Author Archives: winnipegpublibrary

Dealing with the inner critic


I’ve been asked by a few writers what to do about writing anxiety and negative self-talk.

There you are, writing happily (or at least finally sitting at your desk), and then it starts.

Who do I think I am? My Grade 8 teacher was right. I’m not a writer!
Or: The page I wrote yesterday is awful. I’d better just tear it up and start over.
Or: That’s the wrong word, I know it’s the wrong word. The whole sentence sounds terrible. Maybe I’m better off not even trying.
Or: If I was really a writer, I’d write better and faster from the beginning. I bet that’s what Margaret Atwood does.
Etc., etc., etc.

We all hear those critical voices in our heads, and they quickly paralyze us. That’s partly because we’re always attempting the impossible—the task of transferring what is in our heads to the page. Our vision is larger than we are. And so we let ourselves become overwhelmed by faint-heartedness and fear. It’s easier not to start. It’s easier to give up.

It’s almost impossible to produce anything while listening to this incessant internal criticism. The good news is that you can do something about the inner critics.

birdThe writer Anne Lamott says: “Quieting these voices is at least half the battle I fight daily. But this is better than it used to be. It used to be 87 percent.” Here’s an exercise she suggests:

Close your eyes and get quiet for a minute, until the chatter starts up. Then isolate one of the voices and imagine the person speaking as a mouse. Pick it up by the tail and drop it into a mason jar. Then isolate another voice, pick it up by the tail, drop it in the jar. And so on. Drop in … anyone who is whining in your head. Then put the lid on, and watch all these mouse people clawing at the glass, jabbering away…
[from Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life]

Another option is, first, to accept the voices in your head. That sounds counter-intuitive, I know, but it prevents you putting so much energy into resisting or fighting them. Let them know you appreciate their advice, but they need to go away until you’ve finished your first draft. Then, and only then, invite them back. Keep them firmly in check, though. You want to look at your work with a critical eye so you can revise/edit, but you don’t want to sabotage yourself.

Two enemies of creativity

I recently came across a powerful passage about creativity by the craft artist Ann Wood that I wanted to share. It expands on my first blog post about the importance of ‘unknowing.’

Two great enemies of creativity are inertia and uncertainty. The fix for inertia is simple—not easy, but very simple: start, move, take a step forward. Certainty is trickier. Our brains are built to be efficient. They categorize, assume, learn, repeat, and create habits and rules. It is work to notice – to really look at things, consider them outside of their familiar context or history or purpose. Autopilot is easy and comfortable and I catch myself slipping into it, in little ways and big ways, all the time. I see what I expect to see because subconsciously, it is already a certainty. And often I feel myself bumping up against rigidity in my thinking because I’m headed somewhere that conflicts with what my brain considers a given, a known quantity or a proven or even familiar course of action.

Certainty isn’t open, it isn’t creative, and it isn’t curious – it doesn’t have room for possibilities, and possibilities are magic. I wonder:
What would the world look like if we could forget everything for just a moment?
What would my own possibilities look like if I could un-know all I believe about myself?

Next blog entry (Dec. 1): How to write first drafts

Time Enough At Last

If all is well, by the time you read this blogpost I’ll be hunkered down in my living room taking a much needed vacation, and playing the highly anticipated post-apocalyptic video game Fallout 4 — hopefully, with my glasses intact. As I bide my time waiting for the (nuclear?) launch of this game, I thought I’d take a walk with you, dear reader, through the irradiated wasteland that is post-apocalyptic fiction.

Under the umbrella of science fiction and fantasy, post-apocalyptic fiction exists as a sub-genre.   But whereas fantasy is often used as an escape from reality and science fiction uses allegory to explore possible futures, post-apocalyptic fiction often strips us to the bone and forces us to look at ourselves separated from society.

Within the post-apocalyptic sub-genre there are a variety of sub-sub-genres which are usually identified by the way in which the world ends.


The Zombie Apocalypse

I’ve never really been a huge fan of zombies. As antagonists in fiction I find them lacking in intelligence. Luckily, in post-apocalyptic fiction, why the world ends is often much less important than the story of the survivors, so I find when the zombie apocalypse is written well I can often ignore the zombies themselves and focus instead on those left intact.  Among the best in this sub-sub-genre is the The Walking Dead by Robert Kirkman.  Both the graphic novel  and the television series have excellent characters who struggle to retain their humanity as they survive a world overrun by zombies.



The Pandemic

Pandemic post-apocalyptic fiction is the realm where my favourite book of all time resides:  Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake.  It follows the story of Snowman, the last surviving man in the wake of a global pandemic, and his begrudging role as caretaker to a group of primitive sentient beings known as Crakers.  Orxy and Crake is the first in a trilogy that includes The Year of the Flood  and MaddAddam, and was nominated for the Man Booker Prize in 2004.


The Nuclear Apocalypse

My favourite post-apocalyptic sub-sub-genre, the nuclear apocalypse is often the most terrifying. It highlights man’s capacity for supreme self-destruction; not only of humankind, but of all life on earth. Most of the classic post-nuclear works were written in the shadow of the Cold War, when it seemed that nuclear annihilation was a real possibility.

My first experience with post-nuclear, post-apocalyptic fiction was when I pulled Alas, Babylon off my mom’s bookshelf.  The title had always intrigued me, as did the cover, which shows a group of survivors wandering a wasteland under a hot sun.  The story also had an impact on me and I will never forget the goldfish. Yes, the goldfish.


One Last Selection

If you’ve never seen the classic television show The Twilight Zone, I urge you to check out the first season of the original series.  I lifted the title of this blogpost from one of the episodes.


If I’ve missed any of your favourite post-apocalyptic stories, please share them in the comments below.

– Alan

Alan can be found at the Transcona Library where he may or may not have grown a third arm after his vacation.

Colour Me Happy

This month Westwood Library is on trend with the latest craze: adult colouring! That’s right, colouring books with intricate detailed designs, aimed at adults, are the hottest thing going right now. The idea is to disengage from the stressful adult world by revisiting childhood, and focusing on the simple joy of colouring instead of the many worries competing for your attention. Adherents say it’s a great tool for easing anxiety and dealing with pressure; women in France, where colouring books now outsell cookbooks, say the practice is more effective than antidepressants.

Colouring page with intricate designs.

Find out for yourself on Saturdays, November 14 and 21 at Westwood Library’s colouring for grown-ups drop-in. We’ll be providing pencil crayons and colouring sheets in a range of designs – including geometric patterns, animals, garden scenes, and more! – from 1-3pm. Stop by for as long or as little as you like, and see what it’s all about!

Meanwhile, if you’re interested in more serious mindfulness practices, or true art therapy (in which you develop skills and create your own original works), the library offers all kinds of great reads to help you get started.

Cover image of Fully Present: The Science, Art, and Practice of MindfulnessFully Present: The Science, Art, and Practice of Mindfulness introduces the concept of mindfulness – that is, “the art of paying attention with an open and curious mind to present-moment experiences” – along with scientific explanations of how the practice positively affects the body, and guidance for introducing mindfulness to your everyday life. For more information on mindfulness techniques and how to integrate them into your daily routine, try The Rough Guide to Mindfulness or The Mindfulness Workbook.

Cover image of Wherever You Go, There You Are: Mindfulness Meditation in Everyday Life

If you’re interested in a more detailed exploration of mindfulness, check out the 
classic bestseller Wherever You Go, There You Are: Mindfulness Meditation in Everyday Life. The 10th anniversary edition linked to here includes a new afterword by the author. Also of interest is Healing Emotions: Conversations with the Dalai Lama on Mindfulness, Emotions, and Health, which explores encounters between Buddhist traditions of believing the mind can heal the body, and Western medicine, which is uncovering evidence to support those beliefs.

Cover image of Uncovering happiness : overcoming depression with mindfulness and self-compassion.You can also explore mindfulness techniques as they relate to specific life situations. There are guide books for people who are managing shyness, anxiety, addiction, or depression. Some mindfulness techniques aim to help people with illnesses ranging from cancer to chronic pain. There are even mindfulness guides for parenting, quitting smoking, and working in public service. It just goes to show that mindfulness can be a part of anyone’s life.

Cover image of Art Heals: How Creativity Cures the Soul.
If you’re looking to go deeper than simple relaxation through colouring and mindfulness, try delving into the world of art therapy. In Art Heals: How Creativity Cures the Soul, expert Shaun McNiff explains how a variety of forms of creative expression – from painting to performing – allow individuals to share, interpret, and heal their emotions.

cover image of Art Journals & Creative Healing: Restoring the Spirit Through Self-Expression.To engage in art therapy yourself, check out The Art Therapy Sourcebook and Art Journals & Creative Healing: Restoring the Spirit Through Self-Expression for techniques and other advice on using art to overcome life’s challenges and experience personal growth. The Magic of Mess Painting: The Creativity Mobilization Technique and Brush Meditation: A Japanese Way to Mind & Body Harmony both examine specific forms of art therapy. Art therapy can even help us connect with other people in our lives, as described in Creative Therapy for Children With Autism, ADD, And Asperger’s: Using Artistic Creativity To Reach, Teach, and Touch Our Children.

So take a deep breath, relax … and express yourself!

— Lauren

Happy Birthday to Us!

The Millennium Library turns 10 this week!

Millennium Library

It’s hard to believe that 10 years ago Centennial library reopened its doors as the Millennium library and became the place we all know and love! So much has changed in the past 10 years and we’re excited to see what the next 10 have in store for not only Millennium library, but for ALL Winnipeg public libraries.

Our birthday wouldn’t be complete without a party! This Saturday, November 7th come join us for a day full of awesome events, activities, and birthday cake:

11 am: Birthday Bonanza Story Time!
Family storytime with stories, rhymes and a craft. Children’s Area.

11 am: Naming Ceremony: Aboriginal Resources areas (second floor)

2 pm: Seanster and the Monsters
Groove to a lively family-friendly performance of music and comedy. Children’s Area.

2 pm: Writer-in-Residence Reunion
Former Writers-in-Residence share memories and read from the work created during their residencies. Carol Shields Auditorium.

1-4 pm: Maker Faire
Create, experiment and collaborate with Creation Stations throughout the library. Pick up a Maker Pass and enter our draw.

1-4 pm: Local History & PastForward
View highlights of the Local History collection and PastForward, our online archive of historical Winnipeg images. Local History Room.

Aboriginal Resources Area

Please make special note of the Naming Ceremony at 11am. The Aboriginal Reading-in-the-Round (main floor, children’s area), and Aboriginal Resources area (second floor), will receive Anishinaabemowin names in celebration of Millennium Library’s 10th year. Elders Barbara and Clarence Nepinak will provide a blessing and give both spaces new names. Please join us for the ceremonies. Refreshments to follow.

Hope to see you there!

Greetings from the new Writer in Residence

PATRICIA 162First of all, a big hello to readers of this blog! I’m the 2015-16 Writer-in-Residence at the library. I arrived a month ago from Whitehorse, Yukon, with my partner and our “Yukon trail mix” husky-lab. I’m meeting many different writers (emerging and published) and getting to know Winnipeg—the magnificent old trees, the river walks, and of course McNally Robinson’s. And oh yes, I’ve learned what shmoo (or schmoo) cake is :-)

I’m planning to write a blog entry every two weeks on all kinds of different writing-related topics. If you have a topic you’re interested in, or a question you’d like answered, please let me know at

You can also book an appointment to see me. If you’re stuck in your writing, or want to know how to start, I can give you some suggestions.

How do I write a novel?

No, you don’t need an outline. You don’t need to know how the story will end, or even where it’s going. In fact, the less you know at the beginning, the better!

That sounds paradoxical, I know. It flies in the face of everything we’re taught at school. But writing creatively requires being in what one author calls “a state of unknowing.” Someone else described the process as “like lighting matches in a dark cave that keep going out.”

For most writers the process is triggered by an image of some sort. It might come from an overheard conversation, a newspaper story, a memory, someone seen briefly on the street, a dream—from anywhere, in fact.

A recent short story of mine was triggered by an article about a couple who’d found 17 bodies of young men on a beach in southern Spain (and who turned out to be undocumented migrants). That image—bodies on a beach—stayed with me, and because it haunted me I knew I had to write a story.

But I wasn’t interested in simply retelling the actual events. I was more interested in asking: ‘What if …?’  What if the body (one body) is that of a young Moroccan, and the person who finds him is a 30-something Canadian woman on vacation? What does she do about the discovery? And what happens next?

That ‘what if,’ that sense of possibility and discovery, is the source of all story, whether we’re writers or readers. And as writers, we’re writing for ourselves first of all as the first reader of the work. The poet Muriel Rukeyser once said that she couldn’t find the poems she wanted to read, so she had to write them herself.

That is what any novel—indeed, any authentic work of art—ultimately is: the world, or a piece of it, filtered through your emotions and experience and values and beliefs. Give 10 different novelists the same idea, and I guarantee you’d end up with 10 very different novels.

So find the image that haunts you, and go from there. Start with a character, or a couple of characters. What emotional state are they in at the beginning of the novel?—that will determine what they notice and how they behave. Put them in a situation of instability—that is, they’ve either just experienced a change of some sort in their life or are about to. What happens next? What if …?

I’m available at the library until April 30, 2016. So keep writing – and keep those manuscripts coming in!


Canadian Stories Week in Manitoba

Believe it or not, Manitoba has a great literary tradition. Did you know that we launched the first Canadian Reader’s Choice Award for kids? Waaaayyyy back in 1990, it was the International Year of Literacy and Winnipeg Public Library along with several other organizations thought it would be a great idea to try to encourage children in grades 5 through 8 to read Canadian books and vote for their favorite. Why tweens? Because that is the time when children transition to reading independently. Just like learning to ride a bike, you need to travel on familiar territory and keep practising until you get the hang of it. Reading can be challenging for kids and with that thought in mind, MYRCA was created to make reading fun.

After all, voting for a favorite book is fun! Every May, readers are presented with a long list of 18 Canadian titles. Throughout the year, kids can read their way through the 2016 nominees. As long as tweens read 3 books, they are eligible to vote in March. No fees required.

This year, MYRCA wanted to have a huge 25th anniversary bash. “Let’s bring in 3 authors instead of just one,” they said. “Let’s have book tours,” they said. “Let’s have readings in the Winnipeg Public Library,” they said. “Let’s have a Speed-Date-with-an-Author dinner,” they said. “Let’s ask SAGE to have a Canadian Stories Theme,” they said. “Let’s get Ace Burpee,” I said.

Yes, over here in the MYRCA committee, we dream big.

But we also work hard. Winnipeg Public Library, Winnipeg Children’s Literature Roundtable (WCLR)   and Manitoba School Library Association (MSLA)  partnered with the MYRCA committee to plan a week’s worth of events for all levels of interest. We decided to bring in our winner, David Carroll, and both honour book winners, Kelley Armstrong and Tom Earle. Winnipeg Public Library hosted all three at the Millennium Library and 3 more in the branches; Carol Matas,  Larry Verstraete and Jennifer Dance. Rural school visits were organized for our local authors. The WCLR’s Authors at the Round Table Dinner gave authors and fans of all ages, a chance to mingle together. MSLA hosted all the authors for teachers on their professional development day, SAGE. And MYRCA hosted the most ambitious Award Ceremony in its history. We even got Ace Burpee!

Hard to believe it’s all over. After over a year of planning, countless meetings, thousands of emails, fundraising and worrying… you wonder, was it worth it?

Happy authors

You would have to ask the kids whose bright, shining, happy faces were beaming wildly with joy at meeting the authors whose books they loved. You would have to ask the teachers who rely on the MYRCA list every year to find great Canadian books for their classes. You would have to ask the authors who are ridiculously proud to be chosen by their readers for this award. You only need to search #MYRCA25 or #Cdnstoriesweek on Twitter to see for yourselves.

This year’s MYRCA winner was David Carroll for the novel Ultra.

In it, Quinn is running the longest race of his young life and he faces many obstacles. But, like his author, Quinn is determined to stay positive. Never give up! Always believe that you can do better!  Don’t let those little voices in your head bring you down! David’s inspiring and uplifting message was appreciated by everyone he met, including Ace Burpee. Ace’s reaction upon finding out that David can repeat sentences backwards, was to test it out. True Story! Clearly pleased that David had such an awesome hidden talent, Ace’s reaction was: “I have to hang out with writers more often.”

Happy David and Ace

Yes, you do Ace. And to all those kids who asked “how can I become a writer?” I think David Carroll’s answer was perfect: “have interesting friends.” Here at WPL, we have really interesting, supportive, fearless friends. Friends who dedicate their volunteer time to working for a common goal: literacy! When partnerships work out as well as they did last week, Manitoba wins!  And we can all be immensely proud of that.


Red, White and Blue

After watching “The Donald” in the first Republican Presidential debates of 2016, I decided to reread two books written by political columnists John Heilemann and Mark Halperin. The first, Game Change: Obama and the Clintons, McCain and Palin, and the Race of a Lifetime, tells the story of the 2008 presidential race.  The second, Double Down: Game Change 2012 tells the story of the 2012 Presidential race.

Both books are extremely readable, engaging, amusing and insightful.  Halperin and Heilemann had access to sources inside both campaigns in 2008 and 2012.  With their extensive access, the authors pull back the curtain on the inner workings of a campaign revealing flubs, gaffs and conflicts that may not have made it into the media.

Game Change The 2008 Democratic nomination was marked by a bitter tête à tête between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama.  One thing that was known about the Clinton campaign was that one of her greatest resources and handicaps was her husband Bill.  Halperin and Heilemann reveal Hillary had advisers “dedicated to managing the threat posed by Bill’s libido.” Barack Obama, less experienced, would commit his own gaffs such as his remark in Pennsylvania “They get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations.”  We also mustn’t forget John Edwards, the third candidate.  Edwards did well for a while but flamed out after it was revealed he was having an affair with a woman named Rielle Hunter.  Ultimately, Obama would win the Democratic nomination.

But, let’s face it, what most people remember about the 2008 Presidential campaign was Sarah Palin, the Republican VP pick.  According to Halperin and Heilemann, the vetting process for Palin was rushed and flawed.  Proper background checks were not done and important questions remained unanswered.  This rush to vet Palin for VP would dog the McCain campaign till the end.  Palin knew little about current world events and argued with her campaign staff.  Her poor performance in interviews, Katie Couric comes to mind, she blamed on poor preparation by staff.  According to Heilemann and Halperin, Palin was lackadaisical about prep work laid out by her staff. Her desire to do things her own way was also sometimes at variance with the decisions made within the McCain campaign.

Game Change the MovieGame Change was made into a TV movie in 2012 starring Julianne Moore as Sarah Palin, Woody Harrelson as Steve Schmidt, and Ed Harris as John McCain.  A great retelling of the book, the actors do a superb job of portraying the real characters.  Personally, I think Julianne Moore’s performance stole the show.  The Palin accent and mannerism are truly superb.



Double Down begins with a review of Obama’s time in office since 2008.  He had difficulties with the economy, congress and others factors that made his first term difficult. While he was the Democratic nominee for President, his difficulties ensured that his Presidential run would not be smooth. The book then goes on to detail the fun and games of the Republican Nomination race.  While the 2012 election had no Sarah Palin, the Republican candidates did all they could to fill the hole her departure created.  From Herman Cain’s 999 plan to Rick Perry’s oops and Newt Gingrich’s meteoric rise and then flaming crash, all provided excellent fodder for pundits and comedy writers.  Heilemann and Halperin go behind the scenes and describe the events that actually caused some of these mistakes. Such as Rick Perry’s major back surgery that caused him considerable pain and made him sleeping poorly.

Double DownPerhaps the strangest thing was Mitt Romney’s inability to clinch the Republican nomination quickly despite the fact that he was the most likely candidate.  Heilemann and Halperin go into Romney’s difficulty here as well. Romney was perceived as wooded and out of touch with the average voter. His efforts to make him seem one of the people weren’t helped when he was recorded saying 47% of Americans don’t pay tax and that my job isn’t to help those people. He made this statement to a large room full wealthy backers and potential backers.

When the battle between Obama and Romney started, it was not at all clear Obama was going to be the inevitable victor.  His poor performance in the first debate and the problem of the economy plagued his campaign.  The book reveals that pre debate session with Obama do not go well.  Obama consistently came off as professorial and became caustic and sarcastic in debate prep.  These tendencies were finally reined in just before the second debate. Obama won handily in the second debate and went on to win the election.

Both books are incredibly fun reads and if you’re looking for something to spice up things when you’re not watching CSPAN these are great choices.