Whether you're in a book club or you enjoy chatting over a cup of Earl Grey about the book on your bedside table, you've probably, at some point, read a book someone has recommended.
Maybe it was your high school English teacher forcing you to read a 1000-page Dickens classic, or your mom buying you a "7 Steps to a Highly Inspired Future" self help sizzler. Either way, most of us enjoy sharing our thoughts on books, and also enjoy hearing about a book someone else is reading.That's why I think the English Department of the University of Victoria
chose the best way to celebrate their 50-year anniversary: by asking 50 special friends of the department to share their favourite book on the "50 Special Books
While I was a student of English Literature, first at Laurentian University in my undergrad, and later at UVic in the graduate program, the focus on writing, analyzing, and researching, not to mention reading multiple texts at the same time, sometimes overshadowed what drove me to study post-secondary English Literature in the first place: a love of reading.The English Department's celebration of reading reminded me – and all in attendance at this evening's website launch – that we were all called to study English first and foremost because we love books.I was truly honoured to have been selected to share with the Department – and the world – a book that has meant something special to me. I chose Canadian writer George Elliott Clarke's unique novel, Whylah Falls.In the write-up I submitted to the 50 Special Books site
, you can read at what time in my life I read the book and what one line in it means to me (“Numbers reveal truth. Words always have something to hide.”). But what you can't read is why I chose the book.Here's why:To the best of my remembrance, Whylah Falls
is the first book I read by a black Canadian writer. I studied black American literature extensively in university, but never black Canadian. The book introduced me to an entire new culture in my country, a new community and experience. Many in the book are sad experiences, but many are joyful and full of love, family, and music.The book remains to this day the most beautiful piece of writing I have ever held in my two hands. Clarke plays with words in a way I had never experienced. If you thought there couldn't possibly be any way for a writer to string together words in a new, never-seen order, give this book a try. You'll be amazed at what a bit of rearranging can do.I hesitate when I call this book a novel. It's a series of poems, letters, songs, put together like a novel. The influence of music pervades every line he writes. You can practically hear
how these words would be sung. Clarke makes you want to sing them, to put them to your own music. I've been lucky enough to hear him read from it. His voice and tone is such that he seems to be singing the words he utters. But he's not.Whylah Falls
made me want to play with words, that's why this book has meant so much to me. The book makes me want to arrange and rearrange words until I create a sentence that makes someone feel. Something. Anything. If in my life, I string together one sentence as musically and beautifully as Clarke, I will feel peace.Now I've recommended this book to you, I hope you'll consider picking it up. If I haven't convinced you to read it, check out the other 49 Special Books other friends of the UVic English Department recommend. There is something for every taste and every age. Sure, there's Shakespeare and Austen and Kafka represented. But there's also C.S. Lewis and
Tolkien and authors I've never heard of. You are bound to find something to keep you up late at night. I can't wait to work my way through them all, maybe over the next 50 years. I invite you to, too! Enjoy.
What a year for writing! I'm grateful for the opportunities I've had these past few months, but seeing my first feature article printed in Victoria's esteemed Boulevard Magazine
takes the cake. (Yes, cake
, even though my article is in the Health and Wellness department!)You can find my story, "A Social Running Club Brews a Little Fun with Fitness," on page 76 of the September 2012 issue (pictured left).The article features the forays of the Victoria chapter of the Hash House Harriers and highlights a few of the characters that make up the off-the-wall group as well as their philosophy, which balances getting in shape with drinking beer—and being politically incorrect
. They are a great bunch! I had so much fun researching the story, I'm going to continue running with them.
If you recall, last summer I posted that I was determined to get an article in Boulevard before the end of 2011. Well, I overshot my goal slightly, but that doesn't at all dull the excitement of seeing my byline! --------------------that's me!----------------------------->
I would be so appreciative if you could please read my story
about the Hash House Harriers and share your comments with me here on my blog. I'm looking forward to publishing more articles with Boulevard
and will rely on your feedback to learn what is working and what isn't! Thanks for celebrating this exciting news with me. On on!Note:More information on the worldwide phenomenon that is the Hash House Harriers
.More information on the Victoria chapter.
Craigslist is many things to many people. Treasure hunt. Matchmaker. Art project (see Samantha Allen's amazing photography project, the Craigslist Project
). To me, it was Lady Luck — it kick started
my freelance writing career.
Several years ago, a writer acquaintance told me the first thing I should do to start a freelance career was to get business cards that say "Jessica Woollard, writer." Check. Then I got a website. Check (it looked really bad before this template, believe me!). Then I started reading every non-fiction piece of work I could get my hands on. Check, check, check.But then... I wanted to write. Sure, I was gaining significant experience through my day job and through some freelance work I'd picked up while still in school.
But the Writing/Editing job list on Craigslist propelled my career forward.
I find that people who post legit writing jobs on Craigslist are one of two people: (1) people who need writing/editing for a personal project, or (2) modern, creative professionals with a business venture who need strong writers and want to attract new talent (who will likely produce great work for less).
The #2s are your golden ticket.
Through Craigslist, I picked up three of my favourite writing gigs. First, a gig copywriting for local business Spice Creative
. This contract was for a brochure for the Crest Hotel in Prince Rupert. Second, a gig writing creative advertisements for Weddingful
(a wedding marketplace). I wrote for Weddingful as they got ready to launch across North America. Pretty sweet exposure, right? And third, a gig travel blogging for Aviawest Resort Club
. This was a fabulous gig that lasted nine months until the Victoria resort was sold.Though they didn't last longer than 10 months, each of these three Craigslist gigs provided me with experience that has bolstered my portfolio. They have made me a legitimate Freelancer.
In writing, more is, well, more
. The more you write, the better you get. The more diverse your portfolio, the more appealing you are to other companies. The more clients you have, the more people want you.Now that I'm established, I don't go to Craigslist as often,
but I still check occasionally when business gets slow. And I'm eternally grateful for the opportunities it afforded me.If you're a beginner writer wanting to gain experience, Craigslist offers legitimate writing opportunities that will pay out a little in terms of money, but will pay out a lot in terms of resume building. Sure there are scams, and you must be cautious, but there are also a lot of modern business people looking to take a chance on a new writer.Three businesses took a chance on me.
And I remember them every dollar I make.
One reason I was attracted to a career in writing was that it would allow me to relive many of my failed childhood dreams. That sounds rather dark. Let me explain.
Around age 8 to 14, I wanted to be a professional hockey player. That kind of glory was clearly not in the cards, but it was refreshing and invigorating to publish my first feature-length story on playing hockey in a local magazine.
Around age 15-18, I thought I could be a concert violinist, which also turned out not to be in the cards. But now, I blog for the Sooke Philharmonic
and have great insight into the experiences of the performers I interview.While the hockey and violin phases were fleeting
, my obsession with being an actor dominated most of my childhood, adolescence, and even adult life until a few years ago. It was only natural, not to mention a clear goal of mine, that I would eventually write for and about the theatre. Over the years, I've enjoyed producing marketing collateral for Victoria Youth Musical Theatre
and Black Box Productions, and I am now thrilled to add two more theatre writing gigs to my resume: theatre critic at CapitalCityStyle.ca
and theatre blogger for Blue Bridge Repertory Theatre
.Here's my first theatre review, of VOS's Brigadoon
.And here's my first blog for Blue Bridge. I'll be writing weekly blogs for Blue Bridge as their 4th season progresses through the season.I'm thrilled to be contributing to the theatre arts in Victoria (even if I still kind of wish it was me up there on stage). Enjoy!
Networking, networking, networking. I can't say it enough; I can't read about it enough; I can't believe how much it works enough.A few weeks ago, I was thinking to myself how grand, grand, grand it would be to do more theatre reviews in town.
Then, I bumped into an old musical theatre friend of mine, Reece Sims, with whom I appeared in the Victoria Operatic Society
's 2006 production of Evita
. Fast forward six years, and not only are we both working in marketing/communications, but she's looking for a theatre reviewer for her online magazine, Capital City Style
, which puts the "style back in lifestyle," by sharing tips with young trendsetters in Victoria. By all accounts, we are a match made in theatre heaven!I'm thrilled to be joining the team as a theatre critic and look forward to sharing
with you my [highly opinionated] thoughts on all things theatre in Victoria.
In the crossword puzzle documentary Wordplay (2006), Amy Ray of the Indigo Girls
says that solving crossword puzzles has taught her that her creativity is limitless. She says: "[Solving crosswords] gives me a sense of faith that writer's block is not really real." You start with what you know, even if it's next to nothing, and as you continue to work at it, more pieces come together, until it's solved!
Sometimes, I am working on so many stories I can't keep track. Like right now, I'm working on over 10 writing projects. Possibly over 15. (see, I can't keep track!) Sometimes I think I won't be able to finish them all, that there's no way I have enough creativity to write more. But then I do. And it turns out, Amy Ray is right: I have unlimited creativity. Just sometimes, it takes a bit longer to get to it!As a former teacher and someone who works in a school, I hear a lot of people say "I can't write." But I have a theory about that. I think that because English is most often the person's native language, that person thinks writing should come more naturally to them, that it should be easier.I have to laugh when I hear about people who write something in one draft and don't make any changes. I don't laugh out of malice, but just out of disbelief. My first draft of anything is laughable! It takes persistence to want to communicate clearly while being artistic.Admittedly, writing comes easier to some people. And certainly, for some people it may be natural talent. In my case, I think I can write because I practised hard, all my life. I always kept a diary when I was little. My first entry was when I was seven years old, in an Anne of Green Gables diary! "Dear Anne," each entry began. And then I would pour my angsty heart out, unafraid of the consequences. Truly, that is how I learned to write.My message today is simple (So simple, I stated it in the title. If you read the title and still read this, thanks! I appreciate that!
): WRITE. Write SOMETHING. (write ANYTHING, I should also have said.)If you want to be a writer, you've got to practise. You've got to "make mistakes;" you've got to take risks; you've got to learn to love solving the word puzzle, love putting the words in the right order with the right punctuation (more on punctuation another day!).So go ahead and write. If you don't know what to write, send me an email or write a comment down below or on your favourite blog! Just don't send a Twitter message.
Practise only makes perfect if you're writing more than 140 characters.