Reader’s and Writer’s Block

I haven’t been able to read for a while.

I keep picking up books, but my mind drifts away and before I know it, I’ve flipped through two pages and I have no idea what I’ve read. At first I thought that maybe I just hadn’t found a good book in a while, but that’s definitely not the case. I have a plethora of wonderful books just waiting to be loved. But I haven’t been able to get through more than a few pages of each before becoming disinterested. I thought that maybe I just needed a break from reading, that I was more interested in other aspects of my life. This is rare, but it has happened before.

Then I noticed that the same thing was happening when I was sitting down to write. I would eventually get something out, but it was like I had to mine the words out of my brain with a pickax. I thought, maybe I just don’t want to be a writer anymore, but the voice in my head screamed at me for such a betrayal. So no, that wasn’t it. Writing makes me happy. Why couldn’t I get the words to come out? I realized that they didn’t want to come out because I couldn’t focus. So I thought about how I’ve been spending my days lately, and I did some research.

As The Guardian says, “we live in an always on world.” Everything is a click, a tap, or a swipe away. I like this because it’s so true. We are always connected to a phone, or a tablet, or a laptop. It’s actually expected that everyone bring their own device to all of our classes, even though we don’t have a tech class or devices listed as a requirement. If you don’t bring any tech, there’s a laptop cart available. There’s no excuse. Everyone must be plugged in.

And I mean, utilizing technology to teach is fine, but I feel like in this program, we’ve reached the point where nothing is taught without it anymore. Which is too bad. Some of the best classes I had at Mount Royal University were just a professor sitting on a desk chatting with us.

In a wonderfully titled article, “Social Media and the Death of the Attention Span,” David Burnham writes,

“Twitter allows only 140 characters, making the user cut down anything they’re saying. Vines only allow six seconds of video content. Snapchat only allows 0-10 seconds of temporary imagery. With a double tap on Instagram, everyone will know who liked whose photos online. These applications have made for easily-accessible online platforms, but it has also encouraged a detrimental change — a terrible attention span.”

So not only are we always plugged in, but our attention spans are being conditioned to last for the length of a Snap or Vine.

There is currently a global rise in ADHD. Psych Central says “a child with ADHD is four times as likely to have had a relative who was also diagnosed with attention deficit disorder.” This means that ADHD is genetic. But if we look at the way our world works–everyone being plugged in and paying attention to one thing for the length of a finger tap–it’s no wonder the diagnoses is on the rise in first world countries. We are being trained to unfocus.

I’m not an expert on this topic, and I personally do not have ADHD, but I feel like (especially lately) I have trouble focusing for longer than a few minutes–this is not something I struggled with when I was younger. I used to sit in my room and read or work on my novels for hours before I had a cellphone, Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat accounts. I used to close my eyes and just listen to music, doing nothing else. Now I’m interrupted every few minutes by the vibration of a device or the need to see if anyone liked my latest post.  I feel like I have been trained away from my natural propensity to sit down and work on something for a long amount of time. And that’s how novels get read and written.

But why am I feeling like this now? I’ve been plugged in since I was a teenager.

I feel like I’ve gotten out of the habit. This program in school isn’t challenging for me; I very rarely have to pay full attention or apply myself. So instead, I spend all day looking at my tablet, or switching to my phone to check Snapchat, Facebook, or to play a Candy Crush ripoff called Gummy Drop.Then I go home and do homework on my computer or watch Netflix. I’m staring at screens all fucking day.

And I’ve really noticed my need for instant gratification when I run out of lives in Gummy Drop. Rather than putting my phone down and doing something else for an hour for my lives to refill, I spend the fake money I’ve earned in the game which always ends up screwing me over. All I had to do is wait. I could go for a walk, or actually pay attention to class. But I can’t help it. I always spend the coins.

And I think that this need for instant gratification has trickled over and harmed my ability to write and read for long periods of time. Novels are long. They take a long time to reach the point of catharsis, and even longer if you’re trying to write one. I can’t spend any fake coins to get to the good part.

So I’m going to try and rewire my brain.

I’m not going to post anything on Facebook or Instagram (therefore I will not feel the need to check for likes) and I’m not going to allow myself to play Gummy Drop after 8 pm.

I’m going to read, write, and try to create new habits in the free time I’ll create by doing this. This might be hard with the way my classes work, but I’m going to try my best. And hopefully, I’ll notice a change.

That’s my advice to any aspiring writers as well.

Unplug to unblock.


Writing Exercise

On Chinooks, Alberta, and an exercise to cure writer’s block.

It’s actually nice outside.

There’s a wind, but there’s always wind here. But there’s sunlight too. I’ve missed the sun so much. We’ve been in a deep freeze for the last two weeks and without a car, I’ve been confined to my little basement suite looking mournfully out at the sunless sky above. I went for a few walks outside and even a run during the deep freeze, but when I came back inside I felt like my skin had been pierced through my double layers by shards of ice.

Apparently there’s few other places in the world that get Chinooks like we do here, which is strange because it just seems so normal. According to Global News, a Chinook is when, “moist air drives up against mountain ranges. Once it rains or snows, the air is ’emptied’ of that moisture, and is then a drier air mass. The dry air then moves downhill on the lee side of the mountain range.” That creates a warm wind that melts our snow and a line of cloud that looks like this:

Global News

The picture above is a very typical view in Southern Alberta. It’s very flat here, but you can usually see the mountains out to the west bragging about their tumultuous plains, trying to make me jealous. It works.

And no, Chinooks have nothing to do with Global Warming. *squints at Leonardo DiCaprio*

I can’t wait to get out there.

But in the meantime, I’m here to share some examples of the writing exercise I wrote about in a previous blog. It’s the exercise where you put a song on and don’t let your pen stop until the song is over. If my pen works faster than my brain, I repeatedly write the last word until my brain can catch up. You’ll see that in my first example; these are unedited and exactly like they are in my notebook.

Saturday, Jan 14 2016

Hallelujah – Michael M. Moore 3:20

She gazed out at the water. The sound of blaring car horns echoed across it, skittering across its smooth surface like a skipped stone. She couldn’t remember how she’d found this haven, this small pond in amidst the new and the steel and the crunch of of of tires on glass and trash. It was green here. And old. The trees clambered up, reaching towards the sky to scrape a puff of silk from the bottoms of the clouds.

Le Trouble – White Knuckles 2:43

She approached the tall door, a sense of impending dread clenching the inside of her from her womb. Her empty womb. She suddenly felt like laughing. Or Screeching. Maybe both. She wanted them to escape from her body and shake her into a million little pieces, falling to shards of herself on the doorstep. Shards that bitch inside would cut herself on.

Even though the grammar isn’t perfect and the writings are over all quite messy, look at what I’ve pulled out of my brain. There’s a setting and someone’s perspective of it in the first one, and there’s a glimpse of a character and tension that could easily lend itself to the plot of a story in the second.There’s also some wonderful metaphors.

All because I forced myself to write and not stop.

If you want to be a writer, do this. Do this all the time. Get a notebook and dedicate it solely to your timed writings, and if the song stops, but your brain wants to keep going, then keep going. Just write. It is without a doubt the best way to annihilate writer’s block.


On optimism and working for nothing as a transcriber.

I’ve always wanted a work from home job because A. I could work in my jam jams all day and B. I don’t really like people all that much, and the less I have to interact with them, the better (said the future teacher *Sobs*). It would also be awesome to be able to pick up my life, and wander off somewhere and be able to take my work with me.

However, most of the work from home opportunities I’ve come across have seemed too scammy for my liking. In fact, my research showed that the best stay at home job is running a successful blog, but I’m just not there with this blog. In fact, I may never be because the principles of Search Engine Operations are like Klingon to me.

Those of you who have been following my blog for a while are aware of my struggles with finding relevant work after graduating with an English degree, and well, any work at all. I couldn’t even get a job in retail after 10 years of experience. The economy is really horrible up here in Alberta. So I’m back in school to be an English teacher instead, and right now, I’m on Christmas break.

Yesterday, I finally got a “job” (I’ll explain why I put the word in quotations later) doing something that’s relevant to my skills and I can do it from home. I bet you’ve guessed what it is from the title of this post. That’s right blogosphere, I got a transcription job at Scribie!

Scribie is a transcription website that pays from $0.50-$0.90 per every six minutes transcribed (all audio files are all broken down to six minute increments). You choose the files you want to transcribe and when you want to do it (as long as the file is completed within two hours of you selecting it). When you submit your transcription, it is then reviewed and assigned a grade out of five for accuracy. As someone who gets a high off of good grades, I really like this system.

Considering that I have a week off before school starts again with no job, no car (RIP Kia), my boyfriend out of town, it being too cold to play Pokemon–yes, I’m that one person who’s still playing–this was an awesome time to get started.

I did my research before applying and accepting a job with them too: it is not a scam! However, it’s biggest accusers call it a bit scam-like because of the low wages, and I thought, you know what? It’s still money and it’s something I’d like to get experience in.

Now that I’ve been doing it for a couple of days, I’m understanding that their complaints weren’t hyperbolic.

At first I thought that $0.50 per 6 minutes wasn’t too bad, but then I realized that it’s $0.50 per completed 6 minutes. To complete a transcription, I listen to every file twice to double check my work, so that’s 12 minutes of work, and I can type about 80 wpm, but that’s still not enough to not have to pause the recording to affirm what was said every now and then (I’m brand new at this!). So in total, it takes me about 20-30 minutes to complete $0.50 of work.

I’ve been doing it for two days, and I’ve only accumulated $3.60 USD. Yeah, ouch.

However, Scribie is completely honest about their low wages, and I was well informed going into this. On their page it says that for an average transcriber spending 8 hours each day, 6 days per week, could only earn about $200-$300 per month. 

But you know what? I think it shows integrity that they’re honest about it, and for someone like me with zero experience, it’s a really good place to learn the ins and outs of transcription. Plus I get to get paid for writing something. That’s important.

And no, I’m not writing this because Scribie paid me to or whatever. Like I said, I don’t really get that making money off of blogging thing. This is just my opinion, and it might change after another day.

But as it stands, I have a week off to learn a new skill in my own time when I choose, and make a bit of small change. I’m totally okay with that. I’m thinking I might put away all of the money I make from Scribie into some kind of small gift for myself.

For transcribing virgins like myself, I’d definitely recommend checking out Scribie and getting some experience and a little bit of cash if you have some extra time on your hands.


Delusions of Power

On cognitive behaviour therapy and creating rational writing goals.

My car accident really put into perspective the fact that I have a problem with control (see My Lucky Day to read about how I almost died on Friday). I never recognized it before because I thought of someone with control issues as a high strung busy body who needs to be the boss of everyone. That’s definitely not me.

My problem manifests itself differently: I beat the crap out of myself mentally for things that aren’t in my control. Especially if they are things that don’t work out. This in turn, often results in horrible depression and low self esteem.

Proof of my control delusion was posted right here on my blog under the heading, “The Write Goals” pictured below. I can now see that these goals are not “write” at all, but very wrong indeed. Oh the irony.

wrong-goalsSince sliding out into oncoming traffic and realizing that whatever would happen to me and my car was completely out of my hands, I’ve been working really hard on my mental health. This has included Cognitive Behavior Training which is essentially recognizing irrational thoughts and correcting them. A lot of my irrational thoughts revolve around things that aren’t in my control.

A few of the goals listed in the picture above are rational goals (ie things in my control), like attending a writer’s conference, starting a creative writing club (someday I will actually do this), and even publishing Joe, my novel, but only if I take the self publishing route.

However, the majority of the items on this list are things out of my control, like getting an agent, going to a writer’s conference as a guest speaker, writing a best seller, and getting 1000 followers on Word Press. Even getting my novel published if I were to take the traditional route is not in my control. Every single one of those things sounds awesome, but the problem is that for them to happen, it’s in the hands of other people. It’s the agent’s choice whether to take me on as a client. It’s the writer’s conference who chooses their guests. It’s the the world that decides what becomes a best seller. It’s the people of Word Press who choose which blogs they want to follow or not follow. It’s the editor’s choice to either accept or reject my manuscript. Of course there are things I can do to direct my life towards those dreams, but the reality is that if they happen or not really wouldn’t be up to me. They’re not rational goals; they’re evidence of my delusions of power over things I’m not the boss of. Maybe I am a bossy pants after all.

Recognizing that has really been a huge breakthrough and to set myself up for success, I’ve crafted new Rational Writing Goals:

  • Create a system to organize queries and short fiction submissions
  • Query 100 agents about my manuscript
  • Submit my short story “What Counts” to 50 literary magazines
  • Have my serial killer story peer reviewed and polished
  • Submit the polished version of the serial killer story to 25 literary magazines, especially looking into ones with a mystery focus
  • Write my story about the convenience store
  • Write a new story specifically for the magazines that haven’t published me, but have asked to see more of my work
  • Write 24 blog posts (that’s two per month)
  • Research self publishing
  • Read 30 books in 2017 and continue to catalogue books finished in the 50 book pledge

Unless some sort of catastrophe happens (catastrophic thinking is also another form of irrational thinking!) and wipes out all technology like a belated Y2K bug, these are goals that are in my control. These goals (aside from the 50 book pledge) don’t have a time bomb attached to them, like they need to be completed in 2017 or I am a failure. Life happens. Car accidents, medical problems, and depression happens. Sometimes it can’t be avoided. That’s also why I’ve only pledged to read 30 books instead of 50 for the one goal that does have a time stamp. If I do more than that: awesome. But if I meet my goal, I’ve completed what I’ve set out to do. I’m setting myself up for success.

I am so proud of myself.

My Lucky Day

On almost dying and getting rescued by Scrooge.

I don’t know if there is some sort of latent adrenaline that can kick in almost three hours after a stressful incident, but if there is, that’s what I’m currently experiencing. I suppose I have always been rather slow to process things emotionally. Perhaps that really is what’s happening to me right now. Or perhaps it’s this second glass of wine.

But I hope not. I hope that what I’m feeling is beyond this external stimulus and is simply, well, me.

I feel supercharged. Everything I’ve ever wasted my time stressing over–how my family perceives me, getting lost, picking up the phone, unfamiliar men, my depression–all of that seems so trivial. And I want it to stay trivial. Small. Far away. That’s why I’m writing this right now because if this feeling goes away, I want to be able to come back to this and read it.

I left for my boyfriend’s place at about 2:20 pm today. At about 2:30, I lost control of my car.

The roads were slick, and snow was steadily falling, but it wasn’t blustery angry snow, pounding against my windshield. These were big fat flakes that lazily drifted from the sky and turned into beads of water as soon as they touched my warm windshield. I got onto the highway and maybe I was driving a little too fast. Maybe the road was a little too icy. Maybe my music was too loud or maybe I should have been paying closer attention. It doesn’t matter because the end result was the same: I lost control.

I felt my car slip and I pumped my breaks as I knew to do, but this was the first time in my life that I did this and my car didn’t jitterbug slightly from side to side before snapping into line like an obedient dog. Instead when I pumped the breaks, the back of my car swung out wildly. I could see the cars just a bit ahead of me and behind, my companions on the road. Even though I couldn’t see their faces, I could feel their anxiety as they watched me skittering around, likely worrying that I’d slide into them.

I turned my steering wheel to try and correct my car’s overcompensation, but the car just skidded along, so I pumped the breaks again. It swung wildly again in the opposite direction. I was approaching a curve in the road, a low concrete median separating myself from the veichles headed in the opposite direction at 100 km an hour. I pressed my foot down again and again, but still I got no traction.

There was a horrible thud and I was jostled around in my seat as my car hit the median like it was nothing more than the sloped curve of a sidewalk. My car may have slowed down when it hit it, but it didn’t feel like it to me. I was too distracted by the three lanes, a vehicle in each one, of oncoming traffic that my car was spinning out into.

Frantic, I hit my breaks repeatedly as hard as I could, yanking the steering wheel to try and garner even a fraction of control. But everytime I pumped, my car swung more violently, and I became disoriented, distracted by the lights and metal hurtling towards me. I no longer knew which way was the right way to try and pull the steering wheel, the safest way to escape unharmed. Even if I did, it wouldn’t have mattered. If I slowed down and suddenly gained control of my car, it would be too late to avoid getting hit by the oncoming traffic. All I could do was feel my car spin and stare at the approaching headlights. In that moment I thought of two things: the circle of control and suicide.

The circle of control is a tool that therapists use (mine included) to help their patients accept that the things they can control exist in a very miniscule sphere, while the things they can’t control exist in a sphere that takes up the whole page. We often exist in the giant circle of things out of out control. And in that moment,  I finally understood the circle of control. My car and the cars of the people hurtling towards me were all out of my control. Even if magically achieved command of my car, I couldn’t stop the others from hurtling right towards me. Whatever happened was going to happen.

This was when I thought of suicide. My descent into the opposite lane of traffic hadn’t been intentional by any means. But I have previously struggled with suicidal ideation. In fact, the whole reason I went to therapy (where I discovered the circle of control!) in the first place was because I didn’t want to die. I just couldn’t stop thinking about it. However, in this moment, the voice in my head said, Well, you were thinking about dieing anyway, weren’t you? And somehow, this comforted me.

I wasn’t terrified anymore. As I said, whatever happened was going to happen.

My car whipped around one last time, skidding to the side of the road, untouched by the other vehicles. It finally stopped and was facing the same direction as the lane of traffic that was whizzing by next to me.

I reacted quickly, worried that someone else may lose control of their own vehicle and slam into my now roadside and stagnant car. I backed my car off the road, down a little snowy slope that it could easily escape from. Shaking and hardly breathing, I got out to inspect the damage.

At first glance, it looked okay and I could have laughed. To have gone through that and my car not even have a scratch… I couldn’t fathom it.

However, after kicking some of the snow away from my front right tire, I saw that it was flat. This was still such a small price to pay when I’d been prepared to die only seconds before.

Before I could call AMA, a sturdy but greyhaired man in a white truck pulled off the highway a little bit ahead of my car and hopped out. The kindness of people like this baffle and overwhelm me to no extent.

Still in shock and with leaking eyes (I am a tough woman and do NOT cry), I told the man the situation.

He told me that AMA would take hours to arrive, and he could change my tire for me. I think I thanked him at least fifty times. He deserved a million more.

While the man toiled away on my little gold car, I stood beside him uselessly with my cotton grey dress billowing around my knees in a whirlwind of snow. I offered to help countless times, but he waved me away, and I knew I’d be completely useless anyway. I know. I was a stereotype in a dress.

It wasn’t until later, well, now actually when this supercharged feeling struck me.

A little while ago, before all this happened, I was dreaming about travelling. As always, I bemoaned the fact that I have no one to travel with, no one to protect me from strange men or from my complete lack of sense of direction. But for a moment, I allowed myself to dream of what it could be like if I weren’t scared of so many things.

I thought, what if I did just leave on my own? If I got into serious trouble, trouble I couldn’t rely on myself to fix because I was incapaciatated, strangers would help me, right? My friend Shay met her boyfriend because she was too drunk to function in a night club in South Korea. He helped her get back to his place and took care of her. He was a complete stranger to her. And they’ve been together ever since.

But had that ever been my luck? No.

If it were me in that situation, I thought, that story would have a much more sinister ending.

I remembered hearing a story about a girl who travelled to a place I don’t remember where to help one another is a social taboo. This girl had an allergy attack on a bus and collapsed. No one helped her. These thoughts filled my mind, and stifled my dreams. No, I simply wasn’t cappable of going alone. This is what I had resolved until today when I almost died.

There I was, roadside with a flat tire in a storm with not just one kind man helping me in a snowstorm, but three. 

The next man who arrived was also a bit older, and also in a white truck. He told me as he was cranking the jack up underneath my car that he was playing Scrooge in A Christmas Carol later that night. The third man who pulled up (also in a white truck…seeing a trend yet?) was younger. He saw my car a little ways off the road and had thought I was stuck in the ditch. He had a towing rope he was prepared to offer, but instead ended up helping with my battery (after the men got the spare on, my car wouldn’t start because the hurtle over the median had jarred my car so much that something had come loose from the positive end of the battery).

He fixed this, and I finally made it home alive and so endlessly grateful for my life and to these three strangers who had taken time out of their own lives and had stood in the cold to help some liberal hippy girl who had often scoffed at truck drivers.

I am once again a stereotype as after almost getting crushed by oncoming traffic, I feel inspired. Supercharged, as I said earlier. I feel like now I can be a little less afraid of other people. Of men. Today, three strange men helped me get home. They didn’t have to. But they did. And they weren’t the leering wolves that haunt me. These men were nothing but kind.

After the arrival of the second man, the two men were discussing the issue with one another, and I stood in the cold thinking dark thoughts about myself. Before I could plunge into an inner soliloquy of self pity, Scrooge (obviously not really a Scrooge at all) asked if I had just gotten a flat tire and pulled over to the side of the highway. When I told him that I had actually been travelling in the opposite direction, he exclaimed, “My god, is it ever your lucky day!”

And he was so right.

His comment put a stopper on the pessimistic and self loathing thoughts that were about to flood my mind.

I am so lucky.

Maybe now, I can actually live my dream. Actually travel, and not live in constant fear.

As Blanche Dubois says, I’ve  always depended on the kindness of strangers.

The Write Kind of Literacies

On literacy as a writer and future teacher.

My understanding of the term “literacy” was first challenged when I was in my fourth year of university studying Middle English literature. We were specifically focusing on middle English women and the question: were they literate? Very few of these women could read or write and the ability to do so was the definition of “literacy,” wasn’t it? Because of this, previous scholarship argued that, no, these women weren’t literate, and prior to taking this class, I hadn’t questioned the narrowness of this definition of literacy. However, even though these middle english women were by definition “illiterate,” the notes made in the margins of centuries old tomes provided my professor with an interesting discovery: even though most of these women were unable to actually read or write, the ones who could would often read out loud to groups of women as they did chores together. These women would listen, interpret, question, understand and interact with literature, yet the scholarship up to this point deemed them illiterate.

According to Balanoff and Chambers, a similar incident occurred with aboriginal people when a literacy mandate was established in the North West Territories. They write about the aboriginal peoples, “They can recognize and interpret symbols, decode, understand, imagine, create and pass on knowledge” (18, 2005); however, they too were be deemed illiterate by the old definition of the term.

The problem then, is not that these groups of people are illiterate, but that the prior definition of literacy didn’t account for a “multiplicity of literacies” (Balanoff & Chambers, 2005, 18). As a writer and avid devourer of books, my preferred type of literacy is fairly obvious. However, as a soon-to-be teacher and as a fiction writer who wants to be able to write compelling characters unlike myself, I too need to expand my understanding of literacy. I have often come across a protagonist in a novel who is a book worm, and I mean, why not? It’s an easy creative choice because the writer themselves are likely avid readers, and anticipate that their audience will easily empathize with this passion. But what about those kids who struggle with reading like ELL students, or those who have different kinds of literacies like the Middle English women and the First Nation Metis and Inuit cultures mentioned above?

I’ll admit it, the protagonist of my fiction manuscript is also a book lover; however, in her past life she was an undiagnosed dyslexic. I did this with the hopes that the reader who doesn’t excel at the “typical” kind of literacy could see themselves in her struggle. I feel like this awareness should be applied to education as well.

In one of my classes, we watched a video about two classes of kids who instead of being given a life writing assignment where they were only allowed to write their own stories, they were instead given cameras. The students were then filmed explaining how they chose what to take their pictures of. One little girl that stood out the most to me explained that she took a picture of a flower because her grandmother was a gardener, and after she passed away the girl wanted to continue on her legacy by gardening. Ouch. My feels. With this assignment, the students proved an understanding of visual representation while speaking and listening to each other (these are three of the six strands of literacy in the Alberta English Language arts curriculum) and also created meaningful connections amongst each other. This wouldn’t have been possible without the expansion of the definition of literacy, and it makes me think of how I want to integrate multiple literacies into my classroom when I’m all growed up and graduated from the education program. It also makes me think of my friends.

Being from Alberta, I have an interesting mix of friends. Half of them are arts/humanities majors in university, and the others are in the trades. I’ve never heard my university friends utter the words, “Well, I’m dumb,” or “I’m just stupid.”

I hear those words from my trades friends on a regular basis.

But my trades friends aren’t stupid. I think they’ve just internalized this idea of their supposed lesser intelligence because when they were in school, their literacies didn’t fit into the old definition literacy (ie reading and writing). My trades friends might not read physical books, but they listen to audio books on Audible, read graphic novels, can build things with their hands, know far more about technology than I ever will, and they love to watch and debate about movies. They have literacy skills; they were just never told about them. When I’m a teacher, my goal is to shift away from this old paradigm of thinking about literacy, so that students who aren’t strong writers or readers aren’t made to feel inferior like my friends have been. Rather than have my students simply think, “I’m just stupid,” I want them to think, “My strength is in speaking/listening/visual representation/viewing.” I want to eliminate this idea of stupidity derived from an outdated definition, and I want to give the students the opportunity to show those strengths.

In any subject I end up teaching (because let’s face it, I may not end up teaching high school English right off the bat *sobs*), this should be established. Maybe in a social class instead of writing an essay about a historical event, the students could choose to make a video or verbally explain a visual representation created by them. In a math class, those who are technologically literate, but struggle with writing could maybe work on a computer. If I ever get a high school English class (knock on wood), I want to incorporate graphic novels (we encountered a few of them in class and they were SO cool) and audiobooks to help with Shakespeare readings.

Of course this doesn’t mean that I’ll completely step away from reading and writing as literacy. I mean, I’m still Kat, reader and writer extrordinaire. As for writing, Tompkins, Bright and Winsor have created a list of the steps of the writing process that can aid students as well as any kind of writer to produce great results, even for those who are less creative (a great summary of it can be found HERE). Without knowing it, I’ve already been encouraging the prewriting activities and drafting in the steps in a previous blog post. #genius

As for the reading component of literacy, I intend to include quality literature in every class I teach (because, duh, books). I want to use picture books, dual language books, great novels, short stories, novellas, and poetry in all genres. A new personal goal of mine is to further familiarize myself with YA fiction opposed to my usual classics, so when I have a student who is interested in a topic, I will always have a good book to direct them to. If you’re interested in checking out any of the books I’ve been reading, I have lists here, here, and some thoughts about why literature is the best here.

In summary, literacy is no longer a static and simple word. It is a broad term that spans across cultures and incorporates a number of different kind of skills and allows for the success of those who don’t fall under the traditional understanding of it like ELL students, people from different cultures, FNMI people, and Albertan trades guys. As a future teacher, I want to even the playing field for the students who do not excel in the traditional sense of literacy, use the steps of the writing process, and include quality literature everywhere I can in any class I teach. Because books, books, books and I want the world to love literature as I do.

I will leave you with this quote from Neil Gaiman about my favourite novel in the whole wide world (I have the last line of the book tattooed on my ribs):

“My cousin Helen, who is in her 90s now, was in the Warsaw ghetto during World War II. She and a bunch of the girls in the ghetto had to do sewing each day. And if you were found with a book, it was an automatic death penalty. She had gotten hold of a copy of ‘Gone With the Wind’, and she would take three or four hours out of her sleeping time each night to read. And then, during the hour or so when they were sewing the next day, she would tell them all the story. These girls were risking certain death for a story. And when she told me that story herself, it actually made what I do feel more important. Because giving people stories is not a luxury. It’s actually one of the things that you live and die for.”

The Write way to Write the Passing of Time

On being wrong and taking good writing advice.

This is it, my surrender to doing something that as a writer I always promised myself I wouldn’t do. It involves the passing of time.

A critique the beta reader of my manuscript gave me was, “I had a hard time telling when time passed.”

At the time, I didn’t quite understand what she meant, and she didn’t go into any further detail by pointing out an example of when I had been vague. It was clear to me when one scene ended and another began. I didn’t want to discount the critique, but because I couldn’t see the problem, I didn’t know how to fix it. So I filed the comment away in the back of my mind for a time when I had found a solution.

The solution presented itself to me when I had a short story critiqued by the Alexandra Writer’s Society writer in residence, Lee Kvern, a couple of weeks ago. She gave me the exact same critique. I had given her story about an old man and the story shifted periodically between the present and his past life. I thought the difference between the two times was obvious. Apparently not, and as before, I didn’t know how to fix it. I wanted to rip my hair out.

With her critique, Lee had the solution for my problem, and it came in the form of a little star that appears when you hit shift 8 three times in the center of the page, asterisks.


She told me this was “a simple problem with an easy fix.”

Star. Star. Star.

My initial response was to balk and throw this advice as far away as I could. This advice suggested I break one of my cardinal rules of writing:

I do not use asterisks.

When reading a novel or a short story, I almost always found that those little stars caused a terrible jarring effect that ripped me out of the world the author had tried so hard to build. I didn’t want to do that to my readers and when Lee suggested it, I instantly rejected the thought. Not that I told her this, of course. I was grateful to have a successful talented writer taking the time to give me suggestions; I wasn’t going to disagree with her. That would be blasphemy.

Anyway, we went through the rest of the critique and the next day I went to town on my story, applying all of her suggestions to improve it. Well, all of her suggestions, except one of course. There were to be no asterisks in my story, no ma’am.

But when I’d finished with the rest of her suggestions, I was still stuck with a problem: if I wasn’t going to use an asterisk, how was I going to solve the ambiguity of the passage of time?

This is where my stubbornness was undercut by that terrible thing known as logic. The truth is, using those three little stars is better than the alternative:


I may have thought that the use of asterisks pulled readers out of the story, but I realized that it was better to be pulled a little out of the story than it was to be confused about what was happening. If the readers think they’re in the eighties and they miss a transition sentence and they’re suddenly in the nineties without knowing how they got there, that would be far more jarring than those three asterisks. If things aren’t clear enough, the reader could give up on the book entirely. I don’t want that.

So, despite my balking and prejudice against the asterisk, I admitted defeat. Lee was right. Asterisks are the way to go, and it is a simple fix. Shift 8, shift 8, shift 8, center. Boom. No more confusion.

I now bow down the asterisk gods and thank them for their mighty powers of clarity.

Side note: if you ever happen to get a chance to have a writer in residence look at your work, do it, do it, do it. You will never get a better critique of your writing.