Allison Temple Blog

Awkward and Thoroughly Kissable
Posts tagged Toronto
Writing with Kindness

book-2115176_1920.jpg If you can't handle criticism, get out of the pool.

If you don't have the fundamentals of grammar, there is no hope for you as a writer.

How many of you have heard something like that in your writers groups?

You'll never get better if we don't tell you what you've done wrong.

There's always that one guy (and I'm sorry, but it is often a guy) in your MFA who thinks he knows exactly what your work needs, even though his manuscript about a sentient and altruistic centipede in a dystopian hellscape is just as unfinished as yours.

True story, I am days away from my 37th birthday. I published my first novel this year, and I just turned my third novel into my agent. I have not taken any kind of writing or English class from an accredited educational institution since I was in high school.

I wanted to tell you that you are writing for someone other than yourself...

That was the last English teacher I had. He wrote that late in our second term, on a journaling project that wasn't supposed to be about grades or content, but just about the act of writing. No one had ever told me they looked forward to my writing before but, 20 years later, I still remember exactly how he worded that note.

Writing grows with kindness.

Someday, when you're ready (and you'll know when you are), there will be lots of time for people to take your work apart and tell you why this character's arc doesn't make sense, and why your passive verbs are dragging the whole thing down. If you get to the point where you're ready to publish, a professional editor will gladly help, and will make your work better in the process.

But if you're not ready for that right now, seek out places where kind people will help you grow. The places where you can admit when you're struggling, or where you can say you're pretty sure the thing you just wrote is shit, and the people around the table (virtual or in person) won't agree with you. They might even point out the things they loved.

Kindness will help you find your voice.

I have always been a writer, but I haven't always written. Sometimes life gets in the way. For a while, I tried to be a Serious Scientist™. For a while I contented myself with writing government manuals and environmental reports. But, when the call to write stories got too loud, I found kind places to start over from. I found Firefly Creative Writing in Toronto (whose awesome feedback manifesto inspired this post). I found groups online with kindred souls who focused on what was working, and not on my propensity to forget that questions marks exist in my first drafts.

All manuscripts can be fixed in revisions. Drafts can be torn apart and stitched back together into something stronger and better. But patching up the tender writing heart broken too early by harsh criticism is a much more difficult task.

If you're just starting out, find the kind place to write. The places that will let you dabble and play. The places that talk about voice and heart, not structure and archetypes. Build the confidence you need. Take your time. And if you never leave that kind place, well, doesn't that sound like a cozy place to stay as a writer?

Bearing Witness

rawpixel-570890-unsplash I went to a wedding this weekend.

Bride's side or groom's?

None of the above. The only person I knew was the minister, but I was the guest of honour.

It happened like this:

Friday night, said minister, who I've known for a few years, put out a call on Facebook.

I have a very small wedding tomorrow. So small that we need one more person as a witness. Let me know if you’re free at 3pm tomorrow.

And I thought, why not? The church is home to my theatre company and we had a rehearsal on Saturday at 4, so I'd be in the building anyway. And I'd just had my nails done on Friday afternoon (to celebrate sending the Cold Pressed draft to beta readers!), so I wouldn't even embarrass my mother's sensibilities by showing up to a stranger's wedding with the chipped Tiffany blue that had been there the other day.

And really, if I were getting married and for whatever reason my wedding party was so small as to be non-existent, I would want some kind soul to volunteer promptly to be my witness so that I had one less thing to worry about on my last night of unmarried bliss.

Also, because a wedding that doesn't come with all the stress of gifts and travel, and finding the perfect dress and then trying to lose five more pounds so it fits perfectly, has to be the best kind of wedding ever.

So there I was, at 3 pm, in a polka dot dress I bought last year and my grandmother's necklace with the amber beads because, even if I didn't know these people, they deserved the respect of me not showing up in my stage management uniform of jeans and jersey. And there they were, bride and groom. He wore a slim fitting navy suit with a red tie. She wore an ivory dress with a high-low lace hem. Her ivory high heels were a half size too big, but that happens sometimes. She had a big bouquet of cream coloured roses. No matter how small this wedding was, they wanted it to be special.

I shook their hands and congratulated them. They shook my hand and thanked me so much for coming, like an honoured guest.

I guess I was. If I hadn't been there, they'd have been short a witness and the marriage wouldn't have happened.

We all giggled—bride, groom, minister, photographer, me—when our assembled throng was asked if there were any objections. The good thing about having a tiny wedding is there is less baggage in the crowd.

I got a bit misty eyed, as I watched strangers promise their lives to each other. Turns out this romance novelist is a romantic. Who knew?

They signed their names. I signed mine. I am part of their story now, even just a tiny piece. A crucial one though. The guest of honour.

If a couple stands together, and says their vows, if they promise to love, cherish and obey, but no one is there to see it, are they really married?

Conversations with the Reading Public

giphy Things I get asked a lot:

"But why are they gay?"

Why wouldn't they be?

"Do you think they'll make it into a movie?"

Think? Not in a million years. Hope? Maybe in a million years.

"Is it like The Notebook?"

That was a new one for me. It's been fourteen (14!!!!!) years since Ryan Gosling and Rachel McAdams made Canadians proud and melted our hearts. In the ensuing decade and a half, its place in those same organs has faded, to the point where I had to think about that question for a minute.

Here's what happened. I've even written it out in handy scripted format so that when Hollywood comes to make my biopic, it's all set!

Setting: Allison, a romance writer on the eve of her first book's publication, goes to the bank. A young man in a suit is working the customer service desk.

Young man: Can I help you?

Allison: Yes. I need to talk to someone about some changes my accounts.

Young man: One moment. I'll find someone to help you.

Allison has a seat in a generic leather chair. Pause. A moment later, a nearly identical (but not the same) young man appears from one of the offices. He is young, probably 23, and wears the Canadian banker's Friday uniform: khakis, shirt and tie, wooly sweater.

Young man #2: Can I help you?

Allison: Yes, I need to make some changes to my accounts.

The young man #2 and Allison go to his office. She describes what he wants. He opens his computer and clicks through a number of screens.

Young man #2: What's your occupation?

Allison: I write romance novels.

Young man #2: (pause) Like 50 Shades of Grey?

Allison: Not like 50 Shades of Grey

More clicking on the keyboard.

Young man #2: Like The Notebook?

Allison: (pause) A bit like The Notebook.

Young man #2: What's your book about?

Allison: It's about people falling in love in a small town.

Young man #2: The Notebook is in a small town! In North Carolina! Have you read The Notebook? I've read all of Nicholas Spark's books!

(end scene)

Never, in my entire life, did I expect this young man wax enthusiastic over Nicholas Sparks and his oeuvre (true story: I'm a sucker for all those movies. A Walk to Remember is my catnip in every way). He'd even gotten his girlfriend to read a few! The obvious moral of this story is never judge a reader by his wooly sweater.

Also, the bonus content to this scene is almost as adorable as the original exchange.

Young man #2: (pushing a pad of post-it notes towards Allison) Can you write down the name of your book for me? I'll look it up online when I get home!

Allison: (writing down the information) That's really nice of you. I should mention that my characters are gay; I know that's not what everyone wants to read about.

Young man #2: That's amazing! My sister is gay! I'll buy her a copy!

(fin)

You guys. I might have found my dream banker.

Parth, if you're reading this, you made my morning.

If you, like my new banker, have not ordered your copy of The Pick Up, you can do that here.

Late Nights in Bookstores

I'm having a book hangover. Unfortunately the source is said hangover is my own book. You guys, I'm plotting out The Set Up, and while I'm excited for all the sexy juice bar goodness (and you should be too), I really miss the guys from The Hang Up and the cozy world of their bookstore. And then the Facebook gods bestowed this little gem on me, and you should all watch it right now!

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SKVcQnyEIT8?rel=0]

I saw this video five years ago, and it's just as magical today. This bookstore is even in Toronto! I might go check it out and pretend Seb is lurking just behind the next shelf!

What's the last book that gave you a hangover?

 

Shut Up and Write (10 Days to 20k, Day 1)

rawpixel-com-203888 About six years ago, I heard about this thing called NaNoWriMo. Apparently you wrote a 50k novel in a month? I'd dabbled in story writing as a teenager, and always felt like I had a novel in me, but had never managed to get past one messily scrawled notebook.

I decided to give it a shot. I think I googled something like "how to write a novel". Somewhere I read the famous recommendation--"Bum in Chair, Hands on Keyboard". That sounded like good advice to me. I even called the filename to my NaNo story BICHOK, which felt clever acronym and also a good way to remind myself the only way to write that many words was to show up and do it.

I wrote 50k that year. It was nowhere near a novel, was out of sequence, and generally not very good. I also lost that file shortly after in a hard drive crash.  I mourned for a while. Someday I'll rewrite it.

The thing I learned through that exercise though was that the only way the words happen is if you write them, and if you don't let yourself get distracted by going back and editing what you've already written, as an excuse for not moving forward. I know this is a controversial idea, and lots of people are successful at drafting and editing simultaneously, but I am not. Get the words out, quit whining, make them better later, that's my approach.

I christened my first day of this 20k challenge by doing exactly that. I went to my first ever Shut Up and Write. It's what it sounds like. It's a writers group only in that there are a bunch of writers in a room all writing together. No one shares. No one critiques. You don't have to talk at all if you don't want to. You just sit down, shut up, and write.

The Toronto Shut Up and Write group is on Facebook. If you're somewhere else looking for a group, try Google. The one here functions on the Pomodoro method, which I hadn't seen before. There's a timer that runs for 25 minutes, with a 5 minute break between most intervals, and a periodic 20 minute break for stretching, food, feeding the parking meter etc.

While it sounds like a pasta dish, I thought it was super effective. Twenty-five minutes doesn't feel insurmountable, and the five minute breaks are just enough to take a pause without losing your train of thought. You can find Pomodoro timers online that already have the intervals organized for you, so all you have to do is set it up and let it run. I do word sprints with online partners sometimes, but I'm always keeping half an eye on the clock while I do it, and it slows me down. A Pomodoro app means all I have to do is sit down, shut up, and write. Add eat some eggs benny, because Toronto's SUAW meets at the Glad Day Bookshop, which has an in-house kitchen and all-day brunch on the weekend, and there's no reason to leave.

Result? Over 3000 words in a little under four hours! I had visions of hitting some gigantic total that would springboard me to success in the first half of my week but, alas, I can only write about 1000 words an hour. My little fingers just don't go faster than that. So I'm going to have to put the time in every day if I want to hit that goal. 20k still 100% achievable, and I've built in a little wiggle room now, in case I've got a few days where I actually want to, you know, go out and see people while I'm off work.

10 Days to 20k Summary Day: 1 Words Written Today: 3,676 Total Words Written: 3,676 Words Left: 16, 324 Percent Complete: 18%