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Three Quick Reviews: Writing Guides for Women

Check Goodreads or Indiebound, and you’ll find a virtual bookcase of writing guides: books on verse, dialogue, and plot; books for academics, Christians, and preschoolers. Precious few, however, have been created for women. Of course, women don’t always need or want gender-specific writing advice, but for some of life’s changes and challenges—motherhood, for instance—tailored guidance can provide just the right incentive and inspiration.

In the first in our blog series, Three Quick Reviews, we suggest three women-centric books on the craft of writing.

Use-Your-WordsUse Your Words: A Writing Guide for Mothers
Kate Hopper
Viva Editions; 2012

In this excellent guide to creative nonfiction (CNF), Hopper draws on her life as a writing teacher and mother as well as on her memoir, Ready for Air: A Journey Through Premature Motherhood. She covers essential elements of CNF such as finding a voice, choosing a tense, reflecting on personal experience, and getting published. Hopper also advises on aspects particular to mother-writing: dealing with pain and fear, revealing details of family, and finding humor in the everyday. Many examples of published CNF illustrate how these elements work. Enticing exercises invite new writers to get started and experienced writers to hone their craft.

penonfirePen on Fire: A Busy Woman’s Guide to Finding the Writer Within
Barbara DeMarco-Barrett
Harcourt; 2004

DeMarco-Barrett begins with that gigantic, looming hurdle to a successful writing life: time. We’re busy. We have families and jobs and a messy kitchen and an urgent deadline. When could we possibly write? Now, she says. Write in those few minutes before the kids wake up or that single minute while the kettle boils. You don’t need a quiet morning and a cozy office, just a notebook and determination. In short, engaging chapters, DeMarco-Barrett provides advice on getting organized, avoiding distractions, mining your life for ideas, and polishing your drafts—even if that draft is written on the back of your kid’s homework.

writingpastdarkWriting Past Dark: Envy, Fear, Distraction, and other Dilemmas in the Writer’s Life
Bonnie Friedman
Harper Collins, 1993

While not explicitly for women, Writing Past Dark, deals with emotional obstacles to the writer’s life felt, perhaps, more keenly by women. Friedman says she wrote the book because “I wanted a companion I could reach for” during the lonely writing process. Historically, women have been lonely, isolated writers indeed. But even now, the new mother who ekes out time for a blog, the single mom who gets up early to write poetry, the MFA mom in the midst of the “ten-year nap” who watches childless colleagues publish books and win awards—these women surely feel the envy, fear, distraction, and paralyzing writer’s block Friedman describes so beautifully.

Do you have a favourite writing guide? Can you recommend a guide for women or mothers? Do you have an idea for our next Three Quick Reviews? Add a comment to this post or email your idea to [email protected]

A Day in My Life: Lesley Crewe

July 13, 2014

Up at 6:30 in the Prince George Hotel in Halifax. Had a shower. Got dressed. Had coffee from a little coffee machine in the room.

Went downstairs to conference room and met Nimbus colleagues. Listened to other authors read from their books. Gave my own ten minute reading. Signed books, made plans with various bookstores etc.

Kissed Nimbus crew and other authors farewell.

Packed stuff and left the hotel. Drove to our daughter’s apartment. They went shopping. I had a nap.

Had a slice of pizza they brought back for lunch.

Wrapped gifts for our son, who is 33 today! Black and white polka dot paper. Sarah laughed at my wrapping skills and how I’m useless, but she hugged me several times so I forgave her.

Discussed ant traps.

Chopped potatoes, onions, carrots and mushrooms to make crispy packages in the oven.

Son came over to sister’s apartment and I kissed him several times until he told me to stop.

Watched the World Cup and saw Germany win! Sarah’s friend is German and sent a text, basically saying “Yahoo!” in German.

Husband, daughter, daughter’s fiance and son and I had rib steaks on the barbeque. We brought out one cake and two banana cream pies for birthday boy… all of us carrying them in a row. Son loves banana cream pie. He blew out candles.

Paul opened his gifts: new socks for work and a new set of pots. He’s gone through the old stuff we gave him when he moved away a decade ago.

Hubby and I talked about the day Paul was born. Both he and his sister have heard this story a million times. They roll their eyes, listen and nod their heads. They change the subject.

Talked to Sarah about job. Talked about houses for sale in Halifax and her wedding plans.

Washed up dishes that didn’t make it into the dish washer.

Said goodbye to boy, kissing him as he went out the door.

Looked at houses for sale on the computer. Made Sarah look at the ones I liked.

Watched her and fiance get ready for bed and kissed her goodnight.

Got ready for bed too. It was very hot out, despite the fan in the window. Husband turned and lay his head at the foot of the bed to catch the breeze. At some point in the middle of the night, he forgot where he was and tried to get out of the bed.

He kicked me in the head.

“Sorry! Sorry!”

“Jerk.”

We struggled with the sheets for a minute and went to sleep.

A Day in My Life: Linda Roe

I awake too early this morning, 2:17 a.m., and spend the wee hours on the couch in our lounge…our two cats cuddled up with me, purring and cleaning themselves.

The day begins at 7-ish with an instant coffee, which has been a habit since my Correctional Officer days in Ontario. I worked seven different shifts in the beginning of my ‘prison career’ which screwed up my sleeping patterns, for life as it turned out. Yes, instant coffee is now a habit first thing every morning.

I hear Peter in the shower; the day has really started now. Gazing out the window at Lunenburg Bay, I see there is a fog bank on the water looking like a row of mauve coloured hills. It is clear in the town, wonderful. The air is fresh and exciting. It’s going to be another good day and I’m looking forward to it with gusto as I have a ‘project.’

I feed the cats including a stray we’ve named Chowder and the outdoor birds and bring in another old wooden window from the garage in prep for doing a sea glass ‘painting.’ The sea glass I have collected over the last five years finally has a purpose. Apparently in the early days of Lunenburg, the town’s midden was located on the banks behind the houses on Pelham. Large boats are stored there now. Over the years, the glass and pottery bits have been rolled over and over by the wind/wave action and voila, jewels are created. Emeralds, amber, diamonds, sapphires and the odd ruby are at your feet for the picking. Give me sea beach treasures over a dress shop any time!

The sash window frames are from our beach stone cottage in Western Shore. The windows are probably older than the cottage with years of paint literally falling off around my feet as I hoist them up to bring them inside. I have discovered ten layers of paint; two shades of blue, two shades of green, two shades of white…pink, turquoise, silver and beige. Without much effort these frames will look ‘distressed,’ the popular look of today.

Time flies and it’s now the lunch hour. Together, my husband and I watch the noon news, finishing off our lunch with a mug of tea before heading back to our individual pursuits. Back to my frames I go but first, I must feed the neighbours’ cats. Their owners are away camping in Queens. Peter goes back to working on the edits for his books.

It’s odd sometimes where your mind wonders while performing small tasks like sanding wood. Today mine slips back to Ontario; to my sons and grandkids; to my art student coming tomorrow with his latest project; to my long-dead parents; to our coming trip to Ireland. Yes, the head is a busy place, much like an airport terminal at Christmas!

Before I can blink it’s supper time and I ask myself, “Why are we always eating? Eat, Eat, Eat.” I despair at my thoughts, at myself, as millions are starving and here I am complaining about too much to eat. I shake my head and forgive the inner me.

I finish off this happily productive day by re-sorting out all my sea glass and broken pottery bits. It give me pleasure to re-use and re-cycle. Two glasses of wine are poured and another joyful day is complete.

New from Demeter Press: birth of the uncool

Demeter Press, based in Toronto, has published books on motherhood since 2006. Their catalogue includes fiction, creative nonfiction, poetry, and many ground-breaking scholarly works. Due to recent loss of grant funding, however, Demeter is at risk of closing. They need support — through books sales — to continue their engaging and important work.

birth of the uncool, published by Demeter in 2014, is a stunning collection of poetry by Canadian writer Madeline Walker. Based on Walker’s lifelong quest to be “elegant, distant, hip, and stylish,” the book explores her embrace of uncool in her fiftieth year. The following is from her chapter on motherhood (reprinted with permission).

Genealogy

birthuncoolI know the gene bequeathed
is not my fault.
I ask forgiveness anyway.

Scientists announced
they’d almost isolated the little fucker in their
slick white labs. If only I could
have swiped out that gene,
surreptitiously, from the soup
that made you, spliced in
something else — and extra love gene
perhaps.

But then, what loss? What might
we have missed? Your smoky
intensity, blue depths, brooding
passions? Your courage to climb out of the
tar pit? The wisdom that comes of suffering?

Demeter’s books are 50% off until July 15. See their catalogue or Facebook page for more information.

A Day in My Life: Sheila Morrison

Woke up at 6:15 (unusual for me) astonished at how brilliant the sun was shining at such an hour. Have I been missing something? Must be nice at the cottage.

Stretched my cranky knee and deforming toes while listening to CBC. Answered the phone—my daughter downstairs confirmed she will go to the dreaded ECT appointment at 7:15, having adamantly refused the night before.

Get washed, dressed and go downstairs to find she has already practiced piano, lifted weights and ridden her exercise bike.

In the car by 6:45 before she says no again and wonder if I can stretch the 15 minute drive into 30 minutes. I do.

Deliver her to the nurses and head home, wishing I was at the cottage.

Tend to sick dog; his eye is gummed shut again and I gently squeeze wet cotton pads into his eye to coax it open.

Call the vet, get appointment for 3:15. Wish I were at our new cottage.

Call hubby to see if he enjoyed his morning walk. Wish I was there.

Back to the hospital; daughter is ready to go, ready for her reward, a treat breakfast. Hard to get a decision out of her on where to go but I exercise patience. “Just drive around and see what’s open.” Not what I want to do. At the Esquire she has a chocolate milkshake, replete with whip cream and cherry, and strawberry pancakes while I tease my caffeine urges with a decaf.

Home and back to dripping water into the dog’s eye. Walk the dog. Throw in the laundry. Wonder if I’ll get to the cottage.

Brush the dog. Email. Wash yesterday’s dishes. Sweep. Chat with daughter. Pile up a few things to take to the cottage. Heat up the rest of the left over pancakes for daughter. Walk the dog. Print off friend’s manuscript to read at the cottage. Grab a sandwich. Tuck daughter in for a nap. Throw clothes in dryer.

Make a list of writing projects roaming around in my head. Collect some info for one to write at the cottage. Take the dog to the vet. It’s 4:00 pm.

Still time to get to the cottage and catch a few rays. Feel like I have accomplished nothing.