A Writing Toolkit for 2019


Was your new year’s resolution to fine-tune your writing? Well, even if wasn’t, it’s always a good idea to check in and see if there are any resources that can change your writerly life (and your writing) for the better. So with that, we’ve put together our top recommendations for honing your craft and turning out your best work in 2019:

1.     Invest in Scrivener and ProWritingAid. As we learned at the Surrey International Writers’ Conference, if you’re writing your book in Word, you need to stop now and get your hands on Scrivener. This content-generation tool is tailor-made for writing manuscripts and allows you to outline, restructure, write synopses, incorporate background material, etc. while you write, all in the same software. But don’t take our word for it: check it out here. And, want to save some editorial dollars? More and more editors are requiring their authors to run their manuscripts through ProWritingAid before they submit them. This editing tool not only checks spelling and grammar, it also highlights style issues and compares your writing to the best writers in your genre.

2.     Join a writers’ group. There are few better ways to stay inspired and motivated, as well as get constructive feedback on your work, than by convening with fellow writers. Check Facebook for local groups in your city or town; they’re usually easy to join and meet fairly regularly. And/or join a local writers’ society in your community and attend their sponsored events and workshops. Or, check out the list that CBC Books compiled of writers’ groups across Canada.

3.     Stay in the online loop. The Write Life’s 100 Best Websites for Writers is an invaluable resource, year after year. Have a look at the 2019 list here, which is broken down into the following helpful categories: freelancing, inspiration, writing tools, blogging, creativity and craft, editing, podcasts, marketing and platform building, writing communities, and publishing.

4.     Read more! Read more books in your genre, and just read more in general. There may be no better way to improve your writing skills (there’s even science to back that up!). And if you need that extra little push, join a book club. Book clubs are no longer necessarily the boozy, gossipy evenings of yore (not that there’s anything wrong with that!). Today, you don’t even need to leave your house to join one. Facebook and Instagram proliferate with book clubs, and even celebrities are “joining the club” with their own groups, like Reese Witherspoon’s “Hello Sunshine” and Emma Watson’s “Our Shared Self.” Sounds kind of inane? Well, according to The Globe and Mail, book culture has converged “with social media and the power of celebrity influencers to become a sexier, more public-facing version of its former self.” And that can only mean one thing: more book sales – and that is always a good thing.

Finally, don’t forget to always have the essentials on hand: a dictionary and a thesaurus. And, to remind you that a) you’re not alone, and b) you’re never finished learning, pick up On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King.

Whether you adopt all of these recommendations, a few, or even none, do this one thing in 2019: write what you love, and you (and your readers) are bound to be rewarded by what falls on the page.

I’d Rather Drop Dead Than Do a Mic Drop


Autumn is one of our favourite times of year at Behind the Book. Annual “best of” book lists abound, literary awards are bestowed, and the Vancouver Writers Festival brings a host of fantastic talent to town. This year, we took in three great events at the Writers Fest that featured Cherie Dimaline, Patrick deWitt, Gary Shteyngart, Deborah Levy, and more. Each event was a delight to attend and completely engaging in its own way. (If you ever get a chance to go to a deWitt or Shteyngart reading, do so! They had us in stitches.)

But that’s not always the case. As much as we love going to see the writers that we enjoy on the page, they’re not always riveting “on the circuit.” After all, writing is a solitary endeavour, and communicating eloquently in a book doesn’t necessarily mean it’s something you’re comfortable with in a public setting. And yet, promoting your book through launches, readings, and interviews is an integral part of any effective marketing plan. So, what do you do if public speaking is just not your thing?

Fear of speaking in front of groups is a common phenomenon. According to Psychology Today, some people fear public speaking more than death! And even this year’s Word Vancouver festival included a “Performing Your Work” workshop on “the foolproof techniques that veteran authors use to overcome the jitters.” By now we know that imagining your audience in their underwear to alleviate anxiety is a public speaking myth. However, focusing on one or two audience members who are listening with a smile (or at least a modicum interest) will go a long way to making you feel less nervous (another good reason to always invite family and friends to your readings!).

It’s important to remember that no one is judging you, and most people are there to support you. Keep in mind that it’s fans or admirers filling that room to see you, and that will go a long way to building confidence at the mic. And, practise makes perfect. Read your excerpt (again and again) into your mirror, your smartphone, or your tablet (okay, or to your cat). The more you practise your words, the more comfortable you’ll be delivering them “on stage.” If the prospect of speaking in front of a group still makes your stomach turn, join a Toastmasters’ Club, invest in a training course for speakers, or pick up Betsy Graziani Fasbinder’s From Page to Stage: Inspiration, Tools, and Simple Public Speaking Tips for Writers.

The truth is, you’ll regret it if you spend your entire event being nervous instead of celebrating your accomplishment. It does get easier the more you do it, and it also happens to be character building. As self-published author Judy Croome says, “I guarantee from personal experience that, when you walk away from your first book reading, you’ll have a deeper understanding of yourself as both a person and as a writer. And that can only benefit the stories that you write and the books that you sell.”

Why Do Llamas Wear Pajamas? Good Question.

© Sally Huss

© Sally Huss

One of our authors, Deborah Katz, just won the 2018 Vine Award in the children’s literature category for her picture book, Rare Is Everywhere, which takes readers on a journey through the animal kingdom, revealing that grasshoppers can be pink, tigers can be white, and lobsters can be blue. Showcasing eleven incredible animals through vibrant illustrations and playful poetry, Deborah’s goal was to blend science with art to encourage children to recognize and accept diversity in themselves and in others. No small feat! As her editors, we knew that if Deborah was going to use science to communicate that uniqueness is something to be celebrated, it had better be right.

Is scientific accuracy really important in children’s books? In award-winning kidlit and YA author Clair Eamer’s recent article, “Storybook Whale Fail,” she argues a resounding yes. Eamer states that scientific inaccuracies in kids’ books “can lead to misinformation that lingers long past childhood.” So why is that? Well, we know from experience that children don't think of characters or settings in picture books as being invented; rather, they accept and take what they read as part of their world. In other words, young children take books at face value, and they place their trust and faith in writers and illustrators as conveyors of truth.

Does that mean kids’ books can only be approached with 100% accuracy? Of course not. There’s plenty of room for playfulness in a book, just as there is in the telling of a good story. Young readers can go along with a little stretching of the truth, as long as they realize they are in on the joke. For example, can llamas wear pajamas? Sure – in a silly story and in our imaginations they can, as long as the pajamas add humour to the situation. But, if you’re an author writing a book about how the people of the Andes use llamas as pack animals like camels, they likely wouldn’t be wearing pajamas, nor would they have humps.

When writing for children, authors have a responsibility to be both engaging and, through careful research, truthful – the story and illustrations should be fundamentally based on scientific accuracy. Honour that principle, and you’ll not only earn happy readers and positive reviews, you just might find yourself on an award podium too!