Category Archives: Inspiration

Tempt Failure


If you want to succeed, tempt failure. It sounds like an oxymoron, but it isn’t. What it really means is that chucking it all, and trying something different may end up being your key ingredient to success.

How to Tempt Failure

Tempt failure by doing what you are terrified of doing. Take a risk. It may not pay off … but it just might.

It reminds me so much of all the people who stay in safe jobs, and absolutely hate what they do. I started my adult life as a secretary – not because that’s what I wanted to do. I actually wanted to go to University, but since there wasn’t enough money for that, my parents signed me up for secretarial school. I loved the people – I hated the job. But when we immigrated to Canada it got me a job that helped pay the bills. During those office years, I met so many people who complained endlessly about how they hated their jobs, but never took any steps to do something about it.

I did. I chucked it all up one day thanks to a very good school friend of mine who made me cry. She told me  – “what are you doing in such a dead-end job? You had so much potential. Go and find yourself.” When I got back home to Montreal, I marched in to my boss’ office and quit. I said I was going back to school to get a degree in journalism. The problem was I hadn’t actually applied! Thank god, I got in!

Years later, I decided to start my new life as a creative writing coach. I was terrified. What would happen if no one signed up? I’m in my fourth year now, and I can truthfully say I have a great gang of writers, and love what I do.

Tempt failure? You betcha.

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How to Fail as a Writer

Here are a few ways to ensure you fail as a writer. Let me know if you can think of a few more.

1. Start your novel off with plenty of back story. After all, your readers will want to know all that before they actually get to the exciting stuff. Under no circumstances, jump right into the inciting incident so that you can grab the reader’s attention immediately, and keep them flipping pages and salivating to find out more.

2. Don’t bother to write more than your first draft. You find it interesting, so of course everyone else will. There may be logistical problems with your story, but hey! the reader can figure it out. Why bother with having someone critique it, and why bother writing a second, third, or fifth draft so that the story is compelling, thrilling and exciting.

3. Spelling mistakes, typos, grammatical errors – who cares about them. Of course, it’s quite easy to use spellcheck – but really, why bother?  What’s important is the actual story, so readers won’t care.

4. Writing is an art form, so working on your novel should only be done when the muse smacks you over the head. There is no hard work involved, no craft to learn. It’s easy peasy, and anyone who thinks otherwise is a fool. All those great writers like John Steinbeck and Hemingway – well, the prose just flowed out of them. It was a gift. They didn’t do any work, why should you?

5. Reading is for chumps. If you read the type of stories you like to write, it will hinder your ability to be original. Just write what you know, and others will read it when it is published – because of course your novels will be published – you’re that good, and everyone will know it immediately.

6. Make sure your ending fizzles out. After all, the ending isn’t that important. Readers don’t care. They don’t want to close a book feeling satisfied, do they?

7. You’ve written your manuscript – it’s your first draft, not proofed, not critiqued, but you know it’s good and every literary agent is waiting with bated breath to sell it to the highest bidder. Don’t bother researching agents to find out who represents your genre; don’t bother writing a proper query and don’t bother finding out how to spell the agent’s name. You’re a shoo-in.

Writers – what do you think?

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Time Traps and the Productive Writer

Time trap

Time traps is one of the biggest problems a writer today faces. I know this from experience. Once upon a time I called it procrastination, and as a journalist and then a freelancer I knew it well. I’d spend tons of time doing the laundry, twiddling my thumbs, walking the dog – anything to prevent me from starting my piece. Because I knew that I worked better under pressure, that my thoughts unfurled when my deadline approached.

As a novelist, however, I only have a self-imposed deadline. Now, unfortunately, procrastination has turned into time traps – time traps such as trolling Facebook, getting side-tracked on my daily dose of Trump nonsense, falling down the sinkhole of Google, and playing Words with Friends.

How to Sidestep Time Traps

Yes, it is possible. Going cold turkey and saying you won’t ever go on Facebook is the same as saying you’ll never touch another carb again. It’s just not sustainable. Instead, set aside a half hour to catch up on Facebook. Let’s face it – you don’t really have to ‘like’ and comment on every post you read, and if you’re like me – you don’t actually post a whole lot.

CNN and Trumpian Nonsense

Give yourself fifteen minutes to catch up on Trump’s latest nonsense. He’s not worth much more.


Here, you need some self-restraint. It’s hard not to get distracted from the valid research you are doing. I find the best way to stop myself from going crazy on  links within links is to just not click on anything. Stay focused on the article you are reading and exercise control. You can do it.

Words with Friends

No words of advice here. As those of you I play with know, I have absolutely no self-control whatsoever. The physical game of Scrabble was a family favorite growing up, and Words with Friends is my comfort game. So – time trap or not – I don’t care.

What are your time traps, and how do you deal with them?

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Amazing Bookstores

Literary pilgrims – look for these amazing bookstores while you travel the globe. Thanks to the New York Times Dec. 7, 2016 travel issue for this post. I’ve cut and edited it for space.

Livraria Lello, Porto Portugal

The 110-year-old structure could easily be mistaken for a church. Topped with spires, the finely wrought Gothic-style facade opens onto a soaring space with columns, ornate medieval motifs and a dazzling stained-glass ceiling that hovers over the marquee attraction: a sinewy blood-red double staircase that coils like a strand of DNA.

According to bookshop lore, J. K. Rowling drew inspiration for her young-adult novels from the shop’s creaky interiors while teaching English in Porto in the early 1990s.  


 Credit: Zhongshuge Bookstore

Zhongshuge Bookstore

When you walk into the shop in Hangzhou, China, the books appear to reach impossible heights and stretch clear into the distance, an effect created by the perfect symmetry of the dark wooden shelves and the clever use of mirrors on the ceilings and walls. In an amphitheater-like room for readings and lectures, the impression is amplified by the reflection of the curved wall in the mirrored ceiling; it feels as if you are completely surrounded by a rainbow of book spines. In yet another room, the books are arranged on thin columns placed randomly around the room like trees in a forest, with benches interspersed for reading. Again, a mirrored ceiling makes the shelves appear as if they are not just trees, but towering redwoods.


Credit: Horacio Paone for The New York Times

El Ateneo Grand Splendid

El Ateneo Grand Splendid is one of Buenos Aires’ most remarkable landmarks, a sprawling space whose history mirrors the cultural development of Argentina. The grandeur of the former theater belies the rather prosaic merchandise provided by the bookshop chain that owns the current incarnation: The open interior is surrounded by tiers of balconies that, especially when lit in the evenings, make it easy to imagine the ballet and opera and tango performances of a century ago.

On the ground floor at the very back of the store is the stage, still bedecked with red curtains, and now supporting tables and chairs: This has become a cafe and a good place for foot-weary tourists to down an espresso. The books include works carried by chain bookstores (there’s a small English language section) but the music selection is excellent, a small reminder of the heritage of the Grand Splendid.


Inspiration For Stories



Inspiration for a new book comes in different forms for different people. Sometimes a word or a phrase can start you down a path to a novel, sometimes a quirky character that you’ve met may become someone in your story, and sometimes it’s just plain hard work coming up with a good idea.

How to Come Up With Inspiration

Inspiration is everywhere. As a writer, you just need to recognize it. Sometimes, a riveting childhood – be it good or bad – can kick-start a story. Jeannette Walls did this with her book The Glass Castle.

The main thing anyone can do is to allow your imagination to bloom. Elizabeth Gilbert, authorelizabeth of Eat, Pray, Love gave a very interesting TEDTALK called Your elusive creative genius which goes into the whole notion of a creative muse. All writers will be inspired and motivated by this Ted Talk. 

But all the inspiration in the world will amount to nothing if you don’t put that effort into practice. Once you have an idea, you need to flesh it out and see whether it has enough meat to cover an entire novel – or perhaps it’s meant to be just a short story.

The most important thing you can do for yourself though is to write. Trust in your imagination by testing out new ideas and novel scenarios.

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Secret to Success

If you’re a habitual quitter, stop reading right now. Quit. If you want to succeed, I’ve got a secret for you. The secret to success is very simple: DO NOT QUIT. Most people who make it to where they are get there because they don’t give up. Take a look at the dandelion below. How it can squeeze its way through asphalt is unbelievable. But it does!


Lots of people quit when anything starts pinching or hurting or becomes boring. Those are the people who will never succeed. Oh yes, I’ve quit umpteen times – my favorite is going to the gym. I can’t even begin to count the times I’ve started with gusto and then slowly drifted away. Most times it was because I didn’t do enough work, hence nothing changed. I didn’t lose weight, I didn’t get toned and worst of all, I got bored and so I quit. So where am I now where the gym is concerned? Back to square one. If I had never quit, I wouldn’t be in this position.

The good news? It’s never too late to start again.

There have never been more people publishing books because these days it’s so easy to say you’re a published author. People who have blogs, who self-publish, who publish their works on other people’s blogs or their stories on sites that publish them without payment all call themselves published authors. And I guess they are, in a way. But my measuring stick is payment, american-dollars-9679748moolah, bread, bucks, cash, greenbacks __________ (fill in whatever your favorite slang word for money is).

If you have never been published before, these non-paying sites are great to give you the satisfaction of seeing your name in print. But why give away what you can get paid for? And that’s where never giving up comes in. I’ve got new for you. Getting paid for your work is TOUGH. It’s hard to get through the slush pile. Rejection does a number on your psyche. It’s depressing. But if you don’t give up, you’ll eventually get there. Your writing will improve, you’ll make the right connections and the secret to success will be yours.

Do you agree that the secret to success is to never give up?



Rejection and Self-confidence

It may sound like an oxymoron to use rejection and self-confidence together but, trust me, they go hand in hand. That’s because you need to believe in yourself regardless of whether you get rejection after rejection slip from agents or publishers. And that only happens if you have the self-confidence to believe that your work has merit. You learn to believe that there is the right agent out there just waiting for you to make contact.

How do you know if your work is good enough to be published? One terrific way is to take a creative writing class and get the input from other participants as well as the instructor. They bring fresh eyes to your work. Sometimes, as writers, we have looked at our work so much that we just don’t notice what is glaring omissions to others.

How do you learn to accept rejection? It’s tough, but what I do is try to figure out why a particular query was rejected. Sometimes, the wording of the rejection holds clues. If the rejection letter states that the query just doesn’t fit with their needs at this time but encourages you to query them about another project – that, to me, is a definite plus, not a downright rejection at all. As far as I’m concerned, that means they like my work and my writing but perhaps they just don’t need that specific type or genre of novel at that time. They definitely go into my pile of literary agents to be queried again with another project.

And that leads me to my final point about rejection and self-confidence. If you have spent all your time writing only one novel or several versions of the same novel, you are making a huge mistake. Diversify so that if your current project does not make the grade with all the literary agents you have sent it to, you have something else on the go … and something else … and something else. You never know which one will make contact with the right agent or publisher.

Do you think rejection and self-confidence go hand in hand?


2016 Creative Writing Classes at Beyond-The-Lamppost

Tues. afternoons January 12 – March 29 in Oakville “Shaping Your Story”  

Wed. afternoons January 13 – March 30 in Oakville “Get Your Story Finished”  

Thurs. afternoons January 14 – March 3 in Oakville “Almost there: Revising & Rewriting Your Manuscript”  



Writing Success Story

Beyond-the-Lamppost Classes First Writing Success story!

Congratulations go out to Ariffa Hossein Ariffa.2on her writing success. Her short story The Red Chair has just been published in Chicken Soup for the Soul – Think Possible.

See page 32 in the book for Ariffa’s poignant short story. Well done, Ariffa and we wish you all the best.


How to Achieve Writing Success in Your Stories

It may not seem like it, but there is a well-documented route to writing success: hard work.

When you read a story that draws you in, it seems like such a simple act. What the reader does not know (and should not know) is the time, effort and grunt work that has been put into crafting the piece. Just like an Olympic gymnast makes a back walk-over look easy, a good writer makes their story seem effortless. And that’s the way it should be.

But writing a story doesn’t come easy for most of us. We agonize over the right word; we worry about whether our characters are alive and vibrant; whether our plots and sub-plots make sense and most important of all – whether the story is interesting at all.

But that’s only one part of the equation. The other part is even harder. It’s about Writing a query and a synopsis,equation researching literary agents to find out who would be the best fit for our novel and finally the excruciating pain of waiting to hear from those agents we have sent our souls to.

Many writers fall off the creative path around this time simply because it becomes too difficult to accept rejection. Most agents phrase their rejections in a kind way. Here’s one rejection I received from one of the first middle grade novels I submitted. In hindsight, and after reading the work a couple of years later, I was appalled at my first chapter and how unpolished it seems now.

Dear Ms. Bell:

Thank you for your recent submission. We appreciate your interest in ___________________ Publishing.

It is obvious you have invested a considerable amount of time and effort into this project. Unfortunately, after careful consideration, we do not feel that we could be successful with your work. Please know that sometimes we must pass on well written, marketable projects simply because they do not suit our lists.

 Thank you again for sharing your submission with us, and we wish you the best of luck in placing your work elsewhere.

With best wishes,

Achieving writing success is not about being the best writer or writing the most interesting story of all time. Of course, these factors must be there  – and if you can’t write … well, your chances of being published are probably not very good. But there is one component that successful writers have that stands them in good stead and that is stick-to-it-ness.

What is your formula for writing success?


2016 Creative Writing Classes at Beyond-the-Lamppost begin:

Tues. afternoons January 12 – March 29 in Oakville “Shaping Your Story

Wed. afternoons January 13 – March 30 in Oakville “Get Your Story Finished

Thurs. afternoons January 14 – March 3 in Oakville “Almost there: Revising & Rewriting Your Manuscript


How Short is Your Attention Span?

How Short is Your Attention Span?

When I was twelve I read a book called The Water Babies by Charles Kingsley.

water babies

It was written in 1863 in very small type and was 205 pages long. Each chapter had snippets from poems by William Wordsworth, Coleridge and the like and it was a story with a moral at the end.

A few years ago, I re-read the book and was amazed that my 12-year-old self should have found this book not only readable but exciting – it had been one of my favourites. I was shocked that someone of such a young age should have had the persistence and determination to read a book where you had to wade through mountains of words before getting to the point. Hurray for my 12-year-old self.

These days our young children and even adults are hostage to sound bites, whether they are on television or in magazines or in books. I think we have lost something in not taking the time to allow a story to build up to something. Every writing teacher (including myself) teaches that a story should begin in media res which means ‘in the middle of things and unfortunately it is true for our day and age. But if Charles Dickens


or others of his ilk were to become authors today, they would have to change their styles or never make it to being published.

How short is your attention span?

Fear of Success

Fear of Success or Just Plain Old Fear can be a Good Thing

When I began offering creative writing classes earlier this year I was afraid …

  • afraid that no one would attend
  • afraid that whoever attended would be disappointed
  • afraid that I would have to close shop after one session
  • afraid that I’d fail

That fear of success, (some people might call it fear of failure) almost stopped me from starting. But I shoved it away and told myself I’d try for one session and see what would happen.

The result: I have a core group of incredible people who are not only terrific writers, they bring me purpose and focus each week as I parse through their submissions and see how I can enhance them. My fear of success (or failure) is slowly leaving me. Que sera, sera said Doris Day in that old song that really dates me. But the phrase is true. What will be, will be. The only power we have in our hands is how we live our lives. We may have fear of success or fear of failure, but how we approach it is what matters.

I’ve had great reviews from the writers who have joined Beyond-the-Lamppost and I am so grateful for the wonderful feedback they have given me.

Thank you Beyond-the-Lamppost Writers.