So often I see writing advice along the lines of “try to write for fifteen minutes each day.” Fifteen minutes?! I can barely write a haiku in fifteen minutes. Leaving alone the fact that any commitment as flippant as “fifteen minutes each day” is bound to get bumped in favour of other priorities, it is not, in my experience, possible to have satisfactorily brilliant writing without accompanying torturous obsession.


We live in a non-linear world full of countless interconnections and complexities. There is overlap. There are gray areas. There are exceptions. There are deeply rooted issues and finely made distinctions. And we, as writers, ask ourselves to look at this convoluted mess and produce provocative, astute work. How do we create a flowing, sensical, accessible, funny, interesting narrative exploring such chaos? Creative, original writing cannot and should not be so undervalued as for it to become a reasonable expectation that it be produced in the minutes between the end of dinner and the start of a favourite television show. It can and does only come out of many, many hours of dedicated, involved labour.

I am passionate on this issue not because I think it is a bad idea to try to write for fifteen minutes each day, but because I believe there is a link between impractical, unrealistic writing advice and the perpetual belittling of writing in our culture. Writing is often seen not as a practiced, useful, difficult skill but as something that anyone could do if they just put aside the time to do it. There is nothing further from the truth.

There is a reason why so many great artists, novelists, academics, and poets ended up struggling with mental illness, had difficulty with relationships, and lived in perpetual poverty. Passionate creation does not fit nicely within a balanced lifestyle. It is not something that you can expect to sit down, complete, and then leave when your shift is done. It is a demanding experience that can bring such extreme highs and lows that it can sometimes feel as if you are living on a different plane of existence. It can keep you up all night and then evade you for the entirety of your scheduled work day. Thoughts may arrive so urgently they drive away such staples of regular human existence as showering, eating, and catching the bus on time.

It is imperative that we, as a culture, recognize the difficulty intrinsic in producing good writing. Without a collective understanding of writing as a turbulent experience, it is only reasonable to expect writers everywhere to feel there is something wrong with them if they do not function within their scheduled 35-hour work week. We also risk ignorance of one of the experience’s greatest benefits: that nothing will challenge you so much as your own writing. We, as writers, must remember that to experience difficulty in our craft is not to be failing but rather the opposite. We only succeed by struggling.

The Drawing Board is pleased to announce that our very own writer and researcher, Liz Hill, has been awarded the Field Law Leilani Muir Graduate Research Scholarship for her work in History. The award is funded by Field Law via the Edmonton Community Foundation and the Calgary Foundation in honour of the legal victory won by Leilani Muir and victims of sterilization. It is awarded to a graduate student in Sociology, Psychology, or History and Classics who demonstrates research promise. Preference is given to students whose research interests are related to the areas of human rights, persons with disabilities, or social well-being. Join us in celebrating Liz’s success!

lizLiz’s thesis research deals with the subjects of madness and leprosy in the late Middle Ages. Entitled “Roots of Persecution: Madness and Leprosy in the late Middle Ages,” Liz’s thesis addresses the conceptual underpinnings of persecution by comparing medieval intellectual and moral understandings of madness and leprosy to the social treatment of lepers and mad people in the twelfth through fifteenth centuries. She focuses in particular on the collective social identity and treatment of the leper in contrast to the individualized identities and treatment of mad people, and how that difference explains the periodic persecutory violence to which lepers were subjected, but not mad people.

At The Drawing Board, we are not only professional writers, researchers and bloggers, we are also historians and religious studies scholars. Over the weekend, Nakita Valerio and Liz Hill had the privilege of presenting some of their research at the University of Alberta’s Annual HCGSA Conference. Conferencing comes with its own unique atmosphere and experience. You get to meet a lot of really interesting people from around the country, many of whom are also presenting their research. For some, this is the first time they get to talk to someone other than their supervisor about their work. And being crammed into a room listening to lecture upon lecture, conversing over coffee-breaks and provided meals, there is a great deal of camaraderie that comes from conferencing.

Liz presented on her research regarding Leprosy and Madness in the late Medieval period in Europe and had the following to say about the conference experience:

Although we all come from our own little, often esoteric, areas of study, we are able to engage with each others’ work and make connections between our own knowledge and others. Sometimes it’s a stretch, but often it’s illuminating! Another benefit of presenting to a group with diverse expertise, is that it makes you re-evaluate your own work from the perspective of a non-specialist. Day to day we tend to discuss our work and interact with others who have similar backgrounds and topics, so it is easy to assume knowledge about strange things. Presenting outside of that group forces you to refine your ideas and how you present them so that they are accessible. Of course in this case we were still presenting to people who mostly shared similar disciplinary backgrounds, but the field of history is very large! I also learned that answering questions is actually the best part of presenting!

Nakita presented a paper she wrote on the de-sacralization of Auschwitz and issued a call for urgent conservation efforts to be made to the camp if there is any hope of some kind of sufficient memorial to remain there. Her thoughts on the experience of conferencing are as follows:

My favourite part was hearing what everyone is working on. Too often, academics are isolated in their work. Sure, we socialize and hang out, but we rarely get to talk about our work with our peers unless they happen to be in the same research area as us. The general theme of the “Sacred” meant that a lot of the subjects spanned completely different temporal-spatial zones of study and were only  loosely connected by the theme. I loved this aspect. I not only had the opportunity to learn a lot about areas of history that I hadn’t really touched before, but I found them all deeply interesting because they dealt with a lot of the theoretical paradigms that I use to do my own work. I would say I also learned a lot about what goes into making a successful conference. Watching two colleagues of ours in particular running around and taking care of all the details was really illuminating. Lastly, this might surprise some people given how much of my personal and social justice time is devoted to women’s advocacy and education initiatives about the status of women in Islam, but I found it to be really refreshing to be able to talk about something I have devoted a lot of time to researching…something that wasn’t about my hijab or life as a minority in Canada. Don’t get me wrong, I love that stuff too, but as one of the conference organizers put it, “you get to talk about what you do and think about, not just how you dress in the morning!” It was a unique chance to vocalize something I am passionate about for the sake of the subject itself, not just it’s relevance to me or what others would like to hear from me based on my particular skill set.