Exchanging Notes – Alissa York at the Toronto Public Library

Had a great time at the Toronto Public Library yesterday, where writer Alissa York was a guest of the Toronto Writers’ Co-operative, and interviewed by john miller.


Ms. York talked about her childhood, the inspiration for her books, her writing routine, the importance of naming characters well (with which I agreed wholeheartedly) and the role of animals in her life and in her writing.

I was struck by Ms. York’s dedication to her writing and the thoroughness of her research (Ms. York’s books are quite research-heavy), and at how one tiny detail such as a discrepancy in the number of survivors of the 1857 Mountain Meadows massacre provided « just enough room » to allow her to write her novel Effigy.

It was an enlightening, entertaining and enjoyable evening. I wish I had taken notes beyond the few in my Twitter feed!

A.M. Matte and Alissa York standing side by side in an open space of the Toronto Public Library

A.M. Matte and Alissa York at the Toronto Public Library

A New Notebook

Three blank pages remain in my current notebook and I’m eagerly writing all I can in order to break out my already-selected, crisp, new notebook.

New notebook, with assorted pen attached

I love paper, and notebooks, and notepads. I have to exercise control in the vicinity of paper shops lest I forget myself in the presence of pretty letterhead and envelopes, sniffing and cajoling the cardboard- or plastic-bound notebooks (I can’t afford leather).

I have collected notebooks for years, lining them up on a bookshelf, the ink-filled ones on one side, the virgin ones on the other. They include notebooks gifted to me nearly twenty years back (I finally filled that one half a year ago – thanks, Maman!), notebooks bought at discount for other people that I then couldn’t give away, and notebooks given away as swag by various companies (thanks, Collège Boréal and Telus!). My current and next notebooks fall in the later category, and include matching pens. Score.

In my notebooks go story ideas, character sketches, name lists, notable quotes, memorable dreams and passages of my current works. Those eventually get transcribed into my computer. Other than that, I prefer handwritten notes, whether in ballpoint pen, pencil or gel pen; re-reading my notes, in hard copy, often inspires me to write more. A virtuous cycle.

What’s in your notebook?

Countering Writer’s Block

Shi– I mean, writer’s block happens. Truth or myth, there will be times when writers struggle to fill the page. There are a few things I do in order to counter this imagination constipation and, no, I don’t mean doing the laundry.

I’ve been known to:

  • Search the internet for weird news items. There are crazy stories out there, just begging to inspire yours. My short story À l’air results from such searches.
  • Open a (yet-unread) book and copy out a sentence or passage. Then, keep writing. Another author’s writing can spur me back to my own project. If opening a book at random doesn’t do it for you, you can find an inspiration-spurring sentence on Twitter or FaceBook.
  • Eavesdrop on the conversations around me. On public transportation, in an elevator, in a restaurant or a café. I’m hard of hearing, so I don’t always catch everything, but that only helps; I can more easily let my imagination take over if I don’t catch the context. What situations do I impose on the words I hear? What characters introduce themselves? This technique can also work while you are part of the conversation, but your friends will have to be understanding if you suddenly dash off to write something down.
  • Keep a dream notebook on my night table. Imagination (and libibo, sure) runs rampant at night. Some plausible scenes and stories can come up in one’s unconscious. It’s worth writing down ASAP in the morning. (The worst thing is not to do so right away, and mourn what one has forgotten. True story.) A few words can suffice. Later, if writer’s block rears its unwelcome head, read your dream notebook to poke at slumbering inspiration. My short story Timothy’s Blanket was inspired by a dream.

These are but a few of my go-to ideas to counter writer’s block. What are yours? Whether they lead to your continuing your current writing or to something new, it doesn’t matter. What’s important is never not to write.


Astuces de déblocage

Il m’arrive – d’après moi, trop souvent – d’être victime d’angoisse de la page blanche. Pourtant, ce syndrome n’est qu’un mythe; il s’agit de ne pas se laisser prendre. Ainsi, lorsque l’angoisse, ou sa petite soeur la temporisation, se présente, j’ai quelques astuces pour continuer à écrire. Je ne me mets pas nécessairement au projet d’écriture du jour mais, à tout le moins, je me mets à l’écriture qui s’impose.

Voici quelques pistes que j’ai utilisées pour me remettre à la tâche:

– Faire une recherche Internet pour des nouvelles insolites. Ces histoires cocasses et invraisemblables peuvent en inspirer d’autres. Cette astuce a mené, entre autres, à ma nouvelle À l’air.

– Ouvrir un livre (que l’on n’a pas encore lu) et en copier une phrase. Écrire la suite. Quelques lignes peuvent suffire pour revenir à la page blanche qui angoissait l’instant précédent. On peut aussi copier une phrase d’un gazouillis (tweet) ou d’un article d’actualité.

– Prendre note des conversations autour de soi, dans le transport en commun, dans un ascenseur, dans un restaurant ou un café. Quelles questions surgissent? Quels personnages s’imposent? C’est plus simple de laisser aller son imagination si on ne fait pas partie de la conversation, mais sait-on jamais, peut-être que vos amies et amis n’auront pas objection à ce que vous quittiez subitement la salle pour aller écrire quelques bribes de texte.

– Entretenir un cahier de rêves. Il s’agit de garder, sur sa table de chevet, un calepin de notes dans lequel on transcrit ses aventures nocturnes. (Vraies ou rêvées, c’est selon.) L’imagination est sans limites lorsqu’on dort. Il faut en profiter. Il faut aussi noter dès que possible au réveil, sinon, on risque de perdre le souvenir d’un rêve marquant. Quelques mots peuvent suffire pour se remémorer des scènes. Plus tard, lorsque l’angoisse de la page blanche se manifeste, relire ses rêves pour éveiller l’inspiration. C’est un rêve qui a inspiré ma nouvelle Timothy’s Blanket.

D’autres astuces peuvent aider écrivains et écrivaines à se remettre à la tâche. Prendre une marche solitaire à l’extérieur, par exemple, ou changer d’environnement. Au fond, il s’agit de ne jamais ne pas écrire…

Vous avez d’autres astuces à suggérer? Donnez-m’en des nouvelles!