You can’t put a price on creativity

Photo of fall leaves and writing.

Lately I’ve been feeling like I need to get back to writing. (For those of you who know me, I can actually feel your eyes rolling; I get it, I write a lot, but hear me out.)

What I mean is: I need to get back to my own writing.

When you work a creative profession and you’re offering your creativity to others, you start to put a price on hobbies that were once important. For instance, I can be creative for myself for free or I can be creative for someone else and make a more secure living. My blog posting in particular suffered during the November to March season for this very reason, which is too bad, since it was something that incentivized writing for myself on a regular basis.

Creative negotiation is fairly common. Full-time freelancers, in particular, face this choice all the time. Turning down projects because you’re feeling “especially creative” feels hollow during lighter-project seasons.

I don’t want to downplay the work I or other creative professionals do. I can’t speak on behalf of everyone, but I love sharing my creativity with others – it’s why I work in marketing and also why I started Smart EDits. These are professions that both nurture and satisfy my creative skills.

The creative negotiation is more nuanced than simply “feeling bad” about neglecting your personal projects; it’s more like the difference between making a meal for someone you love and making a meal for yourself. You might labour over the ingredients, recipe, plating, and all the other things that make a meal great if it’s for someone you care about, but when it comes to making yourself lunch for work or dinner after a busy day, you might hold back. It’s that holding back on yourself and your own potential that feeds the guilt and skewed sense of self-worth.

So, I’m going to try a writing exercise I did before things got busy. Every day that I provide creative work for someone else, I’m going to dedicate 10 to 15 minutes of that day to my own writing or other projects. We’ll see how it goes.

– E.D.

gritLIT Weekend Recap: What You Missed

Photo of the gritLIT committee and Jamie Tennant. Left: Jennifer Gillies, Jamie Tennant, Elizabeth DiEmanuele, Elizabeth Obermeyer, Lindsay Ryan, and Jessica Rose.

There is nothing quite like losing your phone on the cusp of a busy weekend. I went into gritLIT: Hamilton’s Readers and Writers Festival as a phone-less member of the marketing committee – go figure.

Admittedly, I was not quite without a phone; I managed to borrow one for the festival. I don’t think I would have been able to contribute to the social media marketing or connect with the authors I met in quite the same way without one.

I’m happy it happened. Being disoriented about my phone made me a little fearless and also gave me an excuse to unplug from my other responsibilities (my emails, for instance, were at 200+ by the time I logged onto my poor desktop computer that Sunday evening).

And so, I headed to the festival, borrowed phone in hand, ready to fully commit to my role as a marketing committee member and #HamOnt book nerd. The festival did not disappoint. Here were some of my highlights, disappointments, and laughs in between.

  1. So many quotes
    What happens when you get a room full of writers? Countless quotable moments. My top five favourites from the festival:
  • “Write the book that you want to read,” Rebecca Rosenblu
  • “I’m not a writer by choice, but by necessity,” Bev Sellers
  • “A book is not finished until a reader opens it,” Kerry Clare
  • “Reading makes the work real,” Merilyn Simonds
  • “I always had a respect for writers, but now I am in awe of them,” Denise Donlon

michael scott

  1. So many regrets
    I had to miss opening night, which meant I missed out on Iain Reid’s panel and post-panel chats. Now what am I supposed to do about the ending to that novel? (It’s a “you had to read it” thing, so if you haven’t read I’m Thinking of Ending Things, read it now. Really. It’s great.)

    no ragrats.gif

  1. Wine and Cheese Chats
    The best part about volunteering as a committee member was hanging out in the hospitality suite, a haven we put together for authors to relax and recharge. As someone who worked the hospitality suite almost every evening, I got to speak one-on-one with this year’s authors and learn more about their writing process over wine and cheese. Learning from the pros is a pretty big perk of the gritLIT gig and I’m happy I got the chance to do so this year. A big thank you to Merilyn Simonds and Wayne Grady in particular for being especially insightful and kind – your advice meant a great deal.


  1. The Amazing Ann Y. K. Choi
    I know we’re not supposed to pick favourites, but anyone who met Ann Y. K. Choi will understand why I’ve singled her out here: she is the most joyful, humble, kindest, best kind of human out there, which just made me want to pick up my own copy of her novel. I mean, she took notes about the other author during her own panel and was just so happy to be part of the festival – it doesn’t get better than that.

  1. gritLIT regulars
    We had a lot of regulars attend, including our authors. (Jamie, if you’re reading this, it was a real pleasure!) Seeing regulars come out to the festival and actually commit to the full day just affirms why we do what we do.

    bunny meme.jpeg

  1. Cheesecake with Denise Donlon
    In addition to author chats in the hospitality suite, I got the chance to join the authors for dinner on the Saturday, which included wine and cheesecake with Denise Donlon. Yes, she was as cool as you’d imagine and I was as uncool as ever. I don’t care. The woman is a legend and I’m happy I got the chance to meet her!


  1. Power Naps at the Art Gallery
    You need to understand, we were on our feet and running around all weekend, past midnight and some nights even past 2:00 a.m. Crashing was inevitable. Let’s just say one or two of us took turns napping in the concealed corner of the Art Gallery. Trust me, power napping was the best decision I made that weekend.


  1. Drafts and Drafts
    We introduced a new event at the festival this year called Drafts and Drafts, an event where authors read drafts of their work over drafts at the bar. Drafts and Drafts was held at Mills Hardware and featured many talented writers, including my graduate school friend and local poet, Shane Neilson. What made this event so great was that it was more informal and intimate than the others – the space was smaller, the work was less polished, and everyone was there to just motivate and learn from one another. We got to see a different side of the authors and I was really happy to be part of it.

  1. gritLIT Team Tacos and Feels
    After a year of planning, it felt great to celebrate the work of the gritLIT team. I have so much respect for everyone who helped put the festival together. You guys are the best.

  1. The slow and steady decline
    Even though I lost my phone, I managed to borrow one for the weekend, partly because I didn’t want to forget a single moment. As you can see from my Instagram stories, my energy level went through a slow and steady decline.

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Thank you to everyone who joined us for this year’s festival. It was a great year. Can’t wait for the next one!

#BellLetsTalk About Listening: 10 Texts that Address Mental Illness

Happy #BellLetsTalk day. While we’re talking, I hope that we can look at this day as a challenge to listen.

Literature, in so many ways, offers us the chance to peer into experiences different from our own, thoughtfully, at our own pace, and in ways that don’t impose on the life of another person. When we read, we can learn about a particular moment in time, experience, condition, or emotion that’s lived and we can use what we learn to be better advocates and allies.

As someone who strongly advocates for providing support and services for mental health and well-being, I’ve put together a list of texts that have helped me with regards to better understanding and articulating to others the messiness and pain often associated with mental health struggles. For those of you looking to learn, I hope they help you as much as they continue to help me.

1. “The Yellow Wallpaper” (1892), Charlotte Perkins Gilman


“Dear John! He loves me very dearly and hates to have me sick. I tried to have a real earnest talk with him the other day, and tell him how I wish he would let me go and make a visit to Cousin Henry and Julia. But he said I wasn’t able to go, nor able to stand it after I got there; and I did not make a very good case for myself, for I was crying before I had finished.”

When I encounter a person who holds strong views about the relevance of mental distress or mental illness, I often direct them to Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s short story, “The Yellow Wallpaper.” Part of this decision has to do with the fact that it isn’t a novel. “The Yellow Wallpaper” is the kind of story you can read during a lunch break and it’s incredibly powerful. The story is told through the hidden journal entries of an unnamed woman battling mental health issues, or what her physician husband calls, “temporary nervous depression – a slight hysterical tendency.” She relates her feelings of pain, tiredness, and frustration in failing to live up to external expectations.

Perhaps, most eye-opening, is the fact that it was published more than 100 years ago, demonstrating that the fight for conversations and action regarding mental illness aren’t as new as some try to say.

2. The Awakening (1899), Kate Chopin


“She went on and on. She remembered the night she swam far out, and recalled the terror that seized her at the fear of being unable to regain the shore. She did not look back now, but went on and on, thinking of the blue-grass meadow that she had traversed when a little child, believing that it had no beginning and no end.”

Like many of the texts on this list, Kate Chopin’s The Awakening explores the relationship between mental illness, external pressure, and institutional failure. The protagonist, Edna, wants to live a fuller life, but struggles because of expectations for her to conform to being a homemaker and mother. Importantly, mental health within this text is used as a means of stigmatizing Edna – male characters use her displays of “mental illness” to create false rumours and isolate her from community. To simply hold the freedom to exist as she is, Edna must suffer in solitude.

3. Mrs. Dalloway (1925), Virginia Woolf


“She felt somehow very like him — the young man who had killed himself. She felt glad that he had done it; thrown it away.”

It’s difficult to read Mrs. Dalloway without considering the circumstances of Virginia Woolf’s life. Woolf spent long periods of time in isolation and often wrote about her feelings of mental distress. For me, Mrs. Dalloway encapsulates the pressure and messiness of social expectation, anxiety, pain, and isolation. The novel’s protagonist, Clarissa Dalloway, is a politician’s wife recovering from an illness. Many of her internalizations address feelings of guilt, regret, and sorrow. Juxtaposing this narration is the story of Septimus, a war hero struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Through Septimus, the text explores institutional and medical procedures, as doctors make ignorant decisions. While both of these characters are starkly different, they remain connected through their silence – no one knows how much they are struggling.

4. The Catcher in the Rye (1951), J.D. Salinger


“Anyway, I keep picturing all these little kids playing some game in this big field of rye and all. Thousands of little kids, and nobody’s around – nobody big, I mean – except me. And I’m standing on the edge of some crazy cliff. What I have to do, I have to catch everybody if they start to go over the cliff – I mean if they’re running and they don’t look where they’re going I have to come out from somewhere and catch them. That’s all I do all day. I’d just be the catcher in the rye and all. I know it’s crazy, but that’s the only thing I’d really like to be.”

The Catcher in the Rye was one of my favourite books in high school – there was something so raw and uncontained about the protagonist, Holden Caufield. He’s unapologetic and real. What many people fail to remember is that Holden witnesses not one but two traumatic deaths in his lifetime and never really receives any kind of emotional support. For me, Holden’s trajectory demonstrates the struggle for young people to find understanding adult role models. After all, at its simplest, Catcher in the Rye is the story of a young man with struggles and potential, who experiences abandonment when he needs help most.

5. The Bell Jar (1963), Sylvia Plath


“The silence depressed me. It wasn’t the silence of silence. It was my own silence.”

Similar to Virginia Woolf, this is another text infused with the author’s lived experiences with mental illness. Sylvia Plath published poetry that accounted for these experiences during most of her lifetime; however, The Ball Jar – her only novel – remains one of her most well-known works. Many who have read this text will mention the parallels between the protagonist, Esther, and Plath – how they both wrote for magazines, experienced hospitalization, and so on. These comparisons only grew after Plath’s suicide, one month after the novel’s publication. Regardless of whether or not the experiences are the same or inspired, The Bell Jar offers a raw account of what it feels like to endure mental distress and pain on a day-to-day basis.

6. Why Should I Have All the Grief? (1969) Phyllis Gotlieb

why should I have all the grief

“The marks on her body externalized the scars on his spirit; her liquid, loser’s eyes were windows looking out on days of torture and filth. He added her hurt to his guilt and kept going with a heavier burden. But one thing all the force of his reason could never tell him was whether by neglect he had shamefully wounded a living person, or merely stepped back from the edge of a precipice.”

One of the most amazing things about science fiction is its ability to explore the unsayable. In many ways, those who struggle with their mental health and well-being experience a pain that cannot be related to something of this world or what we know. Though Why Should I Have All the Grief? is not a science fiction text, Gotlieb’s famous command of the genre and its strengths shine through.

The novel follows Heinz Dorfman, an Auschwitz survivor who has kept his story, nightmares, and survivor’s guilt to himself for over 18 years. The silence takes a toll on his marriage and his ability to be in the world with others. When Heinz’ uncle arrives in Toronto and asks Heinz to take part in a traditional Jewish Funeral ceremony, Heinz must confront his surviving family and the trauma he buried. Without giving away too much, one of the most memorable moments in this text is when Heinz confronts the pain of his past with the pain of his present, in what can only be described as a flashback-flash forward chapter. The fragmentation of memory and consciousness is one of the best portrayals of mental distress I have even come across in fiction.

7. Beloved (1987), Toni Morrison


“124 was spiteful. Full of a baby’s venom.”

Unlike some of the other texts I’ve listed, there is a causal link between the protagonist, Sethe, and her mental distress: she is haunted by her decision to kill her daughter before being captured by slave owners and is also haunted by the intergenerational traumas of slavery. The guilt that comes with being a survivor eventually manifests into a ghost that lives in her home.

Notably, the longer she goes on avoiding her pain, the stronger the ghost manifests. For me, one of the most powerful moments in the novel comes towards the end, when the community comes together to address Sethe’s experiences of haunting, a reminder that there is strength in support and allyship.

8. The Glass Castle, Jeanette Walls


“We were always doing the skedaddle usually in the middle of the night. Dad was so sure a posse of Federal investigators was on our trail that he smoked his unfiltered cigarette from the wrong end. That way, he explained, he burned up the brand name, so that the people who were tracking them down would find unidentifiable butts, instead of Pall Malls which could be traced to him.”

For those who enjoy a good Heather’s Pick, I recommend The Glass Castle. Offering a more contemporary perspective, this memoir captures all the humour, pain, dysfunction, and love of a family affected by addiction and mental illness. One of the most important aspects of this memoir that often gets overlooked is the fact the problems are layered. As it is for many families struggling to support someone who is mentally ill, situations that may seem clear-cut on the outside are more nuanced and painful. Jeanette Walls does a careful job of sharing those layers – the frustrations, anger, confusion, and pain – without demonizing her loved ones.

9. Swing Low: A Life (1999), Miriam Toews

swing low

“There are no windows within the dark house of depression through which to see others, only mirrors.”

This is not the first time I’ve recommended Swing Low: A Life and it won’t be the last: this text is one of the most honest accounts of mental illness I’ve come across yet. Right from the beginning, Toews recognizes her privileges and limits, before sharing her father’s life story and suicide (and assuming his voice in the process). There are so many transgressions in this text – taking on the voice of another, for instance, holds its risks – but it is what a friend of mine once referred to as a “beautiful transgression.” She shares these experiences to give voice to families and people who often suffer with mental illness in silence. Swing Low: A Life is a must-read, especially for those who have lost someone as a result of their struggle to live.

10. Birdie (2015), Tracey Lindberg

10, Birdie

Sometimes when you see something every day you forget its mystery.”

Tracey Lindberg’s debut text, Birdie, is an incredible example of a young, Cree-Metis woman who endures it all, depicting her pain, her strength, her struggle, and will to live in what I can only describe as a narrative process. Birdie doesn’t have the same straight, clean narration that some of the earlier texts listed follow, but instead pulls the reader right into the moment.

Despite the pain and violence of this text, one of its most notable points is its use of humour as a survivor’s tool. Birdie is not a victim of her circumstances; they are only one part of a captivating story.

Writing Advice from Lawrence Hill

Last Tuesday, I attended a conversational event that featured the award-winning Canadian author, Lawrence Hill. The event was hosted by McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario and was moderated by the third-reader of my Master’s Thesis, Dr. Daniel Coleman.

This event, “In Conversation with Lawrence Hill,” is not the first time I’ve seen either of these men speak; however, it was my first time seeing Lawrence Hill address the process of writing a novel. Perhaps the most useful part of the discussion was the time he took to explain the emotional labour that goes into such a process; he repeatedly mentioned the need for us, as writers, to find work that doesn’t exhaust our needs or creativity.

It’s almost uncanny how much writers have in common, regardless of where they’re at in their careers. In my case, I found myself nodding to many of Lawrence Hill’s stories and advice for those of us trying to get our work done.

For this post, I’m going to share the words that resonated…


1. “Writers seem more hard-wired for failure rather than success.”

Lawrence Hill spent quite a bit of time on this particular thought – writers are often told that they stand no chance and many see publication as the only affirmation of their work’s value. After expressing a frustration with this challenge, Hill responded by saying that success is getting the work done. To borrow the words from a conference I recently attended, success is about completion, not perfection!

2. “Fiction gives a face to the faceless and a voice to the voiceless.”

One of the main topics of discussion was Hill’s novel, The Illegal, which follows the journey of a refugee. Using his protagonist, Keita, as an example, Hill shared the value of taking a step back and looking at ongoing crises across the world through the lens of an individual. “Every character experiences a ‘piece’ of Keita,” he said, “His journey has many ripples. I wanted readers to understand that.”

3. “The novel’s greatest gift is the interiority of voice.”

For those less familiar with Hill’s work, he’s experimented with different mediums: novels, plays, journalism, and most recently, screenplays. When Dr. Coleman asked Hill about the struggle of turning his novel, The Book of Negroes, into a play and television series, he focused a great deal on interiority. To put it simply, the novel holds more opportunities for subtlety and reflection that just cannot be translated to the screen.

4. “The secret to finding success as a writer is G.Y.A.I.C. – Get Your Ass In Chair.”

At the event, there were lots of questions about “how” someone can become a successful novelist. Hill was direct about this: it takes an obsessive determination to get the work done. I think the quote speaks for itself!

5. “You’re a writer if you’re writing. Kafka died before his work was ever known.”

I didn’t know this about Kafka and so the quote resonated. Who knew one of the most recognized writers of all time was unknown during his lifetime? Amazing.

– E.D.

Hospitals and Alice Munro’s “The Stone in the Field”

For the last two months, I’ve started each day with one goal: to finally sit down and read Alice Munro’s The Moons of Jupiter. What I didn’t expect was just how much I’d need Munro’s words.

I’ll be honest – my long-term plan to read all of Munro’s work is part of a much-needed grieving process, one that was pushed to its limits mid-week when a family member was rushed to the ICU. The overall situation isn’t good; I’ll likely be saying my goodbyes to another person I love dearly before the end of the year.

In the thick of all the chaos, I felt myself slowly losing my energy. Even now, I’m tired beyond belief, which feels so ironic and fitting given the name of my series. As someone who recharges in silence, the demands to be “present” for my passionate Italian family are exhausting, even if they are understandable and necessary.

Which is why when my sister, Katherine, begged me to entertain while we endured the hospital waiting game, I gave her a choice: she could read one of the books in my backpack or read to me aloud. She chose the latter and it was one of the most peaceful moments I’ve had in the last two weeks.

I asked her to read Munro’s, “The Stone in the Field,” because of its thoughtful approach to family, death, and the strange elusivity of life; it is one of my favourite stories in the collection. The story is the second part of a linked story called “Chaddeleys and Flemmings”: “Connection” deals with the mother’s side of the narrator’s family while “The Stone in the Field” deals with the father’s side.

As my sister read the first few paragraphs, she paused, expressing a frustration with the story:

“She uses too many commas; it feels like a run-on sentence”

“These descriptions feel like filler. Why do we need to know of all the things in their house?”

“She’s hard to read.”

Eventually, I responded: “Katherine, Alice Munro needs to be read slowly. Pause at the commas, take in the images – Munro’s attention to nuance is what makes her special.”

She took my advice and, of course, the story came to life. Those details no longer felt like lists; they were images that transformed the hospital wait room into a home, if only for a small moment. I closed my eyes and listened as Katherine read on, visualizing the disappearing furniture, the drive over the bridge, the arguments, and the damaged hands of the sister who cleaned the floors with chemicals for too long.

Then, the words I was waiting for came:

“What was felt in that room was the pain of human contact. I was hypnotized by it. The fascinating pain; the humiliating necessity.”

In three sentences, Alice Munro captured exactly what I was feeling and it couldn’t have come a more needed time.

– E.D.

Reading as Connection

My earliest memories involve a great deal of hiding. I would hide behind my parents whenever people came over and would stay like that until everyone forgot I was even there.

What can I say? I was a shy kid.

As an adult, I still have my fair share of ‘social awkwardness’ (much to the amusement of my friends and co-workers); but, I know my discomfort as a girl stemmed from something a little deeper than the self-consciousness many of us shy-folk typically feel.

You see, I’ve always felt this overwhelming awareness of other people – an awareness that they hold stories and experiences and countless mysteries I’ll never fully know. While this awareness certainly helps my writing, the “not-knowing” part of it all used to plague me. In the way people get nightmares about falling or snakes or their loved ones dying, my nightmares often involved forceful conversations with friends and acquaintances. Even now, I think of how strange it all was, fearing ordinary people.

Reading helped me make sense of things — it was this space where I could investigate feelings, behaviours, perspectives, and worlds. Fiction was especially important. In the words of Alice Munro, “People’s lives [are] dull, simple, amazing and unfathomable — deep caves paved with kitchen linoleum”; reading fiction helped me understand this simple truth, turning my fear into fascination and inspiring me want to learn and experience the world outside of myself. Even when the fiction was traumatic or terrifying, it still helped me work through my fear in a more tangible, thoughtful way.

For those new to my blog or work, this post isn’t the first time I’ve written about reading, emotions, and vulnerability. One of my first posts was about how reading can teach us emotional intelligence and one of my more recent ones reflected on how reading can create intimate connections. I also published a reader’s response about reading as a vulnerable practice. In this piece, I traced the relationship between reading and vulnerability in Daniel Coleman’s In Bed with the Word, suggesting that “reading provides solace for unspoken pains; and, can nourish the fragmented or missing connections in our lives.”

Opening up these thoughts a little more, I’ve been thinking about how amazing it is that reading – a reflective, intimate, private practice – holds this deeply moving, extraverted potential. When we read, we let go of ourselves and listen. Even if we don’t agree or connect with what we’re reading, that text still exists in its own right, holding its own, uninterrupted narrative.

Thinking back to my shy days, I can’t help but see reading as the “thing” that motivated me to respond to others without fear. There’s something really special about being a reader, the one who experiences the story as it unfolds. In so many ways, reading can teach us how to be active, empathetic listeners, capable of keeping our composure in conversations or situations that may otherwise be uncomfortable or unpredictable. Active reading can teach us how to “read between the lines”; how to swim through nuance without drowning in it. These are really valuable qualities to have when communicating with others. As my students might say, they’re qualities that have “real world” relevance.

Nurturing our ability – to read, to be less fearful and more empathetic, to be active – is more difficult. Aside from the obvious distractions of our lives, reading takes time and energy. How many of us house shelves full of books we’ll get to “when we have time”? And, for those of us who do find the time, finding the energy to read the narratives that actually need to be heard can be daunting.

The one thing I’ve learned from reading, though, is that the most daunting tasks are sometimes the most important. Reading, especially now, with everything happening in this world, feels so important. Which is why I’m going to start sharing what I read a bit more – as an attempt to stay reading and as an attempt to encourage others to do the same.

Stay tuned,

– E.D.

Collaborative Writing and Finding “the One”

Despite enjoying the introspection that goes into the writing process, there is something special about collaborative writing – the organic exchange of ideas and structures, the thoughtful feedback, the shared sense of accomplishment. There are so many aspects to the collaborative writing process that nourish my creativity.

While I’m certainly not the first person to express a love of collaborative writing (I mean, we’ve got James Patterson and Shonda Rhimes producing collaborative work all the time), I’m surprised at the lack literature available about the actual work that goes into such a process. Collaborative writing presents its own challenges, including but not limited to differing schedules, opinions, and creative habits. Quite simply, collaborative writing can be just as challenging as any other project and deserves more reflection than we’ve given it as a community.

For instance: What does it even mean to write collaboratively?

I think this is a really important question. Collaboration can take on many forms: it might mean being a creative partner or co-writer; it might mean taking turns with a writing project; it might even mean being an emotional support or soundboard. The list goes on. For this purposes of this post, however, I will consider collaborative writing as the shared experience of researching, producing, writing, and editing a piece. The collaborators are equals in this process and share all of its difficulties and successes.

As someone who thrives off of the creative exchange of ideas, I often seek out these sorts of projects. Even now, I can think of a number of recent creative collaborations I’ve taken part in, including an art installation, a testimony writing series, a pop culture paper, and an online series of academic writing modules. In fact, I just featured the latter on this blog!

Unlike independent writing, strong collaborative partnerships can accelerate your process and improve the quality of your ideas. The best collaborative partners offer thoughtful, honest feedback so that the project can grow and thrive. One of my favourite examples of this relationship from my own experiences happened back in graduate school when a Professor tasked us with leading our own seminar. The assignment was to independently determine a topic for discussion, write materials, and facilitate discussion among our colleagues. In my case, I had an idea that was just too ambitious for my time slot and workload. Instead of deterring myself from missing out on exploring my interests, I sought out the other colleague presenting that day to see if we could share the session.

Sure, the idea originated from my own work; but, our collaboration took that idea to a whole other level and transformed it into something completely different. Every time one of us had an idea of where we could go with the presentation, the other was right there to offer encouragement, ideas, and feedback. The result led to one of my proudest academic experiences. The conversations we had over the material, our unique academic backgrounds, and mutual respect we had each other’s ideas brought forth our best thinking and inspired the seminar room to rethink their perspective on the material. I believe our success was truly a testament to our collaborative efforts.

How Do You Find “the One”?

Of course, the experience I just shared is rare. Anyone who has ever worked on a collaborative assignment knows that there is nothing worse than working with the wrong team or partner. What if someone gets stuck doing all the work? What if your creative processes don’t align? What if you have different goals or ideas for the project? What if one of you is more committed to the project? The list goes on.

To use the clichéd analogy, finding “the one” takes work.

I’ve certainly had some ups and downs when it comes to searching; but, through them, I’ve come up with a pretty good system. When making a decision about a collaboration, I evaluate three areas: the brain, the self, and the heart. (As I’ve already mentioned, it’s clichéd! At the same time, it works!)

So, for those who are interested, here’s how my brain-self-heart process works…

1) The Brain

It’s important to first look at the potential collaboration from a logical lens. When I’m considering a collaboration, I usually ask myself the following questions:

  • Do we share the same goals?
  • Do we each bring something of equal value to the proposed collaboration?
  • Do our schedules align?

If I answer no to any of these questions, I move on because there is truly no point in starting a collaborative writing project that logistically fails. Trust me.

If the person or people in mind pass the “brain test,” then I do a bit of self-reflection. Why? We are equally liable in a collaborative writing project.

2) The Self

When I reflect on my role in a potential project, I think through my strengths, limitations, and needs. For instance, I’m a multi-tasker, which means I’m often working on several creative projects at once. These multiple projects are very important for my creative process because they keep me passionate; however, I recognize that they might be stressful for someone who is more directed or thoughtful with their creativity. My projects can also be stressful for people with unstable schedules because my multiple commitments make rescheduling personal meets or phone calls a bit of a puzzle.

What this means for me, personally, is that my collaborative work needs to be with people who respect my commitments and time. This understanding is especially comforting during my busiest times, as I can reschedule in advance and know that the person won’t be offended or put out.

Reflecting on ourselves is an emotional and daunting process, and I’ll admit that my multi-tasker example is a lighter version of the reflections I do before entering a collaborative project. Truthfully, it’s important that the reflections go deeper. For instance, are there any quirks or needs you possess that you know will deter the other person? How much are you able and willing to compromise?

I know in my case I need to read my work aloud and I often edit while I write. I can certainly compromise by toning down the editing and whispering to myself when I’m reading through; but, if I know the prospective person needs absolute quiet, I might not be the right fit.

3) The Heart

Think back to your worst experience working with another person. What was it that made it so horrible? Did they treat your poorly? Did they pull their weight? Did they respect your time? Whatever it was, I’m sure it would deter you from working with them – or anyone who possesses similar characteristics – again. The stress, energy, and emotional effort it takes to push through a project with a bad partner or team can and often does affect our lives in unexpectedly awful ways.

As the cliché goes, you need trust and mutual respect for a relationship to work. The same goes for collaborative writing. Without these two things, there’s no point.


There are certainly more considerations to take into account when embarking on your next collaborative project; but, I hope my three-pronged method helps you get started!


On Academic Writing: Editing the Damn Thing

By: Elizabeth DiEmanuele and Julia Empey

No matter how much you edit, we have news for you: there will be mistakes. In fact, chances are, even with careful editing, you’re going to miss something. Why? We’re always too close to our own work.

The general rule of thumb for editing is to take a day or two away from the work so that you can look at it from a fresh perspective.


Here are some other tips:

Double Check Your Thesis
Chances are, what you end up writing on the page will not necessarily match your original thesis. Re-read your original thesis and ask yourself: Did I prove that? If the answer is no, determine if you simply need to answer another aspect of your thesis or if you need to rewrite your thesis to fit the full-written paper.

Review Your Paper’s Form and Organization
Does your paper follow a logical sequence? If you were to make bullet points out of your paper, would they make sense on their own? If you answer no to either of these, you need to reorganize accordingly.

Get a Second Reader
After you’ve done your own review, have another person review your paper and ask them to explain what you argued. If it makes sense, then you’re ideas and structure are probably clear; however, if they have questions, you may need to review and rewrite certain sections.

Keep in mind that rewriting can be a daunting process, which is why you shouldn’t leave this step to the last minute. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by the feedback, don’t be afraid to see a Writing Tutor, your Tutorial Assistant, your Professor, or someone you trust to receive help and guidance.

Run it through Grammarly
Note – checking your grammar is actually the FOURTH step in our editing guidelines. A comma will not be the reason you fail a paper or get a low grade. That said, having a cohesive paper that flows makes your paper more readable and could be the difference between a B+ and an A-. Why? If you make the reading process easy for your marker, they will reward you!

The best website and app for checking your grammar is Grammarly! Check it out!

Read the Work Aloud
Of course, grammar is more than just spelling and punctuation; it is also about style and syntax. Reading your paper aloud is the best way of ensuring that these two aspects of your paper are met.

Check Your Citations
Did you know that you could fail a paper by simply failing to include these? Citations are your insurance: they show that you’ve done research, that you’ve spent time on the work, and that you’ve given credit where it’s due. The best website to check your citations is Owl Purdue. You can also double check these with your Tutorial Assistant, Librarian, or Professor.

We hope you’ve enjoyed our series, On Academic Writing. Best of luck!

– E & J

If you missed it, here are the other modules:

On Academic Writing: Writing the Damn Thing (Part Two)

By: Elizabeth DiEmanuele and Julia Empey

Julia: I didn’t think I was the most organized person until I was in my first year. Suddenly, I had five essays due within the span of two weeks and they were all a minimum of 10 pages long. Having 50 pages due along with literally hundreds of pages to read each week and smaller assignments scattered throughout the term was daunting. I felt like I was drowning in work before it even started and knew I needed a battle plan in order to tackle my mountain of work.

Elizabeth: It takes me a long time to decide my stance on a topic, even after I’ve written out my thesis statement. Part of this has to do with my research method – I like to read everything and really understand the context of my work. The problem is that I sometimes end up writing my papers much later in the game; sometimes, even the night before. During my most anxious time of my undergraduate degree, I spent 48 hours writing three 11-15 page papers. I had most of my research organized and managed to produce quality work, but it was not the most healthy choice. I wouldn’t do it again.

These two personal accounts – while different – actually respond to common concerns shared among students: multiple assignments and high page counts are overwhelming and not easily tackled. Perhaps, the hardest part about academic writing is having multiple assignments in succession. Many professors try to give students the whole semester to tackle larger assignments; but, this consideration often means that the deadlines from different courses fall around the same time.

In a perfect world, we would have weeks to work on one essay at a time. We would have nothing else on our plates, but research and writing; however, the world is cruel place.


So, how can you meet those deadlines and the high page counts?

Well, we have some suggestions…

How Do You Eat An Elephant?
Our philosophy is simple: one bite at a time. Write at least 300 to 500 words a day or the equivalent of one to two pages. It doesn’t matter what it’s for: you can write 500 words for one essay or 100 words for five different essays. When you’re researching your essay, take notes, write down the quotes you think you might use in a Word doc, and develop an outline. When you outline your essay, write down the paragraph’s topic and the points you’re going to use below it in bullets. There’s no need to be fancy: you’re simply getting your ideas on the page and are developing your essay over time.

Having a strong plan before you start your work is useful if you’re trying to manage several projects at once. When you’re done the outline for one essay, start your next outline and so on. Be active in your writing: if an idea comes to you, write it down. The small chunks of work add up: if you write 500 words a day for five days, you will have your ten pages.

Drive Into the Scatter
Do you get caught up in the research? Does your mind keep changing because you’re reading one great paper after the next? We get this. If you’re unsure of what you’re going to end up arguing, but have a good sense of your topic, you may need to incorporate uncertainty into your writing process.

Make your uncertainty a strength by incorporating those thoughts into your reading. When you finish examining a journal article or book, write notes related to your interpretations and questions; then, use those notes in the body of your paper. More simply, be active by responding and thinking through your uncertainty. The best part about accepting the uncertainty is that it can make for a very thoughtful analysis of the work and can help with opening up your conclusion. After all, there’s nothing better than an essay that makes your reader ask questions and want to learn more.

Learn The Write Time For You
Some of us are sprinters and some of us are marathoners; some of us are night owls and some of us are early birds. We accept you for who you are so it’s time for you do the same. The truth is, if you write at your optimal time, you will complete the work in a more efficient manner and to a higher quality. Think of it this way: you don’t ski up a hill. You can, but why would you? The bottom line? Carve out space in your schedule to work to your strengths. This advice goes beyond your optimal write times, too. Some of us write better when we space things out and some of us work better when we hash it out on the page. Find out which method works best for you; or, if you don’t know, try interspersing methods to change things up.

Understand that Shit Happens
Sometimes you won’t be able to write. Sometimes, the words won’t come to you or you hate what you’re writing. That’s okay. Some people like to power through – they will get their 500 words even if they end up deleting them the next day. Some people need to walk away. Sometimes you might alternate. The point is that struggle doesn’t indicate that you can’t write; it just means that you’re human. Does this mean switching out every write time for a Netflix episode? Of course not; but, it’s okay to forgive yourself, too. In fact, it’s important.

Get Out of Your Head
As Sylvia Plath once said, “the worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.” Take a moment to let that settle in, because at one point or another, self-doubt will affect your process and become your greatest deterrent. Self-doubt is that voice in your head that makes you think so much there’s no opinion in your paper; or, think so much that you don’t even get the words on the page.

Turn off the voice in your head by creating a more relaxed, accepting environment for yourself. A relaxing environment could mean: handwriting your thoughts so that you don’t see Word’s grammatical corrections; recording yourself aloud so that you don’t press the backspace key; talking out your ideas with a friend, your Tutorial Assistant, or the Professor so that you receive encouragement or feedback. Allowing yourself to let go fosters creativity and freedom in your work. At the end of the day, it’s a paper – it will not make or break your entire world.

Treat Yourself
When you hit your writing and research goals, it’s important to treat yourself. Not only does this give you an incentive to keep writing, it also makes the process more enjoyable. The best way to determine your reward is to judge it on the task at hand. For instance, if you hit your word count for the day, maybe the reward is not working the rest of the day, taking a bath, or seeing your friends; or, if you get all your deadlines in on time, maybe the reward is going to see a movie, buying something on Amazon, or even just going out.
Your mental well-being is at the heart of your writing and your success. Treating yourself well is one way of taking care of yourself when things get busy. This step might seem difficult to do when you have so many things on the go, but it does help in the long run.

Best of luck with your writing!
– E & J

Boxed in: Eccentric Creative Processes

I recently spoke with my uncle about our creative writing processes.

My uncle was a famous director and writer of horror films back in the 70s and 80s, and even went on to do a few television shows in the 90s (including Goosebumps). Out of all the people in my life, he is the one I turn to for writing advice and feedback. He’s got the passion and critical eye for it in addition to years of industry experience.

“I actually constructed my own office in the attic, back when I lived at the house on Harvey,” he told me. “It was made out of cardboard and tape, but it worked. I wrote in that damn box every day until the work got done.”

The image of my uncle writing his most valuable work in a cardboard box resonates for me as a visual representation of creativity: his creative process boxed him in, literally. When I asked about why it worked, he said it “eliminated distraction” and forced him to focus on his ideas.


As many writers know, creativity can be as visceral as skidding your car on a slippery road: you have to drive through the madness it in order to leave it unmarked. The most famous writers knew this. Mark Twain wrote lying down in bed; Ernest Hemingway wrote early, standing up; Franz Kafka wrote completely exhausted; and, Maya Angelou wrote in a hotel room once a month, in silence.

The list goes on…

Grounding ourselves in the madness, however, remains one of the most difficult parts of the process. After all, how are we supposed to complete a piece of work if we don’t anchor ourselves? How are we supposed to “be creative” if we’re arguing with the very force that sustains it? These questions don’t necessarily have answers, but rather act as prompts we can use as we reflect on our own processes.

My writing process is a blend of Kafka-exhaustion and Angelou-isolation, but it requires a little bit of chaos to keep me on my toes. If I write during the day, I need to hear the murmur of conversations and coffee machines, change registers echoing out; if I write in the evening, I need to wait until 2:00-3:00 a.m., when the streetlight is the only thing lighting my apartment and I’m too tired to edit my own work. It’s one extreme or another and trying to contain it only sets me back.

My latest habit? Keeping a notebook at my bedside and my Smartphone “notes” app open. It’s not a cardboard box, but I certainly get questions when I’m taking early evening naps to stay “sharper for my write times.”

We do what we have to do.