Writer Tag and Blog Hop

The last time one of these went around (that I knew about, anyway) I didn’t quite think I was writer enough to participate. So I avoided the whole thing and eventually it went away. I regretted not participating, and letting fear get in the way.

Anyway, I was tagged by Brent van Staalduinen, a writer who has been writing and publishing and shortlisting so much that it would re-ignite my writerly self-doubt again, except for the fact that I’m over that. Today.

Brent also tagged Steph VanderMuelen, writer, creative writing mentor, copy editor, and one of my fellow Story Intensive TAs. Check out her site, because it’s fantabulous and Steph has great things to say about writing and process.

So. The Questions.

1) What am I working on?

Many things, but the big projects are a novel about a marriage (that’s about as specific as I’m willing to get right now, it’s very early) and an autobiographical play about my experiences as a landlord. But I also have some short fiction and a personal essay churning in my brain.

2) How does my work differ from others of its genre?

The short answer is that it doesn’t.

The longer answer is that I’m not convinced that being different is necessarily a virtue in writing so I don’t pay attention to being different. Sure, the truly Great Works are both original and good. But what’s wrong with just being good? Why does work always have to be different?

That said, I’ve been writing cross-cultural stories more and more, and one of the things I’ve playing with is to go against the grain in what people expect in these stories, even though I love those stories. No going back to the motherland (so to speak) and learning all the horrible secrets your mother never told you about why she really left and then coming to a new understanding of her and your culture and yourself. (The file name for my novel in progress is Amy-Tan-but-not, though it’s taken a number of twist and turns so who knows what it will be about when it’s done?)

In any case, very little of what I’m currently working on is at a stage where I can analyze it in comparison to other work, which is to say, nothing I’m working on is finished. I’m very wary of comparing my work to other things while I’m still writing it. And stuff I’ve already written that’s out there, well, I’m the last person to be able to look at it critically. I know its secrets too well.

3) Why do I write what I do?

This question implies that I have a choice in this.

This isn’t to say that I’m a helpless slave to a fickle muse. But my writing is very much a reflection of where my head is at, and my head is at its best when I give it free reign. That doesn’t mean that my writing is necessarily a reflection of what is going on in my life right now, though, since sometimes my head gets stuck on something from the past or even something very random like the fate of the Donner Party.

4) How does my writing process work?

I write.

I have never in my life been able to consistently form a good habit.  A bad habit, sure.  Good ones, no.  The moment I’m supposed to do something, I rebel against it.

So my writing process has turned into, write when and how I can.  Sometimes, that’s in the morning, sometimes at night, sometimes in the afternoon. Sometimes by hand, sometimes on my laptop. Sometimes, that’s in a coffee shop, sometimes in my office, sometimes in silence, sometimes with the television on.

There’s a lot of value in consistency in terms of creative practice, but rather than beat myself up for not being consistent, I’d rather just make do. Contrary to typical wisdom, I don’t think you have to write every day–you just need to write enough to make yourself happy.

All that said, when I have a deadline, there is no tool I like better than Write or Die.

And the nominees are…. 

Chris Tarry is a Canadian writer and musician, and it’s totally not fair that he’s amazing in two creative fields while some of us are eking out an existence in just one. Chris’ short story, Here Be Dragons, was nominated for a Pushcart Prize and his debut short fiction collection, How To Carry Bigfoot Home is forthcoming in March 2015 from Redhen Press.

Sierra Skye Gemma is an award-winning writer and journalist from Vancouver who writing is emotionally honest, funny, powerful, and basically everything great creative non-fiction should be. I’m not the only one who thinks so, since she won the Edna Staebler personal essay competition and a National Magazine Award for best new writer for her essay, The Wrong Way.

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How to Make it as a Writer

Recently, a writer asked me for advice on how to “get there”, the implication being that I was somehow ‘there’ and she was somewhere else, trying to figure out how to break through the forest and get to this magical clearing of thereness. My question, hearing this, was “Where is ‘there’?”

As an emerging writer, sometimes it’s hard to acknowledge that I am anywhere. So many of my friends are writers now, and it’s not hard to find people who are more conventionally successful than I am.  They have more publication credits, more awards, a bigger body of work, they get more press, they have better reviews, more followers on Twitter, more likes on Facebook, etc. I know, however, that most if not all of them are looking around and seeing the same thing: other writers who are doing better than they are. I don’t think it ever stops. I know a bestselling, Giller Prize-winning author who internally sees his writer-self as a fraud.

So the question of getting ‘there’, I think, starts with trying to define what is ‘there’?  And I think, really that comes down to the question of “When do I get to call myself a writer?” and “When will other people believe me when I say that?”

Writing is not like accounting. To be an accountant, you take some classes and tests and boom, you get an official designation that says you are an accountant. Then you can get a job as an accountant. The whole world acknowledges that you are an accountant, as you have a piece of paper and letters to put after your name and a paycheque and perhaps even a business card to prove it.

Writing is not like that. A degree or certificate in writing does not make you a writer. Writing classes do not make you a writer. And a job as a writer? Well there’s technical writer and marketing writer, but for the most part, for creative writers, you write first, for years, and with luck and effort and persistence and time someone might eventually give you enough money to buy yourself a good dinner. (Breakfast if you are a poet.)

To call yourself a writer is a very internal thing. There’s no external milestone you must achieve before you can say, yes, I have made it as a writer. Even when you think there is something you must do before you can call yourself a writer, you’ll find that it’s a fantastic moment, but it doesn’t change a lot internally. You’ll see the next milestone and wonder.

As for other people, you can’t control what they think. Some of them will understand but many of them will not. One thing I’ve found, however, is that the more comfortable I’ve become in calling myself a writer, the less what other people think about it bothers me.

Calling yourself a writer, getting ‘there’ is mostly a process of realizing that ‘there’ is right here, where you are right now. Maybe you aren’t quite comfortable telling people that you are a writer for fear that they will look upon you as a loser with delusions of writing, but to make it as a writer is not a question of ‘breaking into the biz’ or ‘getting there’ so much as it is an internal assurance that despite the rejection, the self-doubt, the inner critic, the skepticism of non-writers, the long hours of work, and the lack of external validation for what you are doing: you are a writer.