The Writer's Workshop

Thoughts on books, writing, creativity, and what not.


Imagining Darwin 2

Almost from the moment the Beagle first set sail, Darwin was violently seasick and spent the first few weeks of the journey into the Atlantic confined to his cabin and unable to keep food down. It seemed to him he had made an enormous mistake undertaking this voyage. He recovered enough to change his mind […]

Imagining Darwin

  I’m working on a novel set during Darwin’s voyage on board the Beagle. In order to find my way imaginatively into his world, I’ve been creating dioramas out of my kids’ old toys, illustrating key moments in Darwin’s life (something like the collages I made when I was working on my novel Salamander, but […]

Naked people in books

        Read the following passage. There will be a short quiz afterward.   Augustus was intently writing at his desk when there was a knock at the door. With a low growl he thrust the quill pen into its holder, rose from his chair, strode to the door and threw it open. […]

Useful monsters

The wolf prowls the worlds of Story in many guises.   Wolves have been demonized in stories probably since stories were first told, or at least since humans began to domesticate sheep and cows and other animals. When this happened, however many thousands of years ago, when we began to keep animals as captive protein […]

The Elements of Story: The Fifth Element

“The universe is made up of stories, not of atoms.”  – Muriel Rukeyser “The creative element in the mind of man . . . emerges in as mysterious a fashion as those elementary particles which leap into momentary existence in great cyclotrons, only to vanish again like infinitesimal ghosts.”  – Loren Eiseley   In earlier […]

“I hate it here.”

The other day one of my writing students said casually, “I don’t set any of my stories in Edmonton because I hate it here.” I was surprised, not so much about the expression of hate as the fact that she wouldn’t write about the place where she lives. A lot of Edmontonians like to grumble […]

How To Turn Yourself Into a Writer

  This is for everyone who ever said to me, “I want to write but I just don’t know how to start. What do I write about?”   Here’s a method to try. It may work for you or it may not. No guarantees. The key is sticking with it.   You knew I was […]

Traveling Light: Reading Calvino’s Invisible Cities on the Road

When I travel, the one indispensable guidebook I always take with me is Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities. I’ve carried a copy of this book with me on pretty much every trip I’ve taken as a writer. When I go on trips I always like to have a book with me that I’ve already read and […]

The elements of story: fire

If water is the flow of a good story, and earth gives a story weight and substance, and air is the freedom of the storyteller’s art, then fire is the imagination itself. The energy that creates worlds. Every story begins as a spark in the mind. The universe itself began as a next-to-nothing that exploded […]

The Elements of Story: Air

Part 3 of a series: we’re all familiar with plot, character, setting, dialogue, theme and so on, but what are some of the other, lesser-known “elements” of story? Our revels now are ended. These our actors,  as I foretold you, were all spirits and  are melted into air, into thin air….  — Shakespeare, The Tempest […]