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.

Being a writer is a life-long journey that comes with its own unique challenges and opportunities. There is a large corpus of myths surrounding the life of a writer that many great writers try to debunk but somehow they persist. On the other hand, there are a few key characteristics and lifestyle choices that aid in being writer that aren’t talked about enough. I am all about breaking down the mystification of writing as a vocation and the sacralization of the writer as an individual, so why not start with this handy list?

  1. You don’t need to be depressed to be a writer. This myth continues to this day. It is true that some really great writers (see: Virginia Woolf, Sylvia Plath etc) were depressed and eventually committed suicide. This, however, is tragic and unfortunate. It didn’t make their writing any better or worse. I heard once that suffering is a necessary precondition of all great artists and while I understand that heartache and social alienation and culture clash might constitute as ‘suffering’ to some, I also think that these kind of quotes glorify clinical suffering that people actually need to get help for. Sure there are studies that show that depressed people might tend to have different outlooks on life that may or may not help them to be more creative; however, being dead is pretty much the end of all creativity. Get help. And then keep writing.
  2. Writing does not need to be your only job. There are plenty of writers who worked real day jobs (see: Herman Melville, John Steinbeck, Nathaniel Hawthorne) and even though writing was their real passion in life, they didn’t sacrifice everything for the craft. In fact, some of the best writers will tell you that sitting at home all day, worrying about the bills and procrastinating by binge-watching Netflix is the worst writing inspiration they could possibly imagine. Just ask anyone working on a doctorate dissertation and you know why it is critical to have social contact and some other work besides writing to keep you going. Plus, it offers the possibility of expanding your knowledge base and allows for your financial freedom to focus on your writing.
  3. You should write AND read every day. Every single published author who is worth listening to will tell you this. You must write something every single day. It doesn’t have to be the big project you’re working on; it doesn’t have to be a complete poem in its entirety. It just shouldn’t be an email response or catching up on Facebook comments. To qualify, you should be writing to hone your craft every day. Set a word limit or a time limit and watch how easy they are to achieve and surpass. A lot of writers work best if their time for writing is the same time every day, particularly if they set a time limit (like starting with 15 minutes per day and working your way up to an hour or two). The other important thing is that you MUST read every single day. It doesn’t have to be much but if you are working in a particular genre and you want to keep things fresh and exciting, you should be reading at least one thing per day. Set a time or a page limit and you are gold. Most authors have several books on the go so this is a no-brainer.
  4. Read outside your genre. Expand your knowledge base – I cannot emphasize how important this is. It is very easy to spot an author who sticks to stereotypical similes, tropes and metaphors of their genre. The more you know, the more you add to your writing toolkit – information and ideas that you access at a moment’s notice while you are typing or scrawling away.
  5. Really study your favourite authors’ craft. How many times have you sat down with your favourite book and studied how the author described people? How many times have you highlighted transition passages between chapters? Are there margin notes in your books? If the answers are never, never and no, you will be very limited in what you can accomplish in your writing. De-mystify what makes a good book a good book. Figure out exactly how descriptions of people and places happen. Underline and jot down the key elements of good dialogue and keep these things in mind for your own writing. When you get stuck, it can offer a simple solution to getting unstuck. Emulating the greats brings no shame with it either! The best learn from the best!
  6. Not all of your writing has to be good. Destroy your Messiah-complex. Not everything you write is going to be the lost gospel. In fact, most of it will be destined for the wastebasket. The pressure to always perform can lead to serious (surprise, surprise) performance anxiety – just like any other vocation. Realize that in every piece of drivel, you might be fortunate enough to find something salvageable and transformable for later. Keep at it. I had a brilliant writing instructor who used to force us to take our favourite sentences and black them out with a sharpie. “Kill your babies!” another writing instructor would shout, at our pouty, ego-bruised faces. Liberate yourself and keep writing.
  7. Not everything you write has to be the next great novel. Same idea as number 6. You don’t always need to be working on projects that are going to be published to be considered a writer. Write for the sake of writing. Figure out interesting writing exercises you can do (write in vignettes, write on a specific memory, write like it’s a different genre or era) that will help you expand your horizons and (no surprise here) will. Get. You. Writing.
  8. Writers are constantly learning. If you are not learning, you are not writing. Writing doesn’t just come out of nowhere. You are not a divine hierophany through which the writing muse speaks. You have to be on top of your learning. This doesn’t mean sitting in a library all day either. Learning means reflecting on things – whether this be people-watching, travelling, psychoanalysis, reading a book, learning a new hobby, attending a social group etc.
  9. Good researchers make good writers. This goes hand-in-hand with number 8. The best writers also do the best research. They are not lazy with their research and will often seek out multiple sources to find the same information. Absolutely nothing is worse than reading a book or short story that is riddled with historical mistakes, the wrong dates or things that are totally implausible. It tears your reader out of the magical reading-space and starts their brain questioning immediately – a writer’s worst nightmare.
  10. When you fail, try again. A lot of what you do will suck. You will get a lot of rejection letters. Some people will tell you that you aren’t meant to write. Just keep reading, researching and, above all, writing. You will improve. You will find your genre, your audience and your stride. If you stop trying, the only thing you’ve found is defeat.

 

A little while ago, we had a blog post about How Travel Makes You a Better Writer and since we are professional writers, you would think we have traveled a fair amount. In this article, we will explore some of the lessons Nakita has learned about writing while going on a tour of all the places she has visited so far.

tumblr_mbxa59Xpfg1r1mmbpo1_500Paris: Always keep your wits about you. Shortly after I turned 18 years old, I booked a flight to Paris on a discount airline and announced to my family that I would be going away for six weeks. Being an overprotective Italian famiglia, they didn’t take this too well, but knowing me, they let me go. It was a bit of a learning curve for me the whole way through from figuring out where my hostel was, to getting lost in the Jardin des Tuileries, from having a dirty old man named Maurice literally French kiss me in the trees. Whether it was admiring the art or the beauty of this world-class city, Paris is all about keeping you on your toes. I went again the following year with a dear friend of mine, Carrie. Between laundry detergent exploding in her luggage the instant we arrived, episodes of urinating in the street, and endless marriage proposals from the Algerians selling wine under La Tour Eiffel, Paris hadn’t changed much. One particular instance that stands out is a young fellow named Taoufek following us back to our hotel, begging for our phone number. I scanned the street and spotted a number on the window of a nearby hairsalon. I’m sure he was surprised the next day. Poor guy.

tumblr_lcuzvgKxeC1qb0bzxo1_1280Krakow: Always leave room for the element of surprise. I have been to this beautiful Polish city three times in my life. The first time was just after I had been in Paris and I was traveling there for historical purposes – to go visit Auschwitz-Birkenau. Little did I know how beautiful and brilliant the city would be – amazing, generous people, brilliant food, classic sights. Krakow has an incredible charm to it that I hadn’t really been expecting. And the deep appreciation that people from Krakow have for good jazz music meant that I was listening to some of the best tunes I had heard in awhile, almost everywhere I went. When I went back to Paris the following year, I also went back to Krakow. I just couldn’t stay away from that place. Kebabs the size of your head, Chopin being played in the streets; it was all too much. I went there again in January 2010 – visiting the winter was very different and I arrived on a whim for the 65th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. The ceremony was bizarre and somber, and since I was in a psychologically dark place, the whole experience was quite void of the light and merriment I normally associate with Krakow. I will go back soon to rectify this.

tumblr_lspqeubZA01qaqfbbo1_500Greece: Always go to the doctor. After the second Paris, Krakow trip, I ended up in Greece, visiting Athens and Crete. Unfortunately, I had contracted an infection in Poland that I subsequently ignored and in the small town of Rethymnon on Crete, it caught up with me. Turns out you should always, always get antibiotics for a UTI or else, like it did for me, it will turn into a kidney infection and you will be hospitalized for three days with a doctor who wears flip flops and smokes cigarettes in a nasty wifebeater while he does your ultrasound. Other than nearly dying, Greece was amazing. This was in 2006 before the collapse of everything holy and sacred, where you could still buy tiropita on every street corner and the best meal you’ve ever had was chicken and potatoes in an unmarked, hole-in-the-wall in the port of Athens. Listening to Bouzkouki music outside under the infinite stars – a sight to behold which makes the current crisis and destruction of the country all the more heartbreaking.

folkloricoMexico: Never wear your glasses in the ocean OR when in doubt, add salsa. I’ve been to Mexico twice – Puerto Vallarta and Cancun – and had positive experiences both times. Unfortunately, the first day my family and I had arrived in Puerto Vallarta at our hotel, I decided to go body-surfing in the ocean and (like a dum-dum) left my only pair of glasses on my face. Little do most of you know, I’m nearly blind and I’m also petrified of birds so imagining my fear when a pelican was drifting towards me in-between waves. I was so distracted by it that I missed the giant wave coming at me until it slammed into my face, knocking my glasses into the swirling abyss, never to be found again. I was a screaming hot mess coming out of that ocean, sobbing like a madwoman. Luckily, my father has the same prescription as me and I got the joy of wearing his prescription sunglasses at night and his over-sized dad glasses during the day. Sexy stuff people. Did I mention that I was fourteen and bald because I had recently shaved my head to raise money for cancer? Oh Lord. The best parts of Mexico are its warm people, its beautiful landscapes and its unbelievable food. I would have to say that if someone held a gun to my head and made me pick a favourite world cuisine, Mexican would be it. (Although Lebanese is a close second).

59d5bbb08738877501630e3bd03b15afDominican Republic: Never keep your mouth shut. My dad lives in the Dominican Republic so it was only a matter of time before I made it out to this beautiful island country to visit him and his wife. The DR is a place of paradoxes and disparities. Rich gringos live the life behind walled compounds guarded by locals holding large rifles while illegal Haitians chisel out a meager living while being exploited by their Dominican bosses. The deep blue of the water at the soft-sand beaches is almost enough to make you forget the crippling poverty that envelopes the country and looks like paradise to its Haitian neighbor to the west. There are a lot of things I could write about my experience in the DR but what takes the cake was being invited to a lunch with a group of my dad’s colleagues in an affluent home and meeting a man who earned the title of the most self-righteous, racist, jack@$$ I have ever met. In the course of half a meal, he outed himself as a pompous Brit, hell-bent on proving to me that Dominicans are allergic to work and that something is wrong with their “blood”. Most people might smile and nod, not wanting to rock the boat with their dad’s business partner, but I’m not most people. Obviously, I outed him for the khemar (Arabic for donkey) that he is and promptly left the dining table to sit in the car. I couldn’t even stand the sight of this guy and regret nothing in leaving our host’s home to get away from him. Gringos! Bah!

Christmas-Lights-Temple-Square-Salt-Lake-City-Utah-3Salt Lake City, Utah: Trust yourself and take the time to feel your spirit. I went to Utah to be trained for my work in the nutrition field on a special medical device that measures inflammation in the body’s meridians. I certainly didn’t expect to have something verging on a religious experience. In case you didn’t know it, Salt Lake City is the Mecca of ‘Muricas Mormons (or Latter Day Saints as they prefer to be called). Walking around Temple Square talking to missionaries about their religion all day was deeply interesting to me. They were so open to my posing challenging (but respectful) questions (constantly), I could hardly believe it. It’s easily the cleanest city I have ever visited and I have yet to feel a sense of peace and stillness anywhere else as I did there. My cousin was living there at the time and when I asked her why everything was so calm and peaceful all the time, she replied that it was “Spirit”. There are a number of ways that one can quantify what I felt there- biologically, psychologically, socially, etc. However, I prefer to think of that journey as part of my personal evolution when I started to trust myself more and feel that stillness. As a convert to Islam, a lot of people are surprised to find that Latter Day Saints had a hand in my conversion to being a Muslim, but they did and I’m forever grateful for that.

tumblr_ml5g5zJ84R1s2u8uuo1_500_largeLondon: Don’t order the Chinese food. I’ve been to London twice for very short periods both times. The second time was after the Rethymnon hospitalization incident so London is a bit of a blur for me. All I really remember is that my hostel had about 4 inches of room around the perimeter of the bed for “walking” around and that I ordered chicken fried rice at a small Chinese joint and it cost £18. That is 36 dollars, people. For rice, oil and a couple scraps of chicken. I couldn’t wait to leave the UK.

tumblr_lzurp1SiRv1qb0bzxo1_500Italy: Fall in love and relish your family’s history. It is impossible for me to encapsulate Italy in a tiny paragraph on a blog full of other places to talk about. My experiences there have been so rich and life-changing that doing it justice is an impossibility. The first time I went to Italy, I explored the boot with my cousin Michele, visiting every city we could and hunting Carravaggios and Berninis in the chapels and museums of our beloved homeland. It was also the trip where I met my husband Bassam who had been living and working in Firenze for ten years. A year after the moon hit my eye like a big pizza pie at the sight of his nose, I lived there with him for a month. It was easily one of the best months of my life as it was Ramadan and I had unfettered access to an English language bookstore where I could read to my heart’s content (when I wasn’t sketching or jogging!). Later, I was also able to visit the land my family came from in Calabria, staying in the house my grandmother grew up in and waking up to the orchards of the Maione hills every morning. La dolce vita.

tumblr_lwmnvmR14f1r8ggsqo4_1280Morocco: The number of lessons I have learned from living a cumulative three years in Morocco as far too many to list here, let alone sum up in one cutesy subheading. I lived, loved and almost died in this country. Its people have entered my heart; its food has moistened my veins; its sounds have long echoed in my ears. My daughter was born there and, I have had some brilliant memories as well as the darkest moments of my life in the Maghreb. I built a primary school in a rural village there with my husband and now, my academic research is devoted to pedagogy of the Holocaust among Moroccan Muslims. For this, it will always be part of my history and likely my future as well. I learned independence and a strength I didn’t know I had – overcoming the most overwhelming of obstacles to rise and thrive another day.

Where have you been and what have you learned?

The Drawing Board is having a very busy holiday season! We have picked up a few new clients and our wonderful past clients have been keeping us happily occupied over the break!

typewriterThings we are currently working on:

The Islam 101 website: posting soon! This has been a blast to work on! We have been writing articles and gathering tons of Islamic data to put on the incredible educational, community-based initiative page. Looking forward to sharing the results with you!

The Custom Blinds By Design Blog: We have been a bit behind on this client but her gorgeous new website looks fabulous and we are looking forward to spending the new year getting the blog full of material and getting started from scratch on social media outlets!

The Behrends Group Blog: We are ecstatic to start working closer with the Behrends Group of Edmonton, AB. They are moving in exciting new directions for design-and-build signage work and we can’t wait to help them establish their blog and social media to keep everyone connected!

An Optimum Health Oregano Oil eBook –  a long-term project that is finally coming to a close, this awesome eBook will be available in early 2015 as part of Optimum Health’s eCommerce site launch! We’re happy to provide healthy, informative promotional material for this incredible local business!

Happy New Year everyone!

Let’s face it: the digital world is here to stay and if all of us are going to be using websites and social media to communicate, shop, share and live then we had better be doing it well. One of the biggest stumbling blocks that is facing companies, non-profits and charities these days is good, quality content on the social media and websites that keeps them informative, relevant and interesting. This is because of a very simple fact of life: Web designers and business owners are not writers. Here is a very short but convincing list of reasons you should hire a writer today.

  1. It’s their job. Simple, right? Most successful business owners or managers are those people that realize they need to put their talent in all of the right places. You’re not going to ask your sales director to sit down and write a few blogs a week. A writer loves writing and is darn good at it too, so why not put them in charge of the content for your website, blogs and company eBooks? They won’t get sick of it. They’ll flourish and, as a result, your business online presence and power will flourish too.
  2. It’s what they’re trained to do. There are not many people who can claim to have written hundreds of blog articles and even millions of words, but writers can. Most writers have Arts degrees (or two, or three) and so have been trained and conditioned in the art of writing papers in very short periods of time that have to be relevant and concise. Most writers have honed their craft with other writers and willingly have subjected themselves to rigorous peer review to perfect their skill, page after page, word after word. We’ll leave the business to you if you leave the writing to us.
  3. It will make your life so much easier. Why fight and struggle to generate a few paragraphs of writing for a blog article or suffer with an EBook on your to-do-list for months? If you hire a writer, you can spend your precious little time on more important things like other areas of business, developing new products and services, or even taking time off to spend with family.
  4. It will increase your business. Hiring a writer means you are going to get more content onto your website and social media. Diversified, regular content updates, particularly on blogs or media streams increases your hit rate via search engines and the likelihood that someone will seek out your business online or because they found you online. It also generates more word-of-mouth marketing by increasing your online presence and your “shareability”. The more you post online, the more you will be talked about. Household name status leads to more business. Period.
  5. It can make you a pioneer in your industry. There is a lot of big business that is really slow to get on the technological bandwagon and often, when they do, their approach can be a bit archaic (see: old fashioned, not hip). By hiring a web-savvy writer, you’re investing in your own company and raising your status from dowdy, run-of-the-mill business to an industry pioneer that all the cool cats are talking about. Hire a writer today and watch your business grow, transform and blossom for the better.