Hi Everyone, and WELCOME to The Writing Fairy website. I'm Dorothea Helms, freelance writer, poet, book author, fiction dabbler, writing instructor, keynote speaker, humorist, wife, mother and slave to my English Bulldog, Margaret. My website is undergoing a facelift, boob lift, liposuction, weight loss program ... wait a minute - those are things I need personally. Sheesh. But my website IS in transition after being neglected for a LONG time. My goal is to inspire writers; my method humour (or humor in the U.S.). Enjoy!

Coaxing closet writers to emerge and make their magic known!

Archive for August, 2006

Shelf Life

This essay tied for first place in the 3rd Annual Writing Contest by the Haliburton Highlands Writers’ and Editors’ Network and the Agnes Jamieson Gallery in June, 2005

As a person who values logic, it bothers me that I already own more books than I can read before I die even if I live to be 100, and that I continue to buy them. I have books all over my house. Shelves of them. Stacks of them. Baskets of them. Drawers of them. Piles of them. Paperbacks, hardcovers, chapbooks, joke books, tiny books, huge books, reference books, novels, how-to’s, new books, old books, textbooks, antique books. Books with pretty covers, books with ripped covers, books with no covers. I have so many coffee table books that I’d have to buy six more coffee tables if I wanted to display them.

Continue reading…

The Gift of Words

The following essay, which was featured in The Globe and Mail Facts & Arguments on January 7, 2003, won the Perioridal Writers Association of Canada’s 2005 Barbara Novak Award For Excellence in Humour and/or Personal Essay Writing.

Validation can be as liberating for the teacher as for the student.
He called at one of the lowest points in my life.

After eight weeks, I was still in a cast from my broken leg, still in a rented wheelchair, crashing into trim and baseboards. Hemorrhoids had reared their ugly little heads, and I could feel a bladder infection coming on. My chronic cough was worse than ever. It was 2½ weeks before Christmas 2000, and I had 30 people arriving that weekend for my husband’s 50th birthday bash. Writing assignments were piling up, as clients called needing last-minute jobs completed before the holidays. I wasn’t done shopping, hadn’t started baking and was considering not decorating the house at all. And there on the other end of the phone line was a creative writing student I hadn’t seen or heard from in more than a year—asking if I’d type in a handwritten entry for a short story contest so he could submit it by the end of the month. My first reaction was to say “No”— and I did. “Can’t you find a friend to type it in?” I asked. As he explained how reluctant he was to let anyone else see the story, my battle-weary brain cells snapped into temporary formation, and connected a face with the name and voice.

Ah, yes, the young man with the soft eyes; eyes that betrayed a hard life. The young man who wrote his assignments by hand because he couldn’t afford a computer. The young man who stammered when he read his work aloud. The young man who apologized for … well, everything. The young man with the poor grammar and spelling skills. The young man I considered one of the most gifted writers I’d ever encountered. And (as he reminded me) the young man to whom I had made a solemn promise: “You did say that if I ever decided to enter a writing contest, you’d type the story for me.”

I had meant it the previous year when I reassured him: “You can learn grammar and spelling, but your ability as a storyteller is a gift. Work on the mechanics and let the stories flow.” In fact, I envied him. It’s an awesome moment in a teacher’s life when she realizes she is guiding someone who is more talented than she. It’s also thrilling. I daydream about writing the kind of fiction that streams from this man’s imagination; yet there he was in mid-December saying, “If you think the story’s garbage, tell me. Change anything you want.” As he handed over the black folder containing that cherished segment of his soul, I sensed his excitement — and his fear. He’d been criticized before, his pop fiction-loving friends telling him his work needed more “action.” Understanding my responsibility to him, I promised to be honest.

Several days before Christmas, I decided to read his story through once before typing. I cried — not just for the compelling content, but for the exposition. I wept at the sensitive, poignant lead he had created, and for how he had varied his sentence structure throughout. I melted inside when I read his startling metaphors, and I reveled in his sensuous word choices that allowed me as the reader to hear, see, feel, smell and even taste each scene.

He had put into practice just about everything we had covered in that 10-week college course. The characters spoke with distinct voices that weren’t his. The surprise ending was prefaced by seeds of foreshadowing he had sown with his unique brilliance. The symbolism he wove transported the story to a depth that no amount of “action” could mine.

I corrected a few misspelled words and rearranged a handful of commas as I typed, but I left the writing intact. When he came to pick up his story, I shared my opinion: “This is too good for a contest; it’s worthy of a literary journal.” But we agreed that the contest was a start. “You put a lot of work into this,” I said, “and it shows.”

“I looked over all my assignments from your course, especially the corrections you made, and used all your advice,” he offered, not realizing the impact those words had on me. In a humble gesture to dismiss my compliment, he waived his right arm and said, “I rewrote the story so many times, I’m sick of it.”

Ah, the mark of a true writer — AND an unexpected boost to my often flagging confidence as a writing instructor. Most artists realize that a writer’s life is plagued by self-doubt. “What gives me the right?” asks the fledgling author who has no choice but to assemble words into unique literary packets. But the writer MUST write, just as the painter is compelled to orchestrate pigment and shape, and the musician fulfills passion by tinting the air with emotion-charged waves.

Teaching writing is lonely, too. What gives ME the right to presume I can shape the abilities and imaginations of other writers, many far more skilled than I? My computer-less friend answered that question for me. He handed me a box of truffles to thank me for the typing favour, but his real gift to me was validation. He had listened to me. Trusted me. Acted on my advice — and the result was breathtaking. He trotted off with three copies of his submission: one for the contest, one for his files and one for his mother. Chocolates and a copy for his mom—you gotta love a guy like that, don’t you?

His words represented one of the most wonderful gifts I’ve ever received. The next time someone reaches out to me for a favour, hemorrhoids or not, I won’t be so quick to say no.

The following essay, which aired on CBC Radio’s “First Person Singular” in September, 2003, explains best how Dorothea feels about The Writing FairyTM mission.

Every now and then my husband says something profound. Last time it happened was in 1992 – the year I celebrated my 41st birthday. I was grumbling about the fact that I was halfway through my life if I was lucky, and that I’d always wanted to be a writer, and wasn’t it too bad that I hadn’t pursued a writing career, blah, blah, blah.

With that irritating male logic look in his eyes, my significant other stopped my whining with, “So, be a writer.”

Continue reading…

Sometimes even the best writers let down audiences when they read their work aloud. During this one-day workshop, Dorothea will share with you many of the guidelines that have made her a popular speaker and presenter, and won her speech contests during the years she spent as a member of International Toastmistress Organization (now called ITC). This one-day workshop helps writers develop their verbal skills in order to captivate audiences during author readings and book tours.

After a decade of hearing from clients, “I love to work with you because you’re so professional,” Dorothea decided to analyze what characteristics and approaches give a writer a professional edge. Find out about practices that take you from “amateur writer” to “professional.” This one-day workshop focuses on details about writing and styles, plus good business practices that help you attract and keep clients.