Christina Vasilevski

Toronto Writer/Editor for Content Strategy, Content Design & UX.

How I got my writing mojo back

I knew from the age of 7 that I wanted to be a writer. That idea grew with me as I grew up, when it reached its most distorted apex in high school. You see, I didn’t want to be just any writer – I wanted to be that writer.

You know the one. The one who becomes a smash success with their first book. The one whose crystal-clear, vibrant prose would make readers weep and publishers bow in awe. The kind of writer who lives in a trendy apartment downtown, dispensing insightful bon mots in coffee shops, wearing black, and generally living the bohemian dream.

Despite this unrealistic ideal, one family member in particular was supportive of my goal. Too supportive, in fact. She constantly asked to see what else I had written lately, and said I would be famous. I grew very resentful of her constant interest, but still kept on writing – I was a teenager, of course, and this sort of irrational thing is a teenager’s specialty.

I hit my final year of high school and took a creative writing class. In that class, I wrote a short story that I had considered my best up to this point. It was about a high school girl who was incredibly gifted but had a lot of pressure put on her, who nearly got killed in a skating accident and then recovered from her coma by going through some sort of spirit-quest while being guided by a painfully obvious Jungian archetype figure.

In other words, my story was pretentious as fuck.

Unsurprisingly, I eventually grew dissatisfied with it. I tried so hard to sound distant and thoughtful and pretty, but it just wasn’t getting anywhere. I likened it to having a “membrane” separating my mind from the story I really wanted to tell, and concluded that I would never be a good writer, because I couldn’t break through it.

At this point, I finished high school and entered university. This meant essays. Lots and lots of essays. Some of them were interesting. A lot of them were meaningless. But all of them required effort and time spent writing. It was at this point that I concluded I would never really be a writer, because the writing I used to enjoy was fiction and would never amount to anything, whereas this writing – the important stuff – was hard and boring. Besides, my “fun” writing was pretentious and disappointing and distant, right? So much for the downtown dream!

Things stayed like that both throughout my university studies and for a year or so after I graduated. “Leisure” reading was fun, but I was just too burnt out to take the next step.

Then a funny thing happened. I got an iPod and started listening to podcasts. I subscribed to “I Should Be Writing” and “Adventures in Sci-Fi Publishing” and “Variant Frequencies” and the “Seventh Son” trilogy. I was exposed to the heroin of genre writing, and it was fun. On top of that, I decided that freelancing would be an excellent fallback plan in light of my current employment situation. And what did I think I was good at? Writing, of course.

I got to networking. I joined organizations. I blogged. And slowly but surely, I started to write for myself again. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m now doing NaNoWriMo. I also got myself out of the “fine Canadian literature” ghetto that I was in and embraced reading non-fiction, sci-fi, fantasy, and horror books. Now I’m writing something that is unabashedly a genre novel, and doing so with glee.

Will I “win” NaNoWriMo? Who knows. Will my writing be good? Who knows! The difference this time is that I know that real writing – satisfying writing – takes time and tenacity.

All that really matters is that I’m doing it again, and that I’m doing it with more realistic expectations. And that’s why I’m happy that I’ve got my mojo back.


This originally appeared as a guest post on the blog of Valerie Haight. She has recently been signed on to Turquoise Morning Press. This post was originally published on November 14th, 2011. It has been slightly altered from the original version.

Feeling Professional and Learning About XML

The past week has seen a flurry of really positive activity:

  • A web design company I’m helping sent me a payment
  • I sent out two contracts to new clients
  • I attended another Board meeting for the Writer’s Circle of Durham Region
  • I finally gave in and joined Twitter (look for @cvasilevski)
  • I reconnected with a former non-profit employer of mine and am in talks with them to do some volunteer work on their newsletter

After deciding to freelance about four months ago, I’ve realized that being successful requires baby steps. When I first purchased things I considered necessary, like an external hard drive or some software, I quailed inside about the money I was spending; now that there’s some money coming in (though I’d like a lot more!), I feel a little bit better about my choices. It’s funny, but ever since I decided to start doing this, I’ve found satisfaction in the most unlikely tasks: entering in transactions to a general ledger? Yes! Keeping a copy of my receipts? Yes! Tinkering with WordPress behind the scenes? Yes and yes!

I enjoy doing the busy work, and that’s tremendously encouraging. Networking is a more pressing concern, but I’m doing what I can, what with Sprouter and Twitter and attending events. Cold-calling is something I need to do more of, but again, baby steps.

In other news, my Production class at Ryerson is drawing to a close, and my final assignment involves working with XML. I’ve never done so directly, but the tutorial from class wasn’t too difficult. Luckily, I used to do a lot of work with HTML in high school, designing my own website, and the basic mechanics (open tags, insert information, close tags, keep it symmetrical) are the same. My last assignment garnered a seven out of ten – less than I was hoping for, but that just means I have to learn more about working with InDesign and Photoshop to really get what I want.

So, today will involve a lot of writing, and thinking, and errands. It’s a lovely list of things to do on a Saturday.

New Developments with the WCDR!

Last Monday during my class at Ryerson, I was thinking of ways in which I could contribute positively to both the Editor’s Association and the Writer’s Circle of Durham Region when I hit upon an idea: Why not, while attending the EAC Conference in May, approach other editors in attendance and interview them on behalf of the WCDR’s members? It would allow me to do something useful and unique for the Circle and allow me to get in contact with a wide variety of editors at the same time – it was win-win!

As soon as I got home from class, I set about drafting a letter to the webmaster of the WCDR inquiring whether this potential feature would be of interest to members. His response the next morning was encouraging, so I left it at that and figured I would email him back after work.

When I returned in the evening, I saw a message sitting in my inbox that arrived two hours after the original reply: Because I’ve shown such enthusiasm as a member, would I be interested in serving as Secretary on the WCDR’s Board of Directors?

Would I? Would I want to have an important role in an organization I respect and admire? An organization that showed me such generosity and goodwill when I first met its members that I decided to pay membership dues that very same day? An organization that is in regular partnership with other literary organizations and events across the province? Would I?!

Of course, I said yes – provided I could find out more about the Board’s scheduling and duties.

For the next few days there were concerns that my work hours and reliance on public transit would prevent me from helping out, but after discussing the issue with family members who could drop me off at meetings, those were rendered moot. So now, I have a lovely new announcement:

As of yesterday, I am now the acting Secretary of the Board of Directors for the Writer’s Circle of Durham Region, and will remain so until the next AGM in June, 2010. Hurray!

Introducing the Writer’s Circle

The last few days have been very encouraging from a professional development perspective.  Not only have I made some new contacts, but I’ve got a nice advertisement up, and I’ve also got leads on some new projects. So, the good news, in no particular order:

  • My first editing client from a few weeks back has informed me that she’ll send me some new articles to edit by the end of the week. Project rates are yet to be ironed out.
  • I am now a member of the Writer’s Circle of Durham Region, and I attended their monthly breakfast meeting yesterday. My thanks for the extremely warm welcome to go Rich Helms, Karen Cole, Susan Reynolds, Thomas Moss, Victor Demko, and many more.
  • I’ve just started to talk to a local real estate agent about redesigning his community news website. Right now I’m in the process of reviewing the site to figure out how it could be streamlined and made more user-friendly.
  • My editing services are now being advertised on WCDR’s member services page.
  • The deadline for the EAC’s Claudette Upton Scholarship has been extended, so I now have plenty of time to prepare my application and get a recommendation letter.
  • I’ve been offered a chance to write a short article for the next issue of one of the EAC’s newsletters

Other than all of this, something happened to me that has given me a lot of food for thought. At yesterday’s Writer’s Circle breakfast meeting, I bought a copy of The Best Laid Plans available for sale. Now, this is a book that is available for free as a podcast, and my friends and family know that I love, love, love hearing podcast fiction – so why would I buy something that I could get for free?

Well, there are multiple reasons. One, I just never got around to downloading it, even though its success proves the viability of podcast fiction. Two, the book was right there, just waiting to be purchased, and at a reasonable price to boot. Three – and this is the biggie – it was a signed copy. The book would have been a steal without it, and the signature made it an even better value.

So, I guess there’s a lesson here for you publishing wonks: signatures are a value-added feature that you just can’t provide outside of book form.  People like the idea of owning things that have been handled by someone famous, and a signature provides a nice tactile way of proving contact. If any eReader manufacturer ever get the idea of adding digital signatures to eBooks, I guarantee it’ll go down like a lead balloon – the intimacy of physical contact, of the author writing something specifically for you is not there.