Nurturing Good Writing

Unlike many a published author, Saskatoon writer Sandy Bonny didn’t study to become one. It just happened.

“I haven’t got an English degree,” she says, “and didn’t train or apprentice purposefully with literary mentors before my first publications, but I did always enjoy writing and continued writing recreationally long after it was required for school.

“I think the simplest answer is: books. I have been a reader since I was very little – an excessive reader, according to my sporty parents. Becoming a writer was a natural extension of my love of reading and of stories.”

Meanwhile, her academic studies took her off in what seems like a different direction. She studied earth sciences, and has a PhD. Her day job involves working in science outreach to Northern communities, training and managing the work of science ambassadors who are sent out to schools that lack that depth of training in their staff.

On the other hand, while she was writing her Masters’ thesis, she was also finding the time to work on the contents of what would become her first book of short stories, called The Sometimes Lake, in 2012. This book included the story that had won her an award.

“I was ‘outed’ as a writer when my short story won second place in the 2002 CBC Literary Awards (now the CBC Short Story Prize), but I still struggle with writerly imposter syndrome now that I have two books under my belt!”

The second book was a novel, a mystery called Yes and Back Again, which is described as twinning “historical and contemporary plotlines to explore the marginalisation of women, and Aboriginal cultures.”

She describes her fiction work as being “plot driven, but authentic character development is a fascination and focus of mine.

“I want the people to present as whole and real, even if the twists and turns they experience are more thematically organized. A reviewer of my short story collection wrote ‘there’s no telling what her characters might do, but she tells it and tells it well’ (Bill Robertson, Saskatoon StarPhoenix, 2011).”

Lots of professional writers are part-timers, with day jobs. In addition to that, Bonny has a seven year old daughter.

“My writing needs to fit itself into the rest of life. I can usually get by carving out short working windows. Every now and then, an all-nighter is called for, and those long, focused sessions are well worth an occasional day of exhaustion!”

She finds that outlines help to keep a project on track, but allow for intrusions when the story just seems to want to wander off by itself. Reconciliation is usually possible.

About a decade ago she helped her sister move to Haines Junction for a teaching job. She’s still there, so Bonny is looking forward to seeing the Yukon again. Part of her trip here to mentor at the Young Authors’ Conference will involve a trip to Haines Junction for an event on April 23.

She’s done a lot of youth workshops and actually managed to combine her backgrounds by getting kids to find stories in rocks.

She offers two pieces of standard advice, always worth repeating: “Number one; make sure that you write, and write attentively. Make some time in your day for free writing, but also pay attention to words in your daily communications, email and texting too. Good writing is a habit that you can nurture. Number two; read, and read attentively.”

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