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.