The Quick & Dirty with Cicely Belle-Blain

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I know that you do a lot of work around diversity and anti oppression. How did you get into this work? What are your main goals when offering this training?

I think in some ways I’ve always been doing anti-oppression work. Of course, I wouldn’t have always titled it as such, but I’ve always been That Person - the one making a noise about injustice, bringing up uncomfortable topics, advocating for the little guy, dreaming up solutions to support community, forcing people to confront their privilege, raging about inequality... I’m super fortunate I now get to do that as a job and be compensated adequately for my knowledge and labour around justice and inclusion. 

After graduating from UBC in 2016, I began working with LGBTQ2S+ youth, and one of my favourite parts of the job was traveling across BC to facilitate LGBTQ2S+ 101 workshops for students. I loved educating people about inclusion and anti-oppression. At the same time, I was doing a lot of work with Black Lives Matter Vancouver around anti-racism and supporting racialized communities. 

Doing all this work was exciting but eventually became too much so I decided to take the leap and go out on my own and start Cicely Blain Consulting where I combine all my knowledge and passion for different inclusion and social justice topics!

This type of work must be emotionally and physically taxing. What do you do for self care?

For a long time self-care was a foe - I found it so hard to make time for myself and had very little separation between work, activism, and self. It’s something I’m still working on, but at the moment I’m really enjoying yoga, hip hop dance classes, the beach, Netflix, patio drinks, podcasts and manicures.

What can you tell us about your book of poetry that’s due out in 2020?

My book - yet to be titled (any suggestions appreciated!) - is a collection of poems and essays about place, art and self. I like to write as I travel as I am inspired by different places and people and their relationship to land. I also like to infuse history into my work and encourage people to think about the impacts of colonization on various parts of the globe. 

This book is an outlet for me where I get to rage about things that I often feel restricted on opening up about in my professional life. I want to be able to talk about white supremacy and colonization and anti-Blackness and pinkwashing and all the things that make my blood boil. I am so excited and fortunate to have the support of Vivek Shraya and Arsenal Pulp Press through this process!

What are you reading right now? 

Right now I’m reading Emergent Strategy by adrienne maree brown which is changing my life, my work, my everything! I am so inspired by the wisdom of brown to transform our understanding of organizational development and change-making and community organizing. Everyone should read this book! 

Because I never just read one book - I’m also reading Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams, which is an enjoyable read. The main character is described as “a 25-year-old Jamaican British woman living in London, straddling two cultures and slotting neatly into neither” - which is almost exactly my life!

What do you want us all to know about what’s next for you? Promote!! 

I’m so excited to be organizing a conference on workplace justice and equity in September 2019! It’s called Stratagem! Stay tuned for more information on Instagram at @stratagemcanada.

Cicely Belle Blain is an activist, writer and consultant; they are one of Vancouver’s fifty most influential people of 2018, as awarded by Vancouver Magazine, BC Business’s 30 Under 30 of 2019, an award-winning co-founder of Black Lives Matter, Vancouver, and a professional speaker with notable engagements including the United Nations Summit and the Black Canadian Studies Association conference. Professionally, Cicely Belle is the CEO of a social justice-informed diversity and inclusion consulting company with clients across North America, Europe and Asia. Their work is informed by their professional and academic background at the University of British Columbia and their lived experience as a Black, queer artist, a community builder, an intersectional feminist and a Black liberation activist. Cicely Belle’s writing has appeared in Daily Xtra, The Body is Not an Apology, From the Root, DIVA, Herizons and more. Also, they love dinosaurs, red wine, oil pastels, cooking and everything pink.


The Quick & Dirty with Amanda Huettner


What is your main role as volunteer CEO of FACE BC? Why did you start this organization?

I wear a lot of hats as volunteer CEO at FACE BC.  Event planning, communications, social media, marketing - you name it.  I have the support of a fantastic Board of Directors who also jump in and offer their invaluable skills in managing the day-to-day at FACE BC, so it is definitely a collaborative effort.

Why did I establish FACE BC? Working in continuing education and curating women's conferences in particular, I noticed that so many perspectives were missing - from planning to implementation. I was troubled by the lack of diversity in who was being acknowledged as an “expert” in their field, who was given the opportunity to speak, and who was able to access and participate in the event.  These events weren't inclusive - non mothers, queer folks, people with disabilities, and people of colour weren't at the table.

How does your personal life inform what you do at FACE BC?

As a person with an intermittent disability and a millenial negotiating financial hardship, I felt particularly obligated to bring some diversity to continuing education events.  I’ll be honest, FACE BC was born out of the frustration of feeling my friends, non profit colleagues and myself were excluded from BC’s women conferences and events. Starting the organization required researching what career conferences already existed. The two major events our founding year featured was a TV financial guru discussing wealth management, and a politician who repeatedly supported policy that limited healthcare access, threatened public school teacher’s job security and disregarded Indigenous consultation. The tickets cost $500+.  They avoided discussing the tough issues: rape culture, inequity, harassment, etc. Who were these events for? Definitely not someone like me!

What do you do when you aren’t in full-on entrepreneur-mode?

I spend a lot of time with my amazing mother, Leigh. We’ve connected on a deeper level through my work with FACE BC. After attending FACE events, she’s shared the incredible obstacles and harassment she experienced in her career, which started at a major record label in the 1960s - she’s definitely got some stories!

To unwind, I enjoy snuggling with my adorable kitties, Olive and Baby. I am also a bit of a gamer - escaping into video game land is a great way to disconnect from work!

What are you reading right now?

I’m reading a Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki. It’s a story of two characters, a Japanese teenager living in Tokyo and a Japanese Canadian woman living on Vancouver Island.  The woman finds the girl’s diary washed up on the shore of Vancouver Island a few months after the 2011 Tsunami. FACE BC President, Sarah Husain, recommended it to me years ago and I finally picked it up - a great read!

Share what’s next for you. What are you excited about?

The organization has a number of events coming up this year, including our FACE Your Career conference on September 20th and our first ever leadership retreat at Manning Park November 1st-3rd!

Personally, I am considering going back to school to get either an MA in Social Work or Clinical Counselling.  I have a dream to work with families with gender diverse and transitioning family members from a quaint little home office one day!

Amanda Huettner has spent her 15+ year career working in the not for profit sector and curating continuing education events.  Through her work with Vancouver Family Services Society, Atira Women’s Resource Society, 411 Seniors Centre, Donovan and Company Aboriginal Law and the Trial Lawyers Association of BC, Amanda developed a passion for supporting front-line workers and creating professional development events that fostered a sense of community among participants.  Her approach focuses on merging unique perspectives with cutting-edge learning models to create innovative and inspirational programming. Amanda is the proud recipient of the NATLE 2017 Best Continuing Legal Education Program in North America, the ACLEA 2017 President's Award for Best Continuing Legal Education in North America, the NATLE 2016 Publication of the Year - Columnist, the Verdict magazine, and the AMSSA 2010 Cultural Diversity Award. Amanda also serves on the Board of Directors of Citizens for Accessible Neighbourhoods.


The Quick & Dirty with Mary Corkery


“The major obstacle so far is my own fear. Having jumped off the diving board, I panic, thinking: Yikes, I’ll drown. I need a Canlit degree!

I also fear my age will be a block. But I don’t yet have evidence. The rejections I’ve had seem valid. I’m just one more in a cohort of boomers surfacing as readers and writers.”


Can you share a bit about your experience of being an older emerging writer?

For decades, I squeezed my tentative poetry into the cracks in my schedule, or week-long workshops. Now that I use retirement to dive deeply into writing, the world as I experience it emerges in surprising ways. It’s not only poetry that emerges, of course, it's also me.

I had no idea how much time or effort poetry would demand of me. Wrestling a poem, shaping it, letting it go and then coming back to reimagine it, is frustrating and lonely – until it comes through. It feels like a relationship. I’m living into it, still a beginner.

Strange to have Simultaneous Windows published at seventy years old and be working on a second book at seventy-two. I love strange, but look over my shoulder sometimes, and wonder if I can get away with this.

What publishing obstacles have you encountered? What about successes?

The major obstacle so far is my own fear. Having jumped off the diving board, I panic, thinking: Yikes, I’ll drown. I need a Canlit degree!

I also fear my age will be a block. But I don’t yet have evidence. The rejections I’ve had seem valid. I’m just one more in a cohort of boomers surfacing as readers and writers.

Workshop mentors have been key to my getting this far. Helen Humphreys has wonderful advice, like taking all the time needed to research publishers: get a grip on what publishers want – through what they say and who they publish. Following her example, I set up camp at the Toronto Reference Library until I had a short list of ten possibilities.

Inanna Publications was excited by my manuscript and gave me lots of leeway for input, even on cover design. Great publisher! Homework pays.

Writing poetry is tough. Writing good poetry is even more difficult. What do you think makes a good poem?

I love poems that grab me and don't let go, often because I don’t understand them. I read and re-read the work of Tomas Tranströmer, Dionne Brand, Lorna Crozier, for instance. When their magic finally shines through, I study their poems to see how they are made. Your Dear Current Occupant is now underlined, Chelene, with parts I keep going back to. Great poets have stunning ways of expressing what I almost thought, or never could have. I need those poets in my life.

How do you feel your work is received by younger writers? Is it different than feedback received from your peers?

Some young writers say my poems are evocative, moving. Yet I’m surprised to see the cues missed. While burning bras are evocative for me, they mean nothing to most people who were not alive in the 1960s. And I misread cues of young writers. Nuances vary by age, country, beliefs. I love poets whose lives are very different from mine. I try to trust that, and adapt.

What are you working on? Promote your projects!

Thanks to your Advanced Poetry Workshop my new manuscript is rolling. It looks out through the imagined eyes of others, and in longer poems. I’m excited by the creative space that it gives me. As well, I love reading my poems in cafes, at events, so I hope to do more.

Mary Corkery’s first poetry collection, Simultaneous Windows, was published by Inanna in 2017. Her poems have appeared in The Malahat Review, The Antigonish Review, Room, Descant and other journals in Canada, U.K. and U.S.A. Mary’s career has been social justice and international development. She lives in Toronto.


The VERY Quick & Dirty on Self Publishing

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The VERY Quick & Dirty on Self Publishing

Here, at LearnWritingEssentials we have been getting a lot of questions relating to self-publishing, and whether or not it’s worth taking the risk, investing the money, and doing all the work. Now, even though we aren’t in the self-publishing industry, we aren’t shy or scared of a little hard work. Sometimes there is no other alternative to working alone and going to bat for ourselves to get the work out there. There is so much online about self-publishing so trust us when we say, you will easily be able to pool a ton of resources aside from this quick and dirty post. But here’s what we dug up just for you:

Top questions self-published authors are asked:

Is self-publishing a lot of work?

The answer is a resounding yes, but it has become easier and cheaper with new digital technology. Self-publishing will indeed take up a lot of your time as you are not only the writer, you are the editor, publicist, and publisher—all at once. Oh the hats you need to wear! If being organized is not one of your strong points, self-publishing might not be for you. If you can’t multitask, you may struggle with the hat wearing.

Here’s a little tidbit to chew on before considering if self-publishing is the route for you:

You need to redefine what “success” means to you. If you want to have your book go around, and sell thousands and thousands of copies, then you should probably go with traditional publishing. But if you want to publish right away, maintain all creative control, or want to use your book as a way to bolster your business or speaking career, then self-publishing could be just what you and your book need.

Do I need to be good at marketing?

Yes. You have to figure out how to do everything on your own, and outsource where necessary. Speaking opportunities are key, but again, YOU become your own publicist and you are in charge of making sure you are out there and that people know your book exists. Not sure what a publicist does? You are in luck. ZG Communications is having a book marketing seminar on April 30 (aka, tomorrow). We highly suggest you check it out.

You can also use the tools you already have and are familiar with such as Twitter, FaceBook, Instagram, and other social media platforms to get the word out about your book and events where you will be featured as a speaker. I do caution you to be careful about over-promotion by providing a balance between the professional and the personal. I don’t care how good your book is, no one wants to see a hundred Tweets featuring your book if they aren’t invested in you as you as a human being. Throw in a picture of your dog! Share bits and pieces about you. Promote other writers too! If you see an announcement featuring a writer you know and love, show them some support too. Community is a massive part of being a professional writer.

Do I need to have money?

Um. Yes. There is no publisher going to bat for you here, so you sort of need to have the money to write your book, print it, and promote it. Dig deep into those pockets because if you do not possess skills in substantive editing, copyediting, proofreading, typesetting, and design, then you will need to pay the professionals.

You can spend as much or as little as you want self-publishing your book, but you have to decide on what you think is the most important thing for your book.  If you invest a little money, you’ll break even on the cost of your book faster. But if you invest more, you’ll create a better product and improve your craft with the help of a professional. Unlike years ago, you can control your creative choices (including the budget), and that’s a liberating place to be for most indie authors.

Will I make money?

In terms of royalties, authors can earn as much as 35 percent for print books and up to around 70 percent for ebooks (as of this writing, Amazon Kindle ebook publishing), depending on the platform used, but you will need to sell a lot if you want to make a living out of self publishing books as you may be spending money marketing your book on your own.

Is it worth it?

Well, we obviously cannot answer that for you. But we do hope that we have given you a little something to think about and that maybe just maybe you’ll feel a bit more validated about your decision. To self-publish or not to self-publish? Yes, that is the question.

Good luck!

Team #LearnWritingEssentials


On Community


No matter what course or workshop you take with me, I will always emphasize the necessity for community.

 A big part of creation and discussion is getting your work out into the world, and publishing is not the only medium. Reading your work in public not only gives you confidence in terms of hearing your own words and owning them, but to introduce your voice and story to folks who may not have otherwise had an opportunity to experience it.

 Attending readings, events, writer’s festivals, book launches, and magazine launches will help you constantly be in that writerly mindset (meaning you will write more) and to meet and connect with other writers, editors, and readers. Like I said before, writing is not only about the physical act of sitting down in that chair, it’s also about a mindset.

 Building a sense of community also reinforces the fact that you are not alone. We are all in the trenches together. Meeting with other like-minded writers will only breed more opportunity to get your writing out there.

 Things will come back full circle. I have been asked to do so many writing-related projects because people see me and hear me everywhere. It’s important to let people know you.

 I recommend starting a “networking” file or spreadsheet and add it to your writer’s toolbox. As you meet people at events, grab their contact info or look them up. Keep track of people you meet. This is an easy way to keep in touch with folks in case you need to reach out. I always appreciate when I get an encouraging email from someone, be it a reader or another writer or editor, who attended an event that I was part of. 

 If you are on Facebook or Twitter, follow local literary magazines, local writers, and other organizations relating to writing in your area. This is a good way to stay in the loop when events in your area pop up.

 I know that it’s important to have a face and a voice that connect to the words.

The above post is an excerpt of a lecture from my Advanced Memoir and Advanced Poetry Workshops.


Ripping Stitches: Breaking Form


Ripping Stitches: Breaking Form and Breaking Rules

When someone says “you need to know the rules before you can break them” consider the source. Where does this come from? What is the intense need to know everything before sitting down to the table to write? This can completely stall newer writers–this notion of needing to know everything. As writers we are all constantly learning. Even the most established writers should be asking questions and challenging the norm (how do we get to new places, if we don’t?)

Poems can be and encompass so many things.

What about form poetry?

What if our particular story or poem core does not fit this template?

Can we reinvent this?

 The following is from one of my Open Book pieces while I was writer in residence:

 @lethal_heroine: “Love the way this book by @PoetChelene is structured. Each chapter is an apartment or hotel room she & her mother lived in. I felt those mattresses, looked out those crummy windows, gave new boyfriends the stink eye, kept packing my suitcases and garbage bags, trying to keep up.”

When Heather O’Neill tagged me in this tweet, I was thrilled that the first thing she noticed and commented on, was the structure. So often we as writers feel like we have to write to a template. The work we produce needs to do the work it’s expected to do, while still pushing boundaries. What does it mean to turn a blind eye to a list of rules handed to you? If someone tells me they want me to cook, but insist they outline the recipe for me, then what’s the point? I don’t work like that in the kitchen or with how I parent, so I was totally fine with taking this same approach to writing. It was only natural.

Lately I’ve been concerned about the confines of genre and the claustrophobic-ness of predetermined form. I find that when I write, the structure and genre fill themselves in as needed—I let the writing decide where it wants to be and how it wants to be seen. I am one of those writers who is easily distracted, quickly discouraged, but fast to break the rules. But who’s to say there’s anything wrong with this? Why can’t we flip the script and bust some stitches?

Heather’s tweet not only validated the way that I work, it spoke truthfully about how intense the reader’s experience can be if we take a few risks.

Here are the risks I took with Dear Current Occupant:

Risk 1: abandoned the initial manuscript (all poetry) and said yes to writing it as memoir.

Risk 2: took the memoir form and spun it on its head by throwing in photos, maps, lists, poetry, and essays.

Risk 3: I wrote about traumatic experiences. I wrote about traumatic experiences surrounding my family. I wrote about traumatic experiences surrounding my family and I worried about how I’d be viewed once these stories were out there. Not sure if that’s a risk or a fear, but it’s something I thought about as soon as I let go of that final draft and sent it back to my publisher.

Since the launch of Dear Current Occupant, people continue to ask how my family felt about me writing these stories, but no one asked me how I felt living these stories. An interesting thing to think about. But that’s the rule. How will writing affect others? Right?

The structure that I used allowed me to tell my stories authentically. This meant more to me than fitting a template, following dusty rules, or worrying about the risks of busting a few seams along the way.


Take a phrase, scrap, word, image, picture … anything, and freewrite for 10 minutes. Do not worry about whether or not it should be a poem, essay, or story. Do not worry about spelling grammar, or punctuation. Just write. Freely. Go back, apply the digging for gold technique where you circle words, lines, phrases that stand out. Pull those out and begin to expand. Note your experience with this process. How does it feel to write freely? Without the rules, borders, guidelines? This is the beginning of authentic writing.

The above post is a lecture from my Advanced Poetry Workshop and my Advanced Memoir Workshop


Revision Techniques


Revision techniques

●      Digging for gold

●      Bracketing/scaffolding

●      Beginning lines/endlines

●      Searching for character in poetry

 “Once you have realized what you need to improve in your piece--either from a writing partner's helpful responses or your own insights--you're ready to begin revising, a process you would be well advised to learn to love. You have no choice, if you want to get good. The desire to revise is what separates the professional writer from the journal keeper.”

 —Adair Lara, Naked, Drunk, and Writing


Get comfortable with the mess. Know that the best writing usually comes from revision.

Process part 2; Revising vs Editing:

Each “pass” of your work should serve a different purpose. Be it theme, setting, imagery, character—every sweep of the writing should have a different lens attached. Below, I talk about my five steps for revision based on what’s worked for me. There are obviously many variations of the revision process in existence, and you will find what works best for you. Take the steps and rework them to make them your own! Revision should be fun and exciting. When making suggested edits on someone else’s work the goal is to leave the writer excited to make their work better. Critique is essential to revision, but constructive feedback combined with trusting someone who is invested in your work and on the same page in terms of the type of feedback you need, will make all the difference. The best writing is always in the revision, no matter what genre you are working in. I will say, revision is especially exciting and rewarding with poetry.

 Fun fact/piece of advice: be careful about who you share your first draft with: first drafts are messy and they should be. But some folks (maybe friends or family) who aren’t writers and haven’t seen books, articles, etc in their rawest form (meaning they may have only ever read books in book form), could easily assume that as writers we simply sit down to write and the gold just spills out, and we are done. This thought makes me laugh. I laugh because even the most established writers will have to sort through their initial page blurts, pull their hair out over stitching together narrative threads, or having to cut scenes that aren’t pushing the narrative forward. Writing is work. Revision is work. Learning to live with the mess temporarily is a requirement. As award-winning writer, David Chariandy once said to me about my work, “continue writing in fragments and chunks. But I personally think it's crucial to be free to continue writing in the way that feels good to you.  After you accumulate enough fragments and chunks, you can go about arranging them in a more coherent "novelistic" order.  Anyway, that's just how I write books.  Always do what feels right to you.” I LOVE THAT! Thanks David Chariandy!

Before you begin, I highly recommend you do your revisions on hard copy. Whether in a notebook or printed pages from your computer, marking up your work with coloured pens is a great way to physically see the work that needs to be done, it becomes tangible and thus, you become accountable for getting the work done because you can hold it in your hands, and feel it. It also allows you to be ruthless with your editing.

 Step 1: Cut the deadwood

Immediately get rid of parts that you know you will not use. When looking at full length manuscripts, this would mean paragraphs at a time. But let’s focus on our freewrites and how to cut the deadwood from smaller pieces of writing.

Scan your piece for words, lines, and phrases that you know aren’t going to work, and highlight them. If you know you want to completely rid yourself of those lines, then strike ‘em out. The key here is to go with your gut. Do not know what to cut? READ THE PIECE OUT LOUD. If you haven’t done this before, you may feel a bit silly. Think about how hearing the words can be a totally different experience vs just reading it. If something sounds off to your ears, it probably sounds off on the page. Having a good “ear” is not something that can be taught. And it’s one of the biggest assets a writer can have. If you don’t feel you have an “ear” all is not lost. There are still 4 more steps you can use to make up for it!

 Step 2: strong beginning and end lines

I am not a stickler for writing being chronological, or having a clear beginning, middle, and end, but I am a strong believer that you need to hook your reader immediately. If your opening line does not do the work, does not pull the reader in, does not make the reader go “What?!!” then you need to revise. Can’t think of anything right away? Do not stress. Circle the opening line and mark it with an asterix, note to revise, or question mark in bold. Do not let it go.

In addition to creating strong beginning and end lines, consider the work not being “too on the nose” especially if it’s poetry you are working with. Consider hinting at certain things vs telling it like it is. Sometimes (not always) you want the reader to come up with their own ideas for what’s happening. Let them do some of the work. This ties into that whole “how do you want the reader to experience your work” notion.

Also note that simple language will always win over stuffy, academic lingo in creative writing. One of the biggest mistakes new writers make, is they feel the need to replace simple language with fluff. Why? I’ll say it again, simple language will always win. Not only will you reach a wider audience, you don’t exclude folks.

Step 3: unique diction, syntax, and enjambments

Simple language will always win, and playing with the way your sentences flow (syntax) will only enhance the simplicity. When thinking about word choice, consider looking at how many times you’ve used a certain word. I am very guilty of befriending a word, and then using it 20 times in one piece. Look for this, and circle these words. Change it up! Repeating words or phrases in poetry may be necessary to the piece (for rhythm) and this is called a refrain. If this is your intention, then by all means, stet! But always be cognizant of word repetition and if it’s necessary to your work. When thinking about combining multiple meanings from one line to the next, get creative with the way in which you break your lines.

Step 4: strong images (get rid of clichés and abstractions)

Scan your work for the 5 senses. If you are saying things like “She was crying” consider revising and here’s an example: “her cheeks burned red and raw as tears flooded the maze of her ears like puddles.”

Let’s talk about the above description. What do you picture when you read the second line? I picture a girl with red cheeks crying. I can see the tears moving through the crevices of her ears because of the word “maze.” I also learn that she must be laying down. How? Because if the tears are pooling into her ears, either her ears are located under her chin or she’s laying down on her back. Through this very slight revision, we have already changed the reader’s experience by offering them just enough to picture what’s happening, while also giving them pause to sort out a few details themselves. This my friends, is the beauty of revision. We can easily find spots within your writing to make better, so you are motivated to keep going. Even though I wouldn’t consider the line finished or polished, it’s certainly a step in the right direction, and definitely better than “she was crying.”

Step 5: vivid setting

Revising for setting is not just for fiction. You need to create a setting no matter what genre you are working in. What I do when I am doing a pass for setting, is write the word setting in big bold letters at the top right corner of every page. This keeps me grounded. This reminds me that I am ONLY considering the setting and that no, I do not care that I spelled “through” wrong three times. Leave it alone! Look purely for ways to enhance setting. How do you do this? Ask yourself these questions as you move through your work:

Poetry can and should have characters, too. Ask yourself: Do I know where my character is in this moment in time?

Does your reader know where they are?

How does my character interact with the setting? Or how does the setting affect my character in that moment?

●      Is the sun causing her to sweat through her dress?

●      Is the sudden downpour soaking the important documents she had in her hand causing her to run for shelter in some random, dark cave? (ooh cool idea I can expand on!)

●      Can your character smell the newly bloomed cherry blossoms (also a good way to give away the time of year without having to say “hey, it’s spring.”

So setting plays into character, which ties into plot and the motivations that drive your character/s to do what they do.

After these initial steps, theme is the last thing you’ll want to look for and this is pretty much the same for all genres. This is the core of your work. You can’t see it, but it needs to be there. What is your story/poem/essay about? I don’t know about you, but I hate being asked that question because it can be hard to pinpoint just one theme. It’s totally cool to have various themes running through your piece, just be able to identify what they are.

What I also like to do when I have an idea for revision but do not yet quite know just how to word it, is I do “bracketing” throughout. Go through the piece and right in the manuscript use a bold font, caps and square brackets with a brief description of how to expand. For example: [FLESH OUT THIS IMAGE] [ADD MORE SENSORY DETAIL HERE].

Once you have completed these five steps, I guarantee you, your piece will already be 100 times better. Don’t believe me? Keep all drafts for comparison. Keep revising. Share your revised work with mentors, or workshop groups. Go back to that very first draft of the piece and place the revised version side by side. You will see the differences and these differences will be very obvious.



Here’s an exercise you can do for setting, if you like:

Select a poem from your manuscript and write a paragraph where you ONLY focus on the setting of the poem. This is will help you add/check for that necessary layering that good poems require.

The above post is a lecture from my Advanced Poetry Workshop and my Advanced Memoir Workshop 


On the Power of the Personal


The Power of The Personal

First off, all writing is personal. Do not let folks tell you that they do not read poetry “because it’s too personal.” That is silly. All writing comes from the same place. The writing comes from an idea, a phrase, a picture—something that made the writer say “I need to write this.” Anything that comes from a writer is personal. Poetry, fiction, non-fiction and every single hybrid genre in between...personal.

I strongly believe that poetry and memoir rely on one another. When combining such close proximity of a true story, and the expected cadence and dense imagery of poetry, the reader experience is heightened. This is what I found when compiling Dear Current Occupant. This also became very evident to me the more I started working closely as a mentor for other writers.

People quite often ask me: How would you say your writing is different from other writers? My answer is simple: I write to offer the reader an experience they can’t have had before. Reader experience is everything, in my opinion. To read something and walk away changed, made new, that’s my goal. To read something you thought you knew, a city for example, but then after reading you see your city in a new light, that’s a great example of that reader experience.

When working on combining the personal and the poetry into one cohesive manuscript, the writer should be asking themselves a series of questions:

Question one: What is the absolute core of my manuscript? Write this at the top of every page during revisions.

Question two: How do I want my reader to experience my book? Do I want these back and forth quick jolts? Do I want them to be able to predict what will be on the next page? Consider these questions when looking at ordering your poems. Think tonal/emotional shifts.

Question three: How much do you want to give away? One thing I love about combining poetry with other forms, is that you get to decide how much you want to hand your readers and how much you want them to sort on their own. This creates questions in the readers mind, but in a way where they read ahead because they are picking up pieces to this puzzle that they may not ever actually finish. Think of sailing on a river. You are moving and as you move your eyes see mountains, you smell the water and grass, you then smell smoke in the air. All of these things are collaborators. You pick them up along the way. You experience them. During this “river ride” you can easily throw in some of that personal memoir so that the experience becomes layered.

Question four: Are there enough emotional beats to make the reader connect? If not, where can you amp these up?


Look over a poem from your manuscript that you consider flat or just plain unpolished. Ask yourself these four questions, and then attempt a revision. Compare both the original and the revised, and see if you were able to add layers of emotion, zero in on the core of the piece, and create some reader push and pull.

the above post is a lecture from both my Advanced Poetry Workshop and my Advanced Memoir Workshop


The Quick & Dirty On Building Your Subscriber List


An email subscriber list is important. It may take time to build, but all businesses (especially entrepreneurs) will want to have a list of folks who want to hear from them. Whether you are selling courses, promoting events, or sharing some sweet free content, you need to gain folk’s trust.

 1.Have a Strong call to action. Here’s mine:

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 Instead of the boring ol’ “hey can you sign up for my newsletter please?” you can change it  with your own personal flare. People will recognize that it’s YOU speaking and not only that, you’re speaking directly to them. Things are getting real personal, hehe.

 2. Quality content

This goes without saying …know what your followers/subscribers want, and try your best to provide it. And get to the point, this isn’t your novel. You can skip the exposition and foreshadowing.

 3. Keep updating your best content

You don’t have to constantly create NEW content, but things change so quickly nowadays and it’s important that you keep all of your best content current and accessible (nobody likes a broken link by the way).

 4. When doing  events or speaking engagements, bring a subscriber sign-up sheet

Bring an actual piece of paper where you can collect names and email addresses. Or you can even have an ipad or other digital device ready so folks can sign up. You’d be surprised how many sign-ups you get. What’s that? People actually want to hear more from me? Sweet.

 5. Freebies or opt in offer

We are all human, we like free stuff. People don’t turn down free stuff, it’s what separates us from the animals.

 6. Ask people what they want, and then deliver

Someone actually asked for this particular quick & dirty (hint hint). Don’t be afraid to share your knowledge. I know all about the fear, the competition, but if you trust in your unique business and the systems you are building, then rip open those blinds! 

 7. Ask your subscribers what their number one problem is. Then solve it.

Not only should you be creating quality content, but ask yourself how you can use your own expertise to help others. Create quick and dirties, one page cheat-sheets and then give them away to your VIPs! Share the love. Share the knowledge.

 8. Guest posting where your clients shows up and link back to your site

Without going into the nitty gritty of google ranking, it’s important that reputable websites you write for link back to your site. Google pays attention to this. Want to get on page one of Google Search? Ok then.

 9. Video promote your opt in offer on social media

This is the fun tip! Show us your face, promote what you do. People will listen. I am working on a few videos myself, so get ready for that!





The Quick & Dirty on writing authentically


What it means to write authentically

“I have come to believe over and over again that what is most important to me must be spoken, made verbal and shared, even at the risk of having it bruised or misunderstood.” 
― Audre Lorde

 “If I didn't define myself for myself, I would be crunched into other people's fantasies for me and eaten alive.” 
― Audre Lorde

 Any time I come across an Audre Lorde quote I feel like she is still here and that she is speaking directly to me. When I think about writing authentically, I think about saying the things I want to say, the important things, the necessary things, and sometimes the painful things. This is what I love about Audre Lorde: her poems read as a narrative, her prose read like a personal conversation, where she in turn nudges you to do the work and speak the truths that make up your authentic story.


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Fragmented Memory

Memory (especially traumatic memory) can be blurry, fragmented, mixed, and even non-existent. This blurriness needs to be recognized, addressed, and included in your work for the story to be authentic. Often, writers assume they should only include what can easily be transcribed, but if writing is supposed to be easy … everyone would be doing it!

 Think of some examples of books that you love (memoirs especially) that SHOW and embrace the blur. Note this and ask yourself why it works, why the story resonates with you, why the brokenness is also part of the completeness.

 What can writing authentically do for your readers?

·      The shape and form can break down barriers

·      Others will feel compelled to tell their stories in a new way or shape

·      Full-on engagement

·      Your stories become more accessible, and reach new audiences

The above post is from one of my Advanced Memoir Workshop lectures.



The Quick & Dirty on what to consider when participating in literary events

The ask

So you receive a request to do a reading. AMAZING. That’s fabulous. You’re new to this and unsure of how to reply. No worries, I am here to help.

 Know your values

Have a mission statement or guiding principle that you use to decide what organizations to support, what offers to accept, what relationships to build and of course, which events to participate in.

 Consider the source

Not all organizations have the same resources at their disposal. For example, maybe they offered you a smaller than normal honorarium. Before going into a “you need to pay me more” rant, take some time to consider the source. Is the organization a non-profit or a for profit? Chances are, non-profits may not have the funds to pay you the same as a private organization would, but if the person or organization doing the big ask is one that you believe in, then maybe consider that when making your decision. Yes, all artists need to be paid for their work, this is true, but what I do is set aside a certain number of “pro bono” hours per month so that I can gage how much “free work” I am doing and for whom. This will also help me decide when I need to say no.

 Do you have all the info you need?

I won’t lie, one time I straight up got an email that said: “Hey do you want to do an event on [insert date]?” That’s it. No time, no venue, no description of the event or what my involvement would be. You can’t make an informed decision if you don’t have any information. There was no transparency around accessibility, honorariums … nothing. I replied back with bullet points laying out all of the info I would require before even considering their request. SIGH.

 It’s totally ok for an organization to be HONEST and say they don’t have that info yet, but put that in the email. Instead of “Hey do you want to do an event on [insert date]?” Maybe try: “Hey there, we would love to book you on [insert date] to do a 20-minute reading from your latest book. We are still looking for a venue, investigating honorariums, and will have all the info you need by [insert date]. If you are interested in doing a reading with us and you are free on that date, we’d love to make this happen.”


 …you can reply saying yes with the contingency that you will make a final decision once you receive the rest of the information. Hey! That wasn’t so difficult ; )

 Know your limits

The fear of the temporary opportunity is real. I get it. I’ve experienced that fear too and said yes to everything under the sun out of sheer paranoia that I will slip into the shadowy dusty mindset that “no one cares about you now ’cause your book is old”, but you have to talk yourself out of that. Do not say yes to everything just because you think no one will ask you again. Do not overwhelm yourself with events just because you have that day free, or you like that venue … your decisions need to be well-thought out and you need to go right back to that “does this meet my core values as an artist” section and weigh your options.

Ok so you’ve weighed your options, the ask was good, the event sounds stellar and you are hyped up. Now what?

 The Venue

Not seeing the venue beforehand can cause unnecessary apprehension which in turn can lead to you not giving your best, not being your best, and let’s be honest, you are not going to feel good about it afterward. How to alleviate this? It’s totally ok to ask to see the venue beforehand. If this is not a possibility there’s always an option to google it and check out some photos or even ask the event organizer to send you some. It won’t be considered annoying, trust me. It shows that you are a professional and that you care. You want to do a good job and that’s what will come across. Here are some questions you can ask that will help paint a picture for what the event will look like and to help you situate yourself:

·      What sort of lighting will there be? (it really sucks not being able to SEE your pages, this has happened to me, not a good look).

·      Will there be a mic? Some of us have quieter voices (not me, but some of us do lol so it’s good to know this in advance)

·      Is it a public event or is the venue booked for ticketed folks only? (not gonna lie, I did a reading in a bar that was open to the public and it was hell because those folks were not expecting a reading and were not respectful. Know who to expect and plan accordingly)

·      Who will be promoting the event? I always ask for an event jpg or poster pdf so that I can do a little promoting myself. You want to get the word out. There’s nothing fun about reading or presenting to a bunch of empty chairs. Also been there, done that.  


·      Read your work, listen for the spots where you stumble. Revise. Time your reading (include story set up or context in your timing). Don’t be a stage hog! Know your time limit, and stay within it! : )

Chelene Knight is the author of the poetry collection Braided Skin and the memoir Dear Current Occupant, winner of the 2018 Vancouver Book Award. Her essays have appeared in multiple Canadian and American literary journals, plus the Globe and Mail and the Toronto Star. Her work is anthologized in Making RoomLove Me TrueSustenanceThe Summer Book, and Black Writers Matter.

 The Toronto Star called Knight, “one of the storytellers we need most right now.” In addition to her work as a writer, Knight is managing editor at Room, programming director for the Growing Room Festival, and CEO of #LearnWritingEssentials. She often gives talks about home, belonging and belief, inclusivity, and community building through authentic storytelling.