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Saturday, July 23, 2011

My First Writing Talk (AEBC Greater Vancouver)

Today I had the honour of being asked to talk about writing before the Greater Vancouver chapter of the Alliance for the Equality of Blind Canadians. This was the first time I've ever been asked to give a writing talk about anything, but most of the attendees were very beginner writers who wanted to know a little bit more about the craft, with the intent of sharing their stories with the world.

My first thought, on being asked was, "Wait, *I'm* being asked to talk about writing? But I'm barely even published!"

And then I realized that actually, I've been studying to craft for a very long time, and I have picked up a thing or two. I may not be super successful yet, but I can definitely address the basics enough for a group of people interested in getting started. This was an exercise in my own self-confidence, and personally, I think it went well. Below is my own outline.

* * *

Laura’s Writing Talk For AEBC Greater Vancouver

Talking about writing
- It’s a very broad topic
- There’s a lot that can be said about writing
- I’ll try to stick with basics today

1. Write every day.
- Even if it’s just a little bit.
- Writing regularly helps you get better.
- It’s like anything, like weightlifting or learning how to draw.
- Writing is a craft. And to get better at it, you need practice.
- It also helps you to find your voice.

2. Find your voice.
- We all have a unique voice. But finding it can take some work. And some practice.
- What do you have to say that makes you unique?
- Finding your voice, and your writing style, isn’t always about standing out from the crowd. It can also be about taking something ordinary and putting your own spin on it.
- What makes your heart sing? This is what I think is the most important part of today’s talk. Finding your heartsong, what makes you you, what you love to talk about, is vital. Why else would you be writing it?
- Obviously, you are not defined by your physical abilities. Or you shouldn't let yourself be.
- But what stories do you have to share that are both unique and show your empowerment?
- Can you engage the five senses? This is a whole, much bigger topic, but it can be part of finding your voice. Sounds, taste, touch, smell … all can help bring a story to life, yet a lot of writers, period, have trouble with engaging the senses.
- Edgar Allan Poe says: A short story should have a “single effect”. What is the effect you want to create with your story?
- That may mean you can’t include every single detail, because sometimes the things that seem cool aren’t necessary for the story.
- So, don’t get too attached to your writing. What seems important to you personally might not be for the tale at the heart of it. In fact, too much detail can bog down the story and cause the reader to lose interest.
- Which leads me to my third point …

3. Be willing to change what you’ve written.
- This is the hardest lesson in writing.
- And as often as I’ve learned it, it still keeps coming back to bite me.
- Me: I finished something! Isn’t it awesome?
- Feedback: Actually … it probably needs some work: for coherence, for consistency, and to make a good story
- Okay, so you’ve written a story. Yay!
- But unless you’re the next Charles Dickens (and most of us aren’t!) you’re probably going have to change it.
- When you get feedback, don’t get angry. Don’t take it as a personal attack. The person critiquing your work is not telling you that *you* are a terrible person. They’re saying that something in your writing needs work.
- Making changes to what you've written can feel painful. You think, “But I like it the way it is!”
- But you can’t be rigid. You have to be willing to make changes for the good of the story. This is how we learn.
- Remember, the first draft is *not* going to be perfect. So don’t get hung up on making it perfect. Because you’ll probably have to change it.
- Just sit down and start writing!
- Don’t try to look for errors until you’ve *finished* your story. Once you’ve finished it, then you have the entire picture and can make appropriate cuts.
- And then you’ll have a lot of editing to do. Writing “the end” is only the beginning.
- And that’s okay, because learning to spot errors in your own work is part of learning how to write.

And of course, something that came up in the discussion was an obvious point that wasn't on my original outline, but I think we all know by now from my recent posts that I am fantastic at missing a single important detail (like, say, renewing a freaking passport), is this:

4. Read. Extensively. You learn from what you read.

Thankfully, that point did get addressed.

I had a lovely time sharing some of what I've learned today. It was invigorating and fun discussing these issues with folks interested in getting started with the craft.

As for me? Back to editing my WIP.


  1. Sounds like fun. I bet you're glad you did it. After missing out on a few opportunities after my book first came out, I vowed that I would accept any opportunity that came my way regardless of how uncomfortable I felt about it. If this is what we're serious about I think it's important to do these things, make ourselves visible.

    I loved all the wonderful points you made. As writers we learn these things but seldom have the opportunity to express what we've learned.

  2. What a privilege to be able to "pay it forward", or maybe in this case it's pay it back. I think of the writing profession as a ladder. It's a long climb. There's always someone above us to learn from, and someone coming up behind that we can help out.

    Carol Garvin

  3. Thanks, Jillybean!

    Laura: it was fantastic. I've received post-presentation feedback since and it has been very positive. I was happy to share these basics.

    Carol: And we climb that ladder together. This was a very rewarding experience!