Soft animals, start your engines

Every once in awhile, I’ll pick a poem to memorize. It’s not the memorization that’s important—mostly I just like the act of copying it out as a way of getting into what Laisha Rosnau calls our “write mind.”

A few weeks ago I started writing out Mary Oliver’s “Wild Geese.” I find the first few lines are an especially good entryway to the vulnerability and unpredictability of creative work—not to mention the rest of the day.

            You do not have to be good.

            You do not have to walk on your knees

            for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.

            You only have to let the soft animal of your body

            love what it loves.

These words also strike me as an excellent invitation to another summer writing challenge.

This one will run from July 3 through 23. As in past years, I’ll drop a simple prompt in your inbox every day for 21 days, you write on it if you can, and if you feel like it, you’ll share some of your result with the group. If you’ve done this with me before, you know it’s a great way to train the big writing muscles, explore new territory (or see the old in a new way), and generate a surprising amount of raw material over a short time.

This practice is pre-genre, meaning the pieces have the potential to take any form at all, and it’s by no means limited to people who identify as writers. If the soft animal in you loves holding a pen (or banging away at a keyboard), this is for you. Free-writing techniques will be offered, you do not have to write every day, and you do not have to share if you don’t want to. Shared work is not critiqued, and any feedback is positive.

If you’re interested in joining up, let me know with an email (lnicol@gmail.com) or Facebook DM by the end of Friday, June 26. In lieu of a fee, I’ll once again be inviting participants to make a $21 donation to Indspire, an Indigenous registered charity that invests in the education of First Nations, Inuit, and Métis people: Indspire.ca

So looking forward to writing (and reading) with you all again.

“Natural Consequences” to be published in Existere 40.2

March 30, 2021

I was thrilled to learn on Friday that Existere, the lit mag of York University, wants to publish my short story, “Natural Consequences,” in their upcoming Spring/Summer issue. It’s been a long road for this piece, which came into being as an assignment for my very first fiction class in January 2012, Creative Writing 1 at Mount Royal University, taught by my dear friend and mentor, Lori Hahnel (author of many wonderful books, most recently a collection of short stories called Vermin, published in 2020).

The only assignment for the class? A short story not a word over 500. Easy.

I remember the agony of trying to compress the conflicts of what felt like an entire adolescence into two pages, as if I might not ever get another chance. I remember the worry that at 35, I had missed whatever chance I had already.

Over time, this 500-word piece spawned a novel–see the hiatus from submissions from 2015 to 2020–while also continuing to develop into its own separate form. Finally seeing it published means a lot, and gives me hope for the eventual publication of the novel.

I get annoyed when established writers offer wisdom to “young writers” rather than “new writers.” The long, slow work of writing demands a degree of stability and calm that many of us don’t find in our lives until we’re older. Some of us would prefer not to write about the things that demand to be written about, and we fight the surfacing of these things for a long time. And lots of us have internalized the silencing of family, society, and culture, assassinating our creative selves through countless inside jobs.

If not for the support and encouragement of teachers and friends, I would not have had the nerve to keep re-writing and re-submitting this story. Writing may be a solitary activity, but it does not occur in isolation.