A Font Fixation

Did you know different fonts can have different effects on readers?

As a writer, I’m well aware that most agents and editors prefer manuscripts be submitted in 12 pt. Times New Roman (a few years ago it was 12 pt. Courier), presumably because that’s easiest on the eyes when reading for hours at a time.

My kindle’s text is set to display in Bookerly for no other reason than it sounded like a good bookish choice. The other options don’t inspire my confidence. Like Baskerville, for instance. That might be ideal for reading the horror genre, but for me it conjures up the wrong images for memoir or sweet romance. Then again, I shouldn’t mock it as I’ve recently learned the font was named for its creator, John Baskerville, who designed it in 1794. “Baskerville is categorized as a transitional typeface in-between classical typefaces and the high contrast modern faces.” Hmmm … okay. I guess it doesn’t have anything to do with hounds.

Elsewhere, I read, “For anyone who uses a word processor … a favourite font can be an identity marker as salient as an outfit or a hairstyle. It can communicate formality or a more laid-back mood. Beyond that, it can illustrate the nuances of the user’s personality.”

I wish I didn’t know that! Now I will be examining every communication I send out, wondering what the recipient might learn about me, not from the contents of my document, but from the font I used. Eep!

Working on the church’s website, or on worship videos, font choices take on a different kind of importance, needing to convey words of comfort, quickly readable music lyrics or invitations that appeal to various age groups. Fortunately, I can breathe easy while blogging, knowing that my font choices here are predetermined by WordPress. That’s pretty much true across all the social media platforms.

One thing I’ve learned through experience is the usefulness of using a different font when proofreading draft manuscripts. I can read through a chapter repeatedly, only to keep discovering new errors. If I ‘select all’ and assign a different font to that chapter before reading it again, my overworked brain gains a fresh vantage point and is more alert to typos and uninspiring text. I don’t think my brain cares which new font I choose for the task as long as it doesn’t resemble the original. Now that I know my choice says something about me, I may be more picky about which one I use — though not many people are likely to have access to one of my unproofed drafts. And, of course, before sending it out on submission, I will be sure to double-check that I’ve returned all the text to that stodgy preferred Times New Roman.

~

There! Consider yourself enlightened on all my font-ish thoughts. Do you have a preferred font to use in your writing? Does it change, depending on what kind of writing you’re doing?

A Writer’s Vulnerability and Discouragement

How often do you unmask? Bare your soul in public? (This is me as an introverted writer asking.)

If you happen to follow the writings of Steven Pressfield you will know that he and his community are currently responding to a writer from Finland. “Katie”, at 4 a.m. after staring at the ceiling for some time, wrote him a raw message expressing her discouragement and saying that writing is a bad idea. “Failing is really hard, particularly when you are too tired to get up anymore.” She concluded with, “I hope I am the only loser. I really do. I want everybody to succeed. Maybe I am just a sad exception.”

No, Katie, you are not an exception! At least not as a discouraged writer. Perhaps an exception in your honesty.

Writers spew out words onto the page all the time, but they are most often words belonging to their fictional characters. We rarely “bleed onto the page” from within our own hearts. Admitting our uncertainties is too painful.

But at 4 a.m. Katie had hit rock bottom. In facing the reality that she could not make a living from her writing and at 60 she was too old to find another job, she concluded she was a failure. When Steven asked permission to reprint her letter he had no idea the number of people who would respond. In his next post he admitted, “Sometimes when I’m writing these posts, I wonder if I’m crazy to keep doing them. Some posts will get three Comments, or four, or six. I find myself asking, Is anybody out there? Is any of this doing any good?” Nearly one hundred fifty responses provided his answer.

So, what am I taking away from the discussion?

The writing community is awesome.
Discouragement is universal.
We’re more resilient than we realize.
We haven’t failed unless we’ve quit.
We can always start again tomorrow.
Success means different things to different people.
Age is a relative thing and I’m not the only “old” woman
still writing.

We’ve often heard that writing is a solitary activity. It is indeed. Some writers get together occasionally for a shared time of putting words on the page, but the majority of our creative time is spent squirrelled away in our office or some quiet corner in a library or coffee shop, oblivious to the presence of others. We focus on writing our stories. We don’t compare notes about our feelings of success or failure.

Katie from Finland did us all a favour in sharing her pain-filled yet very brave message. In doing so, she also reminded us it’s okay to reach out to others for encouragement. Knowing how many successful authors admit to the same need is in itself empowering.

We don’t have to make a living with our words. We just have to find joy and satisfaction in getting them out. Publication of them isn’t always something within our control. If it’s something we hope for, doing so should be seen as a bonus. Not doing so shouldn’t be seen as failure, but as motivation to find alternative ways of making our writing feel purposeful.

~

Where do you look for encouragement when writing begins to seem pointless?

~ ~ ~

 

 

Speaking, Writing and Freedom of Speech

Have you heard of Don Cherry? His name is well known in Canadian hockey circles, often for all the wrong reasons. While he’s extremely knowledgeable about the game, he’s best known for his televised Coach’s Corner opinionated rants. Mmm, yes, well he’s also known for his outlandish taste in fabric for his suit jackets! He’s controversial. Few people admit to liking his on-screen persona, but he makes money for the television stations and sponsors by getting viewers involved. At least, he did until last weekend. That’s when his comments got him fired.

His choice of words overrode his message. They were deemed racist and they riled the audience. Racism is defined as the superiority of one race over another. The Merriam Webster Dictionary says it’s “a belief that race is the primary determinant of human traits and capacities and that racial differences produce an inherent superiority of a particular race.” With that in mind, it’s hard to define Cherry’s comments as racist, although there’s no doubt they were derogatory and divisive. The station and network were quick to take steps to avoid the backlash.

If Don Cherry had apologized, that might have been the end of it, but he says even if he wishes he’d chosen his words more carefully, he stands by the truth of them. Thus his conviction (or maybe his stubbornness) brought his forty year career to an abrupt end.

Public reactions are mixed. Nobody likes what he said. Some are celebrating that this diatribe was the last straw and he’s finally been removed from the airwaves, while others are questioning if his right to freedom of speech has been quashed.

This steps into the realm of censorship and It’s a dilemma that many authors have also faced: do you speak or write from the heart and risk offending, or do you carefully filter your words to be safe?

The Canadian Civil Liberties Association says “The right to express yourself and form your own opinions is an essential feature of a democracy.  Freedom of expression is a core part of the right to dissent and a basic feature of personal development … In Canada, section 2(b) of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms protects ‘freedom of thought, belief, opinion and expression, including freedom of the press and other media of communication’.” There are lines drawn, however — lines between derogatory statements and hate speech, between criticism and defamation, lines that restrict verbal bullying and obscenity.

The National Post said recently that “book banning has become passé in Canada, and when works do get challenged, it’s often for opposite reasons than those seen in the past.” The Freedom to Read website publishes a list of some of the books, magazines and public papers that have been challenged and/or banned in Canada. It’s a selective list, yet it carries more than one hundred titles.

Parents frequently desire to protect their children from literature or art that they find offensive — words or pictures they believe are disgusting, that depict anything that opposes their personal standards of decency, that glorify evil, etc.

The Canadian Library Association resists these attempts when it comes to banning books, although individual schools districts and communities occasionally succeed within their local boundaries. The CLA states, “Libraries have a core responsibility to safeguard and facilitate access to constitutionally protected expressions of knowledge, imagination, ideas, and opinion, including those which some individuals and groups consider unconventional, unpopular or unacceptable. To this end, in accordance with their mandates and professional values and standards, libraries provide, defend and promote equitable access to the widest possible variety of expressive content and resist calls for censorship and the adoption of systems that deny or restrict access to resources.”

So, where do YOU stand in all this?

  • Is there a difference between punishing Don Cherry for his comments, refusing public speakers with offensive agendas, and banning written words in our country?
  • What guides you in your choice of words when reading and/or writing?
  • Do you keep a particular audience in mind as you write?

 

~  ~  ~

 

Inspiration in Unlikely Places – II

From my 2011 archives…

 

An idea eludes my pen … skips sullenly into shadowy places where I cannot go, and refuses to be teased back into the light.  Some days it’s like that. I sigh, resigned, and move on to hunt down a fresh one.

In the newness of my exploration I bemoan the continued barrenness. Where to go from here? Eyes closed, mind emptied, I search among the rough, undefined thoughts, until in the most unlikely of places, a tiny idea blooms.

Wild Strawberry

How it arrived and survived without nourishment or nurture is a mystery but I focus on it with thanksgiving, and begin writing again.

*

Sometimes we look in the wrong places for inspiration. Do you always find your ideas in emotionally rich surroundings? Or do they also reveal themselves in bleak landscapes?

***

 

 

Some Things are Beyond My Control

The above title is a cliche. I know it and I’m sorry, but the statement is true. Too often the phrase is used as an excuse to explain why we’re unable to fulfil a commitment. In my case, this week it came to mind because of an advertisement that insists on popping up in this space, not once but in several spots, and it reappears in multiples almost every day. I finally complained to WordPress when one visitor told me it “grossed her out;” it looked like worms protruding from an ear or a rectum! Yuck!

The WP gurus explained the ads are generated automatically and said, “We do block a lot of ad types in categories like violence, sex, and drugs, among others, but some do slip through the cracks and sometimes it’s quite beyond our control.” This particular ad doesn’t fit into any of those categories, so I doubt they’ll do anything about it. Therefore, its appearance here is beyond my control as well.

Then again, that’s only partly true, because I have the option of switching to a paid version of WP without ads instead of using this free one. If and when the day comes that my writing becomes a commercial endeavour, I will do that. Then a professional website will be desirable. But for now my blogging is only a writing-related hobby so I’m resigned to the ads. If only they weren’t so tasteless!

Thinking about control reminds me that there are many things in our lives that we can’t control. For instance, there isn’t much we can do about certain kinds of violence or accidents caused by other people, even when we may be severely affected by them. We do our part — use common sense, avoid potentially dangerous situations, drive defensively — but despite that, sometimes “bad things happen to good people.” (Another cliche.)

We don’t have much control when it comes to some aspects of our writing, either. We control what we put onto the page, but we have no say in how those words will be received by those who read them. If we send off manuscripts to agents or publisher, we have no power to elicit positive responses from them (or to elicit any response at all).

“Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it,” said Charles R. Swindoll.*

And that’s the answer. Attitude is everything…and the only thing we can control. In any difficult situation we do what we can, then get on with living, whether it be with resignation or hopefulness. If you are a person of faith as I am, you add prayer to the mix. In any case, we have to move on.

When it comes to disgusting ads, I will continue to report them, hoping to make a difference. In accident, illness or limitations, I would hope to continue with activities within my level of ability. In the submission process, I’ll continue to write new words as I wait. After all, no matter what it brings, stepping into tomorrow is a wondrous adventure.

It’s all about attitude.

~  ~  ~

 

*Christian pastor, author, educator, and founder of Insight for Living

May Pole, May, May Not…

I’m old enough to recall dancing around a maypole on May Day. Dressed in our best, with an art-class-created crown of flowers and ribbons, my Grade Two classmates and I did our best to skip in and out, around each other, guiding the long streamers from the top of the pole. Rehearsals must have given our teachers grey hair. Time after time we giggled our way through the pattern, only to have at least one of us mis-step and end up with the streamers tangled instead of neatly braided.

There’s a special post-Easter  joie de vie that wends its way into May. The dreary, colourless winter is subtly overtaken by springtime blooms, and I become impatient for my pre-Mother’s Day treat which entails a trip to the local nursery for bedding plants to begin filling deck tubs and hanging baskets.

This year the impatience hit me on April 2nd while in Costco. Multiple shoppers passed me with beautiful baskets of bright flowers in their carts. When I discovered their source (and the ridiculously low price) in the garden section, I squelched the little voice that told me it was wa-a-a-y too early in the season, and I picked up two hanging baskets. My usual choice of colours would be pastel, but these screamed with bright red, deep pink and sunny yellow. My inner self apparently craved colour!

Of course, once home, I had to pamper and protect them against the still-frosty nights. They spent three weeks nestled under the eaves, against the patio doors where I could slip out every night and wrap plastic bags around them. But now it’s May. They’ve been hung where I can admire them from our family room windows, which is where I sit when I’m writing.

The trouble is, now that I have something lovely to stare at, I’m doing more staring than writing, and that’s not terribly productive. I sent a manuscript off in early February, then occupied myself developing another work I had in progress. Writing went relatively smoothly through March and part way into April. Then I turned my attention to Easter projects I had committed to doing for my church.

And after Easter? Mmm … my hanging planters are so pretty.

To be honest, I have to admit as I stare at those flowers, the same little voice that cautioned me about buying them has been whispering other discouraging ideas, ideas that make me question if I’m waiting to hear about the submitted manuscript before finishing another novel; and if I am, why.

I will always write, because I love creating stories. But — I resist saying this — I may not always write with the goal of publication. I’ve received considerable encouragement from agents and editors, but without the validation of the next step, the little voice suggests that continuing in the current direction is futile. I want to ignore this unsettling whisper — after all, it was wrong about the flowers — and I’ve never been a quitter.

It’s a time for thinking, for contemplating my options, and, while I’m at it, I can also draw up the list of bedding plants I plan to buy on Mother’s Day weekend.

~

“There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under the heavens”

(Ecclesiastes 3:1)

~  ~  ~

I am reminded of Lucy Maud Montgomery’s Anne…

This afternoon I discovered the garden’s chilly white blanket has been receding just enough to reveal spring flowers I thought might not have survived the frigid month just passed. There they were: a bedraggled patch or two of sweet nodding snowdrops and two golden crocuses. They’ve fired a hope that there are more just waiting to be uncovered.

“After all,” Anne had said to Marilla once, “I believe the nicest and sweetest days are not those on which anything very splendid or wonderful or exciting happens but just those that bring simple little pleasures, following one another softly, like pearls slipping off a string.”
― L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Avonlea

This is one of those days.

~

My reading project for the month of March is the collection of Lucy Maud Montgomery’s ‘Anne of Green Gables’ books. I fear I’m never going to finish all of them because I’m dawdling through their delights.

Anne Shirley’s ecstatic but sometimes relentless descriptions evoke memories of Marilla’s impatience, but at the same time they provide a vision of the wonders we grown ups too often miss. Montgomery gives us a second chance, writing a view of life through Anne’s eyes. It reminds me that my goal as a writer is to do the same — to transport readers into the world of my unique characters. If only I could do that as well as Lucy Maud!

“I’d like to add some beauty to life,” said Anne dreamily. “I don’t exactly want to make people KNOW more… though I know that IS the noblest ambition… but I’d love to make them have a pleasanter time because of me… to have some little joy or happy thought that would never have existed if I hadn’t been born.”
― L.M. Montgomery, Anne’s House of Dreams

You have, Anne; you have.

~

(Anne’s ‘gift of gab’ also prompts me to wish you a Happy St. Patrick’s Day.)

Preparing to Write

I’m with Aristotle, at least when it comes to creative achievement: “Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom.” I don’t do New Year’s resolutions because I’ve learned from years of experience that making them sets me up for failure and discouragement.

So it is with my writing; I’m not likely ever going to change my natural creative rhythms. I’ve learned that working with them is more productive than fighting to overcome them.  Identifying my optimum writing time was an important discovery. I’m definitely not a morning person. Ask anyone who knows me: my brain takes a long time to wake up. So I’ve accepted that mornings are better used for devotions, journalling, and/or social media.

My best time to write is in the evening … the late evening. When the day’s routines are over and the house is quiet, nothing needs me except my manuscript. There are no time constraints so if the words don’t flow quickly, it doesn’t matter. Nobody is around to pressure me. In the blackness beyond the windows, the world sleeps. At least, most of it does.

There are the occasional late night visitors, but, while admittedly they’re a distraction, they don’t create much of a disturbance.

I don’t write as long into the night as I once did — the older I get the more sleep I seem to need — but I can still produce more words in an hour after midnight than I can during a daytime hour.

Location is important, too. I need a quiet place so I can hear the voices in my head. (Did I just admit to hearing voices???) I have a well-equipped office where I can close the door if need be, but the recliner in our family room usually draws me at night. Part of the problem in my office is the clutter. I can’t seem to be creative if my space (or my mind) is full of unrelated messiness, and my office usually is.

Decluttering is probably my single most effective aid to writing. I’d do it more often except one thing leads to another when it comes to my office, and I could spend the entire day in there, trying to organize the piles of paper, books and photos. Setting a time limit on tidying or any other preliminary activity would help, but when I’m in the mood to write it’s far easier to choose a location that doesn’t require preparation. Hence, the family room wins at night.

LL Barkat has a recent post that inspired me to think more about mental decluttering. (Simple tricks to make space for your writing) I think I’ll head back over there and reread it. I could use some extra inspiration today. How about you?

~  ~  ~

 

Conference Reflections

It’s been a week and I still haven’t quite recovered (but it’s all good).

Waaaaaaaay back in 2004 I attended my first writing conference with a dear friend, Earlene Luke. At the time, given how much it cost, I was pretty sure it would be a one-shot thing, but two years later my daughter Shari Green was attending her first and convinced me to register again. Last weekend we counted up the years we’ve attended the Surrey International Writers’ Conference since then and were surprised to find it took more than two hands to do the tally — this was my twelfth year and Shari’s eleventh.

Maybe we would have stopped after the first ones if our experience had been merely enjoyable, but it was and continues to be exceptional.

We’re both more-than-a-little introverted, so it takes significant effort to psych ourselves up to step into the crowd of hundreds who attend every year. But once we do, the four-day whirlwind of shared workshops and master classes, keynote speakers, banquets and socializing sweeps us up and carries us on a high that lasts for months afterwards.

With more than fifty presenters (authors, agents, editors, publishers and screenwriters) and the opportunity to choose from over eighty workshops in ten time slots, plus all the extras that fill the evenings, it would be easy to be overwhelmed, and indeed we do come home exhausted and with ‘information overload’.

But it’s more than a whole weekend sharing the ultimate writers’ learning experience with one’s ‘tribe’ that makes it worthwhile. It’s the atmosphere created by so much kindness, helpfulness and mutual respect shown by both seasoned professionals and novice writers. There is no ‘us and them’ at this conference. There is a unique camaraderie that stems from a shared passion for writing.

Besides all that, it’s a fabulous mother-daughter writing weekend retreat. 🙂

I’ve never really been able to afford this indulgence — I’d hate to add up the dollars I’ve spent through the years — but at the same time I’ve discovered I really can’t afford not to go. It’s a professional development opportunity like none other! Kudos to all the SiWC organizers for providing this superb conference year after year.

Now it’s time to take a deep breath, pour myself a coffee (or maybe a glass of wine) and go put this year’s accumulation of knowledge and enthusiasm to work.

~  ~  ~

 

A Musician Wannabe (and Denise Jaden’s cover reveal)

I’m a musician wannabe. My smattering of mid-life piano lessons left me able to stumble through a piece of music well enough to discern the tune, but not well enough to keep up if someone wanted to sing along. How I fell into being a church choir director for almost nineteen years is a story all its own, but sufficient to say, it fed my love of music even if it didn’t provide any additional proficiency. Maybe it also contributed to why I like inside peeks at what life is like for musicians.


I have a cousin who is the lead singer for the classic rock group ‘Trooper’. When Ra McGuire wrote HERE FOR A GOOD TIME: On the Road with Trooper, Canada’s Legendary Rock Band (Insomniac Press 2006), I loved being immersed in his experiences on tour.


Then I discovered Denise Jaden’s LIVING OUT LOUD YA series. There are currently six titles available, with a seventh coming soon. Today Denise reveals its cover:

The synopsis of PAPARAZZI:
Eli and the band can barely believe they’ve made it so far on the Hold That Note reality show, but thanks to Kass’s vision, they’re some of the last few competitors. Unfortunately, the profoundly-talented Fennel Winthrop has taken a liking to Eli, and with the amiable part they have to play in public, coupled with all of Kass’s insecurities surfacing in the wings, Kass and Eli can’t seem to hold a relationship together.

When the band expresses concerns about Eli’s focus, Kass and Eli are forced to keep their distance from each other. Kass focuses on her new job in order to be able to stay in town, while Eli gives his all to his band and the show.

But his all, without Kass by his side to inspire him, may not be enough.

You can pre-order Paparazzi today!

~

While the LIVING OUT LOUD series is aimed at the young adult market, I’ve found the stories and characters intriguing. Perhaps it’s the fangirl in me — the wannabe musician, if you like — but there are complexities of both plot and personalities that make this an engaging series.

~  ~  ~