If you’ve ever wanted to take up writing or return to the habit after a long absence, a local expert on the craft says there’s no time like the present.
Sherry Peters is an author and writing coach based in Ile des Chenes. She uses her expertise to help fellow writers blast past writer’s block and navigate the ins and outs of the publishing industry.
With another homebound holiday season around the corner, and winter weather ahead, The Carillon caught up with Peters to explore the benefits of writing.
"I’ve always been into writing, telling stories," she said in an interview.
"I find it fills my creative well, but it also fills my emotional well."
Peters wrote her first story—a space shuttle hijacking—at the age of eight. Around the same time, she encountered Lucy Maude Montgomery’s 1908 classic, Anne of Green Gables. Peters realized that if Montgomery could get published, she stood a chance too. Today, she credits the book with setting her on a path toward a career in writing.
Many years of typing in secret followed. Peters said she bought in to the narrative that writing was best considered a private hobby. In her 20s, she began thinking through the mechanics of good writing and compelling storytelling, which led her to a desire for more training.
In 2005, Peters attended the Odyssey Writing Workshop, a six-week intensive in New Hampshire for speculative fiction writers.
By 2009, she had completed a master’s degree in fiction writing from Seton Hill University in Pennsylvania. Life coach training followed.
Peters self-published The Ballad of Mabel Goldenaxe, a trilogy of fantasy novels, starting in 2014. She has also penned two non-fiction books for writers.
In March, she will release her latest volume, The Business of Writing: Everything Writers Need to Know about Traditional, Self, and Hybrid Publishing.
The book contains practical guidance for writers in search of an audience. Peters said she discusses tasks that can feel intimidating, like how to find an agent, write a synopsis, and market your works using online tools.
"There’s always ways to reach your audience and find your audience," she said.
Peters said she wrote the book to answer common questions and to counter misconceptions about the publishing industry perpetuated by Hollywood.
Peters works her coaching and writing career around her day job as a registrar at St John’s College at the University of Manitoba. The affordability of Ile des Chenes drew her from Winnipeg four years ago.
Her coaching sessions take place via videoconference. She currently offers one-on-one sessions but would like to offer group coaching in the future. To date, all her clients have been international. Many are fiction writers daunted by their second book.
"You have your whole life to write the first one, and the second one you’re on a deadline," Peters said.
As a coach, Peters said her goal is to "silence the inner saboteur" that can derail so many promising writers.
She doesn’t mind others peering under the hood of her own creative process.
"I’m a big believer in transparency," she said.
When the pandemic hit, Peters found it harder to read. She turned to television and films for inspiration.
"I find story everywhere," she said.
Peters said writing around others also helps her own practice. Once a week, she joins a group of writers at a Winnipeg café. Hearing others type is a surefire way to get typing yourself, she said. The time feels also more intentional, and the writers keep one another accountable.
"If you’re on Facebook, you’ll get busted."
For those battling writer’s block, she recommends not waiting for inspiration to strike.
"The best thing you can do is just start."
Don’t stress, stay relaxed, and keep an open mind, she advised. Seek out online writing prompts or try documenting your immediate surroundings.
Don’t fall into the trap of thinking everything has to be just so for the words to flow. Peters will write in different rooms of her home, and sometimes curls up on the couch with her laptop and her dog, Ebby.
Peters also encourages writers to prevent other hobbies and commitments from chipping away at time set aside for self-expression on the page.
"You are worthy of taking time for yourself," she said.
Feedback is essential to growth but can be scary to seek out. For first-time or shy writers, Peters recommends starting by sharing your work with a trusted friend, then working your way up to other writers or editors.
Some writer’s residency programs allow authors to submit work for feedback at no cost. Peters said this can be a great way to get high-quality, low-pressure feedback.
Peters said lapsed writers shouldn’t be too hard on themselves.
"It’s OK to set it aside for a while. And it’s never too late to pick it up again."
There’s also nothing wrong with starting a fresh project if an old one seems stale.
Fear of a rejection letter can keep many writers from submitting a manuscript, but Peters said it’s even worse to discount yourself from the get-go.
"It’s best not to self-reject your work. You never know until you try."
Research can also prevent writers from submitting a manuscript to a publisher that doesn’t work in that genre.
Despite the disruptions of technology, Peters said the publishing industry remains relatively conventional. Publishing house consolidations mean fewer avenues for new authors.
Traditional publishing can feel like an uphill battle, but the promotional and retail reach of publishing houses can’t be beat.
Increasingly, self-publishing is an option too, but beware scams and vanity publishers. Peters said writers should carefully research printers and work with a trusted editor.