Where do you write?

I used to imagine that writing involved cafés, dappled meadows, and heavy mahogany desks set under the window in book-walled studies. The writer locks herself away from the world, surrounding herself in oddities and curios that help ease her mind into new worlds and new paths of thought.

Perfect, I thought. Once my first mega-ultimate-bestseller is sold, I’ll find a place just like I imagined: a big stone house full of stuff, with a nice backyard and a café down the street. I’ll never be at a loss for places to work.

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My imagination tells me a lot of things.

Not surprisingly, several years went by and these plans never quite made it to fruition. One of the most striking examples of this is that the only time I can devote to the craft is tucked into the nooks and crannies that exist around other activities. And I know I’m not alone in this. I’m sure I’ve just described one of the most common conflicts that writers face (other than conflicts in their plots).

Marisa and I got together to discuss how, where, and when we find the time to write.

At home

Marisa: In bed with my cat. I kid you not. Near the end of the holidays, I woke up one morning, plunked my laptop on the bed and started typing. I didn’t want to leave the coziness of the blankets, plus my darling cat was lying down with her paw stretched out towards me. If that’s not inspiration, I don’t know what is.

Leona: Me too, though not so much because of coziness and cats. My internet connection is strongest in a corner of the bedroom, so I build a little nest and settle in, listening to oodles of atmospheric music. There are also no windows, which means that fifty percent of the time I sit in a dim, lonely place, cut off from the real world and free to play in the world inside my head. The only problem with working at home is the wealth of distractions. Cat, spouse, housework, television, games…If I’m working on a tough scene, there are plenty of ways to avoid it!

At the day job

Marisa: Don’t underestimate the power of your lunch break. Writing in the middle of the day can really invigorate you and get you excited between long work hours. More than that, I use the opportunity because evenings and weekends can get busy and I don’t want to go too long without working on my book.

Leona: Compared to Marisa, I’m a terrible employee. When I work retail I restrict my writing to break times, jotting things down on my phone. But when I was corporate I would basically take any opportunity where I didn’t have any pressing tasks and no one was looking over my shoulder…

In transit

Marisa: No one knows better than writers how the imagination can help you travel somewhere far and exciting. I once edited my novel on my phone while crammed onto a shuttle bus between subway stations (there was a power outage). I had one hand on the pole for balance and the other scrolling through the text I’d written just before leaving the house. I find that if I write something and re-read it at least an hour later, it’s almost like I’m reading it for the first time, and it gives me a truly fantastic opportunity to see what works and what doesn’t – even on the bus.

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Leona: I love writing on trains! Crushed in with other people, afraid of making eye contact, and listening to music. The mental walls come up and form a “quiet” internal space more effectively than any physical walls. Sometimes I get my best raw work done typing away on a Blackberry and praying that no one sits close enough to read what I’m writing.

In a group

Marisa: I’m still waiting for Team Tweak to get together for a writing session (kidding, guys!). I can just imagine how writerly it would feel to type away in a café with food at one’s side, knowing that your fellow writers are tapping away just as productively on their keyboards.

Leona: This is a good way to stay on task. It’s not as easy to waste time when you’re surrounded by people who know what you should be doing. Also, if you get stuck on a word or idea, they are a convenient sounding board. We’ll get together soon, I hope!

Out and about

Marisa: When I was little, I got a lot of inspiration from the creek near my house. I even wrote half a novel that took place in that lush, natural neighbourhood. I absolutely love nature and the idea of scribbling away in a notebook under the sun. I actually got a lot of my writing done while on vacation during my childhood! The only downside is having to type everything up on the computer later…Different environments always offer fresh perspectives.

Leona: Sometimes you just have to get out of the house and away from the pressures and distractions. My favourite café is a ten-minute walk, they play jazz music, they have $1 refills on coffee, and they know who I am and what I’m going to order before I even make it to the counter.

How about you? Where do you write?

Industry Q & A: Chantel Guertin, Author

Chantel taught me the basics of writing for magazines in Centennial College’s post-grad publishing program. She’s smart, savvy and sophisticated – and what better way to describe a woman who is editor-at-large at The Kit, a beauty expert on The Marilyn Denis Show, teaches publishing and writes novels? She’s also become my publishing mentor and a good friend.

That’s why I couldn’t be happier to say we’re giving away 2 copies of Chantel’s latest book, The Rule of Thirds, which came out this fall and was published by ECW Press. Following Pippa Greene’s adventures in high school, The Rule of Thirds blends the difficulty of losing a loved one with the fun of bonding with your best friend along with must-have elements of romance. To enter for a chance to win, comment below before December 27, 2013 and tell us: what is your favourite genre of book to read?

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Name: Chantel Guertin
Genres: Chicklit, YA
Astrological sign: Pisces (this is very important!)

Q:  When do you get most of your writing done?

A: When I’m not online shopping or checking my emails.

Q:  What has the querying process been like for you?

A: I queried to get an agent for my first novel, Stuck in Downward Dog. Then my publisher bought my second book, Love Struck, on a partial manuscript. When I made the switch to YA, I sent the book out to a few editors, and my publisher, ECW Press, bought The Rule of Thirds in a two-book deal, asking if I’d consider making it the first in a series. The hardest part is definitely getting rejections. Even worse? Those form rejections where they didn’t even look at your book.

Q:  Do you do writing exercises before launching into your book?

A: No. I just write.

Q:  Who or what inspired you to become a writer?

A: I always knew I wanted to be a writer. Except for a brief spell where I thought I’d grow up to be a cashier, based on my love of the Fisher-Price cashier I had set up in my bedroom when I was 8.

Q:  How much time do you spend planning your story as compared to writing it?

A: It’s probably about equal! I tend to do my best planning while on a run.

Q:  When do you feel like your manuscript is submission ready?

A: When I get the first copies in the mail and know that making changes is no longer possible.

Q: Where do you do your best work?

A: Ideally, holed up in cabin in the woods with no internet or phones. It’s too cold to go outside, so I can do nothing but sit by the fire, drink wine, and write. When I can’t get that, I’ll settle for my bed, laptop on lap, headphones in.

Q: What is your favourite colour?

A: Easy. Blue. Just ask my fiancé. I just finished picking out 17 different shades of blue (that I was certain were very, very different) to repaint our new house, and every single room looks exactly the same.

Read Chantel’s blog or follow her on Twitter @chantelguertin.

Want to win a copy of Chantel’s latest book, The Rule of Thirds? To enter for a chance to win, comment below before December 20, 2013 and tell us: what is your favourite genre of book to read?

Industry Q & A: Erin Hagget, Assistant Editor in Publishing

Name: Erin Hagget
Company: Scholastic Canada Ltd.
Position: Assistant Editor in Publishing
Genre: Early Reader to Young Adult
Astrological Sign: Curious minds need to know

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Reading! Yay!

Scholastic is one of those publishing companies that most Canadians grow up with; children flip through book orders looking for what may become their new favourite book and then grow up with fond memories of Clifford and The Magic School Bus. Any author would dream of having their books make their way into schools.

Erin is one of my closest friends from the Book and Magazine Publishing certificate program at Centennial College; since then, we’ve worked together on the online pet magazine Petpourri.ca and meet up once in a while to attend industry events, such as book launches and Book Camp TO.

Team Tweak TO connected with Erin Haggett, assistant editor in publishing at Scholastic Canada Ltd., to ask for her insight into finding jobs in the publishing industry.

Q: What is your relationship with the book you work on and the writer of that book? We’d love a brief description of what you do and how it pertains to the author.
A: I’m an assistant editor, so I tend to work on a variety of projects. I usually work on books in the later stage of the publishing process, particularly the proofreading, ebook development, and reprints stages. Because I come in so late in the process, I rarely have any direct contact with authors.

Q: How can an author help in this process?
A: I can’t speak to specifics because authors aren’t usually directly involved in the type of work I’m currently doing, but being open, accessible, and enthusiastic is always great! As is meeting deadlines 🙂

Q: How did you end up in this field?
A: I graduated with a BA in Media, Information, and Technoculture from the University of Western Ontario before completing the Book and Magazine Publishing program through Centennial College.

Q: Do you have advice for others who want to get into your field?
A: Read everything you can, don’t be too intimidated by the tough job market, and talk to others in the field—nearly everyone you meet will be willing to give advice and/or assistance.

Q: What is your favourite aspect of your work?
A: I work in children’s publishing, so I love the variety of books I get to work on—they can be anything from picture books to YA novels. I also love that I have a part in encouraging kids to become lifelong readers!

Q: How do you start your day?/What do you like to drink while working?/What do you listen to while working?/Where do you do your best work?/What is your favourite colour?
A: I generally start my day by catching up on email, then jumping right in to my project(s). I’m not a coffee drinker, but I love tea, so I usually have a couple cups a day. I don’t usually listen to music or anything else while I work. I prefer a quiet environment, without a lot of distractions, particularly if I’m proofreading. I don’t have one favourite colour, but I tend to gravitate towards cool colours: purples, blues, and greens are my go-to palette.

When will I have time to write?

On Thanksgiving weekend I was all excited to start my day afresh, to spend all day writing and editing my book, when I realized that my homework has a deadline, but my book…does not.

That’s something many writers can relate to, the big question of, “When will I have time to write?” When, between the deadlines that seem as tangible as the keyboard beneath your fingers, will you have time to write? You need to hand your work in to your boss on time. You need to submit your assignment to your teacher on time. Your friends or your kids or your loved ones expect you to be somewhere at a certain time, and you want to be there. But you also want, and need, to write. Why? Because you’re a writer.

So when will you write?

Just do it. Nike had it right. Just do it. Just sit down and do it. Even for 5 minutes – and you’ll feel the difference! Once you’re writing again, you’ll light up inside and suddenly you won’t be asking, “When will I have time to write?” Instead, you’ll be writing.

And when a deadline is looming or you feel too busy, let this be your inspiration:

“Don’t say you don’t have enough time. You have exactly the same number of hours per day that were given to Helen Keller, Pasteur, Michaelangelo, Mother Teresa, Leonardo da Vinci, Thomas Jefferson, and Albert Einstein.” – H. Jackson Brown Jr.

Team Tweak’s Tips: Hanging Loose With Modifiers

Dangling Modifiers

“Josie saw the rain clouds walking down the street.”

“One morning I shot an elephant in my pajamas. How he got into my pajamas I’ll never know.” – Groucho Marx

Hopefully reading the quotes up above made you smile, giggle or even roll off your seat, doubled over with laughter. If you find yourself rather puzzled as to why, then keep reading (but keep reading anyway, everyone!).

The quotations posted above are examples of dangling, or misplaced, modifiers. What is this newfangled notion?

As you probably already know or can tell, “modifier” is a term that refers to words or phrases that describe something or add information to something. Modifiers can be adjectives, adverbs, phrases or clauses. A dangling modifier is one that has been placed incorrectly in a sentence, so that it can’t connect to the object it’s supposed to be describing.

So Groucho Marx’s “One morning I shot an elephant in my pajamas” could technically mean that Groucho shot an elephant who was wearing Groucho’s pajamas. Most of us read this sentence and think, “Well duh, he means that he was wearing his pajamas when he shot the elephant.” The meaning may be obvious here but that’s not always the case; plus, when you’re submitting a manuscript, you want your grammar to follow the usual rules, right?

Here are some more examples of dangling modifiers:

“Covered in a delicious layer of frosting, he wasn’t surprised when he found out his best cupcakes had won the competition.”
(OK, that’s weird, the guy who baked the award-winning cupcakes is covered in frosting!)

“Small, round and ugly, Nancy thought the baby was anything but cute.”
(If Nancy’s so unappealing, then why is she so ready to judge a baby based on its appearance?)

Usually, it helps to place the modifier next to the object it’s describing. As others have said, “Modifiers are like teenagers: they fall in love with whatever they’re next to.”

So: “He wasn’t surprised when he found out his best cupcakes, which were covered in a delicious layer of frosting, had won the competition.”

Keep a close eye out for dangling modifiers; your brain will be quick to correct the meaning of one so you might not even notice it. But an editor will! Plus, dangling modifiers are just so much fun to read and find.

The Team Arrives

The three salad-eaters glanced up from their spacious table and Leona ducked behind her laptop. Their jaws churned as their gazes drifted over Leona’s hiding spot. They looked at each other worriedly, then returned to their conversation.

“Fascinating,” Leona muttered, making a note.

“Ladies,” murmured their leader, head lifting and nostrils flaring. “I think we should leave.”

The group stood on stiff legs, alert for danger. Around them, a café full of people cramped into single-person tables watched hungrily.

Leona crouched, heart thudding. With each shift of the group away from their chairs, her senses heightened, until she could see the lead herbivore’s pupils contract.

“Go,” he hissed.

Leona pounced. The herbivores scattered, whinnying in fear. Six other hunters leapt forward, but too late. Leona slammed her coffee mug onto the table and growled at the others.

They scrutinized the highly caffeinated ball of crazy and thought better of challenging her. With a few parting grunts and snarls, they slunk back to their one-person tables.

Leona’s hair fluffed proudly. She marked her new territory with a drop of coffee, then strutted off to collect her laptop and bag, thrilled to continue providing for her writing group as Team Tweak’s Table Hunter.

~*~

Marisa pulled the SUV into the parking lot, heading straight for the back, away from the other cars. She attempted a reverse park, surprising herself when she got it perfect on her first try. Feeling like she’d already accomplished something, she hurried into Team Tweak’s favourite café and instantly spotted Leona.

“Leona!”

Leona, always the first to any meeting, looked up from her laptop with a smile.

Marisa squeezed between tables, holding her laptop and water bottle high so as not to make any enemies, and slid into the seat across from Leona. “What time did you get here?”

Leona bit her lip. “Um…”

“Uh oh. You were really early, weren’t you?”

Leona shrugged. “5:30.” It was 6:45.

“That’s so early!” Marisa straightened and scanned the immediate area, taking in the full tables of chatting teenagers and couples. “I feel like something just happened here. Something major.”

Leona clutched her coffee cup. “Nothing happened… I just grabbed us a table, that’s all.”

Marisa gave her a puzzled look, then nodded. “Alright. Now, what should I eat?” She took a sip from her water bottle. “I planned on trying the new autumn squash soup with my favourite Mediterranean sandwich, but this girl was talking about the mac and cheese on Twitter so I’m kind of craving that now…”

~*~

Gina pulled into the parking lot and rushed to snatch the only available parking spot in front of the café. Scored once again, she thought.

She breezed into the café, ogling the bakery goods on her way to the table where Leona and Marisa sat, their gazes fixed on their laptop screens.

“Hello!” Gina squeezed into a chair between them. “Who are we starting with?” she asked, hurrying to set up her laptop so that she could catch up to her speedy buddies.

Leona spun her computer around to display their new website. “Okay, Team Tweak. How about we start here?”