Tag Archives: Writing

Launch: Geography of Now eCourse

Yokohama GON {Yamashita Park, Yokohama Japan}

Most of us find it pretty easy to admire the greenness of the grass elsewhere. We tell ourselves pretty little stories about how perfect our lives would be if only we lived in another house or neighbourhood or country… if we had different or better stuff. The truth is that we already have everything we need to have a good life.

Exactly where we are.

I’ve always been attracted to place. When I was in grad school, I travelled by bus to Toronto to visit a friend. My heart had been recently broken and my friend was a generous and comforting sort so I accepted his invitation to stay for a while.

So I’m on this Greyhound bus and it’s night-time and the streets of Toronto are much better lit than those of Kingston, where I was living at the time, and I can see a couple standing under a streetlight talking and smoking. Although I don’t smoke, I admire the grace with which the woman reaches over and lights the man’s cigarette with her lighter. With just one hand. The glowing red end of his cigarette moves like drunken fireflies. And I’m wearing headphones and listening to some seriously sad-ass, broken-hearted love songs and I feel so affected by the scenes I witness as we drive through Toronto that I pull out my journal and start writing a poem. I still have it.

And the thing is, I did not have a particularly strong attachment to Toronto. I’m from Ottawa and grew up hearing Toronto referred to as, “That EVIL city.” (Totally true story.)

But that night, on the bus, I let myself feel connected to the people of the city and to the city itself.

Since I began blogging in 2006, much of my writing has been an attempt to describe my connection with the places I have lived. Cali, Colombia. Monterrey, Mexico. Barcelona, Spain. Bangkok, Thailand. Yokohama, Japan.

Whether I am travelling or staying put, I like to make myself at home. I like to unpack, nest, and get well acquainted with my surroundings. In my daily life in Japan I don’t wander very far from home but the ten blocks that surround our apartment have become my my playground, my entire world. I am ridiculously in love with our little corner of Yokohama.

About six months after we moved to Japan, I started writing some of my blog posts in free verse which I came to call “skinny prose”. I like the way that the short lines and the musicality convey my feelings better than paragraphing it.

And I adopted Instagram as my way of photographically documenting the places I loved.

These little skinny prose pieces and the photos that accompany them help me work out my feelings about where I live. They help me understand this relationship to a country that is on the other side of the planet from where I grew up… and they help me feel securely attached to my new home.

The posts I write about place are contemplations. And little prayers of thanks.

I want that for other people.

And I know that it’s hard to imagine taking the time to slow down and notice what’s happening in your own neighbourhood. We are busy folks. We have long lists of things to do and people who depend on us.

I get that. {Me too.}

But take a walk with me. Look over there. Who has painted their mailbox purple… and why? One of your neighbours has a new pug that sits on the back of an emerald green velvet sofa and waves at you through the living room window. (At least it looks like it’s waving.) There’s a new restaurant opening in the space where you used to rent videos. You take a moment to admire the pink roses that grow for a few short weeks in the lot beside the grocery store and you wonder how they got there and who tends them.

This is your corner of the world. These are your people.

The Geography of Now is about this. It’s about waving back to that pug. It’s about eating at that new restaurant and telling your friends about how amazing their grilled cheese sandwich was. It’s about being curious while staying out of judgement.

The Geography of Now is about…

Observe the place where you live through a new kind of lens. See with a more relaxed and compassionate perspective.

Document what you see through photographs taken with a simple point and shoot camera or with your phone. Click.

Record some words. Express how a particular image made you feel… or the memory it awakens like some ancient sleeping giant in your mind.

Notice the details of your life (like really, really noticing… not just noticing that you are out of milk) and feel grateful for the places and people that surround you. Those that love you and help define you.

It may have been a long time since you wrote something creative and you might feel frightened. You’ll need to summon your courage.

I’m inviting you to take this leap with me.


Start date: Monday, 15 September

Duration: The course will run for six weeks, from Monday 15 September until Friday 24 October. Please note that messages will arrive on weekdays only.

Format: You will receive a message in your inbox every day. The daily message will include a reflection as well as a photography/noticing/writing/gratitude prompt.

How much time you will need a day: 20-30 minutes although you may choose to spend less time… or more. It’s completely up to you.

What you will need for the course:

  • Computer with internet (for accessing the course and downloading your photos)
  • Point and shoot camera or cell phone camera
  • Journal and pen (I like one small enough that I can carry it with me at all times)
  • Facebook account. Note: we will share some of our work with each other in a private Facebook group. This means that no one who is not enrolled in the course will be able to see your photos, your writing or your comments.


  • Knowing yourself
  • Photography
  • Noticing
  • Writing Skinny Prose
  • Gratitude
  • A final project of your choosing

Cost: 50 Canadian Dollars

Payment: You will be using Pay Pal to purchase this course. Please not that you do not have to have a PayPal account as you can pay with a credit card.

Refund policy: This is a non-refundable investment in yourself, your photography and your writing.

A note about receiving my messages:
The Geography of Now course and my newsletters are sent by me via Mad Mimi. If you have never received an email from me before, the message may end up in your Spam folder. You can resolve this by making me (monnamcd at gmail dot com) a contact in your email or checking your spam folder. Thanks!

Registration is now open here.

Word for 2013: Write

writingLast year
was my first year
to name a word
for the new year.
We were in Istanbul.
seemed fitting
as we shopped
for rugs,
drank apple tea,
were wooed
by charming salesmen.

2012 was all about hustle.
A year of conference papers
and travels.
Getting my own domain name,
finding the skinny prose style
I like so well.
Twice being freshly-pressed.

It was a good word,
a worthy goal.
I gave it my all.

This year’s word is humbler,
chosen in Japan.
It smells like a garden
in spring.
Heads of new, white things
pushing up through the dirt.


Sometimes I get ahead of myself.
Worry about platforms
and agents.
Read articles
about the merits
of publishing vs self-publishing.

Cart-before-the horse thinking.

My goal for this year
is to write.
Finish this novel.
Then make it better.

There’s no reason not to.
No ghosts to prevent me.
This is the second half
of my second year
at our lovely school
(the half in which students
do not send university applications).
We are not moving
or doing graduate work
or any other grand undertaking
that might
me from writing.

An hour a day.

That’s it.
A word,
a goal
that smells
like spring.

Lessons learned while my partner completed an MFA in Creative Writing

At the end of March 2012, my partner DP finished his MFA in Creative Writing. His thesis was an original television show. Now that I think of it, I should have thrown him a virtual graduation party. (Wait, it’s not too late… but that’s a separate post!)

Over the past three years, I have often felt like I was enrolled in the same degree program. Here’s what I have learned:

  1. Writers write.
    Writers write on a regular basis (possibly every day) whether they feel like it or not. That’s how one gets better at writing and how one has something to publish. This is much harder than it seems.

  2. Get it all down on the page.
    Thanks to Natalie Goldberg for this one.

  3. Use the words you know.
    These are good words. You probably don’t need any more.

  4. Don’t worry about which genre your work falls into.
    That is not your job. Your job is to help the story unfold word by word.

  5. Write with your ideal readers in mind.
    Identify them… and then write for them. I write with about five people in mind including DP and my sister Megan. They are all smart, funny people (mostly women) who love words. They have all been supportive of my writing and I know that they would read anything that I wrote. Thinking about them makes it easier for me to get my words down on the paper.

Over the past couple of years, I have heard several (perfectly lovely) people say, “I don’t want to read my friend’s book just in case it isn’t good.” I am not writing for these people because their discomfort and worries about the quality of (my) writing are not helpful.

  1. Write with a tender heart. Edit with a sword.
    After you have completed the first draft, you may need/want to set aside your manuscript for a little while because the next step is going to require your most objective work thus far as well as a combination of compassion and savagery. To improve your story, you will probably have to make things harder for your characters than you did the first time around. You may have to prevent your heroine from meeting her true love or from finding the cure for cancer so early in the story. Perhaps she doesn’t fall in love at all. We edit with the story in mind – not the comfort of our characters as much as we may like them. William Faulkner claimed that, “In writing, you must kill all your darlings.”

  2. Embrace peer review.
    Ask other writers to read your work. (Your lovely partner may not always be the ideal peer reviewer.) Listen carefully and ask lots of questions so that you can understand why certain aspects of your piece are not working for them. Decide which recommendations are helpful to your work and edit your work accordingly. You cannot please everyone or you’ll end up with tapioca pudding.

  3. Send your work out into the world.
    Oh, it is going to be totally scary and people (somewhere between one and MANY) are going to reject your work. It’s not personal (or maybe it is) but in the end, a writer can choose to accept every rejection as a simple confirmation of her magician status. You created an entire world out of nothing. Congratulations and keep writing!

  4. Know that there are many ways to be a good writer.
    Some writers have brilliant story ideas – the arc of a story appears to them intact – while other authors breathe life into their characters like gods. Some writers are able to engineer life-altering obstacles that force their characters to grow like crazy… making the ride suspenseful and exciting for the reader. It has been my experience that many writers are not snobs about other people’s writing because they know exactly how hard it is.

  5. Ignore the haters.
    There are going to be people who dislike and hate your work. They are going to use big words to describe how spectacularly you have failed and there is not one thing you can do about that. Some of this criticism will be fair and some will not be. Perhaps it will help to remember that you have created something new, original and authentic and that you sent it out into the world… an act that required enormous faith and courage on your part. (Maybe it won’t help). Don’t read the bad reviews. They’ll haunt you like a revenge-seeking ghost and fill you with anger and bitterness at a time when you need that energy for the next book.

  6. Start the next project.


p>Thanks to DP and to the University of British Columbia for the lessons.

What have you learned about writing… novels, blog posts, graduate dissertations… whatever. Please share it in the comments section below.

Freshly Pressed Gratitude


If you are new here,
sent over from Freshly Pressed,
I’d like to welcome you!
Pull up a comfy chair
and stay a while.

If you liked
how to be a japanographer
I think you’ll enjoy:
The Tale of the Charming Sale and the Sun.

a heartfelt thanks
to those of you
who “liked” a post,
left a comment,
re-blogged a post
or followed MonnaMcDiarmid.com

You’ve made my day
(even) lovelier.