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Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Day 99: Can creative writing be taught

My Project: 365 Creative Writing Prompts

Day 99: Can creative writing be taught

Joe, a Facebook member, posted this question today … ‘What do you guys think about an aspiring writer going to college to become a fiction writer? Good or bad idea?’

Rather than giving him a direct answer, his question became the inspiration for today’s blog post.

Many years ago, I had a pen pal called Nadia. This was before the Internet became popular and people exchanged letters instead of emails. Our letters were no ordinary letters, but pages and pages of stories that resembled a small newspaper. We started out writing with pen and paper, later used a typewriter and ultimately switched to a computer.

Nadia’s letters were fluid, interesting and funny. She wrote from the heart and I could tell that rather than writing, she was talking to me.

A few years later, Nadia told me that she planned on writing a short story for a national competition. As it turned out, her submission was not only accepted, but she won 1st prize and gained television, radio and newspaper exposure.

Rather than this victory building up her confidence, it destroyed it. Nadia couldn’t write anything anymore because all her creations fell short compared her winning story.

She decided to enroll in a creative writing class. Three years later she graduated with distinction. During these three years, I had noticed a change in Nadia’s letters. They were no longer fluid but mechanical.

When as tactfully mentioned this to Nadia, she wholeheartedly agreed. She said ever since she took the course, writing was no longer a labor of love but torture. She agonized over word choice and sentence structure, often rewriting the same sentence over and over again until it was as perfect as possible.

When I remarked that this was probably advisable for story writing, she didn’t have to go through such trouble while writing a letter to me. Her response was ‘I can’t help it. I’ve become so aware of being grammar perfect that nothing but the best will do.’

Ultimately, the book that Nadia intended on writing never materialized and she couldn’t even produce another short story. In her quest for perfection, she had lost her creativity.

To answer Joe’s question … Go to college to improve your language skills, but where it comes to your creative spirit … nobody can teach you that.

Don’t forget to donate to the Toronto Cat Rescue.
Any amount will make a difference.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Day 98: A day in the life of a TTC commuter

My Project: 365 Creative Writing Prompts

Day 98: A day in the life of a TTC commuter

What a day, what a day, what a day I had yesterday.

Over the weekend we had two days of freezing rain. If you wonder what freezing rain feels like, let someone take a handful of uncooked rice and from a distance throw it in your face, hard.

Not only does freezing rain feel painful, I also find it painful to look it. I mean really, yesterday it was April 16, but nature looks and feels like it’s January 16. It’s cold, the sky is grey and instead of nature awakening in a variety of color, everything is white. Sorry for the poor quality of the pictures, they were taken from the safety and the warmth of a bedroom window.

Before going out yesterday morning, I wondered what to wear … snow boots or regular boots. “Wear regular boots,” Dieter advised, “if it’s a little slippery you can hold on to me.” A little slippery???

As soon as we left the building where we live, I knew I was in trouble. There was so much melting ice that we either had to trudge through the slush or step into ankle-deep puddles. And that wasn’t even the worst of it, oh no, the worst was yet to come. Once out of the garden, the street was no longer a street but an ice rink. We were no longer walking, but slipping and sliding and desperately trying to stay upright.

Moments later we faced another problem … going down the steps to the train station. I wasn’t sure whether to hold on to Dieter or to let go. After all, if he fell, he would take me with him and vice versa.
To make a long story short, we made it the station in one piece.

More bad luck awaited us though. The trains weren’t running due to a power failure and everyone had to take a shuttle bus to the nearest station where they did have power.

Don’t imagine this as simple. Along with hundreds and hundreds of people, we stood in the cold, in the freezing rain, waiting for a bus. When the third bus came along, we finally got on.

At Victoria Park station we all got off and made our way to the subway station, only to find out that now that station was out of power. So, everybody back outside and back onto the bus. Eventually, at Woodbine, we managed to get on the train.

We arrived at work cold and wet and very late, but we had made it. Lots of others didn’t, they either didn’t bother coming out or ended up in hospital. I can well imagine that quite a few people fell and broke something or their car skidded and hit something. Good business for the doctors, nurses and panel beaters.

Since a picture is worth a thousand words, have a look what we had to deal with.

Don't forget to donate to the Toronto Cat Rescue.
Any amount will make a difference.

Friday, April 6, 2018

Day 97: 5 Writing Tips

My Project: 365 Writing Prompts

Day 97: 5 Writing Tips

The other day I read a blog post entitled “The 5 Worst Writing Tips I’ve Ever Received.” I didn’t agree with the information and posted a reply. I was promptly challenged by the blogger to explain my criticism. Always happy to oblige I agreed and promised to explain criticism in a blog post of my own. Make yourself comfortable as this could take w while.

According to the blogger, the five worst writing tips she received were:

1. Outline your stories before you write them

I wouldn’t say that’s bad advice, that is very good advice. While there’s no need to go into great detail, a writer should have some idea of what the story will be about. Let’s say that the story is about John and Jane. Who are John and Jane? Where do they live? What did they do that’s worth telling others about? What hurdles did they have to overcome to make the story interesting?

While I agree that a writer should be flexible in his ideas and go with the flow, there has to be a basic plot. If not on paper, then at least in the writer’s mind.

Having something on paper helps as the story develops. John can’t have black, curly hair on page 5 and blond floppy hair on page 83. Jane can’t celebrate her birthday on July 15th on page 3 and shiver in a freezing temperature on her way to her birthday party on page 90.

2. Set a writing schedule and stick to it

Absolutely. Writers are notorious procrastinators. They want to write, they feel the need to write, but … oh yes, there are a whole lot of obstacles.

Many writers shave a full-time job and feel tired at the end of the day. They’d much rather veg out in front of the TV than sitting in front of a computer. At work they decide to write ‘tonight’, but when they get home they think ‘I’ll write something between lunchtime tomorrow.’ When that doesn’t happen they promise themselves to start writing ‘over the weekend.’

3. Unemployed writers face other challenges. They’re going to write as soon as:

·      They’ve checked their emails and replied to those that need a response
·      They’ve checked Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites and responded to the posts or comments of their friends
·      Played one or several games online (they can be so addictive)
·      Done the house chores
·      Went shopping for groceries
·      Had a nap
·      Played with their pets

Take it from any writer … getting something on paper (hard copy or electronic) takes discipline.

4. Show don’t tell

I agree with that too.

It’s not enough to say that John or Jane were angry, show the reader how angry they were. Did they scream and stomp their feet in frustration? Did they grab a plate and hurl it against the wall?

Neither is it enough to say that the island was beautiful. Show the reader its beauty by describing the scenery in detail. Make it so accurate that they can smell the flowers and hear the birds in the trees.

If you’re not depressed, alcoholic, or somewhat clinically insane, you can’t create a good story

Plenty of writers are in a pleasant state of mind, stick to non-alcoholic drinks, are perfectly sane and still manage to write a gripping story. Then again, the most beautiful poetry and heartwarming stories were written when a writer feels depressed. Depression heightens emotions.

5. Write about what you know

Definitely. It’s the first thing experienced authors will tell any aspiring writer.
Take Dan Brown for instance. Dan Brown is a highly educated author with a fascination for the paradoxical interplay between science and religion. His books are so well researched that there’s no doubt in my mind that he knows the location of his stories like the back of his hand.

Equally knowledgeable about what she writers is Deborah Harkness. For the past 28 years, Deborah has been a student and scholar of history, with numerous degrees to her name from the University of California, Northwestern University and Mount Holyoke College. She has done extensive research on the history of science and magic between the years 1500 and 1700.

Personally, I’m in favor of writers writing about what they know because they obviously have knowledge of the subject and can give details.

A few weeks ago, I read part of a story that was set in Africa. Having lived in Africa for 15 years, I managed to get to page 5, after which I abandoned the story. There were so many inaccuracies that the story infuriated me. I subsequently wrote to the author and asked where she got her information? In which part of Africa has she lived? She admitted that she had never set foot outside of Minnesota.

So, all in all, I think what the blogger describes as bad advice is in actual fact good advice. Feel welcome to share your thoughts.

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Day 96: Shoppers Beware of Packaged Produce

My Project: 365 Creative Writing Prompts

Day 96: Shoppers Beware of Packaged Produce

Every Saturday morning, I walk past a supermarket. Most of the time I don’t have money or any other means of payment on me, so I just look and keep walking. Well, strictly speaking, I don’t keep walking, I stop and admire all the fruit and veggies that are on display in outside bins and crates. All at unbelievable prices.

Last Saturday I came prepared. I had my debit card with me and I was going to do some serious fruit and veggie shopping. As I walked along I picked up a tray of nine neatly wrapped tomatoes, a tray of kiwis, a tray of Brussels sprouts, a box of strawberries, a bunch of bananas, a bag of mandarins, a bunch of leeks, and a bag of green beans.

Back home I stuffed everything in the fridge and felt every so pleased with my shopping. That good feeling didn’t last long. When dinner time came around and I wanted to prepare a tomato salad, I noticed that every single one of the nine wrapped tomatoes were rotten. Whoever had packaged the tomatoes had placed the rotten spot face down and once packaged nobody would be the wiser. The same with the Brussels sprouts and the kiwis, some of them were in good condition, but the rotten ones were strategically placed so no one would notice.

I feared the worst as I reached for the mandarins and the strawberries, would it be the same? Yep, as I rolled the tiny fruits out of their container most of them showed black marks covered with grey fuzz.

The first time I wanted to unwrap a banana I got another bad surprise there. The first one was rotten, so was the second and the third. I found it unbelievable. On the outside, the bananas looked perfectly normal, but on the inside the fruit was black.

Now I understood why the fruit and veggies had been packaged … once wrapped in cellophane, nobody could check the condition of the produce. As for the price … yeah, it was cheap, but who wants rotten produce? Now I had to go to my regular supermarket and buy everything again. So, what started out as cheap actually turned out to be expensive.

For me, it’s a lesson learned. Even though my regular supermarket charges considerably more for their goods, I’m willing to pay those extra dollars.

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Day 95: 2 birds + 4 cats =

My Project: 365 Creative Writing Prompts

Day 95: 2 birds + 4 cats =

After a long and cold winter, it’s finally spring. Not that it feels like spring, it’s still rather cold (4 deg C) and a fierce wind blows around the building. From the sound of it, a small tornado is on the lose.

The birds are not bothered by the chilly, windy weather, they’re busy building nests for their young and just like last year, a couple of finches have selected our balcony. I don’t mind of course. I love that this cute couple has chosen part of our home, but do they have to make such a racquet while they’re building their nest?

From 6:00 a.m. onward all I hear is a constant twittering. Either the two finches sing as they work, or they give each other instructions how to build.
I can just imagine papa finch assuming the role of supervisor, telling mama finch “You’re doing it wrong. Don’t put that twig there, put it over there and make sure it’s nice and tight.” Or, mama finch is not happy with the work papa finch is doing and is complaining “That doesn’t look good. Here let me. Do I have to do everything myself to have it done right? Men!”

Meanwhile, Holly and Halley sit by the window quietly observing the finches, waiting for me to let them outside. Not that I even consider it because with this cold weather that would not be a good idea. The last time Holly went out in February, she got sick and it cost us a small fortune on vet visits. She stays in until the temperature hits double digits.

So, Holly and Halley sit there, talking to each other, no doubt making plans to catch the birds. I can just imagine them saying “I want that one and you can have the other one.”

When Charlotte and Gabriel walk past, they give the birds a mere cursorily glance. Both of them are laid back cats with a live and let live attitude. I can well imagine them thinking ‘Why go through all that trouble of catching a bird? All that stalking, running and jumping. There’s food in the kitchen.’

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Day 94: Toronto Cat Rescue Bowl-a-thon

My Project: 365 Creative Writing Prompts

Day 94: Toronto Cat Rescue Bowl-a-thon

It’s that time of the year again. The time when the Toronto Cat Rescue (TCR) organizes a Bowl-a-thon to raise money for the cats of Toronto.

The Toronto Cat Rescue is not a cat shelter in the traditional sense of the word but rather a series of foster homes where cat lovers care for kittens and cats, waiting to be adopted.

After prospective parents are interviewed and evaluated and before the kittens and cats go to their forever homes, they are spayed/neutered. TCR also traps feral cats, have them spayed/neutered before they are set free again.

When I first started fundraising for TCR, 11 years ago, we were a small group of bowlers who barely took up five lanes and raised + $6,000. Last year the group had close to 200 participants and we raised just under $25,000. This year our aim is $30,000.

This year, for the first time since the start of the Toronto Cat Rescue Bowl-a-thon, the event takes place at Kennedy Bowl on May 5th. Other years the Bowl-a-thon was held in Toronto's west end, in bowling alleys where we had to take two or even three trains, followed by a short or long walk.

Several times I suggested to the organizers to give Kennedy Bowl a try and this year I finally got my wish. Goes to show that perseverance pays off.

If you care to help simply visit or if you prefer, you can donate via my PayPal account at
For Kennedy Bowl bowlers there will be a donation box at the control counter shortly.

I'm not asking for a fortune, even $1 or $2 will make a difference. That’s less than a cup of coffee and your donation will help save a life.

The kitties of Toronto and I thank you.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Day 93: Blue Wilderness Cat Food

My Project: 365 Creative Writing Prompts

Day 93: Blue Wilderness cat food

Are your cats finicky eaters? Mine certainly are. While Halley, at 5,5 months, eats pretty much anything I put in front of her, Gabriel, Charlotte, and Holly are super picky where cat food is concerned.

When Holly was recently at the vet with a rear end problem, and the vet diagnosed her with food allergies, he suggested that we switch her from whatever food she was on and feed her better-quality food. We took home a few cans from the clinic, one of the top brands, but when I presented Holly and the others with the food they turned their backs on it.

Alright, then I would try something different. I went to the pet food store and enlisted the help of the shop assistant to help me determine which brands were considered good. Not that that was of much help because she stated that all the brands on the shelf were considered high-quality cat food. So, I took a few cans of every brand available.

Laden with two heavy plastic bags I dragged myself home and for the next few days, when supper time came around, I presented Gabriel, Charlotte, Holly and Halley with one brand after another. With some brands, they took one whiff and walked away, with others they nibbled, but I could see that they didn’t really like it.

Damn, not only had I spent a small fortune on this cat food, but if they didn’t like it, what was I supposed to do now?

According to a friend I had approached this switching of cat food all wrong. To switch them successfully I was supposed to mix 1/4 of the new food with 3/4 of their regular food and gradually increase the ratio. I did that and I could hardly believe the cats’ reaction … the nibbled away their regular good and left the quality food virtually untouched. To say that I was getting desperate is putting it mildly.

That’s when another friend suggested Blue Wilderness. Since she is a former Ragdoll breeder who loves her cats like parents love their kids and I trusted her completely. So off I went to the pet store again in search of Blue Wilderness.

Still, I was a little hesitant about the brand because recently there had been a number of pet food recalls. I’d never heard of a Whiskas or Friskies recall, it was always the specialty brands. So, I wrote to Blue Wilderness and this is the answer I received …

Thank you for taking your time to contact BLUE. In response to your email, product quality is our #1 priority. We have strict controls in place to make sure that our ingredients meet the highest quality standards.

These controls include the following:

Certificate of origin for all ingredients
COA's (certificates of analysis) on all our ingredients prior to accepting
Testing of each ingredient for known toxins prior to accepting
Testing during production to ensure that our formulas meet our nutritional specifications.
Testing after production to ensure product stability and freshness.
Testing after production for salmonella.

Our foods all are manufactured in factories located here in the USA.  Many of our ingredients, such as most of our grains and meats, come from the USA. Our lamb and venison can be free range from the USA or New Zealand. Our rabbit is sourced from Europe, and our trout can come from the USA or Canada.  Where possible our suppliers are instructed to source their ingredients from the US. Where the ingredients are not readily available in the US, such as many vitamins and minerals, our suppliers will only work with reliable foreign companies, and subject all ingredients to rigorous quality testing.

Please feel free to contact me with any further questions.

When I got home, I saw to my consternation that there was no regular cat food left in the house. Now I wouldn’t be able to mix Blue Wilderness with their regular food. If they didn’t like it, they would have nothing to eat.

With more than a little trepidation, I placed their plate of Blue Wilderness on the floor and fervently hoped they would eat it. Not only did they eat it, they devoured it. Holly, who is the champion of picky eaters went for four helpings and in the end, the plate was licked clean. When I saw them returning to an empty plate, again and again, I decided to open another tin, which they also finished.

Safe to say, the food switch has been successfully made and Blue Wilderness is a hit!