Category “Creativity”

The Anxiety of Writing

Tuesday, 20 May, 2014

“Biting my truant pen, beating myself for spite: 

“Fool!” said my muse to me, “look in thy heart, and write.”

 – Philip Sidney, Astrophel and Stella

It’s a strange thing that to writers, writing can be utterly terrifying. One would assume that given this is the person’s chosen profession, he or she would be happy to write! begging to write! willing, able, and eager to write!  but sometimes that really isn’t the case. In fact. sometimes it feels like utter madness choosing to do this for a career. In any creative profession, it’s very hard to go “Okay, 1-2-3, create!” but at the same time, there is no right time to create – one has to be diligent and disciplined and actually create a writing habit.

There are books, courses, quotes, blog posts, dedicated to creating a writing habit. And yet it is all still easier said than done. I have been trying to make time for my own writing, something I’ve promised myself I will concentrate more on this summer in particular as I have a lighter teaching load near the end of the term and yet the thought of it (doing something I love and that brings me immense satisfaction) completely paralyses me.

Isn’t it funny? Writing is what I feel compelled to do with my life (in fact, I started Meerkat in order to be able to do it as part of my career). Writing is what I dream about. Perhaps it’s that I fear really, really putting it all out there and confessing that I’m working on a novel. Then  a) I’ll actually have to do it b) people will want to know what it’s about and actually want to read it (gasp!) and c) I’ll actually have to do it!

I’m trying to combine some ideas from Gretchen Rubin and Elizabeth Gilbert (check out some of her thoughts on writing)- though I have a suspicion I’m stalling on Idea 1 to avoid Idea 2. Rubin suggests de-cluttering to aid in happiness and productivity, and my office is a total disaster. It doesn’t help that it’s also our music room (this includes an antique organ, guitars, and amps) or that as the term goes on, I end up with piles of extra handouts, papers, etc. from teaching, or that I really need a new desk… At the same time, it’s not as if I have to write in my office or that I have to have a pristine space in which to write (though it certainly helps, I do often do my best work while at a coffee shop/some public sphere – I’m writing this as my students write their midterm). Gilbert suggests setting a timer and writing for 30 minutes; making manageable blocks of time and getting things done. Whenever, wherever. Again, this would mean I actually have to do it!

Baby steps, baby steps. At least I’ve taken some time to update my blogs. Next step, more tidying, but also MORE DISCIPLINE, LESS FEAR!

“Discipline allows magic. To be a writer is to be the very best of assassins. You do not sit down and write every day to force the Muse to show up. You get into the habit of writing every day so that when she shows up, you have the maximum chance of catching her, bashing her on the head, and squeezing every last drop out of that bitch.”  – Lilia St. Crow

The Hundred Years Cafe Series

Thursday, 8 March, 2012

I  have the good fortune of working on a fantastic project at the moment, for The Hundred Years Cafe. The concept is a musical collective – a gathering of diverse aboriginal artists (both local and international, established and emerging) for an intense session of collaboration, practice, and then performance – in front of a live studio audience.

The series of concerts, as well as ‘behind the scenes’ rehearsals and interviews, is being recorded for a TV series coming out in September, to be screened on APTN. The performances are free and taking place twice a week (roughly) for the month of March. You can get a full schedule on the Hundred Years website.

The studio space itself (located at the Ironworks studios at 235 Alexander Street) houses a collection of incredible native artwork, from tapestries to masks and paintings and the cafe atmosphere provides a perfect forum for the musical talent being showcased. It’s well worth stopping by to get the full experience; you just have to be prepared to be on camera. The name of the project comes from a prophecy by famed Metis leader Louis Riel who, in 1885, stated,  “My people will sleep for a hundred years, and when they awake it will be the artists who give them their spirit back.”

If you’re a music lover in Vancouver, I highly recommend checking out The Hundred Years Cafe. You can like the project on Facebook or follow it on Twitter for more updates.


Who Died and Made You King of the Twitterverse?

Thursday, 26 January, 2012

I have become a bit of a podcast addict recently, and am even contemplating learning to do these myself, but I’ve been thinking a lot about something I was listening to on The Nerdist. Chris Hardwicke was interviewing his life long friend Wil Weaton AKA Wesley Crusher from Star Trek: The Next Generation and was talking about how he has always engaged with new technologies as soon as they come out and they were laughing about how there have been explosions of social media douchebags who talk about “how to do Twitter properly” and what a ridiculous notion this is.

It got me thinking., yes, if you want to monetize (blegh, I hate these kinds of poncey terms) or advertise or draw in clients using social media, then there are things to do and things to avoid with social media, but for someone like Wil Wheaton, is there really a wrong way to do it?

And really, who cares?

I do believe you need to be sensible when using social media – the list of stories of people getting fired or getting into trouble is now endless, but you have to be pretty careless and quite frankly, a little dumb, to get caught, but beyond that, if you are running your own social media profiles and your main intent is to connect with people, share knowledge and perhaps gain clients, is it really that complex a system? And what designates someone a “social media maven” (besides them calling themselves that)? I’m often surprised too when I read the tweets of all the so-called ‘Twitterati’ (both locally in Vancouver and elsewhere). They’re very often boring, bland, or just plain arbitrary, and I wonder – how did they make it big and become ‘the’ person to follow?

Take Guy Kawasaki. I get he’s some kind of guru or something (self proclaimed?), but very often his tweets are incredibly boring and yet there is a flurry of retweets and everyone oohs and aahs. Granted, although the same thing seems to happen with the Mashable tweets, I do actually find these very interesting and ahead of the game with tech news etc, and often the links posted are informative and point to quality articles and posts. Sometimes, however, particularly with local Vancouver tweeters, I read what they’ve posted and the interactions they have with others and I think ‘remind me why I’m following you?!’

Now of course I am by no means claiming that I am some champion tweeter or that what I have to say is brilliant or life changing, and I do get the fact that I don’t have to follow these people or even engage on Twitter, but I really feel that if I stop and think about something and realise it has no appeal to anyone, or really is just for the sake of it, I tend not to post, and rather spend some time listening instead to what others are saying (the old adage about not having something nice to say and all that….). I also have never proclaimed to be a social media guru/maven/expert or any other bold title out there. I am a social media enthusiast and advocate, but let’s put it in perspective. It’s really not rocket science.

Live long and prosper, Wesley.


Content: There’s an App for That?

Thursday, 6 October, 2011

I recently came across Inbound Writer through a friend. I’ve shared my brief thoughts on it with the students in my Writing for the Web class blog, but it’s worth repeating here…

Inbound Writer bills itself as the “first social writing application”. It combines a keyword search tool, SEO prompts, a text editor and social media platforms. As a writer, I’m not sure how I feel about it. It comes across as a DIY writing with SEO tool, which is most definitely useful, but what concerns me is the impact of something like this on the quality of the writing. The number one rule of SEO, as far as I am concerned, is that you still need to write for people, not search engines, and although I’m sure this tool is useful in many ways, I don’t think it can or should replace a writer.

Maybe I just feel that way because I don’t like the idea of an app taking my job?


Three Key Tips for Business Writing

Wednesday, 6 April, 2011

Academic and creative writing are worlds apart from business writing. This does not mean you can’t be creative or intelligent when writing business messages. On the contrary, you need to be use the same kinds of skills of careful thought, research, proofreading etc. that academic writing requires, and you do need to think  and write creatively in order to focus your business writing.

If you can spend more time planning your business messages (whether a report, email, web pages, proposal, business presentation etc) and focusing on the following three tips for business writing, you will find that the process becomes easier, yields better results, and helps you project a positive image in the business world.

1. Keep it Objective Focused

In the workplace, there are certain tasks you need to achieve. When you communicate with clients, coworkers, employers, stakeholders etc, you are trying to achieve a specific objective. You may be trying to sell a product or service. You may be making a request. You may be replying to a message. No matter what the situation, you want to ensure that your communication not only delivers the message, but is understood, and produces the correct action and/or feedback.

Know what it is you want your audience to do. Write down “I want my reader/listener to…” and complete the sentence. If you don’t know what you are on about, they certainly won’t. Centre the message on this core idea. Emphasise the main idea throughout the message. Ensure that the follow up action is easy to understand and carry out. In this way, you succeed in the hidden agenda of business communication: protecting a positive image of you/your organisation and maintaining excellent customer relations.

2. Keep it Audience Focused

No where is it harder to write in an audience-centred way than in a job application letter. You are trying to tell them what you can do, so you fall into this resume repetition of “I can do this… I worked here… I studied that…”. People don’t care. What they want to know is what can you bring to them? What can you do (what are your “features”) and how will this benefit them? Always put yourself in the place of the audience.

If you know your product backwards, that doesn’t mean the audience will understand what you are on about, unless you “translate” the information into language that the audience will understand. You need to think about their level of knowledge and understanding and ask yourself

  • What do they already know?
  • What do they need to know?
  • How will they feel and react upon receiving the message?
  • How can you express your ideas in a way that will make them easy to understand?
  • Will they understand jargon?
  • What follow up action do they need to take?

If you have anticipated and answered all the audience’s questions before they have had to ask them, then you will be that much more successful in ensuring your message is received, understood, and acted upon.

3. Keep it Short and Simple (KISS)

The major difference between creative, academic and business writing is often length. Business writing needs to be concise, clear and focused because people deal with incredible volumes of data these days. People are also lazy and don’t like to spend time reading, especially if they inundated with emails. They also don’t want to sit through a rambling presentation.

Get to the main idea in your opening few sentences if you know the audience is neutral or positive about the material. Use crisp, precise words. Avoid unnecessary fillers (for example, my favourite is “I am writing to tell you…”. I know you are writing to tell me. I am reading what you have written). Minimise jargon if the audience won’t understand. Keep your tone friendly and conversational, but avoid slang and acronyms. Use short sentences and  short paragraphs. Order the information in a logical way. Group similar ideas together and include only the most relevant information.

Once you have  put your message together, edit and proofread  it. Cut out fillers, redundancies (e.g. revert back. Revert = to go back to), noun forms (e.g. “extend an invitation” can be replaced with “invite”) and long-winded explanations. Check for spelling and grammatical errors. You can still sound intelligent without having to use cliched business phrases (e.g. Thank you for your cooperation) or fancy words (remuneration = salary, so use salary).

Improving your business writing is not a challenging task; it simply takes a bit of careful thought and organisation. Focus on the audience, KISS, and what your reason for communicating is, and you’ll see positive results.




A Lesson in Passion

Wednesday, 2 March, 2011

I was  chatting to one of my students this evening after class. He asked me if he could ask me a personal question, and I thought, here we go… boundaries! (ah, the skeptic). It turned out that he wanted my opinion on a dilemma he is having about the next step in his education. His question related to whether he should pursue a degree or a diploma; swap from a more training-based approach to a learning approach.

I almost wish he’d asked me something about me!

This is such a hard question to answer, for so many reasons. The student is not from Canada and is planning to go home at some point, to a different culture, with different expectations and different needs. We chatted for a long time about how when you lack a degree, you often hit a ceiling in your career, and the advantages and disadvantages of his quite varying career options, and then I realised that I wasn’t really telling him what I really wanted to tell him: that it doesn`t matter what you do or where you go if you are not passionate about it.

And so I told him.

I told him how unhappy I had been when I was working full-time at teaching and felt that it wasn`t what I really wanted. I told him how I feel that passion is so important, because if you love what you do, you will be successful no matter what. I also told him that it makes me sad when I talk to students and they tell me they have chosen their studies based on what their parents have told them they must do. And I told him that it also makes me sad when people do things out of fear – a fear of failure, or of a lack of money, or of letting others down. And I also told him that some people work to live, and others live to work, and that he needs to decide what he loves to do, what he is passionate about, and worry about the rest later.

What was interesting was how easy it was to give him advice and talk to him about his path, and speak of fear and passion and risks, when these same things have been plaguing me lately. Funny how it is always easy to dispense advice, but not to hear it oneself. I am following my passion, most definitely, but at the same time, there have been some fearful voices popping up and a lot of stalling and procrastinating. And I have been listening to the fearful chirpings a little too much. I think it is so important to take stock, and to make changes if something is not serving you well, but at the same time, you can`t let fear take hold and cause paralysis, blocking you from achieving what you want to achieve.

Tonight was a great lesson for me, but funnily enough, it was not in the classroom, but rather afterwards where I was able to teach something valuable not only to my student, but to myself as well.


Where are you, in the moment?

Wednesday, 9 February, 2011

I know it’s been too long when I forget my login info for a sec! Yikes… where is February going? I feel like the first part of the year is flying by, especially when my classes start heading into mid-terms (though we do work on a different schedule in part-time studies to other school terms)…

I also know it’s been too long when I see all the updates I have to do to all my WordPress systems! Sigh… Wouldn’t it be nice to have an update button for life? You could just hit a download button and be instantly up to date on everything… that is something I would pay for 🙂

Communication Workshops and Training

On a different note, I’m really looking this year to do a lot more workshops and in-house training, so if anyone is looking for help with updating their own or their staff’s communication skills (especially in the realm of presentations and business writing), then let me know.

Next month, I am going to be doing another Cover Letter and Resume workshop for Wired Woman, so if you are looking for help updating your current resume and getting it job-ready, or if you need tips on how to write a cover letter that gets you noticed in a positive way, then check out the Wired Woman website for more details and to register.

Time, Time, Time…

The important thing with time is to remember that you can either fill it with things that satisfy you, or things that, at the time, seem great, but in fact leave you with the feeling that you wasted your day. Sometimes it is hard to know the difference in the moment, but it’s really important to do what gives you energy, and what fulfills you, each day.

All this means I have to make a note for myself to spend more time writing and updating my blog!


For anyone who works from home…

Friday, 22 October, 2010

I LOVE The Oatmeal. Off the wall and  totally hilarious. I found this one today on “why working at home is both awesome and horrible”. Too funny!

Ridiculously funny artwork with a lot of truth.


Trust Your Instincts, and Your Self.

Friday, 15 October, 2010

As an entrepreneur, it is often so hard to stop yourself from doubting your every move. Am I doing enough? Too little? Should I take that client? Work with that company? Am I networking/promoting/earning enough? It’s enough to make your head spin!

I have found, as someone who has ended up on the path to opening her own business without a business background, that I tend to doubt myself. And yet, I have such strong instincts and have to remind myself of how much I have accomplished. I have to remind myself that I am not naively trusting someone, but that I have read them and know that I can do business with them and won’t have to struggle to get paid, or that my hard work for them will be recognised. And I also have to remind myself that if I trip up, it’s not the end of the world. But it can be tough to keep positive sometimes.

What are the things you do to keep positive? To keep your eye on your goals? Who supports you, if you work on your own? What strategies can you use to keep on track or learn more or expand your skills? How do you reach new clients? A new network? I’d be really interested to hear from you what works and doesn’t work, for you.

Sometimes it can be as simple as talking to someone and telling them what you need. Sometimes you have to do a lot of pavement pounding. And the best times are when everything serendipitously just falls into place. (If only it could always be like that, right?). The exciting part of this is nothing stays the same; there is always change and growth, and the opportunity to learn more about who you are and what you do.

*       *        *        *

On a related, but slightly separate note, if you are an entrepreneur in Vancouver looking to expand your skills, then this might interest you. Wired Woman Vancouver (the organisation I volunteer for, and have just signed on as the Director of Communications for) is running a fantastic event on November 1st entitled Growing Your Business: Tips for Entrepreneurs. The event will run in a round table discussion format and features Bob de Witt from New Ventures BC, Valerie Mann, Lawson Lundell LLP, Bill Tam, CEO in Residence (Vancouver), Jeanette Jackson, CEO , Light-Based Technologies, and Lauren Kulokas, COO, of Energy Aware.

Not only will you get tips and ideas on legal issues, understanding your market, and financing, but also hear entrepreneurial success stories to help motivate and inspire you.  You can learn more on the Wired Woman website, and register for the event on the site too. Membership is free, so it makes to join, and then get members’ rates!

Sadly, I will be teaching that night and not able to make the event, but it’s going to be outstanding.

Keep trusting and learning,


Creative Path Series VII: Jeremy Lim

Monday, 27 September, 2010

It’s been great to see an array of photographers contributing to the site. In today’s Creative Path post, I’d like to introduce Jeremy Lim, a Vancouver-based photographer (and multi-tasker) specializing in capturing big moments. You can track him down via his website, or on Facebook and  Twitter.

1.      How long have you been a photographer? How did you get started with it?

Photography’s a relatively new thing for me.  The first time I picked up a camera was back in April 2008.  I had a friend, Mikey Valdes, who spent every other day telling me about his photography adventures.  After a few months of admiring his work, I caved, bought myself a used Canon 30D, and haven’t looked back since.

2.      Is this your full time job? A career goal? A hobby?

Photography’s both a part-time job and a career goal.  Right now, I spend most of my time with business functions, concerts, and commercial work.  In the future, I’d like to specialize in large-scale, global events; I love capturing big moments.

3.      If this is not your full time career, do you struggle to make time for this? Is there anything you do to ensure you make time?

All the time, but only because there’s always something to shoot.  Back in November 2009, I started a daily photo project where I promised myself to take at least one photo, every single day.  Truthfully, it’s been more of a chore than a joy, but it’s kept me shooting consistently – day in and day out – and my photography has jumped leaps and bounds because of it.  Not every shot is portfolio material, but I make sure to get out and capture something meaningful, no matter what.  Rain or shine, sick or well, stuck or inspired – it’s just got to happen.

4.      If this is your full time job, how did you achieve this?

Lots of hand shaking and helping people.  You’d be surprised how fast the world moves with a little kindness.

5.      How do you deal with “naysayers”… you know, those voices/people who keep asking when the phase is going to pass? Or negative criticism about your work/creative endeavor?

Well, I’m blessed because I’ve never had anyone doubt me.  Great friends.  Great family.  That said, we’re all our own worst critics and I’ve definitely lost my drive more than once.  To keep my head straight, I think about what makes me happy in life, and for me, that’s making memories.

6.      Is there something you have worked on that you are especially proud of? Or received accolades for?

I just finished my coverage of the inaugural Youth Olympic Games in Singapore.  Shooting 10-hour days for two weeks was a bit nuts, but the images captured, the people met, and the fact I survived make it one of my proudest and fondest memories.  Similarly, my Olympic project, COLOURS 2010, also holds a big place in my heart.  During the Vancouver 2010 and Singapore 2010 Olympics, I chased tourists in their national gear, asking them for photos.  There were hundreds of awkward moments, but it made my Olympic experience; no one else in the world captured the images I did, and I’m incredibly proud of that.

7.      What does creativity mean to you?

Telling a story.  I don’t know any form of art or expression that doesn’t tell a story.

8.      What advice would you give to others trying to follow a similar path?

When it comes to promoting yourself, choose a niche and stick to it.  When you become the best at one thing, you become the go-to person for that type of project.  If you are a jack of all trades, you’ll find yourself at a disadvantage against specialists.  That said, don’t ever stop experimenting.  For example, my roots began in club photography.  I don’t do it anymore, but without it, I wouldn’t have developed the style I have today.  Also, buy the best camera and lenses you can for the type of photography you want to specialize in.  You might survive using a Canon Rebel XSi or a Nikon D80 in ideal settings, but when it comes to tough situations, pro-grade gear helps you get results you need.

All images are copyright Jeremy Lim 2010 and may no be reproduced or reused in any way, without permission from Jeremy.