Research #7: Why I quit Google Alerts (which seemed a very good idea at the time)

Every morning for the past few months I woke to find links to about 30-50 recent news articles that related in one way or another to homelessness.

If I didn’t get through them all in the morning – bookmarking some, printing out others, and trying to read through all the selected ones at least once – I tried to get through the rest of them in the late evening before bed.

I started and ended my day with lots of hard information – and harder news. And sometimes – surprisingly often – some good news, too.

(And in between, I was juggling the actual work on the book with my job at the shelter. )

Every day, all day was about homelessness.

But it started taking its toll. I dreaded turning on my computer first thing in the a.m. And found I was not sleeping well at night.

So I’ve quit. Not the job. Nor the book… as the deadline inches ever closer. But I have taken back control of what I read, download and absorb. (This on top of other materials and information that comes my way by other means.)

Now I do it on my time. With a break of some sort either before or after. 

I have cancelled the four alerts. Instead, every few days I very intentionally do a Google search, using one of three subject headings. I spend 45-minutes max. scrolling through, picking out the items that either reflect most closely the topic I am writing about or researching right now, or those that grab me because they offer something new I have not yet delved into.

Then I don’t do it again for another few days.

I have taken back control of what I read, download and absorb. And when.

Over the past three months there has been a lot of repetition in what Google Alerts have  thrown up. Homelessness resisters rally. Shelters get closed. Or open. People speak up. Businesses pitch in. Government set priorities. Researchers publish reports. Campers get moved on. Helpers step forward. Homeless people get fed, clothed, provided with medical attention, food, showers when they need it. Or not. People talk. Individuals tell their story. Or state their case. Children show compassion. Bureaucrats agonize or patronize. Funders provide money. Or withdraw it. Neighbours get up in arms. Or take up arms to help. People collect money. Videos get made. And panned or praised. Newspapers publish letters to the Editors…

I can’t get it all. I can’t read and absorb everything, and still have the energy to keep going.

I no longer dread opening my mail. Instead of being burdened by alerts, almost every day I am buoyed up by responses to my queries and requests. Yes. Please use our photos. Certainly, give me a call. Of course, I will connect you with the person you need to speak to. I am happy to forward that piece of information, study or contact info. Or you can find it here. Do let me know if you need anything more. Keep me posted. Keep going…

Google Alerts proved to be really useful, as long as I needed them

But I’m glad to be done with them, for now. So I can get on with my job, my book, and my life.

Working hard vs hardly working

Sometimes it’s just bloody hard work.

But that’s no reason to stop. 

I’d rather do something hard that was important to me, than drift on doing the easy stuff that just does not matter – to me or anyone else.

Even so. Sometimes this project is just bloody hard work. So I recall – once again – Anne Lamott’s story in her wonderful book Bird by Bird. 

“Thirty years ago my older brother, who was ten years old at the time, was trying to get a report on birds written that he’d had three months to write. [It] was due the next day. We were out at our family cabin in Bolinas, and he was at the kitchen table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books on birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my father sat down beside him, put his arm around my brother’s shoulder, and said. ‘Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.'”

And I take her father’s advice to heart.

These days, when I sit down to work I don’t tackle the whole thing at once. I pick a topic, a section, just one simple fact I need to research or write about. And I ‘just get on with it,’ as my own mother might have suggested. 

(Building the book will come later, once I’ve had a chance to review all its various parts and figure out the best spot for each one.)

So today I’m reading up on street newspapers. 

There are more than 100 worldwide, I learned from the International Network of Street Papers’ website. The first one documented was in New York in 1989. But others in other cities may well have started earlier.

Street newspapers usually serve three purposes.

  1. The provide a small income for the sellers who buy them from the publisher at cost, and sell them at a small profit.
    (In the case of the Vancouver publication Megaphone, sellers pay 75 cents a copy and sell them for $2.00. Most of them working regular patches somewhere in the city, where their customer get to know them, and they get to know many of their customers.)
  2. They offer a voice for low-income and homeless people who get to contribute writing and artwork that documents and explores their own lives.
  3. The publications themselves serve to share information about homelessness and poverty-related issues, and advocate for change.

So today I read a few pages of research, wrote a few hundred words, contacted three street newspaper publishers and associations for pics, and in the process set one bird free. 

Excuse me now. I’ve got to fly.


Research #6: Finding my way through the maze

Working on a topic as challenging as homelessness means I often get overwhelmed by both the complexity of the issue, and the need to distill it down into concepts and language that are easily understood by young readers.

My process so far has been to read and study the specific topic I am focussing on, commit to the page anything and everything that I think I need to include, then back up and edit that section or passage for clarity. At that point I also identify information that I still need, subjects that will need a graphic or photo, and any primary research I still need to do – and the people or organizations I might need to contact – to ensure I have a full picture of the issue.

I have also done some research into strategies and systems for researching and writing nonfiction. Perhaps the most useful has been an article called How to Simplify Complex Ideas by Henneke, on the Enchanted Marketing Website. Although the article is intended for authors of blogs, it’s applicable to non fiction in general.

In short, Henneke’s five steps are:

  1. Ask the right questions – and make each one small enough to answer in 1,000 words.
  2. Reduce the clutter
  3. Rewrite and rewrite again
  4. Organize
  5. Draw Pictures

As my book is built around the ‘Five W’s and How’ of the issue, I found myself halfway there to framing research questions that helped me delve into the causes, affects and responses to homelessness. (I have consciously decided to avoided using the word ‘solutions’, using ‘responses’ instead – as sometimes they work, and sometimes they don’t. Even if the intent is there.)  

Henneke’s first guideline has really helped me drill down into each specific topic, thereby reducing the clutter and the amount of time I spend lost in the maze of information, stats and opinion.

Photo: The maze of Horta, Barcelona. By Carlos Lorenza

Research #5 – KIS(S) Keeping it Simple


After spending an hour trying to come up with a kid-friendly description of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, I did a random online search for ‘Maslow’s Hierarchy for Kids’ and came across a useful article on Wiki Kids Search.

Snip20190508_39I often suggest that writers use kids’ non fiction book as a launching point for research on difficult or complex topics, but had not discovered this online tool before.

Lists of library online databases (which I consider are the most under-used and under-appreciated of any public library resource) usually include several for kids, useful for homework and general research. And I’ve often them found them invaluable in the past.

But the Wiki Kids Search gave me what I needed this time.

I did not spend too much time checking out other topics. But did come away with some useful information expressed in an easily-digestible way for my current project. And will add this to my resource list for future research use.


Finding a balance

The topic of homelessness is a big one. And whatever reading and I research I do reveals it to be more intractible and pervasive than I could ever imagined. Even though I work ‘in the business’.

But I am learning lots, and in the process discovering just how much I can take in one day, and still come out on the side of thinking that people living in precarious situations can find solutions to their problems.

And that I can develop the tone and establish the boundaries for what I need to share in the book.

I’ve now implemented a bit of a schedule so I can manage both my work and my emotions.

1. In any given week I alternate research and writing about the complexities of the issue, with a close look at all the good that organizations and individuals are doing.
Today I learned about Netherlands inventor’s Bas Timmer’s ‘Sheltersuit’ – which has already been distributed to 6,000 homeless people in the Netherlands and Europe, and asylum seekers in Sarajevo and Greece.

2. The issue of homelessness is huge in my community of Nanaimo. And there are many social network platforms where this – and other social issues – are heatedly discussed. I’ve withdrawn from all the groups which attract the most vitriol and negative thinking about the causes and conditions of homelessness, and those affected by it.

Being exposed to such mean spiritedness does nothing to help me frame the subject in a  way that meets my goals of ‘providing information, challenging attitudes and encouraging empathy’.

(Although the ‘Myth Buster ‘sidebars in the book will address a number of common misconceptions I hear voiced over and over again.)

3. I alternate work sessions with other non-book related activities. Starting with a ninety-minute work session early in the morning, another ninety minutes in late morning or early afternoon, then again in the evening. In between I do some work, (also homelessness-related, but very specific work that makes a difference in 30 shelter guests’ lives every day), read a book, do an errand, take a walk, make a meal…

34. When I’m out and about in the community I do the one thing I recommend everyone try once in a while. Connect with someone on the street – with a smile, a quick conversation, a small donation. 

Many people who live on the street say that the human interaction is just as important to them as whatever donations of cash or food they might receive.

Research #4 – Those ‘aha’ moments

Most days I start work by scanning 10 to 30 links thrown up by three different Google Alerts that I’ve established. All have to do one way or another with the children’s nonfiction book on homelessness that I’m working on.

Some days it’s depressing work. So many communities struggling in so many ways with so many issues related to the problem. Growing numbers of unsheltered and unhoused people. More and more evidence of the impact of addictions and compromised mental health. So many individuals and neighbourhoods opposing efforts to create more shelter beds, more services and supports.

The scope of my research covers all of N. America. So every day there are a lot of links to follow, articles to read, and determinations to be made about if/how what I’ve just learned relates to my book.

And if it does, how to archive it and track it so I can find it when I need it.

Some days it can be hard going.


Photo: Readers Digest

But I’d estimate that for every five ‘bad news’ stories, there is at least one good one. One of the  most heartening elements of  my research is just how many individuals and organizations are coming up with innovative and effective ways of supporting homeless people. Like this one. Nine-year-old year-old Californian Khloe Thompson was so affected by the homeless women she encountered in her neighbourhood, that she set up a charity called Khloe Kares. So far she has raised over $10,000, some of which has gone towards making homemade bags which she fills with toiletries and other sundries to distribute in her community.

Another bonus to this kind of scattershot research is that it also throws up information that might not directly relate to my subject, but is compelling enough to take note of, and get back to.

Today a CBC news post alerted me for the first time to Metis road allowance settlement. When Metis people were deprived of their homes through the ‘scrip’ program, many settled in the ten-foot road allowance proscribed by the Northern Land Survey, alongside roads and railways lines. 

This led me to check into the subject further through the Indigenous Peoples of Canada website

At first glimpse, I was not sure how and if I could use this information, fascinating – and chilling – as it is. But then I thought of the connection of our modern-day tent cities to the shantytowns of the Depression, and how actions of – or inaction by – governments and bureaucracies often lead people to find their own solutions and create their own communities.

Research #3: Keeping track of online sources


From the beginning of this project – when it was still a tiny germ in my mind – I knew that one of the most important things I needed to do was keep track of all my sources of online information.

It’s not enough to create bookmarks of websites, blogs, database articles, etc. Online material changes, it may get deleted or moved. I therefore keep a Research Master File, using either a Word table or Excel spreadsheet.

For every piece of info. I find online that might be useful, I note:

  1. The title of the article, paper or file and the author name.
    In this way, if worst comes to worst, I can probably track it down again later with just this information.
  2. The name of the website and its url.
    Both is better than just one or another. 
  3. The date I last accessed it.
    This is important. One of the last things I do before I submit a piece of work that is based on online research is check all those links again so I know whether they are current and I can rely on them for fact checking or for including in the body of the final work.
  4. A few notes about the most important content and how and where I think I might use it.
    It’s quite likely that I find something that I think might be useful at one point, but weeks later forget all together a) what I was looking for when I found it or b) why I thought it might be useful.
  5. The name of the hardcopy folder when I’ve saved a printed copy of the article or page*.
  6. A column, left blank at this point, where I can later note where this information is used (chapter and/or page#) in the final  MS .

I know this creates a lot of paper, but I then *print out a copy of the website page or article, date it, and file it in the appropriate hardcopy folder. This may seem unnecessary duplication and a waste of paper, but sometimes it’s quicker just to grab the hardcopy to review rather than to go back to the source, and I need to have a copy in case the electronically archived/bookmarked material disappears.

Lastly, I create an electronic bookmark, saved in a named folder, so I can find the source material again if I need it without resorting to the Research Master File or my hard copies.

(I do also from time to time print out a copy of the list all the bookmarks for this project, which I will admit might be ‘surplus to requirement’).

Sounds like a lot of work, and perhaps OTT organization. But I find that starting out by developing processes for documenting and archiving research sources and content saves me the time and effort of having to make it up as I go along.


Research # 2 – Mining Wikipedia for facts

Not everyone knows that the online encyclopedia Wikipedia is a collaborative – and not wholly authoritative – endeavour. Almost anyone and everyone can contribute and edit articles. Which means that not everything you may find there is definitive or accurate.

But I certainly don’t overlook it as a source for research information.

Rather, I use the footnotes and references at the bottom of any article of interest to use as leads for attributed information I might find useful.

For the purposes of this post, I randomly selected the topic of Pasty. The article is obviously written by someone with a fondness for the traditional Cornish takeout food, and quite a bit of knowledge.

My grandmother’s pasties set the bar high for any I’ve eaten since, and I like to think of myself as the pasty expert, based not only on the number of the meat and potato-filled pastries I’ve eaten, but also on the ‘facts’ I hold to be true. For example, that their crust is intended for thick miners’ hands, the men who carried them underground for their lunch, after which the ‘carrying handle’ could be discarded. And that the only proper ingredients are potato, swede, beef and onions at one end, apple and raisins at the other – despite what the ubiquitous mass-produced Cornish pasty manufacturers (many of whose products are all made across the River Tamar in England) may suggest by their brie and apple, or sausage and cranberry offerings.


Cornish Pasty

But instead of digging too deeply into the article to see what the author had got right or wrong, I scrolled down to the References at the bottom of the page. All 73 of them. Plus links to four books and two other websites.

This is where I am most likely to find useful resources, the origins of which can be followed, explored, evaluated, attributed and footnoted if I ever want to publish a treatise on the issue, and have my work stand up to the scrutiny of a fact checker.

So while Wikipedia is not at the top of the list of sources for secondary or tertiary research, it’s a useful place to check out if you need to know who already knows more about your topic than you do. 

Miners enjoying their Cornish pasty lunch.

Research #1 – Google Alerts


I’m going to be spending the next year deep in research of all kinds for a project that will shortly be announced.

Until then, I have created a number of Google alerts, using four variations of search terms. Which means every morning I receive four emails with between four dozen and 100 links to various articles and references to my subject.

Right now I spend about an hour every morning browsing through them. The ones I think might be useful, I bookmark. Soon I will have to schedule a good hunk of time each week to review each saved item, determine if I will need the information and how I will use, and archive the material I plan to use.

What I love most about research, even these Google-generated items, are the surprises that leap out at me. Referring me to something I had not thought of being associated with my topic. Links to great work being done by wonderful people. Trivia and miscellanea.

The secret will be figuring out what I need, what is too much, and when enough is enough.



Back in school


With no new book out in the past couple of years, requests for school visits and library presentations had dried up. But then I received an invitation to present to Grade Three to Seven students in two Surrey schools.

EbbLast week I really enjoyed the opportunity to strut my stuff, telling the creation story Why the Tides Ebb and Flow, talking about my early reading and writing, and sharing information about my books with gyms-full of students.

I’ve also been back in the classroom lately teaching a short course called Writing From Life to participants in Vancouver island University’s Elder College program. And have a workshop on research skills coming up at the may Federation of BC Writers Spring Writes Festival.

I’ve spent too much time recently with my head in stories that seem to be going nowhere and a job which, while very rewarding, is also very demanding. 

It’s been nice to be reminded where my heart is – connecting with readers and writers. I hope to be able to do even more of it in the coming months.

LP’s Book Club

I read a lot. And quite fast. So it’s not unusual for me just a couple of weeks later to remember a book but not its author or title.

At one point I started a notebook to keep track of everything I read, but that was a hit and miss kind of thing.

I did join Goodreads, but as I try to keep my social networking to one platform, I only maintain my page there erratically. And I have never really got the hang of Instagram.

So FB is my usual destination for sharing anything, and learning what others in my world – both the real and the virtual – are up to.

As a way to keep up myself with what I’ve been reading, share with others, and to elicit some kind of easy response I have created a new Album on my LPwordsolutions page.

Check it out. Comment on what I’ve been reading and share your own recommendations.


Taking lessons from visual art

I’ve been dabbling in sketching lately. And even though I know I will get farther by putting in time actually drawing rather than reading about it, I can’t avoid picking up a how-to book from time to time.

This week it was a $6 second hand copy of Lessons in Pictorial Composition by Louis Wolchonok from Bucknucks Books in Qualicum Beach.

Scanning the first chapter on the way home, I came across this:

“Every composition expresses some degree of tension. This element adds a dynamic quality, which gives added life to a picture. I have divided tension into six type of opposition. <>
It must be understood that most  paintings are not limited to one type of tension. Generally speaking the greater the number of forces working in opposition in a pictorial composition, the great its dynamic quality.”


Wolchonok lists the tensions as:

  1. Opposition of weights
  2. Opposition of direction
  3. Opposition of shapes
  4. Opposition of values
  5. Opposition of moods
  6. Opposition of colour

It seems that I only have to substitute the word ‘story’ or ‘writing’ for ‘picture’ or ‘painting’, and I can find a parallel in writing – whether it’s fiction or nonfiction. I am going to have to spend a little time determining which story elements might equate with ‘weights’, ‘direction’ and ‘shapes’ in his theory, but values and moods easily find an equivalent – in my mind – in my work. And Wolchonok’s approach to creating tension in any piece of work is a good reminder of what drives story and helps a piece of work resonate with the reader.



NaNoWriMo2018: My Three a Day


In this case, I’m not talking about meals in a day. I’m talking NaNoWriMo Sprints.

I believe they are designed as a way for NaNoWri-mers to motivate each other to put in the time and come out with a bunch of words.

I’m racing against myself.

I read somewhere, quite long ago, that for many people a 90-minute working stretch is the most profitable period of time to commit to one task. And it’s worked for me for quite a while.

For the purposes of NaNo, and during a very busy November at work and in life, I’ve been aiming for 3 x 30-minutes Sprints a day, writing against the clock, using one of the actions identified in my Writing Down the Page exercise – which is as far as I’ve got with outlining or plotting this baby.

It turns out that my average production rate in a 30-minute stretch is 1,000 words. Work it out. If I managed to do Three a Day, I’d accomplish over 3,000 words, well over the average of daily 1,667 words required to meet the 50,000 word goal by the end of the month.

I’m lucky if I do manage two sprints. But even at that, I might stand a decent chance of making the Finish Line in 13 days.



NaNoWriMo 2018: Then What? – a quick plotting exercise

Whenever I find myself treading water on a piece of fiction – can’t figure out where to go next, how to get where I think I am going, of am just plain bored with where I find myself – I fall back on a practise that came out of a workshop presented by the dynamic duo of Jack Remick and Robert Ray.


It’s called Writing Down the Page… or, as I call it And Then

I begin with a very brief summary line to conveys my starting place (sometimes picking it up from the MS), then riff down the page one line at a time, each of which begins And Then

As this is a brainstorming exercise I don’t judge or edit what gets listed, but I do try to start each line with an active verb – which helps provide momentum for the scene.

This is what one riff looked like, when I was stuck in place on a chapter book entitled Cheese Dreams.

Set-up: Brianne and her brother Peter have just arrived at the new apartment over the shop that their dad will be running as a cheese shop and deli. His businesses always fail, forcing the family to move, yet again, which means Brianne finds it hard settling in and making friends. She hopes this will be the last time they have to move if her Dad can make a success of the deli.

Their mother starts unpacking in the upstairs apartment.

And Then (AT) Brianne follow their father downstairs to inspect the shop
AT – When Dad unlocks the door, the alarm goes off
AT – B is sent upstairs to ask her mom for the alarm code
AT – Her mom tells her its in her dad’s pocket
AT – B races back downstairs to tell her dad.
AT – Brother cries because the shop alarm hurts his ears

AT – Their dad finds the code, punches it in
AT – the police arrive
AT – While Dad huddles with the police showing proof he owns the shops
AT – Brie and her brother go inside to look around the premises
AT – Their father joins them, to show them where the coolers and the counter will go
AT – As leads them out, Brie notices what looks like a mouse hole in the skirting board
AT – She hurries her dad outside before he sees it
AT – Back upstairs Breanne wonders how she can get rid of the mice before they ruin her dad’s business by eating all the cheese.

This seems – and is – a very simplistic example, but the process can be helpful in keeping you going when it feels as if you’ve come to a dead stop. And it can work even better when you get someone else to throw ideas at you. Don’t judge them, just keep And Then-ning until you run out of steam. 

Then you can go back and see what elements work to bring the scene alive.

NaNoWriMo 2018: Give them faces

When I teach Writing Historical Fiction to school students, I first give them a whole raft of pictures of people’s faces of many eras, pulled from all kinds of sources.

I get them to pick the picture of a face they ‘like’ – one that appeals to them for any reason – then their first assignment is to create a frame for the picture, then name the subject. That person will be their main character.

In a similar exercise, when I first start a story I go in search of a face to represent the main character.

In this case, I selected this person to be a stand in for my character Rowena Cole. (She is fact, Nancy Talbot Clark, the first women to graduate from medical school in the US in 1852).

I like the vulnerable, but somewhat determined look in her eye. The plainness of her hair, and for the purposes of writing THE ROUGH DRESS, the man’s hand on her shoulder which conveys an element of the story.

I will probably print out her picture, and put it in this frame, the same one I used to house the picture of Elsie Miller, the main character in my midgrade historical novel SILVER RAIN.


Elsie Miller, protagonist of SILVER RAIN

If Nancy Talbot Clark could overcome all kinds of obstacles to forge a career in medicine, I can surely write 50,000 words!

NaNoWriMo2018: The perils and pleasures of research


As THE ROUGH DRESS is in three parts – one set in rural England, the second in the inner city of London, and the third in Ontario (all in the mid-1800s) – there’s lots of research involved.

Which I love – often to the detriment of the story. I get so involved that the time goes by and I have no writing time left. Or I end up with so much research material that I have no idea how I might use it all.

I’ve partially solved this by:
1.   Separating the processes into two separate working sessions. I work on research for 60 to 90 mins in the morning, then do the writing for the same period of time later in the day. (Reversed today, as I woke early at 4:45 am and put in my writing time then.)

2. When I reach a place in the draft MS when I need more information or want to confirm a factual detail, rather than stopping and reverting to research mode, I type in a double ?? – or insert a footnote to specify the info I need – then keep writing. At the beginning of each research session I review the MS for the ?? and footnotes, and only then pursue the information.

3. For the month of November, the only reading I will be doing is research-related. Books on my To Read list for this project include, among others:

  • Voyages of Hope: The Saga of Bride-Ships by Peter Johnson
  • London Labour and the London Poor by William Mayhew
  • Across the Waters: Ontario Immigrant Experiences  1820 – 1850 by Frances Hoffman 
  • Roughing it in the Bush by Susannah Moodie
  • The Makers of Canada: The Pioneers of Old Ontario by W.L. Smith
  • The Rural Life of England by William Hewitt

And just to ensure I don’t get non fiction overload, I will also probably reread

  • The Frightened Man by Kenneth M. Cameron (an adult mystery set in Victorian London – wonderful voice, and great relationship between the protagonist Denton and his manservant Atkins)
  • The Agency (and others) YA series by YS Lee
  • Bleak House or David Copperfield
  • and any other new Victorian-era fiction I come across (suggestions welcomed)


And I will read, reread and savour all over again, Margaret Atwood’s wonderful poem Progressive Insanities of a Pioneer, the first piece I read that gave me what felt like an authentic feeling for the pioneer experience.


NaNoWriMo – In at the Deep End

I finally figured if I was ever going to reach The End on any of my current projects, November might be the month to do it.

So I am using National Novel Writing Month to work on The Rough Dress, a Victorian-era novel built around the true story of Urania House – the ‘House of Fallen Women’ – established by novelist Charles Dickens and philanthropist Angela Coutts to help rehabilitate women who had fallen foul of the law, and prepare them for emigration to ‘The Colonies’ as domestics.

It’s not quite cheating. I’m digging into past Shitty First Drafts, rewriting scenes as I go, with the goal of having a somewhat coherent 50,000-word story by the time I’m done.

Why The Rough Dress, when I do have at least two other novels in various stages of dress and undress? Because it has a connection to Canada, in that three of the women from Urania House did emigrate to Canada, so the third part of the book will feature Rowena Cole’s settlement in Ontario – hopefully making the book easier to sell to a Canadian publisher.

Not that finishing the damn thing is in any way guarantee that The Rough Dress will ever find its way into readers’ hands.

But I do know that if I don’t finish it, it has no chance at all.


Philanthropist Angela Coutts

So I had better get to it.

Novelist Charles Dickens

Novelist Charles Dickens

When less is (maybe) more


I just received an email from the presenter of a photography workshop I will be taking in August. It includes useful info about the wheres and whens of the various sessions, what he expects to cover, and what we’ll be doing.

It also included a list of what I need to know about my camera before I start. Much of which assumes that my camera is much more sophisticated than it is –  and that I am much more tech savvy than I will ever be.

The truth of it is that I will be using the most simple point and click camera, which has worked for me for the past few years – traveling, taking family pics and in my early ventures into street photography. And that any ‘post-production/editing’ work I will be doing will be with only the very simple tools supplied by iPhoto on my iPad and laptop.

I long ago gave up trying to understand f-stops, exposure, shutter speeds or any other camera-speak. Or trying to find my way around Photoshop. And assumed I would never need to.

Just as when I took up sketching and decided that I wanted to travel with only one sketch pad, two pencils, one sharpener and one eraser – I also eschew the paraphernalia of photography for reasons of economics, storage space in my small apartment, time to grapple with the learning curve of new tools and techniques, and ability to haul the stuff from one place to another on my arthritic back.

(In fact, when I go shopping for pants, I always take my camera to ensure they have a pocket that it will fit into. (MEC’s Sandbagger pants are perfect, with a thigh-height pocket with a zipper).

I am looking forward to the weekend of taking photos and learning from a pro. And I know there will be moments when I will suffer pangs of camera-envy along with a degree of tech-talk overload. But it’s the outcome that matters to me. That I have a good time taking pictures over the weekend, and bring home new insights, a few new skills in composition and technique, and a handful of photos that are about just a little more than they are about – a quality I look for in my writing, sketching and photography.



This is a fossil grinder in Morocco. He has been working at this trade for 35 years. 35 years of inhaling stone dust, with only a cloth covering to protect his face. ‘But at least he has a job,’ as one fellow traveler said. I did not buy any fossils…
Photo: L Peterson

Reverse Outlining: A revision tool that might work for you


The challenges of revision came up at yesterday’s critique group session, and again this morning on a Facebook page.

I developed my Reverse Outlining process a number of years ago as a way to dig into specific craft elements of the text of a manuscript of one of my kids’ books, and have since found it useful as a way to identify how a work in progress develops on the page, and provide info about what to do next.

While this  process was originally designed for fiction, I have had a couple of memoir writers use it successfully, too. You are free to use it, share it, and adapt the chart and the notes for your own use. If you are a professional editor writing coach, please ensure you credit me.

2018 Rev Outline chart

2018 Reverse Outlining notes

And if you find this useful in your work, please comment here, or drop me a 1-2 line testimonial which I can use to help pitch workshops in which I demonstrate how Reverse Outlining works.