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Chicken Soup for the Writer’s Soul

Writer's block

By: Melanie Hackett

Talking Writer’s Block

You’ve probably heard the phrase “Writer’s Block”. But what exactly is it? Is it the block of notepaper that writer’s use to jot down ideas? Is it the weighted block used to contain the strewn mountain of disorganization typical of right-brain thinkers, for when the cat jumps on the pile?

No, the feared Writer’s Block is something much more terrible, something deeply dreaded by those relying on originality of ideas for their work. It is when the glass of creative juice has been drunk to complete emptiness. It happens when all ability to generate sentences and paragraphs of any sort simply stops. Kaput.

It is like the athlete that suddenly cannot perform a skill they have succeeded at countless times, or the musician that suddenly forgot their concerto. This mysterious psychological phenomenon can have several causes.

Sometimes a writer’s brain goes into overdrive and there are so many ideas all seemingly hyped on quadruple espresso, whirling around inside the skull in a struggle to burst out whilst merely colliding into each other, and run-on sentences just run on and on too fast to catch and freeze on some paper, thoughts racing far past the constraints of finger dexterity…

The solution? My god, take a chill pill! Simmer down the boiling over alphabet soup! Sometimes writers just need to chillax. My dad, author of several books, occasionally does this by enjoying a cold beer or puffing a Cuban cigar. But there are also healthier methods than his think drink or his think stink. How about a hot bath, a walk or a ski on the river? Then, once the overdrive has been geared down, some form of coherent thought can begin to assemble on the pages of your notepaper block.

The polar opposite can also happen. Your brain could feel like a black hole, devoid of any thought whatsoever. But, ideas are a dime a dozen. The joy of writing is that unlike most activities, the subject matter can be anything at all, and constantly changing. From mystical extraterrestrial creature sightings in the North to the latest seasonal beer at Yukon Brewery to, heck, even Writer’s Block, one can write on whatever it is that piques your interest at the time. Topics are easy to come by, and the problem lies not in a lack thereof.

So perhaps the black hole issue stems from a tree of emotions within the writer. Whereas runners can run on, accountants can count on, professors can blab on, politicians can fib on, emotional states within writers can simply halt the flow of ideas. Maybe fear of disappointing yourself paralyzes you to become frozen stuck. Or perhaps the writer is bored, uninspired, or discouraged.

Well, we’ve all heard of countless remedies for such dilemmas. Do yoga, drink antioxidant tea, go for a long walk on the beach. Take a hot bath, smoke a Cuban think stink, have sex with your lover. Talk to the cat, eat chicken noodle soup, go see the shrink. Listen to music or try other methods of creating, such as painting, photographing, or dancing, just to fill up that glass of Creativity Punch.

But perhaps the real solution is merely to view Writer’s Block not as a problem, a dreaded ailment of those attempting to produce originality. Perhaps Writer’s Block is simply the footprint for creativity; the priming of the right brain for an explosion of vocabulary onto the parchment. Given enough time and patience, supplemented with the Chill Pill, writers are bound to move past this stage of inventing a masterpiece. After all, the empty punch glass can only be replenished once again!

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A twelve years old writer and already writing 5 books – A literary dialogue with Ursula and her mother Rachel Westfall

Ursula and Rachel Westfall

Ursula is a twelve years old published writer. She has a passion for writing and is already working on 4-5 books. Ursula’s mother Rachel Westfall is also a writer and an avid fiction reader. Mother and daughter were going on walks through the forest in the evenings, they were trading thoughts back and forth, many characters were being evolved, and finally came up with an idea of writing a book together based on a Sasquatch tale. Mother-daughter team met me at the Yukon College to talk about their book and future writings. So here is a literary dialogue  – Gurdeep Pandher


 

Yukon Times: Congratulations to you and your mom for writing this book!

Ursula Westfall: Thanks!

Yukon Times: Tell me about your book, what’s your book about, and what’s the title of the book?

Rachel Westfall: It’s called Estella of Halftree Village: A Sasquatch Tale, and the main characters are a couple of young women who live in a village, and their village is an intentional community that broke away from the city to get away from all the crime and violence that was going on in the city life. So they live in a very old-fashioned way – very low-tech society – and they’re in the middle of the woods. And there are sasquatches living in the area, but they’re still sort of a legend, so not many people know they’re real. But a sasquatch starts to make friends with one of the girls and starts leaving presents and things for her. And they develop a friendship and then some bounty hunters come from the city and they’re looking for sasquatches. They want to catch a sasquatch to take back to the city to sell to some researchers. So there’s a lot of the story is built around the tension between the city life and the village life, and the struggle to keep the sasquatches a secret. And there are other secrets there as well that they have to keep from the city people. They don’t want the city people to know about certain things about the area because they want to preserve their lifestyle

Yukon Times: What inspired you both to write this book?

Ursula Westfall: We always go on walks through the forest in the evenings. And we trade ideas back and forth. Like ideas about stories and things. Me and mom were just having a nice walk in the forest. We started talking about this book and then we got enough ideas collected together that we decided to write a book. So it was an ongoing, continuous dialogue.

Yukon Times: Can you let me know how this idea was developed?

Rachel Westfall: Really, like Ursula said, we go for walks every evening together, and we talk and we share a lot of story ideas. And when we started writing the story, it was really a romance in the beginning, and then as the story developed, we started to build a lot more drama into it and a lot of humour. So a lot of our conversations in the woods were around character development, or around funny scenes, things that could happen that would be entertaining. And then we took turns doing the writing. So each of us would write a scene and switch back and forth. Like most of the sasquatch scenes, Ursula wrote, so she really created the sasquatch’s character. It just evolved like that. Once we had enough ideas, we started writing it right away. We wrote almost the whole first draft over the winter holidays.

Yukon Times: When did you start writing this book and how long did it take for both of you to complete this book?

Rachel Westfall: So it was over the winter holidays, and it took us about a month to do the first draft. And then after that it needed editing and proofing. And so there was probably about another month of that type of work before it was polished up. It took about two months, I think, altogether.

Yukon Times: How did two of you work together to write this book? Did you face difficulty working together to write a book? When we work together, especially in a closest family relationship; like son or daughter, sometimes people face some sort of challenges teaming up for a mutual project. Did you face any difficulties, challenges, or things like that?

Ursula Westfall: We didn’t really. We worked together really well.

Rachel Westfall: Yeah, it was beautiful. Yeah. There weren’t any problems working together on it. If anything, we kept each other going, because both of us have started novels before, but we never finished them. And so, to do it together, we were really able to work together, work through any of the blocks that we ran into, the challenges. And I think it was much more successful because we worked together.

Yukon Times: Who contributed more to this book, you or your daughter? Is this 50-50 percent contribution, or one contributed more and the other contributed less? 

Rachel Westfall: I did most of the editing. But I think we shared the writing a lot more evenly. I just have experience as an editor, so for me to do the editing and make sure that the voices float smoothly, and that kind of thing. I did most of that. Ursula did a bit of editing. It was more around the story and what happened in the story. So each chapter has a few scenes in it, and we switched by scenes rather than by chapter. We set up the chapters after all the scenes were written.

Yukon Times: This is a question for you, Ursula, specifically. Was it easy for you to balance the work of writing this book and your school work? 

Ursula Westfall: It was easy, because I usually don’t get much homework. So right after school, I’d just start writing.

Yukon Times: Is this your first book?

Rachel Westfall: Yeah. I’ve done academic writing and published that before, but this is my first fiction novel.

Yukon Times: What is the hardest thing about writing, according to your experience?

Rachel Westfall: I think envisioning the whole project, and getting beyond that first three chapters. I think that’s the hardest thing; to be able to envision where you’re going with it, and then just make it happen, give yourself time and room to do that. Because it’s so easy to start something, and it’s so hard to see it through to the finish. So I think it’s envisioning that product to the end, and then getting there.

Yukon Times: Is this the final story scene which you envisioned the very first day, or is the final story different than the first day?

Rachel Westfall: It’s definitely different. It got a life of its own.

Yukon Times: Who published your book?

Rachel Westfall: We published it through CreateSpace, which is an Amazon group. So it’s self-published, and it’s available through Amazon and on Kindle. And I can order copies through CreateSpace, so Mac’s Fireweed Books carries it.

Yukon Times: Is it mainly in electronic format?

Rachel Westfall: It’s paper and it’s also available through Kindle, as any book. Most of the sales so far have been the paper version though.

Yukon Times: How can readers discover more about you and your book in the town, and where can they go to buy your book?

Rachel Westfall: So in Whitehorse people can buy it at Mac’s Fireweed Books. If they’re outside Whitehorse, they can go through Amazon – any of the Amazon sites, so amazon.com or amazon.ca. We also have a website: sasquatchtales.com.

Yukon Times: Do you read much? And, if so, who are your favourite authors?

Ursula Westfall: We read almost every day. We read very often. And my favourite author is Brandon Sanderson.

Yukon Times: Do you read mainly fiction or non-fiction? 

Ursula Westfall: Yeah, mainly fiction.

Ursula and Rachel Westfall
Ursula and Rachel Westfall

Yukon Times: Science fiction too?

Ursula Westfall: Sometimes.

Rachel Westfall: I love fantasy, the whole genre. I’ve read all the sort of famous epic fantasy books. Ursula is named after Ursula Le Guin, who is an epic fantasy writer. I really like Steven Erikson – he’s one of my favourite writers right now, he’s Canadian. Again, a fantasy author. Together we read a lot of Brandon Sanderson. We’ve read Ursula Le Guin, we’ve read Tolkien. Who else? Lloyd Alexander. All these fantasy genre writers, we’ve read out loud. As a family we read a lot of the books, so we take turns reading out loud.

Yukon Times: Are you both planning to write more books?

Ursula Westfall: We are. We’re already starting a sequel for Estella of Halftree Village.

Rachel Westfall: Right now we’re hoping to get that one done this summer. But Ursula has several other books that she’s working on as well. I’m only working on the one. She’s working on four or five!

Yukon Times: So you’re working on four or five books?

Ursula Westfal: Yeah, I might not get them finished, ’cause sometimes I just start the books ’cause I get some good ideas. But then I just can’t get through them all.

Yukon Times: So you are going to be a future writer of Canada, Ursula!

Ursula Westfall: Yeah.

Yukon Times: It’s great that you are getting great encouragement from your mom, Ursula. Are you both getting a good support from the Whitehorse community for your book?

Rachel Westfall: There’s lots of support for, I think, the arts in general, in Whitehorse. And, certainly, we’ve had lots of interest from friends and family, and the community at large, in the book.

Yukon Times: Thank you so much for joining this conversation, and I wish you both the best for your next books!

Rachel and Ursula Westfall: Thanks!