On Writing

Humber School of Writing Summer Workshops – Pictures & Words

You know it’s real when you get a lanyard. I got a reusable bag too. You know it.

So, it’s nearing the late evening of day four at the Humber School of Writers Summer Workshop…Physically, I’m pretty tired, and my tummy and guts are doing that thing they can do when they’re away from home…you know, sort of standing up and flailing around, yelling: hey! where’s our regular food, yo? Otherwise, the under of my right eyelid keeps twitching and my scalp hurts because the hair on my head seems to be standing up taller and more attentively than usual. I didn’t know it could do that – but my scalp is sore! I think it’s because my brain is absorbing sooooo much information that it’s hiding some of it in my hair. S’okay…it’ll fall back into my brain at some point, right?

Gosh. I can’t even begin to give you any kind of linear…intelligent briefing of what’s been happening. I’m too ‘in’ it. Processing is barely happening.

For now, please enjoy (or cringe at) this pictorial and quote fusion. (I never said I’m a visual artist.)

How I felt while the first page of my novel was being assessed by editors.

What I learned from the assessment: Good grief, lady. It’s never a good idea to put a ‘and then he remembered what happened’ bit in the first page.

(They didn’t say it like that, by the way.)

The cover of a book entitled: How to Keep Writing when the Bad (Negative) Voices Will. Not. Shut. Up. by me.

It’s absolutely incredible what is happening in my head as the minutes pass at this workshop. I am a hot mess of voices that are effing with my self-confidence. It’s really nuts. But drawing some of them out was kinda fun.

Yes. I felt foolish more than once this week…


Sometimes I felt like…Eye suck.


There is much talk of hot and cold writing. We talk about the art of opposites in writing. We sometimes get confused.


Sometimes…everything lives in opposite land.


Sometimes I feel too hot to handle.


Someone asked: What do the hands of a mad man look like? I think they look like writer’s hands. And, obviously, this quote belongs in a foot.


“Sometimes writers are punching holes in their own bucket of tension.” Nicholas, Editor, Penguin, Random House


We all agreed we love chesterfields. Inside jokes exist at the workshop. Have you been to Chester Field?


We each draw a type of alligator. Meet mine.

“You learn to read the book you’re reading.” Kyo Maclear – in a conversation about picture books and the children who read them. They ‘get it’.

“…fortuitous accidents…” Kyo Maclear

“..turn transitions into transformations…” Not sure! Gahk.

“…sensorium…” Kyo

“…edge states…” Kyo

“…cure vs. comfort…” Nick

“…sanitizing what’s messy and painful…” Nick

“…how far will we go to end human suffering?” Nick

“….the de-familiarization of intimacy…” Kyo

“…what are they like alone?…” Colin McAdam

“…respect your characters…” Colin McAdam

“…be in the place…” Colin McAdam


This is how I was feeling last night…

Essentially, the big question is: can I write with such a freedom from everything I’ve been telling myself I need to do as a ‘writer’…from everything I’ve learned and decided to accept into my process and voice? If i let it go…and step (or run) away – will what’s left be ‘me’ anymore? How can I break the rules without losing part(s) of my creative heart? When it comes to what I’m writing – the subject matter, the emotions, the truths, the lies…the history…the knowings and the fears, am I not also giving myself and the words a kind of permission to fly away from what ‘family’ is supposed to be/mean? That structure and form of human interaction?
It’s a complete coming undone.
Can I do that?
Do I know how?
What are the consequences?
What will it do to my body and soul?
How will it happen in Time and space?
And one more thing.
An honest embarrassing truth.
So, yesterday morning knowing that two editors, each from a very big and reputable publishing house, were coming, I had a surge of desperate courage which led to foolish an intensely motivated print out of the first chapter of my YA novel as well as a very cheesy  clever query ‘poem’. I gathered the pages and tried to keep my early morning madness determination alive as the day progressed. When it came to my ‘first page’ to be assessed…I quickly realized that I would not, in fact, be the person who ran up to the table after the panel and declare to the editor:
Hello. My name is Vanessa Shields and I am your next BEST-SELLING AUTHOR. Here is my writing. 
Followed by a firm handshake, serious eye contact, and the thrusting over of the pages.
Can you believe I thought I’d do that?
Yeah. I almost believed it.
But then…I didn’t believe it. Didn’t believe I was ready…or that the work was ready. And…maybe it is. And maybe said editor would have been…impressed or even frightened and taken the writing.
We’ll never know.
And I also did NOT do any declaring and handing-over-of-manuscript-pages to the agents who visited today. Nope.
I did, however, rock the mic at the student reading.
Everyone here feels familiar.
Some folks feel downright family.
I had a wickedly powerful deja-vu in workshop this morning.
I’m happy about that.
Off to bed, friends.

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