Category Archives: writing


It’s November, but after the last two years of half-hearted NaNoWriMo attempts, I learned my lesson and didn’t even sign up this year. On the bright side, I’m 80k words into my current work in progress. (Except that many of those words will need to be changed in the second draft…) I haven’t touched it since mid-summer, but it’s been calling to me louder and louder lately.

This week I got a new laptop and installed Scrivener, so now I really have no excuse not to be writing. However, computers are a great tool for procrastination… instead of writing, here’s how I spent my first night with my new toy:

Doesn't Sir William look thrilled?

Doesn’t Sir William look thrilled?

Then I thought Sir William might enjoy modelling more if he had a sweet new outfit to show off, so I got him ready for the holidays:

Xmas kitty photobooth


You can see that Comma got into the fun, batting the jingle bell dangling from Sir William’s tiny little antlers.

… it’s only mid-November, guys. This is going to get way worse before it gets better. Oh well, as long as I find some time to squeeze in a bit of writing in between all the photo sessions…


Today, the Association of Canadian Publishers‘ digital arm, eBound, posted an interview with me. I may be a little biased, but I think it makes for interesting reading. Click here to find out my thoughts on marketing books online, ebook development, and what the best kind of interactive children’s media is.

And how’s my creative writing going, you ask? Well, my New Year’s resolution was to continue writing every single day, and so far I’ve only missed 4-5 days this year. A story that I started writing last April is now sitting at 65,000 words–and I missed a few months of daily writing in 2012, so that’s less than a year’s work. It’s gratifying to see how small daily habits can add up to big accomplishments.

A friend of mine recently started a blog, and in one of her first posts, she shared a favourite phrase: “What you do all the time matters more than what you do once in awhile.” I’m officially adding that to my list of mantras, right after “A clean house means you have too much time on your hands” and “Clowns are not funny, they’re downright creepy.”

Confession: I was a teen sick-lit addict

Last week, I heard a podcast from CBC’s The Current discussing a YA trend dubbed “sick lit”: books that glorify illness and harmful behavior (cancer, suicide, cutting, etc.). One of the examples discussed was Thirteen Reasons Why; another was The Fault in Our Stars. (I’ve read both; my thoughts about them are on Goodreads.) The heart of the conversation was whether these novels glorify harmful behavior and encourage depression. Do young readers need to be protected from books that might leave them feeling hopeless, or, worse, like they should hurt themselves?

These discussions around appropriate YA literature seem to come up a few times a year. In 2011, it was the Wall Street Journal’s “Darkness Too Visible” article that ignited passionate discussion about what dark, edgy stories could be doing to impressionable youth. (Click here for a good summary of the controversy.) And last year, there were many articles wondering whether the popularity of The Hunger Games trilogy was a good thing or not, considering that the premise is young teens fighting each other to the death. (Discussed here, here, also here.)

Full disclosure: as a young teen, I went through a kid-dying-of-cancer stage. I practically cleared my local library out of all the books starring a young protagonist dealing with her mortality along with all the other issues of adolescence (namely, does my crush like me back?). I branched out into books narrated by a teen whose sibling had died (either suddenly, usually in a car accident, or slowly, from illness). And then I devoured series after series of teen horror fiction (usually by R.L. Stine, Christopher Pike, and D.E. Athkins)–those books were littered with teen corpses by the end. Had I stumbled on a book about cutting, I’m sure I would have read it.  However, despite my macabre tastes, I was an optimistic and well-adjusted teenager.

As a YA author, I have not written anything that could conceivably be called sick lit. Yet. But there are all sorts of stories that appeal to me, and I appreciate the story-potential of the darker side of life. After all, without conflict and adversity, there’s no story to tell.

For example, if I start telling you about my trip to the grocery store yesterday, you immediately assume that something went wrong–there was a really long line! Someone was rude to me! I saw a celebrity! I ran into my ex with his new wife and baby! If I tell you that I just bought some bread and eggs and left, you’re going to conclude that I’m the most boring person you know. The author’s job is to tell a good story and to tell it well. Period.

Therefore, if one thing is certain, it’s this: authors will continue to write all sorts of stories, teens will continue to devour the ones that resonate with them, and reviewers will continue to attack and defend trends in YA literature.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I must get back to my work-in-progress about a teenage girl who is battling leukemia while trying to solve the murder of her best friend, who was also her first crush. And a vampire.

There goes my brilliant career idea…

My friend (and talented author) Helene Boudreau recently posited that spammers might be more successful if they mastered proper grammar and spelling. I immediately thought, “Now there’s a business opportunity!” I imagined myself selling my editorial services to spammers, for my usual hourly rate plus a small cut of whatever profits their new and improved scams brought in. Unethical? Perhaps. But hey, a writer’s gotta make a living, right?

Thankfully, I hadn’t yet crafted my pitch letter when another friend posted this article:  Scammers Intentionally Write Lousy Emails. That’s right–those emails are hilariously illiterate on purpose. Why? Because if you’re not the type of person who sees lots of spelling and grammar errors as a red flag, you’re more likely to fall for the scam. (“Wow, I can’t believe this person from Nigeria is really going to trust me with $20 million! Sucker!”)

Oh well. I suppose I’ll just have to keep my day job. And continue writing on the side. (At least I’m churning out around 10,000 words each month by sticking to my Don’t Break the Chain pledge, which I started in March. Go, me!)

Don’t break the chain: update

Over the weekend, I finished my first full month of applying the Don’t Break the Chain method (see this post) to my writing. With a minimum goal of 200 words per day, I ended the month with over 10,000 words, and hope to write even more in April.

Given how well this method has worked for me so far, I’ve been enthusiastically telling friends about it. And most of my friends are gigantic smart-asses like me. Here are some of their brilliant questions about Don’t Break the Chain:

Smart-Ass Friends (SAF): Your goal is 200 words a day… so does that include all words? Like, do emails count? Or Facebook status updates?

Me: No.

SAF: How about talking? How about if you say at least 200 words?

Me: NO.

SAF: That’s a shame; you’re so good at talking.


SAF: Ok, what about if you write 400 words in one day? Does that mean you can skip the next day?

Me: No, because that would be BREAKING THE FUCKING CHAIN. God do you guys even listen.

SAF: Kind of, but mostly we just like provoking you. You give good reactions.


SAF: Hey, you should write this down and count it towards your 200 words*…

Me: I told you, that’s not how it–


*Yes, this dialogue is over 200 words. No, I am not counting it. So there.

Don’t break the chain!

Confession: I thrive on deadlines. In all the jobs I’ve ever held, I have never missed a single one. My first book owes its very existence to the publisher extending me a contract (with a deadline!) before I’d finished the manuscript.

But without a firm deadline, I flounder. By the time Fractured was published in November 2010, I had started on a couple new projects but wasn’t making much progress. I attempted to flesh one out for NaNoWriMo 2010, but quickly lost steam. In 2011, I was busy with wedding planning, and the most I managed was a short story (and only then because there was a submission deadline!). After the wedding, I took another shot at NaNoWriMo… but this time, I didn’t even last a week, and produced about a tenth of my 2010 effort: less than 2,000 words.

In January, I boldly dragged out my manuscripts from both NaNoWriMo attempts and proclaimed that I would, indeed, become a disciplined daily writer in 2012. That goal went the way of everyone else’s New Year’s resolutions: dead in four days. I continued to attend monthly Torkidlit meetups but was starting to feel like a fraud. To be a writer, you must write, after all.

And then in late February one of my friends posted this article on Facebook: “How Seinfeld’s Productivity Secret Fixed My Procrastination Problem.” The method it describes is not new: it’s called “don’t break the chain,” and it’s very simple:

  1. Print out a blank monthly calendar.
  2. Set a measurable goal.
  3. For each day you achieve your goal, place an X on that day of the calendar.
  4. Don’t break the chain of X’s.

I printed out calendars for March to December, and started on March 1st. My goal is 200 words a day (minimum) or half an hour of revising (though I consider that an “out,” and have only used it once–my priority is finishing the first draft). Here’s my calendar for March:

And here’s the rest of the year: looks a little daunting, but also exciting!

So far, I’ve written over 9,100 words in 26 days (an average of 350/day). Progress is slow but steady, and the word target has had the bonus side effect of shutting up my internal editor so I can focus on getting the first draft done and then going back and rewriting most of it. The biggest benefit, however, has been making writing a daily habit: something I’ve struggled with for far too long. It’s too early to declare success, but at least I feel like I’m finally on the right path.

If you’ve also tried the Don’t Break the Chain method or have your own productivity tip to share, leave a reply below!

"Yes, Sir William, I'm AWARE that this was a long post. No need to rub it in!"

It’s 2012!

Someone gently reminded me that I hadn’t updated since November (thanks, HEATHER) and what better time to update than the first week of a shiny new year, right?

A brilliant friend of mine eschews New Year’s resolutions in favour of retroactive resolutions, which is a lovely tradition. My retroactive resolutions for 2011 are:

  • Get married & have a great honeymoon
  • Start a regular exercise regime instead of cutting back on chocolate
  • Read a ton of books
  • Have my own Christmas tree for the very first time and keep the kittens from destroying it or themselves

Success! I rock.

You may notice that “finish my next book” or even “complete NaNoWriMo” did not make the retroactive resolutions list. Alas, that is no mistake. However, I dug out an unfinished manuscript from my NaNoWriMo 2010 attempt and discovered that parts of it were definitely salvageable, so I’m focusing on that for now.

In the meantime, here. Have a kitten.

"Me? I'M not upside down. YOU'RE upside down!"

NaNoWriMo 2011!

It’s that time again! National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo to those of us crazy enough to sign up for it. (My profile: jo_words.)

Last year was the first time I both signed up and tried to write daily for the entire month. I fell far short of the 50,000 word goal, coming in around 20,000 or so, but that’s still 20,000 words I didn’t have at the beginning of the month.

My goal for this year is 30,000 words: that’s 1,000 words per day. I’ve written 1,842 words in two days, so I figure that’s realistic. The novel I’m working on is one that I’ve had in my head for about a year and a half. I tried to produce a first draft at the beginning of last year’s NaNoWriMo, then gave up and started a totally new story instead. So perhaps this story is cursed? Oh well, doesn’t matter–I’m starting it again from scratch, and this time around it will get written. Or else.

A confession about fan letters

Well, actually, my title is misleading. This post contains two confessions about fan letters.

Confession the first:

I have never sent a fan letter to an author, even though I often compose them in my head while reading. The closest I ever got was about fifteen years ago, after reading one of Amy Tan‘s books (I think it was either The Hundred Secret Senses or The Kitchen God’s Wife). I got as far as typing out a few paragraphs, but that was it. I abandoned the effort because (a) I was so saturated with her delicious words that I’d begun channeling her writing style, which was embarrassing, and (b) that was back before you could easily track down an email address for an author, or contact them through their website. I probably would have had to print off the letter and mail it. With a stamp and everything!

Anyway, the point is: I have never completed a fan letter to an author. Which is a shame because…

Confession the second:

Even though I am a barely-known author with one slim book to my name, I have received fan letters, and they make my day. Some of them make my entire week. I’ve also had the pleasure of reading enthusiastic reviews of my book, and those make my day/week/month too.

If my book had come out ten years ago, the same amount of people may have enjoyed it, but I probably wouldn’t have heard from them. Now there are tons of excellent book blogs–many of which are devoted to young adult lit–and communities like GoodReads where the book addicts hang out, and authors and readers coming together on Twitter to do neat things like #YAlitchat. People have always been excited about books, but now it’s easier than ever for those people to find each other.

So even as independent bookstores close and publishers struggle to figure out what an ebook-dominated future will mean for them, all is not lost. Today, writers can be closer than ever to their readers, and vice versa. So whether you’re a reader or a writer or both, get out there and tell your favourite authors how much you love their books.

And Amy Tan? I’m a huge fan.

Five bad traits writers can justify

One of the great things about being an author, besides the millions of dollars you get for your debut novel, is the privilege of claiming that your negative personality traits are actually vital to your craft. To get you started, here are five common bad traits that writers can easily justify.


Also known as “lying,” but embellishment sounds classier, doesn’t it? As a writer, you have a keen sense of what makes a good story… and sometimes the truth just doesn’t cut it. (And sometimes it does: see Gossip, below.) So if you’re right in the middle of regaling everyone with the tale of how you met Johnny Depp and your friend pipes up that it was just an actor in the Pirates of the Caribbean area of Disneyland, remember: you’re not lying. You’re working on your craft (specifically, narration and pacing).

My aunt taught me this trick on one of her visits. I was in another room when I overheard her telling my roommate that I’d failed my driver’s test six times before finally passing. I stormed into the room to correct her–after all, I failed twice, let it be known! But she just laughed at my outrage and said, “Yes, but six makes a better story, doesn’t it?”


“And they all lived happily every after” is the end of the story, not the middle. Without conflict, readers have no reason to turn the page. So if this instinct to find the drama in everyday situations spills over into real life, you’re hardly to blame, right? Sure, your mother may have simply forgotten to sign your birthday card because she was in a rush or distracted… but maybe it was because she’s passive-aggressively punishing you for taking so long to potty-train. And come to think of it, she always did like your sibling better, right? Now there’s a story!

So the next time you’re accused of making mountains out of molehills, you can reply, “Exactly. Because who would pay money to go see a molehill?” (Or you can say, “Why are you always so mean to me?” and collapse into a dramatic, sobbing heap. Both approaches work.)


Also known as “part of the creative process,” procrastination is endlessly justifiable. Disciplined writers may tell you that “butt in chair = pages”–which is true–but there are tons of ways to justify your procrastination: maybe your muse is silent. Or your subconscious is busy mulling over the story and you don’t want to interrupt the process until it’s done. Or perhaps your office is a mess and it’s impossible to organize your thoughts until you’ve organized everything else, right down to your pens and paper clips. In any case, the dog needs a walk and the cat is napping on your keyboard, so writing will have to wait.

Note: I am writing this blog post rather than doing my taxes, which are already late. But I figure I should get some points for writing to procrastinate rather than procrastinating about writing, right?


Some may consider this a subset of procrastination, but it can be an art of its own. Daydreaming can range from your average head-in-the-clouds musing about life to wild fantasies about how you’ll spend the millions of dollars you earn as a famous novelist. And it’s productive: by coming up with all sorts of possible (if unlikely) ideas, you’re giving your imagination a good workout.


Come now, how are you supposed to write convincingly about other people’s lives if you’re not constantly sticking your nose into their business? And what better way to learn about different personalities and voices than to befriend a variety of people, especially the ones that like to tell you their life story? It’s not petty gossip, it’s serious character study! But be discreet, or you may find your friends clamming up when you’re around.

An aside: One day, you will construct a single character out of the personalities of three of your friends, and none of them will recognize themselves–but a completely different friend will be absolutely convinced that the character is based on him. You will never be able to convince him otherwise.

Ok, I’m off to do my taxes… but if you need an excuse to avoid your work-in-progress, go ahead and leave your own favourite “writer trait” in the comments!