Writer W.H.I.P.S it good at Dal

Professional and student writers perform their craft in front of an audience at "Write Here, in Plain Sight"

Gothic-writer Deanna Foster listens to film scores to keep her writing on track. (Photo: David Kumagai)

Before novelist Deanna Foster writes a new scene in her vampire epic, she blasts her favourite movie score.

Her method was on display Friday as a participant in Dalhousie University's fifth annual "Write Here, in Plain Sight" workshop, where writers of all stripes performed their craft on a large screen in front of others.

Foster, a published author, forms a scene in her head and then uses a song's rhythm to help her write it swiftly, without interruption.

"Hans Zimmer is like my second boyfriend," she said, referring to the German composer behind Inception, The Dark Knight and Rain Man.

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DJ Rossi says his writing is typically driven by deadlines, not a specific process. (Photo: Patrick Odell)

Foster was one of ten writers who volunteered for the event. They set up in three rooms at the Kenneth C. Rowe Management Building, working separately on a science manuscript, a newspaper article, opinion columns and a project chosen by the audience.

There were only a few students in each seminar, but Foster said a larger audience wouldn't have phased her. She wanted to share her approach with other writers and insisted that writing is about "discipline and perseverance over genius."

She lamented that her friend, who Foster said was a much better writer, can never finish a project because she lacks discipline.

"I'm always five scenes ahead," said Foster.

When Foster is snagged by a scene she hasn't clearly thought out, instead of stopping to think it through, she makes note of her mental block on Twitter so that she doesn't have to stop writing.

This method keeps her on pace.

In two hours, writing in front of an audience, Foster galloped through 2,000 words as trumpets and drumbeats filled the room.

Gail Lethbridge walked the four students in her session through her process of writing an opinion column for the Chronicle Herald.

"I rarely write in silence," explained Lethbridge.

She finds talk radio on the BBC or CBC helpful. "The sound of someone talking helps me write, although I turn it down so I can't actually here what's being said."

By contrast, DJ Rossi, another presenter, said he generally doesn't listen to anything while he works. Instead, he has a creative way of flushing it from his mind.

"As a child, I watched all the James Bond movies," he said while he wrote an essay. "So when I get a song stuck in my head, I just think of the Bond theme music and it stops pretty quickly."

Rossi joined fellow University of King's College student Sarah Vetter in one session to discuss their individual approaches to writing.

Vetter chose to write a free-verse poem and insisted poetry writing differs from other forms in content and method.

"It's not about the act of writing," she said. "It's a perspective."

Vetter's approach to writing is a far cry from Foster's methodic reliance on sweeping sounds and rapid tempos.

The former substitute teacher has published two non-fiction books to the beat of Hans Zimmer and other favourites like Transformers' composer Steve Jablonsky and Tim Burton's composer Danny Elfman.

Her first book, A History of Hangings in Nova Scotia was released in 2007 and Into the Walls of Madness, about the history of insane asylums in the province, will come out this year.

Foster, who named her house Arkham Manor, after the insane asylum in Batman, certainly loves what she writes about.

"I liked vampires before they were lame," she said.

Both Lethbridge and Foster agree that you've got to be passionate about your writing for it to be any good.

Foster credits her writing success to her active imagination. She said she likes being scared by her rampant mind.

"Sometimes I have to sleep with the light on," said the 26-year-old, laughing.

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