The Press Gallery

K.I. Press on writing • literature • publishing

Category: Education and training

Taking the Scissors

I got a lot of use out the delete button over the past month while working on my thesis novel.

So far, the thesis process has gone down more or less like this:

  1. Draft one: 60,000 words. Written over two summers, including all the outlining and such.
  2. Draft two: 89,000 words. Included considerable cutting, so I added well over 30,000 words on the second draft, mainly for plot and character development. Written over one summer—one month, really.
  3. Draft three: 66,000 words. I did a few thousand words of cutting at the end of the summer, but mainly this was done over the Christmas break. Included three or four new scenes, but basically it was a cull.

And how sweet the cull is.

I did not cut any chapters. Maybe one or two small scenes went. This was good, old-fashioned dross excision. Big chunks of exposition got the turf, excessive adverbs and adjectives, saying the same thing three ways in case the reader didn’t get it the first time, wordy constructions, all that jazz. It’s by no means perfect – I expect many more drafts to come – but on my way to getting this good enough for thesis submission, I’m pleased with the operation.

I always knew it was theoretically possible to edit away a quarter (at least) of one’s shitty draft without losing anything. I can now vouch that this is true. Same story, three-quarters of the words.

Of course, I’ve still got those words somewhere. O, all those archived files of words we decide not to use! Not to mention all the half-written and abandoned Facebook posts. (Apparently, Facebook keeps them all. Somewhere.)

Before we had a computer at home, we had an electric typewriter with eraser tape. You could backspace and delete letters. This was exciting. When the roll of eraser tape was done, you could unroll it and examine all the letters that had been erased. My sister used to keep all the old rolls. She called it her collection of mistakes.



Gender Representation in Student Screenplays

In my intro screenwriting class, we do table reads of the students’ short scripts before workshopping them. This year I started to notice that men seemed to be cast more than women.

There’s lot of research out there about unequal representation of gender in a variety of media. The Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media is a good starting place–it specializes in research on gender representation in family films. It also has a good list of links to other research, including info on the dearth of female writers and directors.

The Playwrights Guild of Canada’s Equity in Theatre project exists to “remedy existing gender and related inequities in the theatre industry.” In the literary world, Canadian CWILA and U.S. VIDA keep track of whose books are being reviewed and by whom. And here’s an article about research on gender representation in children’s literature.

Many of these groups and research projects either take or are working towards an approach which tracks many varieties of inequity — by gender identity, race, sexual orientation, disability, and more.

So, I decided to see if the funny feeling I was getting in class played out by the numbers. I’d like to emphasize these are quite preliminary, rough numbers, using only the cast lists provided by the authors. “Lead” roles are determined only by the cast list and my gut feeling. I’d like to re-do this someday actually counting lines and perhaps taking other notes on the nature of the roles.

Narrators reading the scene directions were not counted. I counted speaking parts only, with the exception of silent films, where I counted all the parts. My sample size is relatively small, though bigger than many creative writing courses. Fifty-seven scripts were analyzed. I’ve analyzed only for gender.


One part was written for a trans man, about 48% parts for women, and 51% parts for men. So far, so good. Men and women both tended to write slightly more parts for their own gender, an effect slightly more pronounced with male authors, but which worked out into roughly equal numbers of parts since the class makeup is over 60% women.

That’s for overall parts. Things look at bit different when we look at leading roles, a difference which is probably the source of the funny feeling I was getting in class:


That would be about twice as many male leads as female leads. Here it is broken down by gender of author:

Male authors wrote male leads about three-quarters of the time — which I don’t find surprising. The most interesting number in all of this for me: women authors wrote leading roles for women only 39% of the time.

As an instructor, what can I do about this? Some ideas:

  • keep tracking numbers
  • include issue in curriculum before embarking on script writing  (e.g. readings from the links I posted at the top)
  • source and use more examples in class that feature women in leading roles (I admit I haven’t done this at all, and usually use commonly referenced or easily available examples)

Any other ideas?





The Joy of Literacy

I was sitting in my History of Publishing class while a woman gave a presentation on the history of literacy. The class was restless and confused. The presenter's visual aid–likely an overhead transparency–made no sense. The chart clearly depicted literacy steadily, and sometimes dramatically, decreasing over the ages.

Finally, someone asked a question. Was the chart accurate? Was she using some definition of literacy, some particular shade thereof, that we didn't know about?

She turned around and looked at her chart for a moment, then laughed. “Literacy, illiteracy–I always get those two things mixed up!”

Today is International Literacy Day. (Or, it was — I started writing this earlier, and then someone got up from her nap time.) Literacy is considered a human right, and as with all rights, I exhort us all to exercise it, and treat it with respect.

As I'll tell anyone who will listen, my daughter started reading this summer. This has probably been one of the greatest joys of my life, and I don't feel that my life is short on joy. Shortly after she was born, the health unit nurse dropped off the official provincial new-baby care package, which included a board book and a brochure extolling the virtues of reading to my child.

The Manitoba Government hardly needed to tell me that, but it's moments like that when my own privilege, and the privilege that my daughter grows up with every day, smacks me. It makes me sad that instructions must be given about reading to children. I know why, or think I do — inequality, historical and continued, that has affected and still affects access to education, of both formal and informal varieties.

My mother grew up in a remote, post-war farming community. Her father, typical of someone from his place and time, went to school up to grade eight. After grade eight, even if you weren't needed on the farm or in the house, there was no where else to go to school unless you wanted to be a priest. But he loved reading, and when the encyclopedia salesman came by, he bought the set. The neighbours considered this a wasteful extravagance–and it was extravagant. Encyclopedias had to be purchased on installment plans.

But my grandfather knew what he was doing. There weren't so many books available in that time and place. My mother read that set of encyclopedias cover to cover.

Where I grew up, the only bookstore in town was a Christian one, and as a Roman Catholic, it was not somewhere I could frequent (Catholics and Protestants didn't mix in THAT time and place). We'd buy books when we went to the bigger town down the highway, but often I just read what was available. My mother was doing her degree by distance ed, and had a stack of university English textbooks purchased through the mail — that's how I read Margaret Laurence. And the entire Norton Anthology of Poetry. At the town library, I rummaged around and tried something from every genre — I remember The Guns of Navarone. And a schlocky Judith Krantz novel containing some lesbian sex scenes that left me mildly alarmed. (Until then, homosexuality had been invisible to me. Time. Place. Roman Catholic.)

Even I am daunted by the absolute glut of reading material available now. And I'm not even talking about on-line–just regular old books are available to me in quantities that I would never have imagined growing up in a remote rural setting. For a long while, later, I didn't like to use the library because I wanted to own the books (and to write in the margins–yes, I'm a book-defacer). I wanted them to always be there. They made me feel comfortable and safe.

I've gotten over that now. In the past ten years at my house we've had to give away a thousand books, easily, simply because we don't have room for them all. (I'm sure we have at least a thousand more–and that's nothing compared to many book collectors we know.) Watching, and helping, my daughter learn to read makes me feel guilty for becoming complacent about reading. That's perhaps an irrational thought for someone who teaches writing skills every day, but I'm talking more about my own reading, and my own writing, which have dwindled more and more as I've entered those career/motherhood simultaneous crunch years that everyone's been talking about and turn out to be totally real.

Hard work certainly helps, but if you want to learn to write well, almost nothing, I believe, can substitute for a lifetime of reading. And so I feel pangs of something complicated–joy, regret about my own failings, excitement and trepidation about all the wonders that await–as I explain silent letters to a three-year-old (damn you, English!). I don't feel such essential pangs when I teach at college (sorry), probably because the students are not my offspring. But also because I don't have to give my daughter a grade. She is learning to read because it is simply essential to her–she has spent her whole life watching her parents read, and write, and must do the same.






GEC, Readings, Opportunities and Miscellany

Lazy Miscellaneous Post Alert!

CreCommers Reading

Amanda Hope of The Hope Files is organizing an all-CreComm reading over at Aqua Books at 4 pm, Saturday, Feb. 26. Sign up to read if you haven’t already! Talk to Amanda. And if you don’t want to read, come out to support everyone–a lot of the readers will be CreCommers just finishing their Creative Writing IPPs. And I’m told the bar will be open. (But don’t blame me if something goes wrong and it’s actually not.)

Mondo!Clarke still on

There’s still time to catch GEC! That’s George Elliott Clarke, and anyone who took CanLit from me or Chris Petty this year will be well aware of the man behind George and Rue. It’s all GEC all the time this week at Aqua Books during the Mondo!Clarke festival. Events you can still catch include GEC as the guest Friday night at Kelly Hughes Live!, a screening of GEC-penned film One Heart Broken Into Song (Clément Virgo, 1999) Saturday afternoon, and the Winnipeg Talking Radio Orchestra rendition of GEC’s opera
Beatrice Chancy Saturday night.

Readings Thanks

Many thanks to Julie Wilson, Jason Booth, Matt Duggan, Greg Berg, and everyone who helped out with the Julie Wilson and Matt Duggan visits earlier this month. Check out the first-year CreComm reactions on their blogs, via the CreComm Blog Network.

Two Reposts

Something I’ve been asked to repost: still space in Myrna Kostash’s creative non-fiction class at the CMU School of Writing this May.

Second repost is this opportunity from the Writers’ Collective: they’re looking for a Program Coordinator.

The Gemini Unjournal

This year’s installment of The Gemini Unjournal is now on. February to April, my Advanced Creative Writing class gives you a peek into the workshop by choosing each others’ writing to post with a brief introduction. Last year’s posts are also still up.

I’m sure I had more things on my list, but that’s lots for one lazy post. Have a good Reading Week!

Magazine Information Overload

It’s Magazine Project time again, as CreComm students are well aware. I’m not a CreComm grad, but I did do a very similar magazine project myself over at the Canadian Centre for Studies in Publishing. It’s mostly a blur, but I do remember our magazine was called Travel Canada. I’m fuzzy on the details. In fact, I have a feeling it was pretty fuzzy altogether—the kind of topic I would now tell students to stay away from.

I’ve already forced students to go visit the periodical collection at the main branch of the Winnipeg Public Library. Red River College does have a large collection too, but the bulk of it is over at Notre Dame Campus. Do check out the new periodicals room at Princess Street, er, I mean the Roblin Centre, not only because there are great magazines there, but because it’s a beautiful room.

A good place to get a feel for trade magazines is the library at the Canada/Manitoba Business Service Centre at 250–240 Graham Ave. They’ve got a wall full of nothing but magazines like Red Tractor Monthly and Ring Resizing.

And over in the Artspace building, the Manitoba Magazine Publishers’ Association (sponsor of our Magazine Award) has an ever-changing library of recent issues of Manitoba magazines, plus a small library of other resources. You need to make an appointment to check out their collection:

On-line, here are three good links for keeping up with what’s what in Canadian magazines:

  • The site of the Canadian Magazine Publishers Association, has both an industry side and a consumer side, the latter with an on-line catalogue of all member magazines by category (but remember, not every Canadian magazine is necessarily a member), and the former with all sorts of useful stuff like research papers and fact sheets on the effectiveness of magazine advertising, Canadian magazine statistics, and links to government resources for magazines.
  • The Canadian Magazines blog offers “News, Views and Reviews of the Canadian Magazine Industry.” As I write this, its most recent post is on the launch of the new online literary mag The Winnipeg Review. Good magazine-y blogroll too.
  • Masthead is the Canadian magazine for Canadian magazines, and its online presence,, feature several different magazine-themed blogs, including one just about magazine covers. (Below, the cover most recently featured on said blog.)

Mag cover


I didn’t post last weekend while I was at the CCWWP founding conference, though anyone who follows me on Twitter cannot have failed to notice my incessant tweeting about it. Many jokes were made about the CCWWP needing to be on the back of a Cold War–era hockey jersey. It stands for Canadian Creative Writers and Writing Programs, and an association just formed last weekend at a gathering of roundabouts 100 creative writing instructors (also writers, in their other lives) from across Canada.

It was a fantastic conference for many reasons. You can get the highlights from scrolling back in my Twitter feed. The three keynote addresses by Greg Hollingshead, Aritha van Herk, and Rosemary Sullivan were appropriately show-stealing. (There’s nothing worse than a keynote that you wish you’d skipped; such addresses make it seem like conference organizers have no idea what they are doing; but no such issues here.)

The overall sentiment I took away: stop blaming all things “e” for killing reading, writing, publishing, and the book. It’s an industry/art/life perpetually in peril. Get over it and just write a good book.

CCWWP was also probably the most soul-renewing thing I’ve done for a while, since one of the great ironies of teaching writing is that you don’t really have time to be a writer any more. Stephanie Bolster discussed this last point in the conference’s closing panel, and quoted Margaret Atwood’s assertion that you can’t be a mother, a writer, and have a job: you can only choose two. Stephanie argued that you can do all three, just, er, not all at the same time. (I had to take my baby to the conference and get my mom to crash in my hotel room for childcare.)

It was like it had been so long since I had been among my people, I had forgotten that I missed them. And it really made me want to work on my next book, which balances precariously on the edge of a bookshelf in my cubicle in several disorganized piles of drafts in different stages of discompletion (sigh; maybe next summer).

National conferences these days: a good way of actually putting real faces to Facebook profiles. Besides meeting a bunch of people I’d previously met only electronically, I also reacquainted myself with writers I hadn’t seen in 10 or 15 years—or more, in the case of Lynne Van Luven, whom I recalled had interviewed me about my high school creative writing anthology when she ran the book pages at the Edmonton Journal.

It looks like Toronto in 2012. Go writers!

PS  My photos sucked so I’m not posting any.

Writer-in-Residence David Elias

David Elias will join us at Red River College Princess Street as Writer-in-Residence from November 8 to December 10. He will be available to read and comment on students’ creative writing.


David Elias

David Elias


David is the author of four books of fiction. His work has been nominated for a number of awards, including The Books In Canada First Novel Award for Sunday Afternoon and The Journey Prize for his short story, “How I Crossed Over.” His short stories and poetry have appeared in literary magazines and anthologies across the country, and in addition to writing he spends time as an editor, writer-in-residence, mentor and creative writing instructor.

A veteran mentor of the Gemini Retreat program, David’s guidance has received rave reviews from past students. His services as Writer-in-Residence are open to students in all programs, whether they are working on major creative writing projects, class creative writing assignments, or extracurricular creative writing.

David will comment on poetry, fiction, and creative non-fiction manuscripts. Students interested in submitting their work to the Writer-in-Residence should follow the guidelines below.

A welcome reception will be held on Tuesday, November 9: more information to follow.

Submission Guidelines

If you’re interested in submitting material for David to consider, please follow these guidelines.

    It should be typed and double-spaced on white 8-1/2 x 11 paper. Include your last name and page number at the top of each page. 

    Maximum length: 15 pages, or one chapter of a novel, or up to six poems.

    Limit of one manuscript per person.

    Please send a copy and retain your original manuscript.

    Include a cover page with a few words about your writing. Include your name and email.

Manuscripts can be dropped off to David’s mail slot in W-302, or sent by email to David will contact you to make an appointment to discuss your work.

Teaching the Trade

This past week I took a fairly enjoyable class in “Instructional Methods” along with 19 other instructors, mostly from Red River College. We spent most of the week listening to each other teach. We were a class of guinea pigs, testing out our colleagues’ lessons. I now know only a very little bit about the following: filling a syringe, setting up a surveying instrument, wiring household receptacles (also known as plugs), how digital clocks work, the best way to sharpen a knife, and how to micropipette test samples into those little test tubes in a rack like on CSI.

Now, for some reason, I’ve had trouble getting students interested in poetry in the past. It was the first thing I tried to teach when I was hired, and I made a lot of mistakes in my approach. So I tried a new concise and snazzy poetry lesson on the guinea pigs last week–people with, ostensibly, less interest in poetry than even my Cre-Comm students–with much success. I had mechanics and electricians writing poems within 15 minutes–and it wasn’t even for marks. Someone even brought in a new poem the next day, unbidden, and read it at the end of his electrical lesson.

The other thing I tried out was a proofreading lesson, which, well, was not quite as exciting and for which I still got a lot of glazed faced (still needs work, I guess, but I don’t want to give up on trying to teach a little proofreading).

I hope to learn more about the ever exciting field of teaching creative writing at the inaugural conference of the Canadian Creative Writers and Writing Programs association, in Calgary and Banff this coming Thanksgiving weekend.

Alive and Writing Workshop

Students! If anyone is thinking about becoming a Manitoba Writers Guild member anyway–and I highly recommend it–here’s your chance to get a great workshop with the esteemed Catherine Hunter into the bargain:

Alive & Writing:
Lecture by Catherine Hunter
+ workshop for university & college students

Saturday, April 10, 2010
218-100 Arthur Street (Burns Family Classroom)

11 am – noon (open to public by donation):
Writer Catherine Hunter presents “Alive and Writing,” a lecture on sensory

Noon – 3 is for university and college students only:
– Networking lunch to learn more about the writing life & the Manitoba Writers’ Guild
– Writing workshop with Catherine Hunter: “Imagery and Voice”

$30 registration fee includes the workshop, lunch and a one-year student
membership to the Manitoba Writers’ Guild!

To register, email or call 944-8013

My advice

I’m going to fulfill Russell Smith’s predictions in this column by posting the column:

The market for fiction shrinks every year, the attention paid to novels by the media diminishes monthly, booksellers demand ever-lower prices, everybody in the industry says it’s the worst it’s ever been. And yet more academic or private creative-writing programs are created every year, and the demand for advice on becoming a novelist remains furiously high. Indeed, the selling of advice on writing has become a self-supporting industry: I know young writers who are doing masters of fine arts in creative writing so that they can in turn become creative-writing teachers in similar programs. Any magazine article like this one generates Internet responses as lengthy as any novella. The discussion of creative writing seems more popular than creative writing itself.

He’s probably right that there is more money in the dream of being a writer than there is in actually writing. Are would-be writers more willing to spend money on trying to “break in” than they are willing to spend money on actually reading books?

As a creative writing instructor, I am guilty of perpetuating this discussion. But I’d be the first person to tell you that the best way to become a better writer–other than just by writing–is to read. This point was driven home in class today during Sarah’s enthusiastic presentation on Francine Prose’s book Reading Like a Writer.