Broken any speed records lately?

When Anne Giardini speaks, people listen.

A lawyer (QC) by training (UBC, Cambridge) she has also written a nationally-syndicated newspaper column. Mother of three, she’s president of Weyerhaeuser Canada. She sits on the board of The Writers’ Trust of Canada and the Vancouver International Writers Festival.

Word count: 475                               Reading time: Approx 2 mins.

In her spare time, she reads a book ‘every couple of days’ and, since 2005, has knocked out a novel of her own every three or four years. She is the oldest daughter of the late, great Carol Shields and grew up surrounded by literature. She knows a thing or two. This past week she addressed the North Shore Writers’ Association (NSWA) and kept us pinned to our seats.

Some of the wisdom she offered:

  • If you want to be a published writer, don’t write for yourself. Show your work to friends and neighbours. Workshop it. Get feedback. (My qualifier: be selective whose feedback you take to heart. One reader’s meat is another reader’s poison.)
  • Get out and meet people in the writing community. You never know where your contacts will lead you.
  • Writing is about problem-solving. What problem is your story trying to solve?
  • Put your work out there for external validation. If you’re writing a novel try to write at least one stand-alone chapter. Submit it as a short story to competitions and literary magazines.
  • Read a lot. Write a lot.
  • It’s not too late to start. A sixty-year-old member of Anne’s writing group launched his first book this year.
  • When writing, heed the words of Emily Dickinson, Tell all the truth but tell it slant.
  • Remember Michael Winter’s two dogs in the writing room. One is a puppy, beguiling and playful. The other is a dying dog that needs mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. The puppy is the internet. The dying dog is your novel. The dying dog needs your attention most urgently.
  • Always read your work out loud before finalizing it.
  • Be vigilant with your time management. Set high expectations. Make choices.

In respect to the last point, Anne admitted she has given up TV, movies, and plays in order to fit writing and reading into her demanding life.

Hearing her formidable schedule made me feel a little weary, which shows how different the writing experience can be. If she and I were in a productivity race, she would run the track a hundred times for every lap of mine. But that’s fine. There is a place in the world for both the tortoise and the hare.  

Where are you in the energy spectrum of writing and life? What have you sacrificed to make time for your craft? Do you look at people like Anne Giardini and think, “I can’t do that so I may as well not try?” Or do you accept yourself and what you can do with philosophical calm?

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Photo from Wikimedia Commons: Three Hermann’s Tortoises by Ranko

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PS Breaking news at the NSWA meeting: Anne made the first official announcement that her family are putting together a book on writing based on Carol Shields’s years as a professor at the University of Manitoba. The book will include personal anecdotes to illustrate the lessons, a la Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird (one of Anne Giardini’s favourite books about writing).