This month’s member spotlight introduces us to Anita Allen. A love of reading since her childhood led her to a love of writing. Anita plans, but is also flexible when it comes to her schedule. A good tool for a writer.
Tell Us About Yourself
When did you decide you wanted to become an author?
It’s been said that if you want to be a writer, begin as an insatiable reader. Although I can’t attribute that quote to anyone specific, I believe it to be the truth. I have loved reading for as long as I can remember. My mother bought me a series of Dr. Seuss books that arrived monthly in the mail. The day a new book arrived was the best day of the month. As soon as I could get a library card of my own I spent hours perusing the aisles, looking for new authors. When I read my first Madeline L’Engle book, A Wrinkle in Time, I decided that I wanted to write. I think I was about ten years old. I’ve been writing ever since.
Do you have another job besides writing?
Like many writers, I have a day job. I choose a career as a physiotherapist twenty-six years ago and I’ve built several private practices over the course of my career. I love my job almost as much as I love writing, and I’m glad to have both.
Why do you write?
I write for many reasons. The most compelling reason is that I’m the type of person who needs to process my experiences on paper. Creating a narrative about difficult or confusing events has been cathartic at times. Slipping into a character has often surprised me with a totally different perspective on what I’m writing about.
Tell us five random things about yourself.
- I grew up in a rural Ontario town with a population of less than 500 people.
- I am an enthusiastic knitter and can never seem to say no to a pretty skein of hand dyed yarn.
- My Portuguese water dog refuses to swim, but we love her anyway.
- I’m a neuro-anatomy geek, which makes me a terrible person to watch hospital based dramas with.
- I have a ukulele but haven’t figured out how to play it – yet.
Writing and Critique Groups and Professional Organizations
Do you belong to a critique group? How has this helped or hindered your writing.
Sometimes I think the people in my writing groups know me better than anyone! I have been very fortunate to write with an assortment of writers, both online and in person. I find the accountability of a group helps me generate new ideas and ensures I make time to get those ideas onto paper. For me, a good group is one where there are clear ground rules about how and when feedback is delivered. If the group is working on new ideas and taking risks with their creativity, feedback should be minimal and encouraging. It’s a vulnerable time and poorly delivered feedback can shut a fellow writer down. Critiquing and workshopping a story comes later, when a writer has had some time to work on a piece and is looking for specific feedback about craft. I’ve had the experience of taking a first draft into an academic workshop setting and it was awful! I didn’t know myself well as a writer at that point. If I had, I would have known that I was in the wrong place at the wrong time and wouldn’t have felt derailed by the experience. I hope no one else has had that experience, but if you have, I want to tell you that there are lots of different writing groups out there no matter where you are in your growth as a writer.
The Process of Writing
When do you get your best ideas and why do you think this is?
I get my best ideas while driving. I spend a lot of time silently talking to myself and when I’m driving I find it easier to eavesdrop on my inner conversations. If I have an idea but it feels elusive, I’ll go for a walk or knit. Something about the movement helps me daydream in a more focused way. I just recently learned a method of using Tarot cards to create character profiles and that has also been a rich source of ideas.
How do you divide your time between taking care of a home and children, and writing? Do you plan your writing sessions in advance?
I have three children and a business, so I plan everything I do. Most days I end up throwing the plan out the window, but I try to save time in the morning for the things that are most important to me, like writing. I use a timer for quick sprints of freewriting most days. I work with simple prompts to get me started on days when time is short. I also block off a few hours at a time during the week that are more leisurely, so that I can daydream, listen to a podcast or work on a project. I also have a weekly group writing session that keeps me motivated.
The World of Publishing
Do you have another book in the works? Would you like to tell readers about your current or future projects?
I’ve just launched a blog called Alphabet Soup (www.alphabet-soup.ca) that explores autism (ASD), attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), learning disabilities (LD) and a number of other neurological differences. I grew up in a home where neurological divergence was the norm and I’m raising three boys who have been given an alphabet soup of diagnoses. I’ve learned a lot along the way, personally and professionally. Neurodivergent individuals are part of society and have been for a long time. It seems that the numbers of neurological variations are growing, so I think it’s important to start talking about the different ways we perceive the world. We all have a place in it.
On Reading and Ideas
What book are you reading now?
Preistdaddy by Patricia Lockwood. She is a poet, so the words in this darkly funny memoir just sing off the page.
Do your pets help you with your writing?
My dog enjoys writing time. She may be a water dog that doesn’t swim, but she is a champion napper and likes to keep me company by taking over the best chair in the den while I’m scribbling.
If you could interview one writer (alive or dead), who would it be? Why?
Mary Oliver would be at the top of my list. Whenever I need to feel grounded, I read a Mary Oliver poem. She had a way of cutting through to the heart of a matter. Her ability to observe the smallest detail in the natural world and then capture it on the page was magnificent. Now that she has departed this world, I’m re-listening to an interview she gave to Krista Tippett in an On Being podcast and feeling grateful for the body of work she left behind.
We’d like to thank Anita for participating in this month’s member spotlight. We look forward to reading her work and blog in the future
If you’re interested in participating in the WCYR Member Spotlight, please email Loni at email@example.com.
Anita Allen is a Physiotherapist by day and a writer in stolen moments. She loves to write with groups and has published several essays in anthologies published by WELSystems Institute. Anita has been a member of assorted writing groups since 2010. She attended The Humber School of Writers summer program and recently completed Sarah Selecky’s Story Intensive Program.