Hello, from your friendly neighbourhood writing coach

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It’s interesting the way that life evolves when you start out freelancing. You think that you’re going to be offering one set of services, and then it slowly evolves into something slightly different. I knew that I would be working as a writer, or mostly long-form work for clients (whether articles, blog posts, internal communication docs, or proposals), and I knew that I would be doing some research, but the branch of work that’s evolving that I didn’t anticipate was writing coaching.

I’ve been running these writing workshops to help people get their writing off the ground, and doing writing on behalf of other people, and along the way people started asking if I could help walk them through writing that they absolutely need to do themselves. Not everyone wants to hire a writer (or ghost-writer), and not everyone should. While I don’t think that everyone should try to write professionally, I do believe that writing is something that everyone can do.

I think that one of the biggest hang-ups when people first start writing, even just for themselves, is that they worry too much about perfection. They worry about voice, and sounding smart; they have all of the voices of other writers in their heads, and they are comparing their very new writing practice to the writing of all of their favourite professionals, and wondering how they stack up. The best advice that I can give anyone just starting out is to just start writing. Brain dump. Don’t think about it. Don’t think about your voice. Don’t think about grammar. Don’t think about your use of similes and metaphors. Don’t think about sounding interesting. Just write whatever comes into your brain without judgement. Write until you think that you’ve gotten everything that you need to get out of your head onto the page, and then stop.

Then walk away. Get up, shake out your hands and feet, and go for a walk around the block; go for coffee with a friend; run an errand. Then, when you’re feeling refreshed again, come back to your desk and read over what you just wrote, WITHOUT JUDGEMENT. I know that this is hard. Especially if you’re not used to writing, you’ll probably have some pretty negative self-talk going on when you read over your first few pieces. “This is so repetitive” “Ugh. I used ‘very’ 7 times in that paragraph” “This is so boring” “What was I thinking when I wrote this?”

I urge you to try your very best not to listen to these thoughts. You wouldn’t expect to run a marathon your first time out for a run, and you shouldn’t expect your first attempt at writing to be a Pulitzer winner.

When you sit down for the second time, think about the things that you’re really trying to communicate with this piece of writing, and start to edit out the parts that aren’t in line with that. You might have to cut some sentences or paragraphs that you really like, and that’s fine. Keeping a sentence in that sounds pretty but doesn’t really add to your mission is kind of like putting on a beautiful wool coat in the middle of summer. It might look nice with your winter outfits, but in this context, it’s out of place and anyone looking at you can see that.

With each consecutive re-read, you’ll get a better sense of your piece, and structure will start to fall into place. Don’t be afraid to edit.

Finally, you’ve probably heard the phrase “Perfect is the enemy of good”. This is very true in writing. The ability to edit is essential, but it can also be your worst enemy. At some point, it’s important for a piece to just be done. Decide that it’s finished. And then put it out into the universe. I know that sharing is scary, but it’s how you’ll get better. And eventually, it will be less scary.

The more you practice, the better you your writing will be, and the closer you will get to finding your own voice. Eventually, your fear and apprehension will lessen, and you just might find that writing is something that you relish.

But getting back to where this post started. Writing coaching. You need it? I offer it. Let’s get writing together.

(www.altairanorthe.com)

 

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The Virtues of Journaling

Obviously writing is a big part of my life. And I’ve taken steps in the past year to help other people bring more writing into their lives too. The workshops that I’ve been teaching so far are mostly about overcoming your internal barriers that are keeping you from writing, and the focus is generally on writing that you one day intend to share with others.

But recent conversations have led to a new series that will focus on writing just for you.

Since I can remember, I’ve kept a journal. Most of these were real, physical, paper journals. There were also years and years where I journaled on computers, and sadly most of these years were lost. There is one particular summer of fervent journaling in an attic of my first real home away from home; I was 19, and I journaled each and every day. I think about these journals often, and am so sad that I didn’t make more of an effort to preserve them permanently.

Journaling is a lost art. But I think that it’s making a comeback. Journaling might at first conjure images of a pre-teen girl scribbling , “Dear Diary…” in a flower covered book with a tiny gold lock on the cover. And this is a 100% valuable experience for that girl, which should in no way be diminished. But journaling is also a whole lot more – from helping with creative thought, to mental health issues, there isn’t a lot that journaling can’t help with.

If you dig back in time, you’ll find that most, if not all, great writers, inventors, runners, academics, and dreamers kept journals. Albert Einstein kept a journal. Virginia Woolf kept a journal. Earnest Hemingway kept a journal. Obviously and famously, Anne Frank kept a journal. Google “famous people who kept journals” and you will find list upon list of famous journals, and words of wisdom from famous journalers on the virtues of journaling.

A journal is a way of documenting the present, but it is also a tool for reflection. It’s a tool for working through the backlogs of your subconscious mind, but consciously and on paper. It’s a way of sifting through the fog of your dream state and turning it into something real.

“’There is physicality in reading,’ says developmental psychologist and cognitive scientist Maryanne Wolf of Tufts University” (via Scientific American). And so, there is to writing as well. I’ve tried different journals over the years, of varying size, and level of fanciness, but my go to favourite is a 5 dollar hard cover 5 ½”x 8” sketchbook that you can find at pretty much any art supplies store. It allows for writing, or doodling, or whatever. There is no imposed format. It’s big enough to write a full page, but not so large that it’s cumbersome. My go-to pens are the Classic Poppin Ballpoint and the Staedler Triplus Fineliner. There is nothing worse (ok, there are a lot of things worse, but whateveeeeeeeer) than trying to write with a pen that you hate, or in a book that you have no desire to keep writing in because it’s not quite right. Find writing implements that you love. This doesn’t mean that you have to spend hundreds of dollars on a custom, monogrammed, leather-bound journal, but don’t feel like you need to use a Field Notes or MoleSkine journal because they are “cool” even though you don’t derive joy from them (full disclosure – while I don’t write in Field Notes, I DO use the Field Notes Original Plain Memo Books for my every day ongoing to-do lists, and they are great).

ANYWAYS. If you’re stuck on an idea at work, or in a creative project that you’re working on in your own time; if you are going through something personally and need somewhere to vent; if you’re trying out writing again for the first time in years and years, and you feel rusty as all hell and just want to practice; if you’re planning out your dream trip/project/life, and need somewhere to document your thoughts on how to make it happen – give journaling a try.

Even if it feels awkward at first, keep at it; after a time, you just might find that you love it.

 

 

 

 

Sometimes you will write things that are not very good

It’s been a little while since I’ve posted anything of substance on the blog. It’s not because I haven’t been writing. It’s because I don’t feel like I’ve written anything that’s very good. And that’s ok.

I tried writing a blog post about solopreneurship (a work in progress), about modern ideals of femininity (still needs more fleshing out), and about how I’m recovering from an injury at the moment, and losing my mind from lack of physical activity (epiphany just this moment… lack of writing well, and lack of physical activity are perfectly aligned *crying*).

Not everything that you write will be good, and that’s ok. In fact, it’s a good thing. If you’re not writing anything that’s bad, it probably either means a) that you’re not writing very often b) that you actually have no critical eye for your own work, and it’s all kind of mediocre. And as for the former, sure, you could write a pretty good thing every now and then, but if you’re not writing regularly, and sometimes badly, then you’re also probably not getting any better.

Don’t beat yourself up for bad writing.

Not every song on an album is a hit single; not every song written makes it onto the album; and not every melody hummed is turned into a song. So why put the pressure on yourself that every note scribbled on your laptop or in your notebook needs to turn into a finished piece that you share with other people? You don’t. And that doesn’t make those scribbles any less valid. Those scribbles are you growing and learning and getting better at your craft. Those pages are the shoulders of your own giants that you will one day stand on when you’ve practiced enough to write something truly great. I’ve spent my entire life writing; in the early years it was mostly in stacks and stacks of teenage journals. If you looked back on those journals, it would be embarrassing. They are the worst. You wouldn’t look at them and say, “these are great examples of writing! This lady is FOR SURE going to be a professional writer when she grows up. Let’s publish this shit!” But they did give me the space to have years and years of garbage writing without anyone’s judgement (including, my own).

So write badly. Write pieces that go nowhere and never get finished. Abandon a story that is going nowhere and lights no fire in your heart. And then start again. And again. And again. And practice every day until you write something great.

An update

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There’s been a lot of change in my life in the past few months, and there’s going to be even more in the months to come. I wanted to make an update post to keep people that I know in the loop about what the heck I’m up to these days.

  1. I’ve had an injury. The week after I made my post about how active I was and how much I love being active, I got a stress fracture. I was told to immediately stop any activities that had a high impact on my foot (ie: running). I tried yoga, but the upward to downward dog transition hurt my foot. I tried swimming, but the foot paddling associated with anything but the breast stroke also caused foot pain. I tried to walk less, but I’m such a big walker, and honestly it’s been a crazy struggle. 4 weeks later, I’m not feeling that much better, and I’m wondering if the end will ever be in sight.
    I’m going to try to get back to going to the gym, but with no box jumps, skipping, steps ups, etc etc etc, and see how it goes.
    I’ve seen so many runners that I know deal with injury, and it’s so fucking difficult. On the plus side, it has made me MISS running so much. I constantly think about how much I love it and how much I want to get back out there. Distance is definitely making the heart grow fonder in this case. So much fonder.
    I’m trying to remember to see the long game (patience!). In the big scheme of things, one month off (or two…) is so short when you compare it to a lifetime of physical activity.
    This injury was also a good reminder for me. I knew that it was time to replace my shoes. I could tell that they were worn. But I put it off. And with the level of physical activity that I was putting in, that was a fucking stupid decision. I will never do it again.
  2. I’ve started freelancing full-time. This decision came about in late 2016 after a series of personal breakdowns and revelations, and I finally realized, “I CAN DO WHATEVER I WANT” and went for it. I spent the next few months taking every meeting and coffee that I could get, and now things are starting to come together. I’m so god-damn excited about the year ahead. I’m excited for the variation in projects and clients, and the feeling that I never have to be stuck in a specific job if I don’t want to ever again. BUT WHAT DO YOU DO, ALTAIRA? Well, I’m still kind of figuring that out.
    For now it mostly falls into a few buckets:

a. Writing. I love writing, and I’m good at it, and I can pretty much write about anything. I’m hoping to do more health care communications work, some work related to environmental and social issues, and also some work making online resources on various topics. This will be balanced with a healthy dose of blog posts on things like running and mental health and creativity. Writing all the time.

b. Research. I’m good at digging for things online, I know how to identify legit sources, and I’m basically a professional lurker. If you need something from the Internet, I can find it. I love going down knowledge rabbit holes and digging forever until every bit of useful information has been found. Whether it be for an environmental scan, or a policy paper, research holds a special place in my heart. It is a good partner to writing.

c. Other consulting. This third basket is a mixed bag of other things that I like doing. This includes some consulting about events (how should it run, what issues might you come up against, what are your goals), some strategy, and I’m hoping in the future to help teams develop online courses/workshops etc to supplement their own consulting work. I’ve helped to shape countless workshops and online education modules in the academic world, and I’m ready to take those skills and apply them to creative projects.

d. Workshops. I’m also running a series of workshops here in Toronto called Just Write. The purpose of which is to give participants the tools that they need to turn off the part of their brain that tells them that they can’t, and to just start the writing project that they have been thinking about, because that is the first and most difficult step. The next one is THIS SATURDAY. If this sounds interesting to you, I encourage you to register. This month’s workshop is only 45 bucks and will include a really great yoga session by City Yogis.

  1. I’m (mostly) moving back to BC. You heard me. May 2017, I will be packing up my Toronto life and moving it back across the country to Gibsons, BC. I’ve known for a few years that I would be planning a move to BC’s Sunshine Coast, and now the stars have finally aligned and it’s time to go home. I. CANNOT. WAIT. If we’ve ever spoken about my homeland in real life, you will have noticed how my eyes light up when I talk about the smell of the forest, and the damp air coming off the sea. I’m ready for bonfires and vegetable gardens, for trail runs and swims in the ocean on my lunch break, for easy west coast hangs that blend from morning into night, for long table dinners in apple orchards and afternoons spent holding baby sheep. READY. FOR. IT. In large part, this readiness has been facilitated by my decision to freelance. I was always hesitant to move back, because even though my heart ached for the West Coast, the thought of leaving my Toronto life completely behind, and visiting a week or two a year was just too much to bear. So at the moment I’m building up my Toronto clients, with the plan to have a home base in Gibsons but to come back and live in TO 2-3 months a year. The Sunshine Coast has so much possibility, and I cannot fucking wait for the projects, events, community building that I have started brainstorming for the year ahead.
  1. I’ve met so many wonderful people. WEST COAST HIPPIE MOMENT. When I finally gave in to what I really want from my life, I started to meet even more of the best people. I already have some truly wonderful, supportive, funny, generous friends in my life. But the connections that I’m making have just started to explode off the fucking charts in recent months. It’s blowing my mind a little.
  1. Everything is always working out for me. My fam, Jacqueline Jennings Pierrot has started using the term, “coming out of the spiritual closet” for people connecting with their purpose, and generally getting into new age spiritual practices like tarot readings, crystals, positive vibrations with the universe etc. One morning, on my most recent trip to BC, she was like, “I’m listening to this positive thinking podcast, I know you think that it’s stupid, but whatever, it’s totally working”. One of the things that she said from the podcast as a positive mantra was, “everything is always working out for me”. And my immediate reaction was *EYE ROLL* *FUCKING GAG ME* and J was like WHATEVER. And then I started saying it as a joke, because it was too self help, new agey for me, but then actually everything started just working out for me in exactly the way that I hoped it would. Soooooooooooooo… EVERYTHING IS ALWAYS WORKING OUT FOR ME.

Update COMPLETE. Big thanks to everyone who keeps reading my blog, and sending kind words or letting me know in person that a post that I wrote really resonated with them. You’ve helped me to write more consistently and honestly in the year that’s passed, and encouraged me to dig more deeply in the year ahead.

 

Moving along

Just breathe.

My last post was all about family issues. And for me, there are a lot of them. They have played a huge role in shaping me as a person – for better or worse. And while I can now talk about some of them with reflective curiosity, many of them still continue to haunt me.

To this end, while I’ve never shared any of my writing with family members, mentioned them by name, connected with them on social media, it turns out that they’ve started reading along. Maybe they’re even reading this post right now. After my last post, I received no less than 3 messages from my mother telling me that I was selfish, a liar, and mentally ill; they were hate-filled and venomous. And while I can understand feeling hurt and sad after reading that one of your children looks back on their childhood as a minefield, I cannot understand how a parent would think that this was an appropriate response. I stopped engaging with my family members a long time ago, because over the years I learned that there is no healthy way to engage with people who think that an appropriate way to communicate with another human is to call them for the sole purpose of yelling and swearing at them.

So what do I do? Do I stop writing? Do I pick up and start over elsewhere as an anonymous blogger, even though this doesn’t align with my values in terms of transparency? I don’t know the answer yet.

What I do know is that my intention in writing here was not to turn this blog into an ongoing saga of familial issues, so the next few posts will steer away from pain, and look towards the more strengthening, inspiring and elevating relationships and activities in my life. Onwards and upwards, as they say. One step at a time.

 

 

the 100 day project – 44/45

Ok. So let’s start off by saying that I am well aware that I am not following the actual protocol of the 100 day project. I have actually been preeeeeetty lazy about it. And honestly, the only thing that is really keeping me going at the moment, is the shame that I will feel if my friend Naben has to message me one more time telling me to stop being such a lazy asshole about writing.

To be fair (to myself) though, it’s not just laziness, but rather it is also the feeling of complete self indulgence and BORINGness that comes with writing shit about my own thoughts and feelings publicly every day. I know that anxiety, and sleeplessness, and the feeling that maybe I will be alone forever are somewhat universal emotions. But it also feels like at 32, these are things that should not be occupying a large piece of real estate in my daily thoughts. It feels like I should be more sure of myself at this point. At the same time, the more that I read about, and talk to, mentory types, the more that I think that the idea that anyone ever really feels “together” is a ridiculous illusion. Of at least there is a strong sense that any who is ambitious and always striving for more, will never actually feel the great relief that they have finally reached some plateau where things are exactly as they had always wished that they would be. When you have always wanted more, you will continue to always want more. That is the price of being an ambitious perfectionist. Right? Right.

The other price of that is also at times feeling like your work is trite tedium that noone could ever have any interest of reading (watching/listening to/paying you for). So in this regard, sometimes the struggle isn’t just to get the work done, but to keep getting it done despite a strong sense of self doubt in any of your skills.

Wooooo. And if that didn’t make tonight’s entry overly self indulgent and tedious, then I really have no idea what could.

Goodnight.

the 100 day project – day 17

Packiiiiiiiiiiiiiiing.

In a few days, I will be moving out of my little one bedroom apartment and into the most giant, old house that I will ever have lived in. It’s pretty exciting. But let’s face it; the actual packing process is the worst ever. It always seems like your juuuuuust about done, and then somehow it takes hours and hours longer than you ever imagined.

Just realized that I wrote about the same thing at the beginning of my blog post yesterday. CLEARLY I am on a loop this week! Packing. More packing. Writing. Work. CreativeMornings. Running. Packing. Full steam ahead until Saturday evening, when the moving truck is all unpacked. Woo!

I realize that this might be one of the most boring of my blog posts, but halfway through I remembered that a deadline I’m trying to meet for a personal essay competition is tomorrow at 5, so I spent my evening writing that instead. GREAT.

On that note, that’s it, that’s all, folks. This girl’s gotta’ sleep.

The end.