Halifax to the max: a master’s residency experience

Oh goodness, I am lost for words. This doesn’t happen often folks!

I have just come back from a ten-day trip to Halifax, Nova Scotia. I have never been to the East Coast of Canada before, and the scenery, history, and welcome from Haligonians was astounding. I’m smitten.

The trip was prompted by the summer residency of the Master of Fine Arts in Creative Nonfiction program at University of King’s College. The program is offered in partnership with Dalhousie University, which means it benefits from a whole whack of different amenities but also retains the charms of a small institution. King’s is the oldest chartered university in Canada. Established in 1789, it is the oldest English-speaking Commonwealth university outside of the United Kingdom. It was originally based in Windsor, but after a fire ripped through all the buildings, it was relocated to Dalhousie campus at the corner of Oxford Street and Coburg Road.

I could write and write and write about this all day long, but likely best to just show you some photos from the experience.

Woman stands in front of old stone building with sign in background saying "University of King's College"

Arrived! Yes, I look a bit bedraggled after a red-eye flight from Vancouver to Halifax, but happy I managed to navigate the bus system with ease to arrive on campus.

Stone building at Dalhousie campus with beautiful boxwood hedges out front.

Dalhousie and King’s campus did not disappoint. Tons of history preserved so well.

Dorm room with a bed, desk and small bureau for clothes.

My first dorm room ever. I never lived in student housing through undergraduate studies, either at home with my parents or in my own place. It was fantastic being on campus throughout the residency as classes were just exhausting (they crammed a lot into my brain in those ten days!), but let’s just say shared accommodations are probably best experienced in your 20s.

Bound book featuring student signatures and names as part of King's Matriculation tradition.

Being an old institution, there are several traditions at King’s that I have never experienced as a student before. One is called “Matriculation,” where students sign a book in the Library. If you are an undergrad, I believe they do a whole ceremony around signing and officially matriculating at King’s — a bookend companion to the convocation ceremony, I guess. There was no pomp or circumstance when I arrived, though, but I got to sign the book all the same. Once things fill up a bit more, they hire a professional calligrapher to write out everyone’s names. Super formal and fancy.

Wall of small paintings at the Halifax Public Library

One of our last nights we visited the Halifax Public Library for a reading. They had a wall filled with art. The public library in a town says so much about its people, and Halifax’s new building was stunning. Very modern but actually cozy.

Simone Blais in a pub holding an aperol spritz

What writing workshop would be complete without a beverage? End of day libations were much needed after all that learning and creativity.

Under the surface

Yes, this space has been a little quiet. Please don’t take the radio silence for stillness. Things have been moving at break-neck speed behind the scenes!

I am currently working on my master’s degree – a joint program from University of King’s College and Dalhousie University! So far, it has been incredibly challenging and yet wildly rewarding. I can see growth in my writing and the lens through which I see words and the world.

It has meant scaling back on client work, unfortunately, but I know I will offer just so much more value to my clients once this journey of exploration and learning is complete.

Stay tuned as I announce new projects and my own writing in the coming months.

Podcast interview about editing Finding Your Cape

As a writer, today is surreal. I’m usually quite happy to stay within the writing medium, comfortable hiding behind the words shown on a screen.

Mare McHale does have a way of pulling people out of their comfort zones, though.

The author of Finding Your Cape: How to Course Correct and Achieve Greatness When Things Don’t Go as Planned asked me to be a guest on her podcast, help her kick off the second season and dish a bit on the editing process. How could I say no?

So if you were ever curious about what my voice sounds like, feel free to listen to the snippet below. Check out the podcast episode link to our convo about editing and writing on a personal topic.

http://simoneblais.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/09/IMG_5962.mov

Listen to the full podcast

Red pens are your friends: how different types of editing can help

Ever stared at a painting so long that the lines seem to move? This is what happens with words after you have written 60,000 of them and spent a few weeks rearranging them on the page. The lines blur, and then you can’t see the details in the story for the colourful canvas you have created. 

When I worked in journalism, I had an editor who said that the newspaper was the only type of business that involved making a mistake, printing 50,000 copies and sending them to your closest friends. There was even a retired English teacher in town who loved to pass his hours by marking up our work with red ink over errant punctuation or grammar, and mailing newsprint sheets back to us.

When your writing is scrutinized by that degree, you and the editorial team develop a lot of systems to avoid making mistakes in the first place. Editing happened at every stage of our publication process: writing, revising, fact-checking, copy editing, proofreading. If you had to change the story because of a late development, you returned to the beginning and ran through the stages again.

Editing isn’t just about catching mistakes, though. Yes, programs like Grammarly can help you craft an easy-to read email with fewer spelling mistakes. A real-life editor has the tools to chip away at all the extraneous bits in a story, whittling everything down to its essence to expose the story so much that a reader cannot look away.

Author and former publishing house executive Arthur Plotnik once explained the value of editing to be that, “You write to communicate to the hearts and minds of others what’s burning inside of you, and we edit to let the fire show through the smoke.”

What kinds of editing are there? There are four main types of editing, which depend largely on what stage you are in the writing process. 

Substantive Edit

This is the type of edit needed once you have emerged triumphantly from finishing the first draft of your manuscript and used that momentum to clean up glaring errors. You don’t know if the manuscript “works,” quite yet. In fact, you’re sure that some weird strand has woven its way through the pages, but you can’t see it and don’t know how to yank it out of your story.

If you are like many writers, the happy veneer of finishing a first draft has worn off, and you can barely glance at the work again without wincing.

I like to call the substantive edit the “ugly duckling phase,” when you can see the beginnings of something really special if you look past all those feathers and honking noises, but it is going to take a lot of time and work to get it looking swan-like.

Substantive editing picks apart the structure of a story: exposition of plot/information, order of events, form, character development and thematic elements. If this stage of editing were a jigsaw puzzle, you would be flipping paragraphs and chapters around, figuring out where they best fit — and how the transitions work between patches of colour. It honestly is where the big picture of the narrative puzzle comes together.

Deletion is an important part of this stage, and can be difficult for many people. William Faulkner is famously quoted as having said that writers have to kill their darlings. Those characters, plot events, descriptions and formats we love? Yes, those are your darlings. The substantive edit phase is a great time to give those the axe – and having someone else put them under the blade is the best way to strengthen your story.

Stylistic Edit

You have a solid second or third draft of a manuscript which has been rewritten and revised into the order you know is right for your story. It’s a good draft, but you want to make it great.

Stylistic editing (also known as a line edit) makes the writing an enjoyable read: establishing the necessary voice and tone, clarifying meaning, refining language and diction. I tend to add some copy editing into this phase as well, depending on the client.

At this stage, I spend time asking “Does this make sense?” or “Would this character use those words, or say it another way?” A good editor is able to read the work completely immersed in not just the story, but the reader’s experience and expectations of the story.

Copy Edit

Your manuscript is now at the third-draft stage, having been read by someone else and extensively revised and refined. You’re actually starting to get sick of this project a little.

Copy editing covers accuracy, consistency and quality: grammar, spelling, punctuation, stylistic consistency, correcting information and asking questions to check accuracy.

Call it nit-picking if you like, but the devil’s in the details. Do you want the reader to stay in your story, or stumble on your missteps? Nothing pulls them out more than incorrect geographical references, spelling mistakes and misuse of punctuation. Having professionally trained eyes read your work at this stage is critical. This is often the work that corporations, large companies and organizations will hire editors to do, because they know polishing their written material makes a huge difference in the end product.

Proofread

Your manuscript has been designed is ready for publishing, but you need one final read-through to make sure it is absolutely perfect. I can say from experience that spellcheck will only take you so far, my friend.

Proofreading examines the material after layout (once a graphic designer has put together its final format) to correct any errors in textual and visual elements. Design consistency, minor mechanical errors, page numbering, etc., are reviewed at this stage. It’s the final polish to getting your manuscript shining like a new coin.

Beyond the red pen

You can have a professional help you with one or all of these phases in the publishing process. Depending on your writing experience, it might be more valuable to have an editor work with you at the beginning, helping craft the piece into the shape you need it to take on. Or if you have a fact-based story and have been fastidious about revisions, maybe you engage someone for copy editing and proofreading.

But a huge added value that many editors offer is moral support. Writing is a maddeningly complicated art form, fraught with all sorts of traps and hang-ups. Having someone who can talk you through the low valleys and celebrate ascending those heights validates the emotional journey of writing. Sharing the trip makes it that much more enjoyable.

When a book editor works with a YouTuber

The thing about being a freelance editor is you can’t see the all the reactions your writer has during the highs and lows of the editing process.

I always try to be kind. You can be a ruthless editor without making someone feel like they’ve been run down by a speeding pickup with studded tires. I do my best to FaceTime or Skype my clients during the “low points” of the process, so that all my words are delivered sensitively. I can see their reaction, anticipate their concern or frustration, and try to alleviate their fears. When you’re in the weeds of the editing process, it can be a dark time for a writer — the moment they want to throw the work in a bin and light a match. Not one single writer needs fuel for those flames of self-doubt.

I spend a lot of time hand-holding through the low valleys, but usually we are done before they reach the very peak of the mountain — when they read positive feedback and are floating above the ground with happiness. Or most importantly, that last 10% of the climb they must face alone.

Gotta love that post-delivery glow

That experience has been true for me, until I worked with Mare McHale. She records the entire moment with her video camera — including when FedEx comes to her front door with four very heavy boxes holding no less than 200 books.

You get to hear the squeals of excitement. You see the sparkle in her eyes. That’s when the editor gets to climb the mountain peak too… I actually fell off my chair laughing so hard at her reaction, there was so. much. joy.

Then she unpacks all those lovely books in preparation for mailing out the pre-orders she received. Taking in the magnitude of her achievement, she starts crying in her kitchen and thanking people for believing in her, championing her on, and supporting her on the journey. And then you start crying, too.

Her book will be released on Jan. 23, and she has a special book launch celebration set for Jan. 25. (Tickets can be purchased here. Don’t wait – tickets are going quickly) In the meantime, she has several media interviews scheduled, as interest in the subject of mental health and the woman whose light is helping others find their way out of darkness grows.

I cannot wait for the celebration, when I can offer a toast to her achievement and soak in her joy — all in person.

Secret’s out… Mare wrote a book!

Super happy to share today’s news… Mare McHale is writing a book!

That’s right: the CEO of Redhead Mare Media, radio announcer and frontrunner of the Mareathon has been spending some quality time at the keyboard these last few months, in an effort to tell her story. I’m proud to say I am playing a small part in this project supporting Mare through the writing process as an editor and cheerleader.

She posted a video last year about her speaking engagement and how it was the start of a book. It hit me like a ton of bricks, that I was going to help her with this project. I sent her a note suggesting we meet, because I knew she had a book inside of her and I could help get it out of her head and on the page. When we chatted over lunch, she confessed that she didn’t know where to start. And so we began with me supporting her as a writing coach, cheerleader and editor, coaxing her words onto the page. I’m really excited for her!

 Check out her vlog announcing the project:

I love, love, love how thrilled she is. On Friday I delivered the hard copy of the working manuscript to her, and she was beaming. This has been a tough one to keep under wraps, so when Mare said she was announcing the project, I was excited and very relieved!

If you don’t who Mare is, I recommend you check out her YouTube channel and website. Her official bio reads like someone who is in serious need of a vacation. 

Mare is a Canadian YouTuber and radio announcer, sharing her journey in daily vlogs. She created the Mareathoner community on Facebook, to ensure others feel less alone. She’s a strong woman with a strong brand encouraging women to take care of themselves. Mare is an advocate for mental health, women’s health and special needs. She has a son, Thomas, who is deaf & Autistic; she’s determined to help him & educate others by example. In June of 2017 Mare’s husband Jeremy took his life after battling depression and anxiety for years. This tragedy spurred Mare to be vulnerable and honest about her journey, with the hopes of helping others.

I have to say, the woman behind the bio is truly incredible and I am so proud to call her my friend. I struggle to find the words to describe how much she has inspired me, and it is humbling to be there for her during this project, which I know will make a big difference in the lives of many.

So stay tuned as this project unfolds – this is a book you won’t want to miss.

Meet Simone

Thanks for stopping by my site.

Here’s the 411 on my professional background: I have over 20+ years of communications experience, including in journalism, local government, non-profits and education. My journalistic writing won national and provincial awards, and I have carried that passion for the written word into a career harnessing the power of stories to shape the world around us.

I edit non-fiction, corporate reports, marketing materials and, apparently, a lot of my son’s essays. Where I really shine is helping clients through the process of writing, coaching them through major projects be it manuscript writing or revisions.

I haven’t come across a deadline I couldn’t meet, and have a particular soft spot for using my storytelling powers for good. So if you have an inspiring story and want to change the world, then we should definitely talk.

I am most at home while meandering trails with my dog, or behind a camera.

Check out my work, or send me a message.

 

What I do

I do words. What I lack in snowboarding skills, I totally make up for in good grammar.

 

Editing

I worked in newsrooms for 15+ years, producing pages of copy on news, features, sports and business throughout British Columbia. I was an editor for years, combing through piles of text looking for inaccuracies, gaps in stories and, of course, stray commas. And I never missed a deadline.

Now, I edit non-fiction manuscripts, corporate reports, marketing materials and my son’s essays. It is a different world than being a writer, and I always remain mindful of a client’s goals when editing and being sensitive to their voice. But above all else, I commit to being honest – because you deserve no less.

Proofreading

I had a manager once say that proofreading is like picking fly sh!t from the pepper. Evidently, I’m a magnet for fly poop – although not sure if I should put that on my business card. No matter if you need Chicago, MLA, Associated Press/Canadian Press styles, I can make sure your work is polished to a professional standard so you can hit “publish” with confidence.

Writing coach

Here’s the thing: everyone has a story, but most people don’t know how to write it. I work with writers to help them identify their voice with exercises that build their manuscript at the same time. My method works, and clients have said they felt supported and nurtured throughout the process. First things first, though: your writing coach must be a good fit for you. If you have a book idea, drop me a line. I would love to chat with you to see if we would be a match (without any weird online dating vibes, promise).

Copywriting and content marketing

Here are just a few ways my writing can help your enterprise:

  • website copy
  • content marketing
  • feature writing
  • social media strategy and posts
  • newsletter writing
  • email campaigns
  • creative direction

Public relations

For years, I was the one decided whether someone’s news releases saw the light of day. Now I use that knowledge and discerning editor eye to help clients get the attention they need from intended audiences. I write news releases, media advisories and communications plans. Need media training? I can do that, too.

Sneak a peek at what I’ve done

Take a look at my work samples to get a feel for what I have done in the past. Looking for something else? I’m pretty creative, so contact me and let’s see what we can do.