettes); copious amounts of booze (white sangria) and tantalizing conversation that in no way relates to writing.

It’s typical coffee klatch fare – work, husbands, kids (mine) and pets (theirs…although the similarities are surprising). We do eventually get down to business, going over the pages we’ve each submitted in advance, and then the meeting is finito.

I’ve come to rely on these meetings for more than the input and suggestions provided by my partners, although they’ve proven invaluable. It’s the camaraderie, encouragement and inspiration I get from being with other writers that I value most. We all tackle different genres with diverse styles, but the end goals are the same…to be inspired… to be published…to be writers.

Working towards these aspirations while sipping sangria and eating my weight in cheese is simply a bonus.

Lori

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