Writer in Residence

Unstuck: what writers can learn from artists in other disciplines

By Leah Horlick

What can writers learn from burlesque performers, chefs, choreographers, and designers? What advice do established artists in other disciplines have for emerging writers? Let's find out.
I'm so excited to share this post with you. Early in this residency, I reached out to artists who have been a tremendous support to me when I've been stuck at various parts of my own life, and asked if they would be willing to share some insights from their practice for Careful Inventory. Each of these incredibly talented, generous creators will share one piece of advice about their creative practice with you—something they tell themselves when they’re stuck or need a boost, or a part of their routine that supports their practice, or one piece of professional wisdom they always come back to. (You'll notice that some of these folks are wonderful writers in their own right, in addition to having an established, thriving practice in their primary discpipline.) Since we're here to fill your calendar as well as your notebook, I've also asked each artist to invite us to join them at an upcoming virtual event that they’re excited about, or a place online where we can find more of their work during the pandemic. 
Let's meet these incredible artists and get unstuck!
SPARKLE PLENTY, burlesque performer, femcee, community-builder, and member of Virago Nation, the first-ever all Indigenous burlesque group
Perfectionism kills creativity! When it comes to writing or choreographing I would often get stuck at the beginning of my work trying to execute my vision but would often be too riddled with anxiety to even find the momentum to create. So if you're seeing this, let this be the permission you need to be messy in the process. Write down fragmented sentences that make no sense or do the macarena as filler until you find ways to develop your next act. No one will know and it will get you out of your head! Don't forget - you have a network of support who know you and love you so talk to them if you're feeling stuck! The best ideas often come from collaborating - Individualism is a colonial construct and serves nobody including yourself!
Sparkle invites you: I'm hosting the Vancouver International Burlesque Festival Anti-Showcase on May 1! Virago Nation will be releasing their first self-produced docu-strip show in June; you can find more info on Insta or at viragonation.ca.
MIRANDA MARTINI, songwriter and musician
I've started a bullet journal this year. It's not pretty to look at—it is, in fact, utterly unhinged—but it really helps me to barf what's in my head out onto a physical page. Once I see all the stuff that's been rattling around my brain, I can come up with strategies to deal with it. For instance, I like to make a list of what I need to get done, and then make the tasks on that list smaller and more granular. So this:

  • Finish composing score for short film

Becomes this:

  • Make list of timestamps that need music
  • Make composition schedule for each day this week
  • Work on one 30-second piece of music

I can totally do one of the things on that second list! Once I have, I check it off. Sometimes the high from checking a thing off my list is so intense that it'll carry me through doing a second thing. Sometimes I check off one thing and I'm so tired I need to lie down on the floor and stare at nothing. Either way, I'm putting it in the W column. 
Miranda invites you: Folks can find me on Spotify, Twitter and Instagram, and read my writing in The Sprawl. One of my jobs is with Affirming Connections, an organization that works with faith and spiritual communities in Central and Southern Alberta that are seeking to become more affirming to and inclusive of LGTBQ2S+ communities. Right now we're gearing up for Affirming Leaders Day (May 22), a development and connection day for clergy, faith leaders, community leaders and queer folks. We'll be hearing from all-star guests like queer scholar Anthony Oliveira, singer-songwriter Semler, and civil rights activist Rev. James Lawson, and I am pretty dang excited about it!! Tickets are available here (comps are available for anyone who wants to come but can't afford the ticket).
DOMINIQUE WAKELAND, performance artist
Co-working. There's nothing like it. Pre-pandemic my life was a series of brunch meetings and coffee shop conversations so that I could feel compelled to do my much-needed administrative work before going to work a retail shift somewhere. With the pandemic, I found myself falling into a HOLE of unanswered emails that got bigger and more anxiety inducing with every red notification mark. Theatre is about working with people. Having scheduled Google meets and Zoom meetings with someone while we go over what we're going to accomplish has been so helpful. If you're struggling, someone else is too. Try a low stress coworking session, this being contingent on if you currently have the privilege to be working from home.
Dominique invites you: I am a member of Diasporic Dynasty, a performance collective. Juicy Jems is a very exciting plus-sized cabaret that will be streamed soon; follow the Instagram for more information coming up!
KAY SLATER, multidisciplinary artist
The advice I would like to give any creator at any stage of their careers is to consider how respecting yourself and the value of your practice does more than help yourself. Consider that each time we stand up for ourselves, we’re standing up for our industry, and for folks who are considered noisy when they demand fair treatment. Imagine what would happen if all artists, writers, designers, and creative folks always confidently asked for a living wage. Set a goal right now to rationalize your rate, and then practice responding without apology or shyness. You DO deserve to be compensated and have accessible access to work - and when you ask this with confidence, you make it easier for everyone to speak up and be treated fairly.
Kay invites you: You can find my website at kdot.ca. I archive my work on instagram at @kdotca. I invite you to join me for a forthcoming session on Non-Auditory Access: Captions and Transcriptions. This free workshop series encourages artists and creators to prioritize access at the planning phase of project creation. Tools, best practices, and tips and tricks on how to generate the best captions and transcripts for your projects will be shared over a 3 hour, intensive workshop. Register here!
A tiny note from Leah: Kay & I are co-leading one of the above sessions specifically for writers, booksellers, publishers, and event organizers next Friday! All the information for "Captions for CanLit" is here; don't miss out!  
MACIEL PEREDA, chef and creator of Some Like It Salty
I have always struggled with perfectionism so this has been one of my tendencies that I have had to find ways of overcoming in order to reliably produce content for Some Like It Salty. The practice of “laying down the bones” (as I call it) has been so crucial for me in learning to initiate the writing and creation process. The realization that it is always, at least for me, going to be easier to tweak away at something that already exists versus starting from scratch has been a powerful one. Some days when I just need to get started and I can’t put things off anymore, I give myself permission to write something truly awful, knowing that eventually I will come back and flesh out the idea more articulately – but it needs to exist first.
Maciel invites you: Scout Magazine would be how people can access my more recent work (much of it is pre-maternity leave as I’m still figuring out how to balance le side hustle with le bebe). @somelikeitsalty is the active Instagram account that I use for my food content. While the blog itself is still very much alive, it is in the process of being re-imagined.
LAYLA CAMERON, founder of Stay Fat Design Co., a fat positive letterpress design company
The times in my life that I have been the most personally, professionally, creatively, and spiritually fulfilled, have been when I have surrounded myself with established artists who are open and willing for me to ask questions. It is critical to the success of your practice that you feel safe asking any question, even if that question appears silly and especially if that question makes you feel so inadequate that you would rather stay silent. If you don’t have folks around you who would be willing to show you how to turn a piece of machinery on, or which button to press, or how to format something, you need new people. These people have also come into my life in the most unexpected ways, so I encourage anyone to stay open to saying yes to opportunities and new relationships, especially the ones that feel the most outlandish.
Layla invites you: While I do not have any online offerings at the moment, I have been very intrigued by Marlee Grace’s work. Marlee offers many online classes ("A Quilt is Something Human" looks divine!), but perhaps this course would be of interest. I am a Patreon subscriber of Marlee’s and I find that the essays and resources provided on that platform have been quite helpful as I navigate various questions and hurdles of my own. 
LILY CRYAN, choreographer and performer
When I was training as a dancer in high school and into university I thought that my focus on relationships with other dancers was a detriment and kept me from my practice. I see now that I was trying to build and find community within the dance world. My best piece of advice as someone who is externally motivated is to build some structures with folks you resonate with. I cannot thank my friends and collaborators enough for countless co-working sessions and time in the studio to just groove. Art making can feel like you are relying only on yourself to make it happen - especially as I am still in the emerging phase of my career. If this happens with a very obviously collaborative form like dance I could see it being even harder with writing. Especially now, remember that you are not the only one struggling! Ask your pals for help!  
Lily invites you: Dominique Wakeland and Alexa Fraser are putting together an online cabaret of fat/plus size performers in late May! I am so excited to watch this show! 
And more news about next week from Leah:
I hope to see you at some of the events recommended by this incredible group, and I'll be back on Monday to kick off the last week of my residency! We'll take a look at ways we can protect and care for our bodies while writing, and when to stop. It's a busy week! I'm very honoured to be co-hosting a book club on April 28th with fellow spring Brick Books author Andrea Actis, which you can sign up for here. And in case you missed my note above: for the grand finale of poetry month, Kay Slater and I are co-leading Captions for CanLit, a free session on April 30th for publishers, authors, booksellers, and event organizers, all about facilitating non-auditory access to literary events. Don't forget to register! See you next week! 

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book.

​Leah Horlick is a writer and poet who grew up as a settler on Treaty Six Cree Territory & the homelands of the Métis in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan. Her long-awaited third collection of poems, "Moldovan Hotel," is available now from Brick Books. Her first book, Riot Lung (Thistledown Press, 2012), was shortlisted for a 2013 ReLit Award and a Saskatchewan Book Award. Her second collection, For Your Own Good (Caitlin Press, 2015), was named a 2016 Stonewall Honour Book by the American Library Association. She is also the author of wreckoning, a chapbook produced with Alison Roth Cooley and JackPine Press. She lived on Unceded Coast Salish Territories in Vancouver for nearly ten years, during which time she and her dear friend Estlin McPhee ran REVERB, a queer and anti-oppressive reading series. In 2016, Leah was awarded the Dayne Ogilvie Prize for LGBT Emerging Writers. In 2018, her piece "You Are My Hiding Place" was named Arc Poetry Magazine's Poem of the Year.  She lives on Treaty Seven Territory & Region 3 of the Métis Nation in Calgary.