Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Unblocking Your Creativity

Are you looking for a way to unblock your creativity? Perhaps you are between creative projects and looking for inspiration. Of all the books on writing I've read, the one I most often return to myself and always recommend is Julia Cameron's The Artist's Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity. It comes as no surprise to me that I often hear it referred to by other writers.

According to Julia Cameron, one of the two basic tools to unblocking creativity is the writing of "Morning Pages." The second is the "Artist's Date," which I'll blog about at another time.

Now that I am between books, I've gone back to doing Morning Pages. This involves sitting down first thing every morning and producing three pages of longhand, stream-of-consciousness writing. You should write whatever comes into your head, in whatever state you are in at the time: grouchy, feeling sorry for yourself. Even if all you write is the fact that your brain is mush and your feet are cold. Just keep writing till three pages are filled.

Why are you doing this? Because, as Cameron explains it, "All that whiny, petty stuff you write down in the morning is what stands between you and your creativity." Are you feeling resentment towards another artist? That's a sure sign, says Cameron, that you are creatively blocked. You need to get rid of all that "drek" by putting it  in your morning pages.

Back when winter was WINTER and snow was fun.
When you're doing the pages, don't stop to think that what you're writing is drivel, or that you're wasting your time. There's no wrong way to do Morning Pages and therefore, the opinion of that pesky, internal editor doesn't count. Your internal editor is just another blocking device. 

Why not give it a try? There's nothing to lose and all that natural creativity to unleash.

Write on!

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

One Family's Literacy

Photo taken by me of my family on a camping trip in the old Nash Rambler.
The youngsters I talk to in the schools are sometimes surprised when I tell them there was no television in our home when I was growing up. Not that there was no such thing, just that my parents didn't think it was something we needed. I remember when television came to Winnipeg, how my friends and I stood and watched it for the first time through the storefront windows of a shop on Academy Road.

My parents didn't think we needed to be entertained. We were all read to as tots and went on to become avid readers and, in my case, writers. We played board games like "Snakes n' Ladders," "Parcheesi," and later, "Scrabble." There were paper-and-pencil games too, word games like Hang Man or the old party favourite where you tried to make as many small words as you could from one long word like antidisestablishmentarianism. (I can't believe my Canadian dictionary doesn't even recognize the word!)

Ours was a family that sang when we took car trips—between endless games of I Spy. We warbled along to folk songs like "Swanee River" and "Jimmy Crack Corn." And there were the camp songs, because we all went to camp,  like "Down By The Bay" that required each one of us to come up with an original, outrageous chorus to every verse. 

I'm privileged to speak on the occasion of Family Literacy Day at a local school next week. It's always fun to talk to children; I find their enthusiasm contagious. And I hope to share with them some of my personal experiences of family literacy.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Mary Pickford Visits the "Bomb Girls"

Picture from the Archives of Ontario
Whenever I hear Mary Pickford's name mentioned anywhere, my ears naturally perk up.

I was watching the first episode of Global Television's new series, The Bomb Girls, when Mary's name came up in the dialogue between the actors. The setting was a munitions plant, presumably in Toronto, early in World War II. The female employees were chatting about the possibility of Hollywood movie star Mary Pickford paying a visit to the plant. The women in the show are employed in the making of bombs that will be used against the enemy overseas, serving a role every bit as important as the soldiers themselves.

A strong supporter of the Canadian war effort, Mary did visit the General Engineering Company's munitions plant in Scarborough on May 24, 1943, when the above photograph was taken. She spoke to a large crowd of enthusiastic women workers—real-life "bomb girls"—in the plant's cafeteria.

Her visit to her Toronto was under the auspices of the Lions' Club and the Gerrard  Businessmen's Association, co-sponsors of the Mary Pickford Bungalow project. You will find more on that project and the story of Mary's life in my book Mary Pickford, Canada's Silent Siren, America's Sweetheart.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

A Year Filled with Writing

I can't remember if anyone wished me a Happy New Year last December 31st and a "year full of writing." If they did, that's exactly what I got—a year of almost non-stop writing.

After six months work, the manuscript of my book Mary Pickford, Canada's Silent Siren, America's Sweetheart
was delivered to the publisher at the end of March, 2011. Almost immediately I began reading biographies of other Canadian women, looking for another subject I might write about. But none engaged me the way Mary Pickford had. She had seemed a good fit for me, and I believe the fact that she always maintained strong ties with Canada has made her especially appealing to readers in this country.

Early in June 2011, my publisher asked me if I'd be interested in writing the life of Laura Secord, another in Dundurn's Quest Biography series. Laura Secord wasn't a person I would have chosen; her story began all the way back in 1775. But I said I was up to the challenge, and I'm glad now that I did. Over the weeks and months she too came to life for me—a real flesh-and-blood woman with a loving husband and seven children, living amidst the turmoil of the War of 1812.

I began researching Laura's life while I was still working on the copy edit and proofreading for Mary Pickford. That book was released in mid-September and launched officially on November 5th while I was still furiously writing Laura Secord. At times it was hard to switch from one subject to the other. But on December 29th, I delivered Laura Secord, Heroine of the War of 1812 to the publisher, right on time. A Bicentennial Book, it will be released in May, 2012. There is lots of work to be done before then.

So, wish me a year full of writing for 2012, and if you're a writer I wish for you the same: a year filled with joyous writing!