On Writing Writing Life

How to Write a Novel in ONE Sitting

Stop balking. It can be done! I’ve done it. In fact, it’s the best way for me to write a novel. Trust me. You do not want to be inside this head. I have the attention span of a–well of something with the most minute of attention spans in the history of attention spans. I prefer not to say a gnat, because, well does anybody actually KNOW what the attention span of a gnat is? For all we know, they could have a superior attention span. That’s attention span bigotry, in my humble opinion.

What was I saying?

Oh yes. How to write a novel in one sitting.

Having done this on several occasions, I could probably give a few tips on how to do it. The most important thing for me is to not take myself too seriously when I do this. Don’t get me wrong…I take my writing output very seriously. The finished product must be as close to infallible as possible. But writing…the actual act of sitting in a chair–or on a chair–or on a table–or on the floor–and writing? I can’t take that too seriously. F to the U to the N. That’s what I require when I decide to give my writing self 72 hours to come up with a complete novel. Stepping into a novel marathon situation with a sneer and a steel resolve to GET THINGS DONE would equate to ABSOLUTE FAILURE for me. If you think you can attack a marathon writing situation by approaching it without humour and with a resolve to GET SHIT DONE, by all means…give it a go. That’s not me.

Here are some points to consider prior to hunkering down for a one-sitting first-draft novel:

1. Remove all commitments from your schedule. This should go without saying, but you would be surprised. Don’t schedule a one-sitting novel writing jag with a doctor’s appointment in the middle of it. That’s a real life break. You can’t have real life breaks. They interrupt the flow of the marathon mind. That shit will fuck you up. Make sure your schedule is COMPLETELY open. No “I have to watch Matlock Saturday at 7pm…but that’s the only break I’m taking!” You can’t have things to distract you from the trenches. You can take breaks…I’m not saying you can’t. I’m just saying you can’t have REAL LIFE breaks. You can’t come out of the cave.

2. If you don’t have somebody looking after your dietary needs for the marathon sitting, make sure you have enough previously prepared food to take you to the end of the marathon. Refer to #1. Preparing yourself a 3-course meal on day two of your marathon would be a lovely reward for sticking it out, but it would also take you completely off course. Might as well pack it in, because your mind left the cave as you sliced the onions and mashed the potatoes. Nothing kills a creativity binge more than straining broccoli through a colander. Have everything you need for your meals readily available. The most you’ll want to do in the kitchen is nuke things in the microwave or send some bread to the toaster gallows. More than that, and you’re disturbing the force, Luke.

3. Stand up and move away from your screen whenever you desire. Writers know that not all of the writing is done in front of the screen. You can leave your shelter all you want, you just can’t leave your cave. Take a walk down the street. Do jumping-jacks or gestalt or scream therapy. Walk down to the water and jump in. Now you’re thinking ‘why can’t I peel potatoes when I can jump in the river?’ Don’t question me, grasshopper. I have done this several times. Just think yes to FRIVOLOUS ACTIVITY and no to CHORES. You can do one while remaining in your writing cave, but it’s hard to remain in the cave while doing the other.

4. Listen to music OR don’t listen to music. This is, of course, a personal choice. A lot of writers have PLAYLISTS for their novels. If you know what you’re going to write about during your marathon jag, create a playlist prior to entering your cave. Listen while you write, if that’s your thing. Or, if music during writing makes you want to pluck your eyeballs out, then don’t do it. The key is if you’re going to listen to music, have everything you need for it at your fingertips. Creating a playlist while you’re in the cave could be catastrophic to the force, Luke. You’ll think about searching for a certain song, and you’ll go to download it or what have you. Next thing you know, two hours have passed and you’re in some dingy basement backroom of Youtube, watching/listening to a 1970s bootleg concert of Patty Smith and you won’t know how to escape. You will have to surrender the fantasy.

5. Take a boatload of writers with you into your cave. There are now several novel marathon events around. Find one…participate in one. You will thrive on the camaraderie of being in the company of other writers while doing this seemingly impossible thing. You will feed off of each other in the most positive of ways. And you will walk away from your weekend (or mid-week jag, if you will) with not only a finished first-draft but a load of new siblings in writing. Relationships will be formed that you will carry with you for a long time.

6. BE FOOLISH. Allow yourself to laugh. You are doing a phenomenal thing. To write a novel from cover to cover in one sitting is extraordinary. You will be tired (EXHAUSTED), you will be emotional (A FUCKING WRECK), you will be excited and wired and down and up and sideways. Don’t try to hold everything in. Don’t try to make this a pseudo-military mission. There are no rules. There is only you and the unfolding story. You have to have fun. It’s the only way to get through it. Trust me on this. You’ll have some great moments. Breakthroughs will be everywhere. But at 2:30 in the morning on your second day you might want to pull out all your hair and set your legs on fire. You will be giddy to the point of crying…but remaining in your cave is the way through it. Let seriousness fall away and be your child-self. It’s how you will make it through the dark tunnels of the marathon. WRITE YOUR WAY THROUGH.

7. Whatever you do, don’t look back. Writing a novel in one sitting is not like seeing a runaway freight train bombing down the tracks at an impossible unstoppable speed. Writing a novel in one sitting makes YOU the freight train. Don’t, for the love of god, stop that train. You have to let go of the ego self that screams at you to edit that last sentence, that last paragraph, that last chapter. The editing can come later. Much later, if you want. During the marathon, there is only ONE DIRECTION. Forward.

That’s enough for now. The biggest thing about attempting to write a novel this way is that there are no rules. YOU FIND YOUR OWN WAY. These are just a few loose suggestions. (-: You have got to try to write this way. It’s so liberating. Magical. Imagine not needing to do anything else between the start and end of your story. It’s unfathomable, but not impossible.

Here’s a prior post I made about the MUSKOKA NOVEL MARATHON FLIPBOOK MOVIE.

A previous post I wrote on the Marathon Novel Experience.

Both my 2nd and 3rd published novels are the result of NOVEL MARATHON WRITING. Take a look at the Book Trailer for my 3rd novel, THE REASONS. On an unrelated note, it features some amazing music by one of my favourite bands…MEDICINE FOR THE PEOPLE.

Galiano Island Galiano Island Books Galiano Literary Festival

Galiano Island Books Presents The Fifth Annual Galiano Literary Festival!

Yesterday I told you about the Ontario Writers’ Conference, which takes place in Ajax, Ontario on May2-3, 2014. How about we swing over to the other side of the country today! If you’re looking to make waves into the conference/festival season a little earlier than May, you can always take a trip to Galiano Island in February. Come the 21st, you’ll find some of Canada’s literati on the island for the 5th Annual Galiano Literary Festival.


The line-up for this 3-day festival includes; Welcome Reception, Workshops, Keynote Address, Panel Discussion, Readings, Illustrated Readings, and, an Author’s Dinner.

On hand for workshop facilitation, readings, etc, will be: Joëlle Anthony, Chris Arnett, George Bowering, Thea Bowering, Marilyn Bowering, Raffi Cavoukian, Aaron Chapman, Michael Christie, Brad Cran, Amber Dawn, Dina Del Bucchia, Catherine Greenwood, Jack Hodgins, Grant Lawrence, Eve Lazarus, Kathryn Para, Linda L. Richards, Bev Sellars, Audrey Thomas, Michael Wuitchik, David Zieroth, and, a couple as yet unannounced participants.





Ontario Writers' Conference

2014 Ontario Writers’ Conference – Give Yourself a Gift that Keeps on Giving!


If you’re a writer living in Ontario (OR BEYOND), I hope you are considering attending this year’s Ontario Writers’ Conference. You owe it to yourself to register. This year’s schedule is looking top notch, yet again. Even when I was on the OWC Board of Directors, I was always surprised and thrilled that the conference attracted such amazing speakers and facilitators. But then, I shouldn’t be. I know how diligent the worker bees behind the conference are. They are always striving to bring registrant writers the best of the best of Canadian literati…to help them along on their own personal writing journeys. We always looked at the conference in a ‘who-would-we-want-to-see?’ sort of way. If we could create the perfect environment for learning, who would we surround ourselves with? And then the building of the next conference would begin. I so miss that part! The planning was so exciting.

This year, they really outdid themselves. Just look at the schedule! On Friday, there are THREE MASTER CLASSES in the afternoon:




Let me tell you a little something about Wayson Choy. He’s a natural teacher/nurturer. He could read you his grocery list and you would come away filled with new knowledge, beautifully given. He’s a tremendous soul who shares everything he has. No holds barred. When he is in a room, he is 100% present…and it shows. I’m registered for Wayson’s Master Class. I wouldn’t miss it for the world.

Wayson Choy – Ontario Writers’ Conference Honorary Patron since its inception. Master Class Facilitator for 2014.

Friday Evening will once again be a time for celebration! The FESTIVAL OF AUTHORS is always an exciting element of the conference. It’s the let-your-hair-down party that comes after the intensive Master Classes of Friday and before the full day of workshops on Saturday. Every year the organizing committee rounds up an impressive list of readers from the literati well and has them read from their latest offering. Always a great time to be had by all!

Facilitators on hand this year for Saturday’s workshops and plenary session are: Allyson Latta, Anne MacLachlan, Annette McLeod, Andrew Borkowski, Brett Savory, Allison Baggio, Sam Hiyate, Shannon Moroney, Gwynn Scheltema, Erin Bow, Rich Helms, Priscila Uppal, Jodi White, and, Christina Potter.

There will also be Blue Pencil Mentors and Literary Agents on hand to give Practice Pitches and Manuscript Mentoring. For a full description of these value added features to the conference, and a full mentor list, CLICK HERE.

The lunch speaker and closing speaker have yet to be announced, but you can rest assured that they will be fantastic. They always are. If you haven’t registered yet, I honestly don’t know what’s stopping you. This is the year. The time is now. Give yourself this gift. You deserve to enrich your passion!


See you there!

10 Minute Plays Bard's Bus Driftwood Theatre InspiraTO InspiraTO Festival Play Play Festivals Playwright Playwriting Playwriting Festivals Stage The Summing Up Theatre W Somerset Maugham Writers Writing Writing Advice Writing Dialogue Writing Tips

How to Write a 10-Minute Play

So, I’ve been writing the ten minute play for a number of years now. I’d like to think I’ve been doing it with a bit of success, too. Though one could never be sure. I can attest to the fact that the audiences seemed to like my work. Being in an audience when they’re laughing during the unraveling of a comedic play you wrote is extremely rewarding. I consider myself blessed to have experienced that. But I’m rather hard on myself, as a writer…so I tend to allow the actors and the directors to take the blame for the laughter. (-: After all, the script is merely the scaffolding. Right?

So, now that I have had seven 10-minute plays produced…I feel I may be able to offer some advice for others considering the 10-minute play market. It is a favourite of mine. A good 10-minute play can contain the world within its rigidly timed existence. You just have to work like hell to contain it.

1. I learned the hard way that there is a world of difference between a sketch and a play. If your characters are not transforming and going through some kind of self-revelation, you could very well have written a sketch. A play is a complete story, whether that play is 10-minutes long or two hours long. You need an arc. A conversation where nothing really happens and no wisdom is gained and no change takes place is simply a conversation. A lot of first time 10-minute playwrights make the mistake of creating a sketch when they attempt a play, myself included. Last year, during the InspiraTO Festival in Toronto…there was a last-minute call for a play in one of the festival’s satellite locations. As I already had a play in the festival, to take place on the Alumnae Theatre stage, I received the call automatically. I jumped on the opportunity. By the end of the day of the call, I sent in what I mistakenly thought of as a play. Fortunately, it seemed to have some good bones. The Artistic Director, Dominik Loncar, worked with me to flesh out my idea and bring the sketch into the realm of play. I think working with Dominik to create this play was one of the most educational experiences I had in the playwriting process. So, always make sure your play is a full story which culminates in a character change.

2. This one is so easy, it seems self-explanatory. But I have often struggled with it myself. So, I know it needs to be said. For those of you who follow guidelines to a tee, this rule should not be a surprise to you at all. For those of you who think it’s perfectly natural to send a 7,000 word story into a magazine whose submission guidelines clearly state ‘stories should be no more than 3,000 words’, please take heed. There are guidelines for a reason. Ignoring them is the first opportunity the publisher/producer/what-have-you has of culling the pack and rejecting you. Don’t make it easy for people to reject you. ALWAYS read and follow the guidelines. I know from personal experience that well over 50% of submissions are sent in by people who prefer to think of themselves as above submission guideline parameters. As a past acquisitions editor, my job was made quite easy by those who ignored guidelines. I’ve gone on long enough. I tend to get ranty when I discuss writers’ inabilities to follow guidelines. #2 of my advice is that you ensure your play is 10-minutes in running time. NOT ELEVEN. NOT TEN AND A HALF. TEN. End of story. I ‘perform’ my plays over and over again to ensure they meet this criteria.

3. Stage Direction. Use it wisely. Actors are brilliant. While developing their character, they soon learn everything about who that character is. From that place, they can see how that character moves. You don’t want to fill your play with minor business (BUSINESS is the term for what is happening within the play that is not dialogue). If there are necessary directions you feel would move your play forward, by all means include them. But please trust implicitly in the actors and director. They’ll know how to include the right business. I’m sure it infuriates these people no end to be told through stage direction each and every step and movement they are to perform.

4. Give your character a WANT/DESIRE. And then put obstacles in her way. This will create tension. Tension is good. Tension is necessary. Your character needs to propel–be propelled–into the heart of the play. Nothing moves a character more than a shiny carrot dangling just outside of their reach.

5. I think there’s a fine line between KEEP IT SIMPLE and GIVE IT PIZZAZZ. Keeping it simple is required. You only have ten minutes to tell a full story, to bring a character from one place in their life to another. This is not a movie. You can’t have extraordinary props. Your goal is to get to the audience’s raw nerve–be it through comedy, drama, fear, what-have-you. Leave the glitz of the movie world on the silver screen. But this is not to say you can’t give your play pizzazz. You want to make it theatrical, larger than life. You can do this without explosions and special effects. You need to find a perfect balance between simple and exciting. Think of simple as budget-related. Often, you’re working with bare-minimum stage props. Think of exciting as character-related. Give your characters great dialogue and a great compelling story the audience won’t be able to tear themselves away from. Make the walk to the climax a dazzling crescendo.

Scene from Perfect Timing, one of my 2013 InspiraTO Festival plays.
Scene from Perfect Timing, one of my 2013 InspiraTO Festival plays.

The best advice I could give someone who aspires to get into the 10-minute play business? Surround yourself with people in the know. Approach theatre groups. Take in 10-minute festivals in your area. Nothing teaches one more about writing than reading. Nothing teaches one more about 10-minute playwriting, than watching 10-minute plays. Don’t be afraid to write a play and submit it. There are 10-minute festivals all over the world, now. You don’t have to have the title of playwright to write a play. That comes after. Just dive in!

Scene from Perfect Timing, one of my 2013 InspiraTO Festival plays.
Scene from Perfect Timing, one of my 2013 InspiraTO Festival plays.

(I’ve had some great opportunities from people willing to take a chance on an unknown quantity. 10-Minute festivals are a great way to get your foot in the door of live theatre. Without people like Jeremy Smith of Driftwood Theatre and Dominik Loncar of InspiraTO Festival, I’d still be dreaming about being a playwright…instead of being a playwright. Go forth and find your way in.)

Scene from Perfect Timing, my 2013 InspiraTO Festival play.
Scene from Perfect Timing, my 2013 InspiraTO Festival play.

Suggested Reading: The Summing Up by W. Somerset Maugham

Photos are from PERFECT TIMING, one of my 2 InspiraTO Festival plays. Those involved in bringing it to life include:

Dramaturge / MC Thompson
Director / Kim Sprenger
Cast / Liam Doherty (Carl)
Cast / Jennifer Gillespie (Melissa)











You can check out my novels at my AMAZON AUTHOR PAGE They are: Summer on Fire, Sebastian’s Poet, The Reasons, Burn Baby Burn Baby, and, Half Dead & Fully Broken. The horror anthology Purgatorium, which includes a short story by me, is also listed there.

Medicine for the People Music Muskoka Novel Marathon On Writing Play List Writing Life

Super Obsessive Playlists & Welcome to the Medicine Tribe

Music and writing are just a couple of my favourite obsessions (you might recognize part of that last line—just a friendly nod to Frank N. Furter). I was going to write about playlists and how they relate to my writing, yada yada yada…But…you see, I’m—in a word—swamped. Funny I should mention that word. One of my musical obsessions just happens to be Swamp by Talking Heads.

But I digress. I’m not here to talk about the Talking Heads.

By now, you might be asking yourself, “Why can’t he do a playlist?” Well, It’s because the playlists I create for novel writing mostly consist of ONE SONG. Yep, that’s right. I’m so obsessive that I will listen to just the one song—over and over again ad infinitum—for an entire novel. Don’t try to do the math, it will boggle your mind. 50,000 words x 3 minute song divided by 23 chapters…let’s see, carry the 4 and multiply by the number of years…yeah. Fugetaboutit.

There is a catch, though. I don’t spread my novel writing over years. I write my novels in 48 & 72 hour marathon bursts. So, although it sounds like madness to listen to the same song on repeat for the entire duration of a novel…it really only amounts to 72 hours at the most. That’s only, like, 1,400 plays. That is NOT obsessive. AT ALL! I do a little thing called the Muskoka Novel Marathon every July. It raises needed funds for the local literacy network, but it’s also an amazing retreat wherein 40 writers barricade themselves into a room for 72 hours and attempt to write complete novels.

I’m an addictive personality. If you know me, you know this. So…for my first marathon, I listened to Anthem by Leonard Cohen for 48 hours straight. What came out of the marathon was a finished novel called Sebastian’s Poet. Now I could create a playlist link here for that marathon, but I don’t see the point. Nothing is sadder than a one-song playlist. If you were to scan the pages of Sebastian’s Poet, you would probably notice that the boy’s ‘poet’ is a reincarnation of Leonard himself. I mean, it’s ridiculous. Anthem is just such an incredibly awesome song, though. It drove me to write that novel non-stop for 48 electrifying-ly amazing hours.

After that marathon was over, I contacted Leonard Cohen’s people. I wish I could say I had my people contact his people, but I’d be lying (as I have no people—though I suppose my agent is my people). I received permission to use, ‘There is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in’ (Anthem lyrics) as the epigraph to the novel. To go one step further, I then got it tattooed on my arm. Yeah, I’m not obsessive.

That novel also has a real-life celebrity in it. Gordon Lightfoot shows up in the last chapter. One of the last orders of business that Lightfoot’s agent, Barry Harvey, did before his death was provide me with permission to use Gordon as a character in the novel.

I should let you know right now that my tangents are so wide and chaotic, they require a bus route. So, you’re either on the bus or off the bus (my nod to the Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test). This post is actually about my favourite NEW obsession. Let me introduce you to Medicine for the People (and the song I will have on repeat during this July’s Muskoka Novel Marathon!)


I stumbled upon Medicine about a year ago, and from that point on the obsession has slowly taken over my life. After I obsessed over their first album ON THE VERGE for several months, they were kind enough to recently release their second album DARK AS NIGHT. This band, and their peaceful reformative vision, really pumps my blood. They are FolkMusic2.0. Or, rather, 11 on the volume knob of my obsession scale. Before I totally lose you, I’m going to leave you with something from their new album. ALOHA KE AKUA will inspire you to sit. To write. To marathon that next novel. Just don’t be surprised if you find yourself suddenly writing Hawaii in as the novel’s setting.

Here’s a challenge for you. As a writer, can you pick just one song? Choose the definitive one-song soundtrack for your work in progress. And spin that puppy ad infinitum until you keystroke THE END on your novel. It’s transformative. Really.

You can follow NAHKO, the lead singer of Medicine for the People, on Twitter: @NahkoBear


Nahko Bear & Medicine for the People

When you become a fan of MftP (and you will) you will call yourself #MedicineTribe on Twitter. And it will be good.


Glam Rock Nick Gilder On Writing Play List Sweeney Todd Writing Life

Retro-Writing Calls For Retro-Music: How Nick Gilder Became My Favourite Obsession!


I recently started a new ‘project’. Yes. It’s true. I’m writing again. I took a few weeks off, due to…hmmm…lack of concentration? Yes. Let’s call it that. So, the new project is a contemporary fiction that takes place in the 1970s. Why the 70s, some may ask? I find that I fit most comfortably in the 70s and 80s. That’s my gentle way of saying I’m stuck in the past.


The working title of this novel in progress is BEAUTY IS IN THE SKY OF THE BEHOLDER. It’ll be business as usual, as far as themes go. I’m a sucker for taking a character to the bottom of the pit and attempting to help them dig their way up out of the mire. BEAUTY will be another book with another sad-sack character who tries to find peace against all odds. Please…don’t try to read anything into this favourite theme of mine. (-;

Because BEAUTY takes place in 1975, there was NO question what my playlist would be. A list of one. ROXY ROLLER. Glam rockers Sweeney Todd were a favourite of mine that year. As much as I have spent a lifetime obsessed with T-Rex and Marc Bolan…I have also had Sweeney Todd rolled into that obsession. As a kid, I was THRILLED that Glam could be found in Canada. Todd was our version of T-Rex. So, before I typed in the title BEAUTY IS IN THE SKY OF THE BEHOLDER, you can rest assured that I dropped the needle on the Todd.


But as I began writing the story, I quickly became more obsessed with the background music than the story-thread. As I’m a bit new to getting bum in chair again, I thought it would be a good idea to follow the obsession while I wrote. So Sweeney Todd’s Roxy Roller quickly transformed to Nick Gilder’s Hot Child in the City. The two songs are actually so perfect together, they could have been released as a mashed single like, say, Queen’s We are the Champions and We Will Rock You. Or, an even better duo single release, This Beat Goes On/Switchin’ to Glide. Alas, Roxy Roller and Hot Child in the City aren’t even by the same ‘group’. Hot Child was Nick’s hit as a solo artist, after he left the band for greener pastures.


So, here I am. I’m adding to BEAUTY every day, now. I’m getting back into the swing and discipline of writing. It’s feeling great. Writing is my salvation. And I have these two songs looping endlessly in the background. It’s kind of like being in Nirvana, but wondering where the hell Marc Bolan got himself to. Because, well, everyone knows Marc would be there. Glamming up a storm. But I have the next best thing keeping me company along the journey to discovering just what the hell BEAUTY IS IN THE SKY OF THE BEHOLDER is all about. I have Nick Gilder setting the pace of my story. And, he’s kind of a big deal here in Canada. In the history of Glam Rock (which is one of my favourite obsessions), Nick Gilder and his sadly defunct band, SWEENEY TODD, are a pillar. Not only are they a pillar…but they’re a Canadian pillar. For me, that’s important. It’s not often Canadian’s celebrate each other.


I am obsessing over these two tracks. I know I am. But this is what I do when I settle in to write a new story. I pick a song. Or two. And I play the shit out of them. Nothing transports me to particular moments in time more than music. Sweeney Todd were a huge influence in my life back in the day. I drop the needle on Roxy Roller, and it’s amazing how quickly the cell phones and computers and internet and microwaves and every other modern convenience to spring from the loins of humanity fade into the background. When I hear that incredibly sleek and singularly enchanting glamrock voice (a voice that I have defended in many arguments to be that of a MALE), I am 1975.

I’m off to continue the story. But before I go, I’ll leave you with Sweeney Todd and Nick Gilder. Don’t say I didn’t warn you, though. You will become obsessed.

First, ROXY ROLLER. Nick with his band, Sweeney Todd:

And, lastly, HOT CHILD IN THE CITY, Nick’s biggest solo career offering:

I’ve always been fascinated with music playlists and the novel. I often wonder how other writers feel about them. Myself, I need to be extremely picky to choose just the write song(s). I tend to stay to a list of one or two songs per project. Usually just one artist. I wrote my second novel, Sebastian’s Poet, listening to just one song…Anthem by Leonard Cohen. It worked for me. It may sound crazy…to listen to one song on repeat for all that time. But as writers we have to test everything…just keep doing things until we know, instinctively, that we’re doing the right thing.

So…what’s the story, morning glory? Do you playlist? Do you have a method or do you play whatever grabs your fancy? Do you find songs for each character? You know, like some wicked cool haunting song for scenes with the antagonist, and some less haunting more heroic ditty for protagonist face time. Let’s have it! What is your musical accompaniment process?

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I do believe I need to re-acquire a pair of roller skates! Nothing says Motorcity Roller-Rama (one of my old haunts!) like Sweeney Todd!