Saturday morning keynote: Susin Nielsen

YA novelist and Governor General’s Award-winning writer Susin Nielsen shared her journey to authorhood.

It’s an equation: 1/3 talent, 1/3 hard work, and 1/3 luck.

She showed use her first diary, and even read to us some of her early entries: “If I become famous, I may want to keep a diary.”

She aspired to be Harriet the Spy and her first diary lasted for all of 8 days.  Susin was in 7th drade.

There were always books in the house.  She was an off-beat kid.  It was a while before she realized that elaborate imaginary games were not where her classmates were at.

She didn’t have a lot of friends.

Her first book was The Smallest Snippet in Snippeton.  She showed it to us 🙂

She submitted poems to Seventeen magazine and received the response: “Nicely written, but much too depressing for us.”  Susin read us one of the poems: “Suicide.”  It was a little maudlin.

Malcolm Gladwell writes about the 10,000 hour rule.  About that time, she was about the 200 hour range.

She went to Ryerson, got a job in food services for Degrassi, wrote a spec script, which eventually became 16 episodes of the long-running Canadian series.

When Word Nerd was published in 2006, her agent was incredibly helpful.

Susin Nielsen in Lorette, Manitoba

Susin Nielsen in Lorette, Manitoba (Photo credit: Tundra Books)

The bottom line: if you’re a writer, write.  Hone your craft.

Friday evening keynote: Zsuzsi Gartner

Last year, Zsuzsi decided to conduct a radical experiment.  She went off-line, not only withdrawing from social media, but also online banking, her cell phone, texting, and even her computer.

Here’s what she shared with us.

Being a writer, social media can be addictive.  “I’ll check email just one more time” becomes a three hour odyssey down the rabbit hole.  When she realized she was enslaved to email, Zsuzsi decided to do something about it.

So, no email, no texting, no computer, no debit, no nothing.  This took a while to set up.

In the process, she found a few things that promised to help with the project.  The “suicide” app kills your online ID.  Digital Detox blocks your access.  Camp Grounded is an adult summer camp where your tech toys are confiscated upon arrival.

Zsuzsi went through withdrawal.  She started reading a lot more though.  She read Henry James’s short stories, and Portrait of a Lady.  There was clarity in the pure experience of reading.

The Shallows: what the internet is doing to our brains Nicholas Carr

Cover of "The Shallows: What the Internet...

Cover via Amazon


Are we sacrificing our ability to read and think deeply?

Maryanne WolfThe Science of the Reading Brain

Is Google Making Us Stupid? (article in The Atlantic, 2008)  – Nicholas Carr.  Maybe not stupid, but lazy.

As a project, she redacted everything in her latest book that she sourced on Google.  Many pages had a quarter or more of the text blacked out.

She tried doing “real” research.  In a library.  With books, articles, and inter-library loan.  She has concerns about kids relying too heavily on Wikipedia and plagiarism in class.

English: An IBM Selectric typewriter, model 71...

English: An IBM Selectric typewriter, model 713 (Selectric I with 11″ writing line), circa 1970. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Zsuzsi started using an old IBM Selectric typewriter.  It forces her to think before typing. Nietzsche used a bizarre-looking typewriter and claimed it helped him write better.  “Go online and take a look at it,” she said, and of course, the irony was lost on none of us 😉  Once again ironic, the typewriter was considered the lap top of its time …

Our writing equipment informs our thoughts.  The medium has affected the prose.

Hemingway wrote description in long hand and dialogue on the typewriter.  Annie Proulx and Michael Ondaatje both write long hand.

The Russians are apparently using typewriters to create and send secret messages because there is no electronic footprint.

This experiment helped Zsuzsi engage more deeply with the world.