2014: A Year of Hopes and Dreams

I originally wrote this post for The Adventures in Parenthood Project, but it could easily belong here as well. In it, I reflect a bit on 2013 and tell you about my hopes and dreams for the upcoming year.

Adventurous Parents

It’s hard to top the birth of your first child when it comes to the highlights of a year, or a lifetime, so 2013 will go down in the history books as a particularly special year. As I reflect on the past 365 days, my heart is filled to the brim with joyful memories of adventure and life-changing moments. On another level, I am left feeling utterly bewildered by the sheer intensity of this past year. We practically crawled to the finish line, exhausted from long weeks balancing work and play, the struggle to keep up with the basics of life, and short nights that come with parenthood. And still, we are smiling and eager for more.

It’s hard to think that any other year could be as intensely emotional and joy-filled or adventurous as this one. But another year lies ahead, and one that I am looking forward to…

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8 Things I Learned From 52 Weeks of Feedback

On April 15, 2012, I set out on a mission.

I was feeling discouraged by the lack of feedback in the world of writing. We live in a fast-paced culture where editors are often too busy to include us in their editing process, and in which readers often consume without providing any response, whether they are tight on time or just don’t think of it. The Internet seems to have raised a new generation of “scanners” – readers who quickly gloss over a piece, check the length and read the headers and sub headers before deciding if they are even going to continue reading at all. Bloggers are actually encouraged to cater to this type of reader by compartmentalizing longer pieces into smaller chunks with catchy subheadings (I’m doing that in this very article). Throw in a few photos to make things interesting because, my goodness, a page full of text? We’re lucky if readers get to the bottom of our articles, of pieces we work so hard to produce.

I know this because, at times, I am that reader. So, how can I expect to hear from my readers if I don’t provide feedback to others?

Criticism, like rain, should be gentle enough to nourish a man's growth without destroying his roots. Frank A. Clark

Why do I care so much about feedback?

I realize that not every writer cares about receiving feedback. Some are content to throw ideas out to the universe without any sense of where they end up. But that’s not my approach. My eagerness for feedback isn’t some superficial need for attention. It’s a genuine desire for information that will help me sharpen my sword and produce better stories. It’s a longing for discussion around the ideas I’m presenting. Like many writers, it’s the need to know that someone finds my words helpful, insightful or inspiring – that there is a purpose to what I’m doing. Call it affirmation, but I’m not talking about a pat on the back or a gold star. For me, it’s the force behind what I do, the reason I see the world in words, the result of a lot of hard thinking and hard work.

The Challenge

So, on April 15 of last year I set out on a mission to choose an article (mostly online) each week and provide feedback to the author. This could be a comment about the actual writing or the ideas presented. I kept my comments positive and shied away from offering constructive criticism since this was all occurring on a public forum. Some writers asked me to choose their pieces to provide feedback on, and so I provided more constructive criticism privately. If I couldn’t provide genuine feedback, I didn’t provide any at all. As tempting as it was sometimes, I never wanted to comment simply for the sake of commenting. I only gave my feedback when I had time to think it through, and provide an authentic, thoughtful response.

You might be wondering, if it was 52 Weeks of Feedback, why did it take me 80? The most basic answer: I had a baby. Things got busy and I missed a week here and there. But I stuck to it and still provided feedback for 52 weeks. You can check out my reading list here.

So, let’s get down to it. What did I learn after my 52 weeks of reading and commenting?

What I Learned From 52 Weeks of Feedback

1. Providing comments on a regular basis paved the way for new relationships with other writers and bloggers. The majority of authors who received my feedback were thankful that I took the time to comment, and this sparked the beginning of a meaningful exchange. Sometimes it didn’t go beyond that first exchange; in other cases, I am still in regular contact with some of these writers.

2. The weekly challenge encouraged me to keep reading. I have heard many times that the best thing a writer can do to improve his or her craft is to read. As much as the project was about providing feedback, an unintended benefit was that I read more than I would have otherwise.

3. Keeping track of the articles I was reading helped me clarify which topics I am most passionate about. Looking back on the list, here are the dominant themes: parenting and the outdoors, motherhood, adventure, goal setting, thoughts on the writing process, creativity, and women in sports.

4. Knowing I had to provide feedback forced me to read more attentively. I fought the temptation to skim or skip ahead so that I could provide an informed response. As a result I also took more away from the article and invested myself more in the ideas that were presented. I allowed myself the time to think, even if it was on a topic I wasn’t particularly interested in.

The Six Golden Rules of Writing: Read, read, read, and write, write, write. ~ Ernest Gaines

5. Often my first comment was the beginning of a meaningful discussion, not just with the author but with other commenters.

6. This wasn’t a reason for my feedback, but looking at my web traffic, referring links increasingly came from articles I commented on. This proves to me that meaningful feedback will eventually loop back to its source.

7. I learned a heck of a lot about writing – from techniques that make for effective storytelling to the power of anecdotes as a way of making ideas stick. And after 52 Weeks of Feedback, here is the one piece of criticism I came up with the most (something I am also working on): cut the fluff. Be rigorous with your choice of words. While I’m a strong believer that long-form pieces belong on the web, longer is not necessarily better. One editor put it this way: learn to distinguish the pepper (relevant details) from the fly shit (details that don’t ultimately serve the piece). Help your reader get to the end of your articles.

8. Committing to a challenge helped me to create a new habit. I can’t promise I’ll continue the process weekly, but I will take the time more often to provide feedback for other writers.

There you have it! I encourage you to take on your own feedback challenge, whether it’s weekly, monthly or whenever you feel like it. As I have written above, I learned a lot from the process, and the practice has resulted in some long-term benefits: relationships with other writers, meaningful discussion and helpful tips that will improve my writing.

Is feedback important to you? Why or why not?

New Short Film: Eye of the Beholder

I have collaborated again with the Mountains in Motion team on another short film, Eye of the Beholder (a Staff Pick on Vimeo!). Featuring an array of scenes from the North American landscape, this short film encourages the viewer to shed previous conceptions and ideas about the world, and return to a place of wonderment and awe.

Shot on location in the High Sierra Nevada, Canadian Rockies and Southern Appalachians.

The film text was inspired by my five-month-old daughter, Mistaya, and the work of Eckhart Tolle in “A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose.”

Enjoy! (Press the four-way arrows to view fullscreen).

New Directions: Moving on from Editor Position at Highline Magazine

Some news for you today!

After two and a half years as Editor of Highline Magazine, the mountain culture magazine here in the Canadian Rockies, life has called me onto new adventures! Many of you know that I welcomed a daughter to the world back in March 2013. With my new responsibility of mamahood, as well as some other exciting opportunities with my writing, I knew I needed to make a change. It has not been an easy decision. I know this publication is a very special one, and the team members behind it are some of the most inspiring, creative, talented and hilarious people I know. Please read my Letter from the Editor, which we posted this week over at HighlineOnline.ca, to read my full announcement.

You can access all the digital versions of the magazine here.

As always, I’ll keep you posted on what I’m up to and the exciting projects calling my name. Keep up with me on Twitter and Facebook for the latest news!

Mountains in Motion Now Available Online

I am excited to announce that after keeping Mountains in Motion: The Canadian Rockies in the shadows for festival screenings over the last six months, the film is now available online for all to view! Thanks to everyone who made this film possible, and to the various festivals that have helped us bring the film to the big screen. I welcome you to view the film below and find out more about this film project here.

The script for the narration is available in my Portfolio.

BEST VIEWED FULLSCREEN, HD (with scaling off). Please dim the lights, turn up your speakers, sit back and relax.

Banff World Tour Info: banffcentre.ca/mountainfestival/worldtour/

DVD & Blu-Ray available for order at mountainsinmotion.ca/order/

“Mountains in Motion” Set to Hit the Big Screen in Banff

Back in November 2011, I posted an update from Pokhara, Nepal, about the trailer release for a film I was working on called Mountains in Motion: The Canadian RockiesFor a year and a half I had the pleasure of working alongside my husband (and photographer), Paul Zizka; “creative genius,” Doug Urquhart; and an inspiring team of artists and contributors to create a 13 minute time-lapse film that we completed in August 2012.

Never having written for the screen before, this project presented some interesting challenges to me as a writer. But, our team had a goal in mind: to screen the film at the 2012 Banff Mountain Film Festival (BMFF). And this past month we learned that we were accepted to this festival and are opening up the November 3 film screenings! To date, the film has also been accepted to the Dixie Film Festival (in Athens, Georgia), where it won “Best Cinematogaphy,” the Atlanta Shortsfest, where it won “Best Documentary” and the Asheville Cinema Festival, which runs the same weekend as the BMFF.

Mountains in Motion: The Canadian Rockies is not your traditional time-lapse film. Our goal was to push the limits of this form of photography and include a storyline. Coordinating the text with the images and music was one of the hardest creative projects I have ever worked on, particularly since our team was working in two different countries, but the final product has made it well worth all of our efforts.

If you’ll be in Banff for the festival, check out the film festival schedule for screenings (we’re part of Program A on the second weekend). I’ll also be milling around all week writing dispatches for Highline Magazine, so come say hi if you see me!

The new official trailer for the film is below. For more information, check out this article by Lynn Martel in the Rocky Mountain Outlook: Local film to open Nov. 3 BMFF screenings

Mountains in Motion: The Canadian Rockies | Official Trailer from The Upthink Lab on Vimeo.

Highlights of 2011

I don’t know about you, but the end of each year brings me the opportunity to take a glance at the previous years and all the joys, challenges and trials that came with it. Scrolling through my blog from this past year brought back many happy memories and, most of all, heaps of gratitude for the adventures and new experiences that came my way. Here’s just a sampling of the highlights from this past year! Thanks to everyone that have made my dreams a reality.

January/February

30 Day Yoga Challenge – I kicked off my year with a kick in the rear!

February

Launch of The Campsite Blog – A new home to write about inner journeys and the outdoor world.

Joined the team at Highline Magazine as the new Editor.

March

Launched the new meghanjoyward.com.

April

Took a trip to Nunavut, including a 5-day ski touring trip through Auyuittuq National Park (pgs. 20-21) and the Arctic Circle.

June

Launch of the new HighlineOnline.ca – a brand new website for Highline Magazine.

Hanging out with Everest on Gokyo Ri, Nepal.

July

Got to try mountain street luging with CBC – check out the footage!

Had my first cover feature story, an article about ultrarunner Ellie Greenwood for IMPACT Magazine.

Published The State of the Mountains Report with the Alpine Club of Canada – a 27-page report on climate change from the perspectives of Canada’s famous mountaineers and scientists.

August 

Wrote a brand new consumer brochure for Banff National Park.

September

Attended the Social Venture Institute at Hollyhock on Cortes Island, British Columbia.

October-December

Published the Winter 2012 Issue of Highline Magazine – my first as Editor.

Launched the trailer for Mountains in Motion: The Canadian Rockies, a timelapse film for which I am writing the script.

Spent 9 weeks hiking in the Nepal Himalayas and researching the impacts of mountaineering and tourism on the local culture.

Here’s to a wonderful and amazing 2012!