From the Ground Up: A Series of Writing Workshops with Jake MacDonald


In February of 2011, I signed up for a series of writing workshops taught by Jake MacDonald, an award-winning Winnipeg author of novels such as Grizzlyville, With the Boys, Houseboat Chronicles, and Juliana and the Medicine Fish, as well as a number of short stories. Each month, I, along with ten to fifteen other aspiring writers, head downtown Winnipeg to Aqua Books, a second-hand bookstore and a building host to a variety of cultural events, to listen to Jake spout writing wisdom. This past Saturday was our last meeting until the end of April as Jake is taking the next few months to focus on writing a novel and I started thinking about how it would be a good time for me to review what I've learned from the workshops so far and to share some of the helpful writing exercises I've learned with you, my fellow readers and writers!

As the workshops covered a great deal of information, I will be writing a series of posts and each post will focus on my experience with a certain concept or topic.

I will begin with discussing what Jake describes as the two key approaches to writing. The first approach is honesty. Writing from a place of honesty means writing about whatever theme, character, or situation is nagging at you, despite the possibility that others will not agree or like what your writing about. Simply put, honest writing is writing about whatever pops into your head without holding back because your worried about how others might interpret your writing. You cannot be a successful writer if you constantly worry about what other people will think of you because just as in life, you cannot please everyone. If your writing is honest, some people will read your writing and think your are weird, crazy, strange, sick, offensive, arrogant, jealous, hurtful etc. This is something we all must learn to get over if we want to be successful writers. Personally, I've always cared deeply about what other people think of me and my work and I have a hard time shaking off the negative opinions of others. If I am going to continue to pursue writing however, I am going to have to learn not to care so much about what other people think of my writing, even close family and friends who may not agree with say, the subject matter I am writing about, what a character says or does in one of my stories, or even the language I may use. So far it has been a difficult task for me to take risks in my writing and to write about what I really want to write about, but I am confident that honest writing gets easier with time!

According to Jake, the second approach to writing is speed. Essentially, writing as fast as you can before the grumpy editor in your head has time to put on his glasses, read what your writing, and kabosh it. Jake reccommends setting a timer for even just five or ten minutes and writing until the timer goes off. This is a bit like wordmongering, a writing exercise that takes place on Twitter wherein friends arrange to write for thirty minutes straight and then they tally up how many words they have written once the thirty minutes are up. I just recently began participating in wordmongering sessions and have found it an extremely helpful exercise, both in terms of getting words down on paper and in terms of receiving support from Twitter's writing community. Writing from my wordmongering sessions are too long for me to post here but below is a passage I wrote during a ten minute writing session in one of Jake's classes. We were asked to write about a book that made an impact on us in our childhood.

Kavik is the most beautiful dog I've ever seen. I see him when I go to bed at night, when I'm sitting at the kitchen table in the morning before school nibbling toast, and in the car on the way to dance and skating. My mom says I should get my nose out of books but my Dad says let her be. He loves reading even more than I do. Today, I flip the pages of the Kavik the Wolf Dog gingerly, sorrowfully. I'm on the last chapter and I'm not ready for the adventure to be over. I can read it again of course, Dad bought me the book on one of our Saturday afternoon trips to Chapters, but never again will the story of Kavik the Wolf Dog be completley original, novel, the words consumed by my mind in quite the same way. Never again will Kavik's northern adventure and great escape unfold as a surprise. On the very last page of the book I decide, Kavik the Wolf Dog is my favorite book of all time and I vow never to forget him, his story, and his character.

It may not be an example of my best writing but it is an example of how much writing can get done in a short amount of time when you are given a prompt and a time limit.

If you are a writer, or even a reader who might like to start writing, keep these two approaches in mind. Ask yourself, are you writing about what you really want to be writing about? Or, if you were to write something, what would it be and would you be concerned about what others would think of you for writing it? If you've got a few minutes, give a speed writing exercise a try. Writing straight for even five or ten minutes can motivate an hour or more of productive writing.


  1. Awesome! I'm not sure why I didn't see this post sooner, but I'm glad I stopped by. Keep on writing :)


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