A NaNoWriMo success story from Ivan Coyote

Ivan Coyote

Photo by Laura Sawchuk

At the Surrey International Writers Conference this past weekend, I had the good sense to get myself into the Boot Camp for Procrastinators workshop taught by author/performer Ivan Coyote.

Ivan is acclaimed for her warm, “kitchen-table” style and from the first words she speaks, you know you are listening to a natural, and gifted, storyteller. I’m pretty sure that was the most I’ve ever laughed in a writing workshop.

She had many insightful things to say about overcoming the fears that tend to hold us back and dealing with the trickster in all of us who is always plotting new ways to put off writing.

First, no surprise, is to develop discipline. We honor our craft by honing our craft. By playing with words and practicing techniques over and over the way a pianist practices scales.

Ivan strongly advises hooking up with a writing group or someone you can be accountable to. She asked a question that really resonated with me: “Why is it so much easier to disappoint ourselves time and time again than it is to disappoint someone else?”

On the accountability side, she also recommended National Novel Writing Month and I was really excited to hear her novel Bow Grip (Arsenal Pulp Press, 2006) was a NaNo book!

Bow Grip by Ivan CoyoteIvan says she was teaching a night school writing class in the fall of 2004, and encouraged her students to sign up for NaNo as a means of developing discipline. They took her advice and when they enthusiastically reported their growing word counts in class, she was “guilted into” starting her own project – the novel that had been rattling around in her head for years.

She pulled an all-nighter to catch up with her students, who had a few days head start. After that, she has said, “I would just sit down every night when all my other work was done, turn off the internal editor, and write until I reached 2,000 words.

“I wouldn’t let myself stop until I was done. It probably took 10 years off my life, and it cost me a fortune in cigarettes and Red Bull, but I got a first draft out of it.”

Though she’d previously published three short story collections, Bow Grip was Ivan’s first novel. At 62,000 words, Ivan says it reflects “nearly word for word” that free fall first draft. Bow Grip is now in its third printing and has been optioned for film.

Ivan’s latest short story collection, her fifth, is called Missed Her. If you ever have an opportunity to take one of her workshops or see Ivan perform, GO! She’s great.

I’ll leave you with a funny story that author Eileen Cook recounted about Ivan during open mic night at SiWC).

A few years back Cook took Coyote’s writing class at Capilano College (holy alliteration, Batman), and one night Ivan asked her to stay behind after class. “She said to me, ‘You need to start sending out your stuff, it’s really good’.”

Eileen says she listed her fears about being rejected and not being published. “Ivan looked at me and said, ‘I hate to break it to you, Eileen, but you’re already not published. The worst that can happen is that you still won’t be published.’ That was such a light bulb moment for me.”

(Eileen has since published seven books. Her novel Unpredictable has been optioned by New Line Cinema!)


Quick hello from Surrey International Writers Conference

Hi everyone,

I’m still at SIWC and having a blast. Incredible authors and teachers on hand here to share their knowledge. It’s my third year coming, and each conference is better than the last.

I’ll bring you some of my notes and lessons learned next week, but wanted to share with you the rousing opening keynote speech that author Robert Dugoni gave yesterday. His take on Aragorn’s speech at the gates of Mordor had everyone on their feet cheering.

What a rallying cry for those doing Nanowrimo. Check out the audio here, which Sean Cranbury kindly posted for all to benefit from.

More next week….