The 7 Deadly Sins of Bad Writing

Courtesy of Flickr/TGKW

CORRECTION: The event is on Feb. 6 (not 7). If there’s time, I’ll add another sin of bad writing — inaccuracies.

Clichés, adverbs, flowery language and other deviants get sent to the Stanley Milner Library’s basement for one last breath before we banish them forever. Bring your laptops, tablets and notebooks for a fun workshop about common writing and storytelling mistakes.

 Here’s a preview of the seven sins. Come to the free workshop to find out how we’re getting rid of them (Feb. 6 7, Centennial Room, Stanley Milner Library, 7 pm). I’m seeking examples of bad writing that are your own (don’t be ashamed, I’ll be showing some of my sillies, too) or have been published OUTSIDE of Edmonton. Email them to

Sin #1: Waiting to be inspired

Writing is a craft, like soapstone carving, and it is a skill, like accounting, and if you want to be good at either it takes practice. And practice shouldn’t be at the mercy of your moods. The next time you have “writer’s block” or are “waiting for the right words,” just put your butt in a seat and write. What comes out will most likely be bad, possibly dreadful, but you must get in the routine of writing to get better, and not to mention stronger-willed the next time you’re “not feeling it.”

Sin #2: Beginning at the very beginning

It might feel natural to start a story with “once upon a time,” but it also sets it up for a drawn out introduction that sucks the air from your story before it’s actually begun. Whether you’re writing fiction or nonfiction, start with a poignant moment. An awkward interaction, a thrilling encounter, a mysterious package – there’s always time to unveil the background after. Leave chronology to the historians. You are a storyteller. Continue reading

Words in 3 Dimensions — the ultimate publishing conference

Whether you’re a writer, editor or publisher, aspiring or professional, the fine folks from Get Publishing, the Writers’ Guild of Alberta and the Editors’ Association of Canada have got the best deal in town.

Words in 3 Dimensions is three conferences in one. Taking place at MacEwan University on May 24 to 26, 2013, there are over 20 events, from talks on creative nonfiction and memoirs to copyright and contracts, and not to mention a public conversation between author Alistair MacLeod and Shelagh Rogers, the host of CBC’s The Next Chapter. (Click here for a full schedule.)

Here’s what the presenters have to say.

Put yourself at the centre of this historic convergence of writerly know-how. Words in 3 Dimensions is the only conference where you get the full industry picture: writing, editing, publishing—where they interact, where they intersect, where they ignite.

Rub shoulders with peers, leading writers, editors, publishers, and agents. Get fired up by inspiring keynote speakers. Spark your career with targeted preconference workshops. Fan the flames of your potential through diverse conference sessions, one-on-one mentorship, and our ever-popular pitch camp.

Writers’ Guild of Alberta presents Drink the Wild Air

Writers’ Guild of Alberta presents Drink the Wild Air: A Winter Writing Retreat For Young Writers Aged 12-19

March 1-3, 2013 Camp Chief Hector (bus transportation provided)

Thaw your brainfreeze with warm words in the shadow of the Rocky Mountains.

Write indoors, play outdoors, let the starry nights inspire you!

For more information contact:

Writers Guild Of Alberta

Lisa Murphy-Lamb, WordsWorth Youth Writing Residency, Director

How texting helps us learn to read and write (Metro)

Jan 27 is Family Literacy Day in Canada, an awareness campaign 14 years ago by ABC Life Literacy Canada to raise awareness of the importance of reading as a family. That’s why my latest Metro column was focused on how my mother overcome her own low-literacy challenges. Hope you enjoy.

Two years ago I learned my mom was low-literate.

I’d always suspected it. She used to feign bad eyes when there was an important pamphlet in front of her, and hand it to me, her book-hungry son, to read. And whenever there was a wedding card for her to write I became her personal Dictaphone — on account of my “very nice writing,” of course.

It was only when she got an iPhone that I learned the limits to her English. Not even autocorrect could take the fall for her illegible texts. Often, just calling her was less of a hassle than decoding her patois. [read more]

Christian Bok @ MacEwan University

The Department of English at MacEwan University will host a reading and performance by Calgary-based, Griffin Poetry Prize-winning author Christian Bok.

When: Saturday, February 2nd, 6.30pm.

The venue: is Towers Pub on the main floor of building 6 on the MacEwan University City Centre Campus.

Building 6 is on the northwest corner of the 106 St-104 Ave intersection, and public parking is available under and behind the building, accessed from 105 Ave.

The reading is the culminating event of the undergraduate student conference, so they are asking a modest $5 cover charge from members of the Edmonton community who are not affiliated with the conference.

Slam Sessions: There’s a Story Slam Near You

Liam Shaw at the Blue Chair Slam (photo by Tracy Kolenchuk)

Correction: Ice On Whyte’s Edmonton Story Slam event is Monday, Jan. 28 (not Saturday).

We all have a story to tell. Whether you learned it first hand, had it told to you or made it up, there’s at least one story in your back pocket right now. And should you be asked for one it would easy enough to retell it, right?

Well what if you only had five minutes, and had to tell it on stage before a crowd of people, some of them with whiteboards and markers, scoring you with like you’re the Jamie Salé of storytelling. Oh, and nine other people are competing. Maybe 11. Depends on the day.

The good news is your story might win you hundreds of dollars.

This is not torture for underprivileged people with public speaking phobias. It’s “story slam,” a trendy event that started in New York, was adopted by Vancouverites and Edmontonians, and now happens in cities around the world.

Edmonton has two independent slams – Blue Chair Slam at Blue Chair Café (every second Wednesday) and Edmonton Story Slam at the Haven Social Club (every third Wednesday) – and attract all sorts of storytellers. Past winners include a reverend, a photographer, a stand-up comedian and me.

I like to go because, aside from being great entertainment and healthy competition, it’s a great place for me to test my material on an audience.

This Monday Saturday, I’ll be testing some creative nonfiction at the special outdoor edition Edmonton Story Slam, part of the Ice On Whyte Festival. Check it out, and bring a story.

But first: Some housekeeping rules Continue reading

Follow Up for – Tell Me a Story

Three things to remember about story and voice:

  1. In the beginning you write for yourself, but in the end, you write for your reader. So, when it comes to edits, ensure you know your genre, audience, word count, etc.
  2. Your voice is a mix of your world’s view, your life experiences, and your values/morals.
  3. Your characters are not reflections of you, though most writers will always leave a little bit of themselves on the page.

We’d talked about my Creative Non-Fiction piece, In My Skin, which you can read here.

For further reading/research,  take a look at the following:

Story by Robert McKee

The Key: How to Write Damn Good Fiction Using the Power of Myth, by James N. Frey

On Writing, by Stephen King


Follow Up for Nurturing Your Creativity

Yesterday was a great turnout for the Nurturing Your Creativity session. Thanks so much to all the hardy souls who braved the cold and came out!

I just want to do a quick “Three Things to Know” if you missed the session and provide some follow-up material.

So, three things:

  1. Your creative mind is no different from any other muscle in your body. If you don’t exercise it, then it will atrophy–that’s why it’s important to be consistent (even if you’re inconsistently consistent, i.e., you can only write twice a week, but not sure when that time/day is).
  2. It’s important to set attainable goals to both boost your confidence and give yourself something to work towards.
  3. Surround yourself with people and thoughts that will support you as well as keep you accountable.

Now, in the conversation yesterday, we talked about the idea of genius, the place of writing in academia versus entertainment, and I said I would share this excellent video from Sir Ken Robinson. This video is about school, but I think he makes some great points about writing/arts/creativity, too.

For further reading/research,  take a look at the following:

He Who Dares Wins ~ Bob Mayer

The Artist’s Way ~ Julia Cameron

The Writer’s Journey ~ Christopher Vogler


Wind Eye Writing Seminars

Wind Eye Writing Seminars

9850-78 Ave., Edmonton AB, 780-439-5333

Saturday, February 16, 2013, 11:00 a.m.-2:00 p.m.

Saturday, March 16, 2013, 11:00 a.m.-2:00 p.m.

*RETREAT:  Saturday, April 20, 2013, 9:30 a.m.-3:30 p.m.

(Arrive by 9:15.  End by 4:00 p.m.)

Saturday, May 18, 2013, 11:00 a.m.-2:00 p.m.

Saturday, June 15, 2013, 11:00 a.m.-2:00 p.m.

Friday, July 12, 2013, 5 p.m.   SUMMER POTLUCK


Saturday, September 14, 2013, 11:00 a.m.-2:00 p.m.


Friday, October 18, 2013, 5 P.M


Series 600$

Drop in:  50$

Writing poetry is at once terror and playfulness; it is jumping into a void and at the same time, immersing one’s self into the now of play, of hanging out with words long enough to watch the magic of an image arise out of nothing.” 

Grant MacEwan Writer in Residence 2012 Brochure  © Pierrette Requier


Digital Tools For Writers

Echo Smartpen. A writer’s best friend.

I run a seminar called Digital Tools For Writers, in which I basically play with toys before a crowd. It’s rich.

Of course my goal isn’t just to show off cool gadgets and software to freelance writers, but to convince them that they make our jobs so much easier and to get them to appreciate the golden age of technology in which we live.

Given the proprietary challenges technology has posed to writers, there’s also a lot to be said for how easily we can connect about our work and distribute it. There’s so much out there that it can be overwhelming, but hopefully you’ll find a few things here or there that you can put to use. I’m sharing my notes to bring you one step closer. Continue reading