Reviews

Review: Women in Clothes

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Full disclosure: I’m a contributor to this book.

Women in Clothes
is a book by Sheila Heti, Heidi Julavits, Leanne Shapton and 639 other women who have an interest, an affiliation with, or even something vague and artistic to say about clothes.

The book is a gorgeous tome dedicated to the philosophy of style, taste and fashion.

I was thrilled when I got it in the mail. It felt good to hold. The weight was solid, the surface matte and the water colour simplicity of the cover made it feel important. Of course, being completely self-centred the first thing I did was flip to the back to look for my name in the contributor list. I felt the thrill of seeing my name in print and I flipped around to try and find my quotes. Then I felt embarrassed at my own selfish enthusiasm and proceeded to read the book cover to cover.

It was fascinating. It felt like a sepia-toned stroll through other women’s lives and memories. It was intimate and close, brave and heartfelt. All the stories and interviews and snippets were stunningly curated so they had a seamless feel. No underwear lines to be seen.

I have to admit it was sometimes hard to pick the book up. I’m a fiction lover by nature and the whole thing seemed kind of intimidating and I guess I felt a hint of shallowness just realizing how much I care about my own personal style and the fashion philosophies of others. But I kept picking it up because there was a remarkable honesty to it and there was a feeling of wisdom that came from both the thoughts and feelings of all the women who fill these pages, but also from the editors who somehow made what could be an incredibly shallow subject deep.

Some of my favourite and most moving moments in the book came when I felt someone’s voice was particularly clear; a son interviewing his mother and subtly imposing his ideas onto her, an Isreali soldier giving fashion advice, a five year old discussing her very strong opinions on style, a woman talking about her deceased partner as though he had always, and would always be a part of her mind and heart. The pages were filled with remarkable insight, charm and passion that took me to many different places emotionally and made this book both a pleasure and sometimes a struggle to read.

It was also strange to see my own words in the mix. When I read them there, in context with the rest of the book they seemed to fit so perfectly, as though we had all written a giant poem together, as one mind with hundreds of different fingers. I didn’t remember writing those words in the first place and I felt a sense of fizzy detachment from them.  I was a ghost haunting myself.

Of course as I was reading I couldn’t help comparing my ideas and tastes to those of the contributors. I looked hard for people who might share my particular sense of style—love of bright, gaudy carnival colours and rainbows and tutus. I wasn’t surprised when I didn’t find many who matched with my style but when I looked deeper I realized there were many people who shared my philosophy. The prevailing attitude I felt from the book is that clothing matters; as an inner expression, as a set of hopes or ideals, as something more than just the fabric we drape ourselves with to ward off the cold.

Clothing matters. Where we get it matters (as so heartbreakingly illustrated by the interviews with sweatshop workers). How we wear clothing matters. Who we are beneath the clothing matters. Clothing is an art form, a choice, a challenge and I was amazed to see all the ways the women in this book embraced that.

I was thrilled to be a part of this project and stunned by how beautiful, meaningful and thought-provoking the book turned out to be.

Congratulations to the creators/editors and the fabulously honest contributors for creating such a lovely work of art.

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Self-promotion & networking

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Writing is a business.

Whether you’re penning the next bestseller or writing copy for websites about car parts, writing is a business and you (as a writer) are a business person.

So this means you have to sell, sell, sell yourself.  Self-promotion is the other half of writing.  Once the document is closed or the pen is down (or in the case of freelancing before you even start) you have to find a way to get your words out there.

Since deciding to be a writer (for reals) I’ve done a bunch of research on the subject of how to break into the world of writing.  There are (obviously) different rules for freelancing than there are for being a novelist, but the idea is the same.  Here’s some knowledge on the subject I have accumulated whilst researching.

Platform

Agents like a platform, so do readers.  A platform is basically a soapbox upon which you stand to blast your message out into the virtual world.  It could involve a blog, twitter feed, facebook page and linkedin profile, ideally with thousands of followers who are super interested in the words you have to say.  A lot of writers write about writing (like this blog for example) and themselves, they write about their books and engage with fans.  If you are an unpublished writer like myself (for the moment) it is a good place to get your voice out there and say stuff.  For self-publishers, a platform is a good way to sell people on your writing and get yourself out to the public, it also allows you a place to sell your books and build your brand.  For freelancers, a platform is sweet because it allows you a place to send potential clients to give them a taste of how you write and also link them to your portfolio.  Having a well rounded platform is a launch pad for greatness in the future and gives you a place online to send all your adoring fans as they pile up after you publish your first book.

Why not?  Start a blog about your life and interests.  Make yourself a twitter feed for short, but sweet messages to the world.  Start a facebook page and invite your friends to ‘like’ you.

Talk your face off

Gone are the days of being a reclusive writer, shunning the world and swooning alone in the darkness to your own sweet prose.  It’s a self-promotional world out there and even if you’re not super net-savvy you should still be getting out there and meeting people.  Conferences and writing festivals are awesome ways to get your face out there, shake hands and take numbers.  Lots of agents and publishers go to conferences and festivals to check out the new blood and it’s always good to make yourself known (agents might be more likely to look at the work of someone they meet in person).  There are also local events you can take part in, reading nights, writing groups etc…where you can get loads of information on what’s happening in the writing world.  Get out there and get involved.  Also, if you are a published author a book tour/signing or at the very least a launch party is always a good thing.  People want to see the writer who wrote the words they love.  For freelancers, get to know your market.  If you’re a medical writer, get out there to conferences and meet some doctors, talk shop and keep on top of updating your language and voice.  Shaking hands is always more memorable than e-mail.

Why not?  Look up some conferences and festivals nearby and make a plan to head out to one.  Find a local writing group and join.  Find local readings and see if you can sign up.

Look good doing it

This is a personal preference of course, but I find it’s easier to be memorable if you look good at whatever you are doing.  If you’re rocking a medical conference, dress the part, don’t walk around in your old raggedy jeans and expect people to want to do business with you.  Same goes for being an author.  If you are a romance writer, put a little oomph into your outfit.  Sci-fi writers, would a dash of silver really hurt?  Overall your presentation should match how you want people to see you and the best impressions are always made when you give it some effort.  Just because you spend 99% of your time behind a computer doesn’t mean your style can’t be snappy folks.

Why not?  Put together a couple of stellar outfits to wear to conferences and book signings.  Choose a style that reflects the type of writing you do.  Create your own personal look that is distinct and creative.

Discuss

There are loads of writing forums and blogs out there that you can get involved in.  They offer basic writing discussion as well as feedback opportunities for your work.  Forums can be a great way to meet other writers and get your name out there.  Be careful though because they can also be a time sink for your creativity.  Always remember your own writing should come first before all your pals on the boards!

Why not?  Check out some writing forums and join in the conversation.

Don’t just promote

A lot of people think social media is about promoting yourself non-stop.  You see them all the time on twitter, tweeting the same links over and over and generally driving you crazy with in-your-face promotion.  Social media is called ‘social’ for a reason.  It’s a place to discuss and engage, not shove your product into someone’s face.  You want to learn to be part of the conversation, otherwise people will just tune you out.  Saying something relevant and helpful is good, commenting on other posts or tweets is good and not overdoing the links to your books is also good.  Just think of it like a normal conversation in real life, if you just sit there repeating the same sentence over and over at people they will eventually get bored and walk away.

Why not?  Find some way to engage your community with helpful hints or personal anecdotes.  Stop tweeting the same message over and over.  Join in the conversation.

If you don’t have anything good to say, don’t say anything at all

I was at a writing talk at Ryerson the other day and there was an agent there.  After all the talk of social networking and self-promotion she made sure to add in that sometimes saying something poorly is worse than not saying anything at all.  Ain’t it the truth?  Maybe you just have a knack for writing fiction and really suck at self-promotion, if that’s the case that’s okay.  There’s still the more traditional route of publishing for those who don’t want to get out there online and yammer away.  So take heart if none of the above sound like you, you can still write your heart out, get it published and be a bestseller.  At some point you may be invited to talk at conferences with or without self-promotion and at that point, the talk your face off and look good doing it points will still apply to you.

Why not? Stick to what you’re good at and just keep writing.

Anything to add?  Did I miss anything?  Let me know!

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This is a post for www.writesofluid.com’s blog writing challenge.  One blog post a day for all of June!  Check it out at the website or on twitter: @sofluid or #wpad!

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My (not so) secret hobbies

This is a post for www.writesofluid.com’s blog writing challenge.  One blog post a day for all of June!  Check it out at the website or on twitter: @sofluid or #wpad!

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I’m not a crafty person.

I can barely sew, I can’t draw and I can’t even cut in a straight line.  I don’t have the patience to knit, I can’t fold very well (although Ben and I once folded a thousand paper cranes – half of mine looked like turkeys) and I don’t have a mind for music.

We play Mythic from time to time (a free association role playing game) and I’ve been known to LARP (Live Action Role Play), but as of right now I don’t do either with enough frequency to call it a hobby.

So really, when it came to the question of my ‘secret hobby’ for today’s post, I had little to offer up from the depths.  Right now I work a lot, write a lot, make videos and watch TV when we can fit it in.  But none of those things are hobbies particularly, so what would I call my hobbies?

The first is walking.  I love walking.  I love walking because it often leads to adventuring.  When I was traveling I hitchhiked a lot and the thing about hitchhiking is that it’s hard to do it in the city.  So I’d get dropped off at one end of a city and then I’d have to walk to the other end to keep on going.  With a heavy traveling pack, this was not the most fun, but it fostered a love for walking that I still carry with me.  When you’re walking you get to see things you never would have in a car or on the transit.  It forces you to look around at the world and offers you the opportunity to take a different path.  I’ve always loved the idea of a walkabout and sometimes the most liberating thing in the world is to just pick a direction and walk.  Walking allows you to think and breathe and explore.  Ben and I walk whenever we can and our most recent claim to fame is walking straight across the city from the Beaches to Etobicoke.  25km in 5 hours.  We learned we walk 5km an hour, very satisfying.

The second is fashion.  I don’t mean to say I am some sort of Dolche & Gabanna wearing fashionista.  Goodness no.  Like walking, I like fashion because it allows me to take a different path.  When I was a kid my Mom dressed me.  I was made to wear these flowery, lacy atrocities that still make me shudder to this day, but occasionally she’d put me in something cool.  My overalls in kindergarten, my Peter Pan outfit in grade three, once I had shoes that had a pocket in the tongue and I was in heaven (I would put pennies in the pocket and call it treasure).  I remember my fashion liberation well, it was grade seven and I went downtown for school and lucky for me, my school was right beside kensington market.  From there it was vintage tops and rainbow tights.  I discovered sparkles and ox blood doc martins and hair dye.  My graduation dress in grade 8 was a bright blue number and I dyed my hair a shocking orange to accompany it.  From there my love for cool clothes grew.  Now I have wings on my shoes, a bin full of striped tights and tutus and a handful of adorable dresses which I refer to as ‘clown chic’.  My inspirations are the circus and the world of fairies and the names of my favorite clothing stores involve the word ‘fairy’ or ‘cyber’.

I guess there’s a theme to the things I like: liberation.  I like being free to think and act and do what I want.  I like making choices for myself and forging my own path.  So whether on foot or in fashion I would definitely say my not so secret hobby is being free.

What about you?  What do you love?