What is your most recent writing project, or, what is a piece you’ve had published recently?
Recently, the Nashwaak Review published a nonfiction story I wrote about my short stay in Wadi Rum, Jordan’s desert. Mostly I write fiction now, so this piece was unusual from that perspective but also because I travel a lot and almost never write about my trips for publication. And my first novella, The Finest Supermarket in Kabul, was launched January 31, 2018.
I always have writing projects on the go! My current list includes research for my next book, a novel with parallel narratives about a family separated in Germany’s WWII; a short story about a film camera in three distinct time periods, and another one set in Toronto’s art scene in the 1980s.
What’s your favorite thing someone else has said about your writing?
A good friend messaged me this comment: Holy f**k! I’m only on page 30 and I’m in love with your writing. . . sweet and human as well as smart and to-the-point!
What is one craft or writing book you love?
At the moment, I’m reading Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert. A few friends recommended it as a good writing tool. While it’s not exactly that, it is an amazing vote of confidence and pick-me-up for artists doubting the success or viability of their work in the public realm. I skirted Eat, Pray, Love after flipping through the first few chapters, but this book is lovely in its informality and enthusiasm for just putting it out there--like talking to a good friend or partner when belief in a new or on-going project is waning or dead. I’m about to get into two technical books, The Art of Description: World into Word and The Emotion Thesaurus.
Who is one other writer you’re excited about right now?
I came across Lydia Davis when reading a New York Times article and loved Can’t and Won’t. I think micro stories don't get the love they deserve. I write flash fiction for an annual chapbook my writing group puts together, so I know how hard it is to “write short.” In fact, the shorter the story, the more difficult it is to satisfyingly cover all plot points. My blog stories are modeled after this style.
What’s the worst piece of writing advice you’ve ever gotten? What’s the best?
The worst piece of writing advice I ever received was to turn a short story with an experimental introduction into a screenplay. Instead, I standardized the first paragraph and liberally edited until I was happy with my narrative. The best advice was for characters to use all their senses when describing surroundings. Now when I write, I make a note: ‘see; smell; hear; touch; taste’ and lay it beside my laptop as a reminder for my characters to engage all or as many senses as possible.
Do you have a dedicated work space? Do you write in your home or do you prefer to write elsewhere? Can you write while traveling?
No dedicated work space, I write mostly from my couch. There is a desk in my house, but my partner claimed dibs as soon as we bought it. And it’s become a mini man-cave covered in his film photography stuff. But that’s okay since writing is something I do at night and I prefer to be comfortable when being creative.
Other than short blog posts, I’ve found it impossible to produce substantive writing while on the road anywhere.
What are some of your writing habits?
My biggest need while writing is WiFi because I like to see what a character or narrator is describing so it can be as accurate as possible. I google all kinds of images and flip back and forth as I’m writing.
I tend to write in the evenings, and sometimes on weekend afternoons. I would love to write every day, but it’s tricky with a full-time job and other time-consuming obligations. A friend wisely told me not to wait for inspiration to write, but to treat writing like any other job or task. I’m doing that more and more now and find I can write quick snippets here and there that will be ironed out in the editing anyway.
When you are sitting down to write what is the first thing you do?
Craft a title I like. Arguably this can take a while, and will often change as the story unfolds. But I can't write without one.
How do you pay the bills/financially support yourself?
Before I became an author, I found an awesome partner (for that story see Single and dating in my 40s: It's no fairytale) and we both have full-time jobs. I also teach a college course, which is great because it means that money is plentiful. Yet, as I gain more writing successes, I’m craving more writing time even though I’m not ready to reinvent my work choices.
When in your life have you felt your work/life balance to be most in sync? When in your life have you felt the most out of sync?
When I left my international development career and moved home to Toronto, I didn’t have a job. As I was exploring options, I joined Moosemeat Writing Group to feed my artistic side, but also to meet new people. Success on both counts and for the next few years there was more writing/life than work, which while stressful, but also gave me space to write the beginning chapters of The Finest Supermarket in Kabul. To transition to a new career, I opted to go back to school for a masters. During this year there was more work than writing/life and my manuscript did not get much love. I started working full-time directly afterwards and picked my draft back up once I’d settled in. Now I’m well balanced, although I do sometimes contemplate setting the alarm for 5 a.m. so I can increase my writing time. Mind you, that doesn’t work well since I'm not a morning person.
What are the most pressing demands for your time, energy, labor (including emotional labor)? What has worked best for you in terms of balancing those demands with writing?
I find my most pressing demands are connected to activities I’m involved in beyond writing and work--I curl twice a week and help organize teams; I’m president of my condo board; I have a standing trivia game with friends; and I teach a course at a local college. More than a full plate. To get in some writing (beyond the highly unlikely 5 a.m. start), I give myself small word goals and focus on finishing scenes.
What are the ideal conditions for your creativity?
Ideal conditions for creativity are coffee, an image of the scene I’m creating, silence and perhaps a view outside of weather conditions that make me want to stay indoors.
Do you have any writing rituals? Or any non-writing rituals that feed your writing life?
A writing ritual that fuels my brain is keeping a list of “good first story lines.” When someone says something that would make a great opening sentence for a story that’s not yet written but conjures an idea, I add it to my notes. I’ve captured about 50 opening sentences, and scroll through them when I’m starting a new writing project or blog story. My favorites:
I know an 85-year-old with boy trouble.
Nothing good ever starts with please.
No crazy people bothered me today because they think I’m one of them.
What self-care practices do you have and what, if any, routines do you have surrounding them? How does self-care relate to your writing life?
One very specific self-care practice is running, either at the gym or in High Park near my condo. I’ve always enjoyed the exhilaration of a good run, but will also use this time to work through sticky plot points. Sometimes I’ve found myself writing and quickly changing gears to head out for a run if I’m stuck in a story.
For more than a decade, Ele Paweleski has managed human rights projects in Kabul, Afghanistan and other danger-pay-locales. Now living in urban Toronto with her husband, she is always planning for her next travel adventure. Her stories have appeared in magazines, journals and newspapers. The Finest Supermarket in Kabul is her first novella.