Some of you might have heard of analytical writing in academia. If your major was anywhere near the humanities or social sciences, chances are that writing analytically was instilled in you through countless edits and thorough comments from your instructors. Maybe you even took a writing class. However, when the memories of your alma mater start to fade, so do the analytical skills you thought were instilled in you.

If there is one valuable writing tip I picked up in school, it’s that your mind has the unique capacity to interpret facts, merge ideas, and uncover patterns that can make your voice– channeled through writing – authentic. Whether you dabble in fiction writing, work in communications, or wordsmith for pleasure, an analytical text will help you and your reader get more meaning out of words, nurturing a better understanding of the reality around us.

Writing analytically involves peering at the world and asking questions. It’s about connecting the dots, capturing diversity, and challenging biases. The highly-coveted skill of making sense of information and facts will always rank above other communication skills. As we’re getting bombarded with terabytes of data, our brains need to interpret it before sending calls to action. An analytical piece takes you on a journey towards deeper understanding of a topic that goes beyond mere facts.

Analytical writing is a symphony. Let your writing be a platform where ideas collide and coalesce. Collect data, voices, and opinions to fill in the gaps and capture a full picture. Don’t slip into judgement as your learn about new traditions, people, and cultures.

Analytical writing is revealing. Look for the intricate, minute details, compare facts, dates, and numbers to uncover implicit connections. Oftentimes, single numbers and dates don’t say much to the reader. But they might speak volumes when compared or contrasted with a larger corpus of data.

An analytical text asks questions. Why is the topic you’re developing important? How does it fit into the bigger picture? How does it impact our lives? Why should the reader care?

Analytical writing is critical. Challenge your thought to shy away from biases and assumptions. Keep your heart, mind, and writing open.

Analytical writing is a muscle that you can flex and stretch. Follow these tips before your tackle a new writing project:

  • Think of the sources you’re interviewing or researching – do they offer diversity? Are they reliable? How far from your set of beliefs are they placed?
  • Wrap your factual information in a context. Bare facts alone might not always make the most sense to the reader. Gather context, compare and contrast your numbers and dates to offer possible interpretations.
  • Tame your judgement as much as you can for as long as you can. Walk the reader through your thought process before making any conclusions. Remaining completely subjective might not be realistic; equally covering diverse opinions and approaches before stating your opinion is.

Your unique way of making sense of facts, information, ideas – topped off with a firm grasp of the English language – makes your writing stand out. And this will never go out of style because a riveting story and quality writing will always be in demand, no matter what audience you’re serving.


Screenshot_20181023-160649Olga Ivanova is an Edmonton-based communications professional and writer with a knack for storytelling.

The notion of “inspiration” is exciting, romantic and, well, inspiring. Our mythologies of creativity tell us that the right synchronicity of circumstances will spark not only The Idea that will change everything, but the will and ability to execute it. In reality, sitting around waiting for inspiration to “strike” is about as effective as waiting for actual lightning to strike and start your campfire. Inspiration can be cultivated and sought out, though.

Creativity doesn’t happen in a vacuum, no matter how much consistent work and practice one puts in. It is the encounters and experiences that excite, intrigue and teach us that generate and motivate creativity. Sudden, striking ideas do happen – but they don’t come out of nowhere, they are the result of a long-simmering idea suddenly coalescing as the last piece falls into place. To be creative, go out into the world and seek out inspiration. This can take any form you like, from getting back to the land and nature, to delving into works of philosophy for new ideas. Inspiration is all the little pieces of life that keep you motivated and keep you thinking until The Idea finally coalesces (or, more likely, is finally forced into being like molding a stiff piece clay.)

Do not shy away from engaging with others’ works of creativity as a source of inspiration. Far from tainting the authenticity of your creative expression with influence, others’ art can be a great source of inspiration. Most peoples’ original inspiration to become a writer, artist or any other creative was probably someone else’s work. Don’t be afraid to revisit that original inspiration in times of low motivation.

Art exists to provoke emotional and intellectual responses and to expose new ideas and perspectives, all of which are the essence of inspiration. In a sense, art is a short cut to inspiration! Whatever kind of creative you are, try to be open to what all kinds of creativity can teach you – visual art, performance, music, literature, digital arts….

A risk of relying on others’ art to inspire you in periods of low motivation and inspiration is that witnessing the peak of others’ creative process may stir up insecurity and fear. The doubting voice inside might just say “Well I can’t do that, so why bother…” The gulf between where you see yourself and where you want to be may become stark and intimidating. Remember that inspiration is also about learning. Look at work that you admire, or consider “better” than yours, as something to learn from rather than envy. What is it that you see in that work that seems to be missing from your work and how can you develop that missing piece? What technique and craft does that artist use that you can learn? If inadequacy and fear clouds inspiration, focus on learning and honing your craft.

Creativity requires consistent work, but it also needs to be nurtured with inspiration. Fortunately, creatives do not need to passively await inspiration: they can go out and find it. Part of the work of creativity is spending time immersed in others’ creativity, looking for the little pieces that will build and motivate your own.

 


IMG_20180718_115103_621Elisabeth Hill is an Edmonton-based writer and researcher who currently works as a Programming and Engagement Coordinator at the Art Gallery of Alberta.

In a productivity-centric society, busyness is not just a norm, it is almost practiced as a virtue. Keeping busy demonstrates dedication to productivity and efficiency, but it is ironically counter effective to genuinely fulfilling and meaningful productivity. Busyness is how we experience the route to shallow productivity: the accomplishment of multiple tasks in quick succession under pressure. Busyness looks, and initially may feel, like efficiency, but it is unsustainable. In a prolonged period of busyness, even the most adept multi-tasker becomes distracted, rushed, and unable to absorb information, ultimately leading to burn out.

Different people can manage, or even thrive at, different paces and degrees of busyness. Most people, however, need room for their creativity to grow and be nurtured. Meaningful and fulfilling productivity, both in the sense of artistic output and more broadly in the sense of innovation, is driven by creativity. Creativity requires focus, depth of thought and practice, and room for simmering ideas to coalesce in seemingly spontaneous inspiration. Many people benefit creatively from high levels of stimulation or a certain amount of pressure, but shallow, urgent busyness is antithetical to the circumstances under which creativity grows.

As much as we may wish to prioritize our creativity, busy periods are inevitable in most lives. Most workplaces, school programs or even personal projects have certain crunch periods. Personal circumstances like moving home, or even celebrating a holiday season put greater demands on our time and attention. Most of these are relatively short periods, but some circumstances such as raising children or working multiple jobs can cause more long-term busy periods. Fostering and maintaining creativity through these periods is important. The fulfillment and meaning derived from creativity can even be an antidote to the mental and emotional tolls of being overly busy.

Keep practicing.

Keep doing what you do, even if just for thirty minutes a day or an hour a week. Lower your expectations and let yourself cut back the amount of time you spend on creative projects, but don’t abandon them. Recognize your creativity as a priority amidst life’s demands, but don’t turn “write every day” into yet another task on your busy list.

Take in others’ creativity.

Schedule time to visit an exhibition, see a performance, or just read a good book or watch a film. In a busy time, you may be tempted to use mindless distractions to wind down (and that has its place!) but choose to spend time with works that will feed you creatively.

Make space.

Whether you want to call it “mindfulness” or not, give yourself some mental peace. Do activities that engage your body but make limited demands on your mental focus, like walking the dog, attending an exercise class, or doing a familiar handcraft. If you’re really pressed for time, you can even use mundane, necessary tasks like doing the dishes as a chance to either let your mind rest and wander or practice more focused mindfulness.

Trust that it will end.

Remember that this busy period will end and you will have room to practice and focus again. When you again have time to engage with your creativity but are struggling with motivation, remember how you missed it when you were too busy with other things! If there is no foreseeable end to your busyness and it is causing you distress, it may be time to consider some bigger life changes.


IMG_20180718_115103_621Elisabeth Hill is an Edmonton-based writer and researcher who currently works as a Curatorial Assistant at the Art Gallery of Alberta.

 

 

 

 

 

Writing is the running of creative practices. It can be done anywhere, with minimal supplies or special equipment. To run you just need a path and a pair of shoes. To write, all you need is a place to sit and something to write with, whether computer or pen and paper.  Or that’s the minimalist ideal, anyway. Personally, I’m not sure that I would get much done if I was simply plunked down in a white cube with a pen and paper.

I like to write in public, usually at a coffee shop, but sometimes a quieter pub or bar. This works partly because if I’ve packed up my computer and books, dressed to leave the house, and taken the bus somewhere, I will do what I set out to do. I can’t just turn on Netflix in the middle of the coffee shop! Mainly, though, I find that the noise and stimulus of a public place helps me focus.

Some might find my routine to be counter-intuitive, preferring to do focused work in libraries and home offices that are by-design distraction-free. (How I envy those home office-workers for the money that they save on coffee and muffins, and the time they save on transit!) Other writers place more significance on having the right tools, such as a favourite type of pen or paper, a comfortable chair, or a mug of tea. So yes, you can write anywhere, with very basic equipment, but most writers have a routine or set of tools that support their practice. You can simply grab a pair of running shoes and get going, but stretching, planning a route, and maybe putting on a podcast will give you better, and more enjoyable, results.

Why do environment and routine matter? Some aspects of a writer’s routine may have clear practical benefits to productivity, but I think it is mostly a matter of ritual. A ritual is a deliberate and habitual set of actions which are imbued by the doer with deeper significance than their immediate, external impact. A ritual can be a religious ceremony or be as mundane as putting on makeup in the morning before work because it makes you feel “put together.”

Rituals of all varieties function to induce a changed state of mind, such as receptivity, calm, or focus – all of which are important states for different stages of the writing process.

Going to a particular place or using a particular pen, notebook, or chair signals to the brain that it is time to work. The preparatory process gently shifts your mental gears into the right state of mind for the task at hand.

So, how do you put together a writing routine or ritual that will finally kick your motivation into gear? I’m not sure that you can just build and institute the right routine and have it work immediately. My routine seems to have naturally developed from habits begun in university. Writing papers at coffee shops and the UVic Grad Lounge started as self-bribery, giving myself a treat to offset the struggle to be productive. Over time, the coffee shop, with its low-key noise and distraction, simply became my best work environment through habituation.

What you can do is think about how you work best, based on experience. In quiet, distraction-free environments, or surrounded by stimulus? In cozy comfort or with a certain degree of physical rigor? What items do you have around you that really help you complete and enjoy your task, versus the ones that are distracting luxury? Say, a cup of coffee rather than full plate of sandwiches.

Build on these observations. Experiment and be mindful of how you respond to different approaches, but don’t get overly involved in crafting the perfect writing ritual at the expense of writing. The key is to do the thing and evolve the support system – environment, routine, even superstition – as you practice. You can put together the best stretching routine, buy the best gear, and find the most idyllic 10 km running trail, but you won’t get very far if you haven’t also been going out and doing the training.


IMG_20180718_115103_621Elisabeth Hill is an Edmonton-based writer and researcher who currently works as a Curatorial Assistant at the Art Gallery of Alberta.

tumblr_inline_n9xt2hsUWZ1s6nw8rThe classic stereotype of a writer penning the next great novel in their moleskin notebook is a bit dated, particularly when technology has grown leaps and bounds to help facilitate your writing, whether in the form of editing apps, inspiration tools or time-management programs. Abhorring the modern writing world and all that is available to a writer seems to me to be a bit of status thing, invoking the classic artist martyrology – that if you don’t suffer for your art, it’s not art. Let me tell you: this is 19th Century trope that just. Will. Not. Die. Writers are usually artists but they are also craftspeople in a skilled trade. They have to work really hard to do what they do and they produce thousands of pages before they ever write a paragraph of magic. Anyone who tells you otherwise is lying or has a magic genie lamp stashed away somewhere.

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Technology is all about making our lives easier and even though it sometimes seems like the easier things get, the more time we waste, I have to say that the following tools for writers seem to be excellent for increasing productivity, efficiency and overall inspiration to get you back to doing what you do best: writing!

  1. creativityImagination Prompt is a great tool for someone who just doesn’t know how to get started. Whether you are a serial blogger or are working on a short story for publication, the simple push of the button on this site can really help get the wheels a-turnin’ and the words a-spinnin’. With writers, it is often just a tiny push we need to get past a block and then a cascade of ideas can come tumbling down to us.
  2. zenwriterZenWriter is a downloadable app for PCs that is meant to minimize distractions that can take away from your writing productivity – provided you are doing your writing on a computer, which is likely these days. Journalling might seem romantic but it can be a bit of a time waster as few people will take the time to transcribe what they have written in a notebook into something on the typed page. Additionally, things can look really different when written by the hand and just might not have the same punch when they are put into more conventional printed formats. Either way, something like ZenWriter is good for keeping you focused on your writing and includes therapeutic music and natural scenery in the background to help you relax and get your work done.
  3. stayfocusdStayfocusd is a similar idea to ZenWriter, except that it is a Google Chrome app that limits the amount of time you can spend on time-wasting websites. It is completely customizable and can block entire websites, because who’s kidding? We all have a secret love of Buzzfeed or Distractify or some other evil click-bait webpage that is just so interesting you can’t help yourself. This is how the internet can destroy lives people. Put a timer on it and stop wasting time. Get ‘er done, as we say in Alberta.
  4. clichefinderCliché Finder is helpful if you don’t want to suck as a writer. Cliches might seem like the best thing since Betty White but, trust me, they do worse for your writing than a thousand monkeys on a thousand typewriters. At least the monkeys might show a shred of ingenuity because it is unlikely that they have cultural memes that can penetrate their writing the way clichés can. But enough about monkeys, just use this app to seek out those sneaky stereotypical similes and destroy them.
  5. meetupsMeetup.com is a website that might help you find writing groups in your neighbourhood. Check it out or post there to find like-minded people who are interested in working on their craft as much as you are. It will get you into the habit of writing for your group, editing and proofreading the work of other people, and might even throw in a healthy dose of competitiveness that will get your creative juices flowing. Cliché alert! Should’ve ran that one through number 4! See? Even the most practiced writers fall prey to classic failings now and again. Get on the technology train and get moving.

One of the most important aspects of being a good writer is also being a good reader. Both characteristics require consistency and practice as one continues to evolve their craft. Both Nakita and Michele of The Drawing Board are avid readers that have a perpetually evolving reading list. It’s often hard to nail down just what we are reading at any given time because it changes daily, but here is a list of current books, open to varying degrees, on Nakita’s desk. Let’s hope they inspire and feel free to share your reading list too!

patterns-culture-ruth-benedict-paperback-cover-artPatterns of Culture: Ruth Benedict – In Patterns of Culture, Benedict presents sketches of three cultures, the Zuni, the Dobu, and the Kwakiutl, and uses these cultures to elaborate her theory of ‘culture as personality-writ-large.’ Before introducing the ethnographies, Benedict includes two theoretical chapters and introduces the term ‘pattern,’ which she interchanges with similar phrases in the rest of the text.

9780300085242Introduction to Metaphysics: Martin Heidegger – This is the published version of a lecture course he gave in the Summer of 1935 at the University of Freiburg. The book is famous for its powerful reinterpretation of Greek thought. The content of these lectures was not published in Germany until 1953.

maaloufIn the Name of Identity: Amin Maalouf – In this work, Maalouf discusses the identity crisis which Arabs have experienced since the establishment of continuous relationships with the west, adding his personal dimension as a Christian Arab. The book is intended for both Arabs and Westerners (as well as for people with mixed heritage). This work is divided into five major chapters, “Identity and Belonging”, “When Modernity Comes From the Other”, “The Era of Cosmic Tribals”, “Taming the Shrew” and a glossary. He begins with universal values of identity, which he dissects, describes the extremes, then applies them to the Levant. He tries to describe how the average modern Arab feels, along a wide spectrum of ideologies in practice throughout the Arab world…from religious beliefs and traditional practices to total secularism. The book also sheds light on recent events in the Arab world, from civil wars to relations with the west.

0226285111Islam Observed: Clifford Geertz – “In four brief chapters,” writes Clifford Geertz in his preface, “I have attempted both to lay out a general framework for the comparative analysis of religion and to apply it to a study of the development of a supposedly single creed, Islam, in two quite contrasting civilizations, the Indonesian and the Moroccan.”

Genealogie_der_Moral_coverOn the Genealogy of Morals: Friedrich Nietzsche – An1887 book by German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche. It consists of a preface and three interrelated essays that expand and follow through on doctrines Nietzsche sketched out in Beyond Good and Evil (1886). The three Abhandlungen trace episodes in the evolution of moral concepts with a view to undermining “moral prejudices”, specifically those of Christianity and Judaism.Some Nietzsche scholars consider Genealogy to be a work of sustained brilliance and power as well as his masterpiece. Since its publication, it has influenced many authors and philosophers.

816RGvGUV0LThe Yacoubian Building: Alaa-Al-Aswany – Published in Arabic in 2002 and in an English translation in 2004, the book, ostensibly set in 1990 at about the time of the first Gulf War, is a roman à clef and scathing portrayal of modern Egyptian society since the Revolution of 1952. The locale of the novel is downtown Cairo, with the titular apartment building (which actually exists) serving as both a metaphor for contemporary Egypt and a unifying location in which most of the primary characters either live or work and in which much of the novel’s action takes place. The author, a dentist by profession, had his first office in the Yacoubian Building in Cairo.The Yacoubian Building was the best-selling Arabic novel for 2002 and 2003, and was voted Best Novel for 2003 by listeners to Egypt’s Middle East Broadcasting Service. It has been translated into 23 languages worldwide.

41JlIxpjNuLArchaeology of Knowledge: Michel Foucault – The premise of the book is that systems of thought and knowledge (“epistemes” or “discursive formations”) are governed by rules (beyond those of grammar and logic) which operate beneath the consciousness of individual subjects and define a system of conceptual possibilities that determines the boundaries of thought and language use in a given domain and period. Most prominently in its Introduction and Conclusion, the book also becomes a philosophical treatment and critique of phenomenological and dogmatic structural readings of history and philosophy, portraying continuous narratives as naïve ways of projecting our own consciousness onto the past, thus being exclusive and excluding. Characteristically, Foucault demonstrates his political motivations, personal projects and preoccupations, and, explicitly and implicitly, the many influences that inform the discourse of the time.