Jason and Wendy talk about writing and writers' groups. Jason interviews science fiction author Raquel Rich about how she became a writer, and he and Wendy discuss some resources for writers at the library.
Content Warning: This episode includes discussion of a fictional account of sexual assault.
Hamartia by Raquel Rich
Making Comics by Lynda Barry
What It Is by Lynda Barry
The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron
Writing Alone and with Others by Pat Schneider
Library services discussed:
The Asquith Press book printing service
Biblioboard library ebook platform for indie authors
Other resources discussed:
NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month)
Shelve Under: Writing (Season 02, Episode 02)
George: The content of this episode discusses a fictionalized depiction of sexual assault. This topic is sensitive in nature and may be difficult for some listeners.
Jason: Welcome to Shelve Under: Podcast. A Toronto Public Library podcast for readers, writers, and nobody else. That's right, today we're talking about writing and writers.
Wendy: So, Jason, you ran a writers' group at a library, didn't you?
Jason: That's right at one of my former branches I used to work at -- at College/Shaw branch and I ran a writers group there for a year, I think. Yeah.
Wendy: So what did you guys do? What sort of activities?
Jason: Yeah. So I always would start with what an exercise that I learned as in a writing college class that I took, which my professor would always have as do what he called writing like a pirate. So you just say off the top, here's a writing prompt, write for five minutes, don't stop. And then what I don't judge anything you write, right. Just write quickly. Just get it continuously flowing from your brain and see what you can come up with that way.
Wendy: Like a pirate?
Jason: Exactly. Like a pirate would write just like...
Jason: No consideration. Just jumping in there, stealing gold, etc. He, um, he taught us that and I really like that exercise. And I do come from a bit of an improv background, so I use that as well. So I would use this app called Can I Get A, which is just to get a improv suggestion from an app. It's just randomly generates a word, a person, a place, or a thing. So I would just say, what does everybody want today? Person, place, or thing? We would randomly get a word and we'd all right, including me, for five minutes just to see what we come up with.
Wendy: So like, can I get a Reuben sandwich or something like that.
Jason: For sure. Or you'd say place and say, okay, on the moon, or Jacksonville, or...
Wendy: In a submarine.
Jason: In a submarine. Exactly. So you'd write for that. We'd all read what we wrote at that point. Provide constructive feedback and then we'd move forward. My thing was always encouraging people. You don't need to sit down and agonize over everything because I know that's a tendency a lot of people have on their writing.
Wendy: Right. Yeah.
Jason: And then if they had brought anything from home that they had written, they would we would all read that. I would try and include myself in that as well so that I would be participating. So I'm putting myself on display as much as they were, so they felt more comfortable.
Wendy: So on the whole, what was your favourite part say?
Jason: My favourite part is when you actually got to like meet and connect with these people and just see how good the average person is at writing I think. I think that's really something that a lot of people don't believe in. They don't think that they can do it. So getting to see the same people over and over again and get to build a little bit of a relationship beyond the standard customer, you know, library work or that we get.
Wendy: So I was looking into it and it looks like we have a couple of dozen writers' groups across the city in different library branches.
Jason: Quite a few. Yeah. It's not really surprising considering our field I think. But I'm very happy to see as many as there was. I thought there would be some for sure. But I was surprised at the number of them, I gotta say.
Wendy: Yeah. Yeah. And it was it's interesting, there are different kinds like most of them are sort of like as you described, it sounds like people bring in their writing and they read it to each other and they discuss it. But there's one I noticed there's one poetry writers' group. I think that's at College/Shaw.
Jason: Yes, it is. Yeah. It's been running there for many, many years. So that would happen monthly and it has been happening monthly for as long as I know maybe 10, 15, 20 years even. Yeah.
Wendy: And then there's I noticed there's like a writers' club, a writers' group for youth. I think maybe at Downsview Branch. And then there's a a memoir writers group. There are all kinds of different types of science fiction when it Lillian Smith branch as well. And speaking of Sci-Fi, speaking of science fiction, we have an interview that you did with a friend of yours who went from not seeing herself as a writer at all to being a published science fiction writer to now being a full-time writer. Like that's what she does now, right. So can you tell me a bit about what, what that book's about?
Jason: It's about Grace. She has to time travel. It involves cloning souls, a worldwide plague, and a big decision that she has to make. Well, I don't want to say too much, because I want to give Raquel the chance to say it.
Wendy: It sounds intense. Okay. Let's hear from Raquel Rich, right.
Jason: Raquel Rich. And it's my pleasure to welcome Raquel Rich to the podcast.
Raquel: Thank you. Thanks for having me. I appreciate the invite.
Jason: Oh, you're very welcome. Can you tell us a little bit about your book? What kind of brought the idea to your mind? Where was your inspiration?
Raquel: It was actually at a museum in London, England, with my son. We were there on a vacation and there was an exhibit on fears and phobias. The two of us got talking about it and how my fear of balloons is kind of ridiculous and how his fear of spiders makes much more sense. And it just sort of got us talking about how those fears might have come about, about your past lives, and it sparked the idea. And an idea came up about my head. I couldn't get out of my head. And I just kind of wrote it down. And I was about 25,000 words in before I finally admitted that I was writing a book. It was purely by accident, if I'm being honest.
Jason: That's incredible. So it sounds like perhaps the main character might be based a little bit on yourself, or are there certain elements of the main character that you feel are based on yourself?
Raquel: She's actually not based on me at all. Certain things are, of course, because I've got to dig into different experiences that I've had in order to write, you know, things that she's going through. Every one of the characters I think in the story has a bit of me in them. Grace, to be honest, kind of annoys me, the main character. I don't know if I'd be friends with her in real life, but her best friend Kay and I, we'd be besties. She's her best friend is based loosely on my own best friend. And that's the only character that's actually based on anybody at all.
Jason: I see. But would you say that elements like, be wanting to protect your child or again, you said that the relationship between the best friends. So I guess not so much the direct character being based on you, but you're certainly drawing from certain elements of your own life, it sounds like, right?
Raquel: Yes, absolutely. Absolutely. She's got a son who she's trying to protect and to save. And I've got I've got a couple of kids myself, so I can definitely relate to that. And I dug real deep and pretended to put myself in her shoes writing those scenes. So, yes. Yeah, I would say that emotionally I hope there's a little bit of Grace in everybody and that's that's the idea behind her.
Jason: Now, Hamartia, it's kind of an unusual title and it kind of catches your attention right away because it's not a common worry that a lot of people use. So how did you come across that word, or why did you decide to name your book that?
Raquel: A hundred percent I've got to give credit to my sister. The story didn't have a title. And when I was writing it initially, it started off very perfectly and in a perfect world and Grace with a perfect family. And my sister said, Where's your hamartia? And I'm like, what's that? And she says, you know the character with the flaw. You can't have this perfect family. Nobody's gonna care about her. Nobody's gonna root for her. She's gotta be flawed. And then I thought, yeah, okay, sure. And then I just thought, you know, that's a cool title. Just the word, hamartia, seems pretty neat. So I stuck with it and I managed to weave, weave the word in there. And I kept it. And I like it.
Jason: I like it a lot, too. And I'm curious a little bit about your writing process between 0 words and the 25,000 words, kind of what is your method for writing?
Raquel: This particular book is a little bit different because I was working a full-time job, so I had a Monday to Friday, nine-to-five job. The first 25,000 words were probably written in a notebook between management meetings. And what's that app called? Evernote. I would jot down notes while I was out walking my dog or something would come to me and I would write it on a scrap piece of paper and a napkin. And then finally I realized, okay, I think this is an actual book. And then I typed it out on a computer and it was every day. So not every day pardon me, every weekend, I'd wake up and make myself a coffee. And in the summertime I would sit in the backyard. In the wintertime, I would sit inside and I would just write until I couldn't write anymore. Usually from about 8 in the morning till I would say noon or 1-ish. And I did that every single weekend until it was done. Now, my writing process has changed a bit because now I write full-time. I don't have a day job anymore. This is my job. So now I'm writing every single morning without exception is very rare for me not to spend a morning writing. And unless I'm travelling somewhere, unless I'm gallivanting around the planet somewhere, I'm I'm writing every morning and it's it's on my laptop. And I've got mood music. If I'm writing a crazy action scene, I've got usually movies, movie-themed like the Batman theme is pretty good. The Gladiator theme is super emotional.
Jason: Oh okay.
Raquel: So anything that evokes emotion for the scene that I'm I'm writing.
Jason: So that makes me curious now. So if you're writing something that's kind of the opposite of that or you're writing something a little bit more calmer, you have a specific kind of go-to music?
Raquel: Like there's a sci-fi on YouTube, a sci-fi...I can't think of the name of the this...the playlist, but there's like a sci-fi themed song that doesn't have, not song, but like instrumental. There's no words. I can't listen to words because they distract me. It's got to be.
Jason: Orchestral or something.
Raquel: Or another language that I don't understand. So there's a sci-fi one that'll bring me into the calmer moods. If I'm writing angry stuff, it's like rap music.
Raquel: Right. Things like that.
Jason: Does the words apply like, are you listening to mutely rap, or another language?
Raquel: The lyrics will apply, but usually if I'm listening to rap music, it's while I'm out walking the dog. So it's like, okay, I need to take a break from this. I'm not, you know, getting anywhere with what I'm doing. So I'm going to walk away literally with my dog and then I've got rap music and it inspires me to go back and write that fight scene. Now I'm ready to have them, you know, battle it out on the on the page.
Jason: So you kind of touched on the idea that you're writing every single day. Right. So you're not really waiting for that inspiration to strike you. So are you just finding you sit there and you're able to just continuously write? What do you do when you have kind of a blockage? What's your go-to?
Raquel: I wish. You know, I think I don't know if I've if it's a good thing that I'm writing every day or not. You know, when I wrote Hamartia, I was writing only on weekends. And the ideas would come to me at random moments during the week. And I would be frustrated that I couldn't write it down, you know, or sit at my computer and actually dedicate some time to write. But the ideas would then sort of mould and shift and turn into something better and then by the end of the week, it would be an easy write. Now I find myself, the idea will come to me and I'll write it and then the next day I'll hate that idea and have to rewrite it. So, yeah, I'm writing every day. But a lot of the times I'm rewriting what I wrote the day before, or changing and letting it mould as opposed to now simmer. Like it's not simmering all week. So I'm writing every day and then rewriting.
Jason: Is it because this is something that happens to me, which is kind of what you're explaining? If I do want to write anything and the ideas are just I have to keep a notebook or something on my person at all times as that kind of the same for you?
Raquel: Yeah. Bedside, there's a bedside notebook. There's the laptop is constantly open so that I don't have to wait to restart you. No, nothing like that. Nothing that takes time. I've always got my phone on me with my Evernote open. I take tons of notes. Sometimes I'll send my husband a message and he's like, what is this? I'm like, not for you.
Jason: So before you actively started writing, Hamartia, were you somebody who read a lot or were writing every now and again? Or is this really just the first big thing you've ever really written?
Raquel: It's the first thing I've written since I was a kid.
Raquel: So I used to write obsessively as a child all the time. I wrote tons of books or little stories, not really books. And then I stopped abruptly when I was twelve for silly reasons. And I didn't write anything. I stopped completely. And then the idea sparked and there was no going back. So this is the first thing that I have written as an adult.
Raquel: And I finished it. I'm quite proud of that accomplishment. I started and I finished it, saw it and I saw it through.
Jason: How how much do you work with an editor or before you even at the editing stage? How much do you like let other people read your work once you've kind of finished it. Like when you finished Hamartia. How many other people were kind of privy to it before it got into the wider world?
Raquel: Yeah, I rewrote Hamartia six times before I let anybody look at it.
Raquel: It was it went through four beta readers and between each beta reader, I waited six weeks to eight weeks before rewriting it again. So I rewrote it between each one of those beta readers and then I sent it to an editor and then it was beta read again and then sent back to that same editor, and then finalized.
Jason: Wow. So I think that's the part that a lot of people miss who may be new to writing, or have not finished a piece before. But editing is such a huge thing and with podcasts as well, if I could throw that in there. It's such a huge part of what you do, it's not one and done. It's always 3-4-5 drafts or revisions before you can release the finished product, right?
Raquel: Yes. And I think that was actually some of the best advice that I received from another author who said that what you need to do is you need to write it. And I know that you write in layers and you think it's really ready. And when you think it's ready, put that thing in a drawer for six weeks and then read it again.
Jason: Yeah, it's amazing. It's like looking at a photo of yourself even five years ago or something like, what was I thinking.
Raquel: Yeah. I thought that thing looked great on me.
Jason: It looked fantastic, but then, oh no it did not. Or I do not agree anymore, right. I want to mention this because I think it's a really cool detail. So you were the grand prize winner of Words Matter Publishing. They had a big writing contest, right?
Raquel: They did.
Jason: And you were the grand prize winner.
Raquel: I was.
Jason: What was that process like for you and why why did you submit? What made you decide to submit?
Raquel: Initially, I submitted because they were offering reviews to the first I don't member how many entrants I think it was 200 entrants or of the finalists or something. I don't remember the exact details. But anyways, I was after a review and not really in my head did I think I was gonna win. So I entered because I wanted a review. At the time I was querying agents, looking for somebody to pick up my novel, and I thought a review would give me some credibility, and perhaps, you know, I can put that on the query letter. And I forgot about the contest and I was busy querying away and then I received a message that I had won. So I wasn't even watching, you know, the Facebook page where they kept talking about the finalists and oh, now we're down to ten, top fifteen, top whatever. I wasn't paying attention to that, which probably is a good thing. So I found out at the last second that I won and there were over 200 entrants. And that's pretty exciting for me so I was very excited about that. And the prize was a publishing contract.
Jason: That's fantastic.
Raquel: That's how I got my foot in a door.
Jason: So are you part of any writers' groups or writing collectives or anything like that?
Raquel: I'm not part of any real life writers' groups. I'm part of actually some on Facebook. I do have some writers' groups on Facebook where I've made some connections. I've met some beta readers and we've done some switches and stuff like that. In person, I keep intending to be part of a writers' group and there's one that happens in Toronto, I think it's called So You Think You Can Write or Do You Want to Write? And it's every month. And I keep meaning to and I've only just found out about it in the last six months. So in my defence it's been snowing or ice storming every Monday that they've met. But I intend to go to the one at the end of this month. And going forward I will continue to try to get to it. Yeah.
Jason: Yeah. Wow. Okay. So have you ever written anything before this book like..this is something that's been in the background of your brain, you've been writing stories in your mind for a while. Or is this really like the first time you've ventured out like that?
Raquel: So, Jason, this is the first thing I've written as an adult. I stopped writing abruptly when I was twelve years old, I think I mentioned it briefly. And didn't write another thing until now as an adult. I went through a big hiatus because I was a stubborn twelve year old child. And the story of how that goes, if you're interested. So I used to write stories all the time as a kid. And when I was 12 years old, I wrote a story about a girl named Lisa who was raped and then killed herself at the end of the story. And my teachers, rightfully so, thought that it was a cry for help. And they did what any sensible adult would do and they called the police and social services and involved everybody. And for six months, my life was turned upside down. I was, you know, seen by multiple doctors, psychologists, and all sorts of people. And I got a little angry about it. At the end of the big ordeal, they they actually asked me, hey, you know, would you mind if we sent this in to get published? It's actually really well-written story and we think that you should be a writer. And I said, no, thank you. And they didn't quite use those words, but yeah, so I kind of stopped. And we know when I was an adult and I started writing Hamartia, I realized, okay, I'm writing a book and I went and dug up the story and it's the only story that I had held onto from my childhood, which, you know, should have been something screaming at me that the fact that I held onto that story all that time. And I re-read it and realized, wow, that's a really graphic, it's a great story, it's really well-written, but boy it's really graphic. And the teachers did what they should have done and they alerted, you know, thank you for looking out for me. Thank you Havenwood, or Glenhaven or whatever school you were, I forget your name. Glenhaven, Glenhaven. Thank you very much for looking out for me, because that was the right thing to do. And it was a really well-written story. And they should have done that. And if I were an adult in their shoes, I would have done the same thing. So I kind of forgave them. And I think that, you know, set me free to to write Hamartia.
Jason: Wow, that's quite the story. Amazing. Do you have any book recommendations that you might want to share with us? Or books that you recommend people read?
Raquel: There's so many books out there that's hard to...Okay, listen, I'm terrible with author names and stuff like that. And I read a ton of books from a whole bunch of different genres. I don't stick to the same genre, but I'm going to give a shout out to Jar of Hearts by Jennifer Hillier. She's also a local author and she lives near me, actually. And she...It's a psychological thriller. And I think it's her fourth or fifth book. And it's it's good. It's good. I don't want to say too much as I'm terrible, I don't wanna spoil anything. And also, Sylvain Neuvel. I don't know if you've heard of him, Sleeping Giants.
Raquel: It was his debut. And it was an excellent read. And it was also a starred review with Kirkus, if that gives it some credibility. And it was a really great read as well. And I think he's on his...I want to say he's on his fourth or fifth book, but that particular series, I believe there's three of them. I believe it's a trilogy and those are excellent. I really enjoyed those.
Jason: And I have to mention that your book was recently Kirkus reviewed as well, wasn't it?
Raquel: It was.
Jason: Good for you.
Raquel: Thank you.
Jason: Where can people find your book? Is there any way you can people can reach out to you, or contact you?
Raquel: I have a website, raquelrich.com. From there, there's a bunch of links where you can go and find my book. Amazon, Chapters carries it online. Where else? Any any independent bookstore that's your favourite. If you just go to them and ask them to order it in for you, they will. It is at a couple locations in Burlington at Different Drummer Books, it's also in Streetsville, at Book Wardrobe and you know, slowly but surely I intend to get it into more of the independent bookstores as well. And it's it's going to be at the chapter's location in Oakville because that's where I live. So, yeah.
Jason: Thank you for taking the time and speaking with me today.
Raquel: Thank you. Thanks for having me.
Jason: So a great interview.
Jason: I think it would be remiss if we didn't mention that her book is available at Toronto Public Library as well. She didn't say that, but I think she probably meant to.
Wendy: Yeah. Yeah, it is. It's true. It's there. But what a wild story, eh.
Jason: Totally amazing. Like you can see why that would certainly turn somebody off of writing for a while if you had been really just exploring your creativity and then people took it to be more than it is, which just kind of shows the power of writing too, I think.
Wendy: Yeah. Yeah. I mean, I can just imagine when you when you're that age and you know, if you're kind of a naive, you know, 12 year old, you wouldn't necessarily understand the gravity of what you were doing or you know what you were writing. And yeah to have that kind of reaction I can understand why it took her this long to get back to it.
Jason: And also, adults did exactly what you would want them to do.
Wendy: Yes. Nobody did anything wrong there, really. You know, it just just...Wow.
Jason: But when I got into have you always been writing? That's not the answer that I was expecting at all. And I don't think I would have heard that. Totally out of my expectation, but like, really compelling about what can make you stop writing. Like just you've pushed something too far without even meaning to.
Wendy: Yeah. And then the fact that she was able to get back into it again, I mean, that that impressed me that she was sort of so driven that it kind of wound up happening anyway. You know, good for her.
Jason: Definitely good for her.
Wendy: So her book was called Hamartia. What does that mean again?
Jason: Yeah, I'd never heard that term before myself. I looked it up because I was curious. So it refers to a protagonist's error or tragic flaw that leads to a chain of plot actions, culminating in a reversal from felicity to disaster.
Wendy: Ah, oay, that makes sense.
Jason: So it's basically saying, you know, this is something that the person is doing or the character and action that compels them to another action essentially, right.
Wendy: Right. But like a flaw, like a tragic flaw,.
Jason: A tragic flaw that...
Wendy: Like an Achilles heel.
Jason: Yeah. That pushes you forward. It's almost like a hero's journey type of thing.
Wendy: Like Hamlet's doubt...yeah, yeah, yeah. Alright. One other thing that struck me about it was she was talking about how she listens to music while she's writing. So I wanted to know, do you listen to music while you're writing Jason?
Jason: Well, my initial response was going to be, no, I don't. Because I find it hard to concentrate on what I'm doing. But on reflection, I guess what I would say is as long as it's something that's very tonal and smooth playing and it's instrumental, then I find it enhances what I'm doing, but I can't have any lyrics at all or it just throws me off and I just stop and listen to the music instead of doing what I'm doing.
Wendy: Yeah, yeah, yeah. I have um pretty much the same. So my job involves a little bit of writing and I work in an office with a lot of people who talk all the time. So I do listen to music while I write a lot, but it's the same thing. It has to be instrumental or sometimes I'll get stuck on one song and listen to it over and over again like 40 times so that I'm not actually taking in any of the words anymore.
Jason: But it's totally a thing of like even when I was in school, right. If I'm reading a subject where I'm good at, like a history or an English, totally, I can have background sound happening and playing 'cause I don't need the same level of concentration. But I remember taking an astronomy class and I can't have any noise at all like anything will distract me. So I totally had to have complete silence or I wouldn't work at all.
Wendy: Yeah. Yeah.
Jason: It's the same thing with writing because I'm trying to get to a certain feeling or something and I can't do that if I'm being distracted by other stuff. I need total like I'm definitely in a cloister writer.
Wendy: And you know, speaking of quiet places to write this, this brings us to a discussion of some library services that we have for writers. So there is actually there are a couple of writers' rooms in the city.
Jason: Which is this amazing thing. So you kind of apply to use one of these writing rooms. There's one at Toronto Reference Library and one at the Locke branch. And they're both application processes and it's basically an office space where you can go and work on a creative project. And we provide you a free space for a temporary amount of time, finite amount of time that you can go and work on stuff, essentially. So it's like having an office that we are loaning to you for a while so that you can work on your creative endeavour.
Wendy: Yeah. And you just have to go in and apply for it. You can let them know that you're working on a project. I don't think you have to be a published writer to qualify. I think you just have to have a project that you're working on.
Jason: You just have to have a project you're working on. There's an application form and we will definitely link to that at the end of this episode on our webpage.
Wendy: That's right.
Jason: Some other things we wanted to talk about just because gets us into the mode of talking about writing stuff. There's also the Asquith Press. That's a place where you can actually get a book that you've created, printed. So you have a few different options. You can, but you can basically tell them the dimensions and stuff and they will create a run order for you. So you pay the initial costs and then every copy after that is a certain amount of money. And the books I've seen, they turn out really nicely.
Wendy: They're pretty nice, they're like paperbacks, they look like real books.
Jason: They're definitely real books. Yeah. It's a really cool service that we offer as well, so that's something you can do. Again, we'll link to that on the end of our webpage.
Wendy: Yeah. And another thing for self-published writers, so self-pub...self e-publishing. is a really big thing now. Apparently, some some really large percentage of books sold on Amazon are self-published e-books. We've got a service that lets people borrow self-published e-books through the Library. It's called BiblioBoard. And you can find that by searching for BiblioBoard on our website. And it'll take you through to a collection of books that are self-published that you can read for free. And if you, yourself are a writer, and would like to make your books available that way, you can also submit them on this, at the same location.
Jason: This is become a big thing with some writers who are saying, well, I'd rather self-publish, get whatever profits I get directly than work through a publisher and not know if I have an audience or not and not get anywhere near the same share of what I would earn. So BibioBoard is another service to just provide you access to people's writing. Some people are just like, I want to write because I want to get my stuff out there. I don't care about making money. Yeah, I'm sure everybody would like to make money don't get me wrong.
Wendy: And I want people to be able to find my stuff at the library, like I want to have my book in the library.
Wendy: So this is what you can do that. And the other thing, of course, that we have our books to help you, right? Yeah. So, Jason, do you have any writing books that you recommend?
Jason: Right. I do. I have a couple of them. One is not quite a writing book about writing, so I'll start with that. This is by Lynda Barry, who is a famous cartoonist and a teacher and professor actually. She teaches about how to create comics. And her book is simply called Making Comics. It came out in November of this, of last year. Well, 2019. And it's just the process of how you can start to make comics. And she takes you through the beginning process. Which is barrier free, essentially, 'cause she's like anyone can do this. It's just about following along with these steps. This is the process, kind of the foolproof method of making comics and how you can create different things that way. Which I thought was really cool and I've been playing around with it. It's a lot of fun because I'm a total novice, I don't how to draw at all. And I'm learning that it doesn't matter necessarily.
Wendy: Oh, that's good.
Jason: Yeah. .
Wendy: I have another book of hers from several years ago. I think it's called is What It Is.
Jason: What it is, yeah.
Wendy: And that's a book about the creative process and how you can think about your own past as a way of sort of sparking ideas for stories and that kind of thing. I found it a really sort of entertaining and fun and very helpful.
Jason: And if you know Lynda Barry at all, like she does draw on her past for her work a lot. And it really makes some of my favourite comics I think of all time.
Wendy: Yeah. Yeah. They're really they're really affecting that really. Sometimes they're really kind of deep.
Jason: They're really deep that can be very dark. She's gone through some stuff in her life. But it makes it all the more compelling and interesting. And the other book I have is The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron, which is a book about, again, not specific to writing, but about creating. So it's a book that gives you different tools and things you can use to become a better creative person to kind of instill that in you as you go through the day. One of the exercises that I'm very tied to, which is one of the very early ones, is called the morning pages, which is just like first thing you do when you get up, just write, write for two or three pages, I think she says. And just don't judge it. Just write stream of consciousness, whatever comes into your brain until you've written those pages and then whatever you happen to write, even if you just write. I don't know what I'm going to write for five pages. Do that and just get into the habit of forcing yourself to do it. And slowly you'll find, I found it's amazing just the stuff that will pour out of you. You'll get ideas for stuff, you'll talk about your day, you'll journal a little bit, but eventually you'll push through and get this stuff. And her idea is that this kind of clears the clutter out of your brain. It gets you able to write because you've cleared your brain of just whatever was going on in there. So you can actually start fresh after you've done that.
Wendy: That sounds like a useful process.
Jason: Totally useful. Great book. Please check it out. Both of these are, of course, available at the library as well.
Jason: Do you have any book recommendations, Wendy?
Wendy: Actually, I do. So I took a writing class a few months ago and we actually had a book that we used to sort of like a source book called Writing Alone and with Others by Pat Schneider. Pat is a proponent of what's called the Amherst method, which is a way of doing writers' groups where you you write something and you read it to the group and nobody judges it. They just repeat back what they remember from what you wrote. So this is very, very like a low barrier to entry, low pressure, nice way of sharing your writing if you are, say, scared to do that. So I found it really useful and it's a helpful book and we also have that one at the library.
Jason: That's amazing. And that's great because sometimes people get trapped or they want to only positively support as I talked about before, I when you try to run a group, you want to make it positive so people come back. But sometimes that positivity is also a problem because people are too positive, they can't express negativity at all. So the person comes leaves thinking that what they created was completely great.
Wendy: Yes. Or just not really understanding how what they wrote hit other people, you know?
Wendy: This way it kinda gives you, it does give you some feedback. You have some idea of how people are responding because you see what parts they remembered and you feel, you feel heard. You know, like you feel like...
Jason: You feel like heard--
Wendy: They've understood you.
Jason: --You see what people took away from what you wrote.
Wendy: Yeah. Yeah. So it's actually it's really helpful.
Jason: Last thing I want to mention, which is for those aspiring writers out there, I challenge everybody to try this is NaNoWriMo, which is National Novel Writing Month. This occurs every November. It's something you can sign up through through the website. Totally, the NaNoWriMo website that is. You can sign up for free. It's just a challenge that you sign up for and you write 50,000 words over the course of November.
Wendy: So gruelling.
Jason: So gruelling. But you know what? I tried it a couple of times. Completely failed. Got to about 20,000, hit the brick wall and couldn't do anymore. And then one year I did finish it. I got through 50,000 words.
Wendy: Wow, congratuations.
Jason: Thank you. It seems like something you can't finish. But then as you learn, it's always about culling back. So by the time I got to 50,000, I was nowhere near done what I was writing. But I suddenly been like, wow, I can't believe I got this far that quickly. And you start to say, well, it's going to be a process. It's going to be a 100,000 words or whatever it is to get through this. And then you're going to slowly be culling and editing and chopping down, right.
Wendy: But it sounds like a really good way to get yourself sort of kickstarted if you're stuck.
Jason: Again yeah. It's the same kind of thing as the morning papers, where you're just doing this process. And it's like, you don't have time to judge because it works out to be like 1800 words a day or something you have to write just to get to that goal. And so you're like well I don't have enough time to be like I'm precious about my words and choosing very carefully and I'm bashing out every sentence as I go along, you know.
Wendy: Right just getting it down there.
Jason: Just like I have to get this many words down, or it's not going to be done. And then as always happened before I've managed to do it, you just fall behind and then it's just it's over. You're never going to catch up. You're not going to write 10,000 words in a day. Well, I'm not. Maybe some can.
Wendy: Yeah. Yeah. Well, now I'm feeling like I should I should probably go off and write something.
Jason: Right, we should do that.
Wendy: Alright. Well, thank you, Jason.
Jason: Thanks Wendy.
George: Jason Behzadian tried to write a limerick as his wedding vows. Wendy Banks also works for the library and once listened to "Perfect Day" by Lou Reed forty times in a row while writing a blog post. Raquel Rich is the author of Hamartia, and has an irrational fear of balloons. Visit raquelrich.com to learn more about her journey as a new writer. Music by Highs. Shelve Under: Podcast is a Toronto Public Library production. It is produced by Wendy Banks, Jason Behzadian, Ted Belke, Michael Warner, and Christina Wong, with production assistance by George Panayotou.