Intro and Rationale

When anyone asks me about my time in my creative writing MA (at Concordia), I always say two things. First, that it gave me time to write. Second, that I went in feeling like a student, and came out feeling like a writer.

Clearly, I knew nothing then. I slept until noon. Poems flowed through me, essential and everyday as blood. Don’t get me wrong— my life wasn’t idyllic. By the end I was such a wreck, I fantasized daily about throwing myself off the overpass onto the Decarie expressway. But the writing was easy. It just happened. Every. Day. It was that continuous, easy writing that kept me from throwing myself off that overpass. And the writing life! That was something to look forward to. Books of my very own, connecting with people I’ve never met through my work. Smart friends in a supportive community. Small dramas to keep things interesting. Launches, and readings, and festivals, and long conversations that go deep into the night. Lengthy correspondences with my literary heroes. This was what awaited me. I wanted that life, every last miraculous moment of it.

Fast forward to 2016. I have spent ten years “being a writer”. All of those things happened, and all of those things were as wonderful as I imagined they would be. But they happened within a context. A lot of heavy, heavy context.

No one told me that I would hear they’re all going to laugh at you echoing in my mind continually from the time I signed my first book contract until the night of my launch. (Do you know what an 18-month-long panic attack feels like? I do.) No one told me how increasingly smug the blank page would look. No one mentioned how few writers of colour would be invited to the party, or how many bad dudes would be. No one said, “You are not going to write for months at a time, and you will feel horrible and empty and like a complete fraud, and you will research many professional programs in which you might enrol to distract yourself from the pain of continuing to call yourself a ‘writer’ without actually writing anything, but you would make a terrible accountant, so you won’t even bother.” They might have mentioned that I was going to have to work a day job, but they didn’t give me the heads up that my mental and physical health would get so bad that I wouldn’t be able to do anything after 5 PM besides stare off into the middle distance.

I hear much and often about the beautiful parts of the writing life. Book deals. Daily word counts. #amwriting. I think it is important to hear about these things, and to celebrate them. I know the joyful hours of deep concentration. Stepping up to the mic for the first reading from a new book. When one of your heroes starts following you on Instagram and commenting on your photos. These are big, happy moments in the writing life.

But the writing life is populated by people, and we people have problems. We have troubles. We have gripes. Sometimes we just can’t even with the writing life. And maybe we don’t always like to talk about it, and certainly not in public, because it can make us seem whiny, or difficult, or ungrateful, or grumpy.

Well, I say now is the time to let our inner grumps shine. I have started this blog to give space for complaints, vexation, and despair. Every week I will invite a writer to talk with me about what for them is the hardest thing about being a writer. I want to bring our struggles out of the dark into the light. Maybe doing so will help us let off a little steam. Maybe it will make us laugh. Maybe it will be super embarrassing. But maybe it will give us a bit of distance from that horrible thing that plagues our writing lives. Maybe it will help us – or you, dear reader – to overcome it.

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20 thoughts on “Intro and Rationale

  1. Michelle Berry’s FB post led me to your blog, and I agree with her: great idea. Writers need a space in which to be honest, real, and vulnerable about themselves, the trade, their failures, even their successes. Maybe real live friends (writerly and otherwise) used to fill that space, but if you’re like me, then most of your friends are virtual and/or hundreds or thousands of miles away, or even if they’re near, you still see them rarely. (They’re too busy, and you’re too busy, writing, not writing, cocooned-enwombed with YouTube.) I’ll be happy to share my own thoughts here, though who am I? Just another writing program grad who hasn’t (yet?) lived up to his promise.

    1. I think publishing a book is living up to promises! I hope this is a good idea. I’m particularly interested in the gap between what people feel comfortable discussing in public vs. what they will discuss in public. We’ll see how it plays out… (email me if you want to talk about a public conversation!)

  2. While I’m in my late thirties, it’s only been the past nine years where I was “a writer”, meaning that I had decided make writing my life priority no matter what success or lack of success came to me. It’s taken me these past years to finally write something that (I think) is worth reading and discover my own self-worth regardless of what others think. I was reading Guy Kawasaki’s “APE” book on self-publishing recently and he makes a good point that if you’re writing for some sort of reward other than the writing, you’re gonna be disappointed. And it took me a long time to realize that myself, but I found that wisdom through Hindu philosophy before I read Kawasaki’s book: “Be not intent on the outcome of an action, but be intent on the action itself,” as the Bhagavad Gita says.

    For me, the hardest part about writing is how ugly the early drafts are, and how so many people, including many writers, think that the good stuff springs fully-formed like a Greek god. It takes so many rewrites and changes and decisions to get to a place where the writing is good that it can be enormously frustrating, not just with the work but with the time the work takes.

    When I was younger, I imagined literary success to be achieved quite differently. But now I realize the greatest success you can have is to write something you’re truly proud of. That is a great feat.

  3. This makes me want to go back and take another crack at the writing project(s) I’ve set aside for too long. Solidarity!

    Thank you. I’m looking forward to seeing what else comes.

  4. Sachiko–Loved your post. I too have memories of the good old days when I was able to write daily with little else to occupy my time. These days I’m in the midst of writing the second book of a trilogy (and promoting the first one, which was just released this month) while working full-time as a professor. Sometimes the busy schedule is quite the challenge to the creative process. I look forward to reading what other folks have to say on the varied challenges of writing.

  5. Oh Sachiko, I think you nailed it. I recall a writer saying they liked to have written rather than they liked to write. I have about one-third of a poetry collection and a solid outline for a non-fiction project and here I sit with time and no incentive to get moving on either of them. I wait for the days when, while showering, I get great ideas for poems or for the other project. Still crazy after all these years……

  6. I’m on the verge of my second launch, the Toronto one on Thursday. I’ve just had my debut novel published by Two Wolves Press, a new independent publishing house started by writer Alexandra Leggat. Your piece resonated with me as the word “fraud” seems to be screaming in my subconscious. I did not study creative writing or complete my MFA, what credentials do I have to be standing up there, to be publishing a novel? I just like to write. To be honest, I don’t feel like I belong in the scene and this haunts me. I just want to write and I’ve finally been given a platform, but a huge part of me feels I am not deserving. I want to learn as much as I can, I continue to take courses but who am I to stand up there? Who am I when there is so much I don’t know? I’m also a woman of color, Filipina, and though there are more of us emerging, it’s not a popular minority, if I can even say that. Add to all of this my introverted nature and fear of socializing in groups (I’m okay on stage and one-on-one) and you’ve got an internal implosion happening. Honest enough for yah? Thanks for the post. It’s truly serendipitous to have stumbled upon it at this very moment in time.

  7. This is great. I’m finishing an undergraduate degree in Creative Writing at Concordia right now (finally) and am working on a blog post response to the whole adventure. I think this website is a fantastic idea. Amazing! Can’t wait to see the rest!

  8. Great idea… the writing life is filled with rewards but also many pitfalls. One must be strong in ways that very few other professions require as our life is often public. Thanks for pursuing this.

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