When is a manuscript finished?

Does a manuscript become a novel when someone finally picks it off a store bookshelf? When is a writer through with changing the colour of a character’s eyes, or sending them off to the outback, or possibly removing them from the story line entirely?

I believe it was Joni Mitchell who once said she could never listen to her songs because she always heard things she wished she’d done differently, and at a writers’ festival, Alistair MacLeod, one of Canada’s best loved writers, said that his manuscripts had to be torn from his hands.

Recently, I read somewhere that a manuscript is complete when you’ve given it all that you possibly could, when the story is finished within you. For now, that is the point that I have reached. Over five years of writing and re-writing, fermenting, thinking, re-writing, changing the colour of a character’s eyes, sending them down new roads.

Time to see what other readers think.

Time for a walk in the mountain. Morning fog is setting in, the leaves are changing colour, and I need to breathe some forest air.




MA in Writing. Is it worth it?

I have just submitted my last assignment in my MA. That makes 12 tutorials averaging around 3700 words per tutorial-approximately 2500 words per chapter and 1200 words examining the reasons, literary, theoretical, and creative for the submission. There were also six peer conferences or workshops at 2500 words per conference and 500 words of context, six research modules of around 1000 words per to complete, a journal reviewing term progress, and a continuing bibliography. You can add up the word count.

Was it worth it? I had to borrow the money to do it. But in terms of the writing support, creative inspiration, and expansion of my own knowledge, work and goals, I would do it again with no hesitation. Of course, it has a lot to do with the fact that I chose to do my MA at Lancaster University in England.

My main tutor is the inimitable Conor O’Callaghan, and my peers are Irish and Ugandan poets, Nigerian, Greek, and British short story poets, writers, and novelists.

The outstanding teachers in the program are Michelene Wandor, Sara Maitland, Brian McCabe, Jane Draycott, and George Green. Graham Mort and Lee Horsley coordinate the program. All of these instructors are accomplished award winning writers in their own fields.

There is still the portfolio of 30,000 words and the 3,000 word thesis to tweak by September 1st. So you can see why I have been missing from this blog.

I will post more about the details of the program another time.

My few experiences on stage can be compared to the work I have done in the MA. It is all about the day to day work, or practice and rehearsal. This is where the connections are found, the nuances learned and relearned, the trials and joys are born. Of course, the difference between a collaborative stage production and writing is that 99.9 per cent of the time you are on your own. Finishing the degree is a little like opening night, exciting, but it comes with more of a whimper than a bang. It is too close to the end, and the question what next? looms.

For now I am deep in revisions of not only the thesis, but the entire novel, trying to make it worthy of submission to an editor and agent.

I did get some very nice pictures the other evening of mist over the mountain. It made it look as if the mountain were on fire.

That’s me these days. Misty. On fire.

Fellow MA ers



Back on track

With all of the recent cougar sightings, I am reluctant to drop myself into the leaves of the deep forest.

A kind of lethargy has also come over me regarding that other leaf–the one that contributes to the page.

I am just getting over the high of being immersed in the company of international MA students at Lancaster summer school in England. And what an experience that was. A group of writers from England, Greece, Ireland, Kenya, Uganda, and Nigeria came together and studied, laughed, read, wrote, talked politics, gender, and economics, and, over the occasional British bitter and Bushmills, discussed the future of writing and reading.

These are a talented bunch, writing everything from Victorian dramas to poetry that tears at your soul. We were held together by internationally-acclaimed tutors whose writing awards do not outshine their compassion and dedication to moving younger apprentices to new heights. I hope to contain a tenth of their talent and humanity.

I wanted to sit in the sun after those intense days, ponder, and read. Now that the autumn sun is falling back, I am thinking about the challenges I face with my own work. There is only a year to finish this long narrative/thesis and I must get my head down and as the saying goes, my bum into the chair.

Thank-you to all of my fellow students and tutors. You have touched and inspired–my heart is full.

How is a forest like a novel?

Yesterday evening I took a break from the long narrative work, which will be consuming all of my days and nights for the foreseeable future, to see how spring has advanced on Mt. Doug. I have no idea when I last hiked. (I sound like I never get out and that isn’t entirely true.)

The last time I was in the mountain, though, the trees had just begun to bud–that was about three chapters ago. As I looked around at all the trees in full leaf now, it struck me that words are like leaves, revealing themselves in their own time.

I want the words, and this long narrative, to bloom easily and quickly. The forest teaches me to be patient with my writing. A novel unfolds a word at a time. There can be no rushing of words, just as there is no rushing of the forest to full bloom.

My narrative will never be as beautiful as the forest is at this my favorite time of year, but I receive equal amounts of joy in discovering every word and each new leaf.

The MA thus far

I didn’t expect that working on my MA would be easy, I wanted the challenge.

We have just finished the Michaelmas Term, and so far so good. I have finished three of the self-directed learning modules, practicing how to post work online for peer conferences, considering my own writing as research, and navigating my way through the research resources available to me. Partial to research, I find I am discovering and exploring subjects that may not necessarily find their way into the work, but will definitely inform the work.

I’ve always been a slow reader, and there is so much reading to do. Books from the reading list that I tackled in the first term include Steven King’s On Writing, David Lodge’s Consciousness And The Novel, and Alberto Manguel’s The History of Reading. As well, I have been reading non-fiction works on birds and lakes, Trevor Herriot’s Grass, Sky, Song: Promise and Peril in the World of Grassland Birds, and Allan Casey’s LAKELAND. Two excellent books discussing Canadian landscape.

So far, I have written 25,000 words toward the long narrative–dare I say novel. I had more, but with rewriting as I go, some have been discarded. I am appreciating more and more how much planning and architecture goes into a longer work.

My classmates are from around the world, and our first conference was a rich exchange on our diverse created worlds, as well as the writing process. We email and we twitter to help each other out, despite the time change.

I am so fortunate to have a tutor who is patient, directive, and encouraging, and whose own writing is truly inspiring.

All this while I am trying to submit book reviews for publication and shorter works to contests. Catch my newest work in the upcoming Sports Issue of Windsor Review.

Now on to the Lent Term, revisiting the outline, more reading, and the task of producing an engaging read within the next 25,000 words.

One leaf at a time, on the book side. Stay tuned.

New Year of Writing Contests

Recently, I have been asked to look at the work of writers who would like to take that first brave step of submitting their work for publication, but are unsure of where to begin. Here are a few guidelines that I hope will be helpful.

Start locally. The new year brings with it renewed energy for local writers’ groups, as well as a new year of contests. Many local writing organizations have subgroups that meet to critique poetry, fiction, mystery writing, or drama. It is worth checking them out if you are interested in some feedback before you go ahead. It is always great to have the support of fellow writers.

Do your homework and actually read the publication you are submitting to. Don’t send your article on backpacking Australia to a boat maintenance magazine. Unless of course, you earned money working on boats while you were backpacking. Seems obvious.

Most magazines like you to submit your work to them exclusively, but in these competitive and financially challenging times, more editors are saying they will look at multiple submissions, as long as you let them know if someone else accepts your piece. Check first. Expect to wait up to three months or more for a response.

Keep track of your submissions with a spreadsheet or in a notebook. Write a short note beside the submission if a generous editor writes back with a piece of advice such as, ‘we have all the articles on Christmas crafts for this year, but try us again.’ Consider asking editors to email their editorial lineup for the year. Magazines are often planned months ahead and an article on June weddings may be accepted a full year in advance.

Look farther afield as well. Did you visit New York in the last year? Perhaps The New York Times might be interested in your take on their city.

E-magazines may not send out print copies, but there is a good chance your work will be online for a very long time.

Magazine articles generally don’t pay very much unless you are well-established, on assignment, or a regular columnist.  Writers’ and editors‘ unions provide guidelines on payment and contract advice, which it is hoped publishers and others will follow. Many beginning writers are willing to take what is offered. Keep in mind that soon you will have to decide how much your time and effort are worth.

Learn about the rights you will be giving away when your work is accepted. Today some publishers buy all of the rights, print, and electronic in perpetuity, and this may not be what you had bargained for. If you accumulate several themed pieces you may eventually want to try and have them published in a book. If you have signed away your rights, your work will belong to someone else.

Literary magazine contests are a good place to begin sending out literary work,  but keep in mind there is often an entry fee.

Here is a very short list of contest and magazine links to help you get started.

Good luck and keep writing.

BC Writers

Canadian authors

Gulf Coast

Page One Publishing


Writing Calendar

Writers Digest