Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Where does Erin Bedford's confidence come from?

I met Erin Bedford through a random act of Googling. I can't remember what I typed in the search bar, but that magic combination brought up a blog post Erin wrote for the Humber School for Writers. I was so intrigued by her perspective and her writing ability that I bought her novel Fathom Lines and within pages became a fan and, soon after, a friend. But enough about Erin from me. Here is Erin writing about Erin, as she answers the question of questions: Where does your confidence come from?

~ ~ ~ ~

This is such a good question, Emily, and really a window into the writer’s soul. Writing for a living, or even as a hobby, is something we always seem to be justifying and if random people in socially awkward situations aren’t asking what it is about us that makes us think we're so special, then we ask ourselves!

For me, the one word answer is experience, but since I’m supposed to be a writer, let me elaborate!

When I first started writing fiction, I was so amazing. Every word that I typed was genius. Yes, I was also delusional. Because we all have to be a little delusional to start out on this path. We need to believe we have amazing things to say in entirely new and amazing ways, or we might never start writing, but we have not practiced yet, at this craft that needs so much practice to perfect. So, I was really very bad at writing but I had a lot of confidence in my untested abilities.

A few form letters from publishers and literary magazines blew that early confidence away, but I kept writing with the idea that practice makes perfect, and for a while, I kept submitting my writing to the usual journals and contests. There were a lot more form letters and each rejection crushed me. I’d cycle through the Kubler-Ross model with regularity. Eventually I stopped submitting things. And I was devastated when a very promising relationship with an agent didn’t go forward. Left to my own devices, the novel I’d been working on became an obsessive-compulsive disorder. I could not stop rewriting.

There’s a happy ending here though. I did not spiral completely out of control. I am not currently holed up in my mother’s attic with my laptop, my filthy writing sweater, and a commercial-use coffee maker. No, at some point during the seven years of rewrites, I started to see what worked in my writing, and what didn’t. I stopped saving my cuts, I stopped trying to copy and paste them into new places. I just deleted, knowing that I could write it over again, better this time. At some point during those seven years, I became a good writer. Not the best, not even my own personal best, but pretty good, and in another seven years, who knows?

Which is not to say that I don’t love my awesome cheerleaders, or that the awards and great reviews weren’t important to me. But I really do believe that half of this writing battle is sticking with it, and there are no cheerleaders or awards at 8:30 on a Tuesday morning. It’s just us, and our blank pages, and our belief that we can fill them up with good words.

Erin Bedford lives in Toronto. She attended and won a Certificate of Distinction for her completed manuscript from the Humber School for Writers. Fathom Lines is her first novel. Preview it here. You can follow Erin on Twitter here.

Stay tuned for the second "where does your confidence come from?" post coming next week!

Monday, October 5, 2015

A question of confidence

Here’s a question for you writers out there: Are you confident? Do you think you write well, maybe even exceptionally well? Do you think you have something unique to say and that you say it with style, wit, and maybe even wisdom? 

Answer truthfully; don't be shy. Don’t worry that if you answer “yes” some armchair psychologist will call you an egoist or, worse still, declare that you must have no confidence at all; that you're feigning it, covering up what is instead a deep and rotten feeling of inadequacy. 

I think most writers have a healthy self-esteem. I think it's a necessary tool in the kit, especially for writers of literary fiction. 

To qualify as "literary" in the eyes of readers and critics, you have to do more than tell a story—you have to use “elevated” language and metaphor, and, more importantly, you're supposed to present original ideas on life, love, death, truth. What could be more demonstrative of self-confidence than writing these ideas down and charging people money for them?

Some argue the opposite, that writers are not self confident at all, which forms the basis for the romantic myth of the depressive literary figure. As the myth goes, writers write because they are desperate for love and approval. Often, they are so afraid to claim the truth of their own lives that they write it down, put it on a shelf and call it fiction. They are embattled souls who turn to drugs, drink, to the comforts of the oven's interior.

This archetype exists, of course—we all know where those bodies are buried. But I have to say, I've rarely met a writer of quality who falls more readily into the category of self-hate than self-confident. And I've met a lot of quality writers. 

Instead, in my experience, the best writers seem to have a quiet self-confidence about them. They're not devoid of anxiety and doubt, mind you, because they are human, and extremely sensitive humans more often than not. What moves them to write is a love for the act, yes, but it’s a love they would likely not have without the self-confidence it takes to sustain it. 

As you can tell, I’m still trying to sort through this question of authorial confidence. I get tied up in knots just thinking about it. To try and untangle myself, I’ve enlisted the help of a few writers I admire who were brave and generous enough to tackle this question:

Where does your confidence come from?

I'll put one answer up a week in the month of October, including mine. It’ll be interesting, so stay tuned.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Words (and giant pipes) on the street

I went to Word on the Street Toronto yesterday and what a beautiful clusterfuck it was. Picture dozens of tents and publishers and authors and speakers and tote bags and poutine trucks all snuggled up together at the city’s Harbourfront. Then picture thousands of people buying books, talking books, excited about books. It was loud and crammed and WONDERFUL.

Two highlights included discovering a startlingly good book of poetry by Eva H.D. and catching a glimpse of the Jehovah's Witness tent, which made Armageddon look positively charming! Other A+ moments included hanging out with my pals Amanda and Erin, chatting with Denis from Mansfield Press and the writer Julie Booker, and spending time in the sunshine with my best friend/husband, Anthony.

Another jewel in the crown was the "Sculpting New Reads" event. Billed as “an exciting new visual arts program that brings together Canadian artists and authors to explore how books can inspire new ways of thinking, creating, and innovating,” I expected a little weirdness -- and it did not disappoint. Here's the show and tell.

Exhibit A: The giant pipe
Artist Steve Newberry unveiled his sculpture, a giant pipe inspired by the brilliant Patrick deWitt’s new novel Undermajordomo Minor

Steve Newberry (left), Patrick deWitt (centre), giant pipe (right).

Exhibit B: The reaction to the giant pipe
The artist did a nice job, so I'm ashamed to admit that I was dying inside of uncomfortable laughter, which was extra awkward given the small crowd. Patrick deWitt, on the other hand, was unfazed and -- I'm pretty sure -- genuinely delighted. Probably because he's not an immature asshole like me. Or because he lives in Portland and is used to this sort of thing

Exhibit C: The inside of the giant pipe
Spoiler alert! The pipe had disembodied fingers in it!

Just another day on Toronto’s literary scene, people.

Friday, September 25, 2015

"Once you go green, you'll never go back." (And other wisdom from Cabbage Head.)

Bruce on Bruce: "I'm the weird little man." 
Also: "I'm a work pig."

Kids in the Hall is one of the many reasons I'm proud to be Canadian. Those darkly hilarious sketches spoke to me as a semi-depressed teenager in a way that SNL never did. Plus, the show exemplified what I think comedians/writers/actors from Canada do best: WEIRD. 

I don't think there will ever be anything like it again in Canada's mainstream. As the CBC continues to get squeezed to the rind by Stephen Harper, our national broadcaster just won't risk making counter-culture culture like they used to.

That's why I was so thrilled to see my favorite Kid/Cabbage Head at a Writers Guild of Canada event last night: Bruce McCulloch. It took me back to the good old days -- when I could turn on channel four and see Bruce, Scott, Mark, Dave and Kevin crushing heads and taking names.

Although he's an actor, director and the showrunner behind Young Drunk Punk, Bruce considers himself to be a writer first. And at last night's Q&A with Matt Watts, he dropped some nuggets of wisdom -- as only Bruce can -- that I wanted to share.

"Suicide and writing are both the ultimate selfish act."

"If I write something and it isn't good, it's not my fault -- it's the idea's fault."

"You can't judge it as you're writing it. That's the death of everything."

"Follow your spark and your human spirit. That's the best advice I can give young -- and old -- writers."

Thanks for the advice, Cabbage Head. You're one in a million.

Bruce as the charming chauvinist Cabbage Head. 
Only in Canada, people.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Read My Book, Dan

This is my coworker Dan. That's me on the right. We have the same shirt. It's hilarious.

Anyways, yesterday, after a casual water-cooler chat about child soldiers, Dan asked me some questions about my web site WHICH I'VE ANSWERED LIKE FOUR TIMES ALREADY BUT WHATEVER. 

That brought us round to a talk about the publishing biz, and when I told him how much money most authors make off their first books, he laughed out loud. When he realized I wasn't joking, he then proceeded to feel very sorry for me.

Then, because aside from stealing my look he's actually a good guy, he came up with an idea.

"Instead of buying your book, I'm just going to give you $5," he said. "That's more than you'd make off the sale, right?"

"Yep," I answered. "Like $4 more."

"I'm not even going to buy your book then. The day it's released, I'm just going to slip you a five."

Because crying at work isn't an option for career women like me, I laughed heartily and said I would accept his most generous offer. 

But later, while sobbing on the subway like a professional, I got to thinking: Money be damned. I would much rather make zilch off my book and have readers, than make money and have no readers. 

I even worked out a mathematical formula: 

$0 + * *  = : ) 8 <

Or, for all you dum dums out there: 
No Money + Readers = Happy Enough Sideways Emily 
(and yes, I was generous with my cup size up there)

So thanks, Dan, but no thanks. I don't want your charity; I want you to read my novel. And while we're at it, I want you to stop wearing my g-damn shirt!

Sunday, August 30, 2015



It’s been too long! Oh my god, just look at you! You've changed so much! Your new hair looks fab! and/or You’re SO skinny! and/or How’d you lose that tooth?

I’d like to say that I’ve been away for a month because I’VE BEEN SO BUSY WRITING BOOKS. But that would be a lie. 

I’ve actually been:

a) reading books (Station Eleven being the best of a very good bunch) 
b) writing a TV show 
c) applying for various programs (like this one with Women on Screen)
d) praying to the god in my ceiling that I got into various other programs (WOTV included)
e) thinking about marketing strategies for my novel
f) bummed out that my pal went back to finish her MFA (read her v. cool interview with Niche Magazine here)
g) watching every single episode of Friends ever made
h) turning into a Literary Hub super fan!

If you haven’t signed up for the LitHub newsletter yet, you really should. The editors have simplified my "reading-about-writing" life with their talents for content aggregation. I appreciate having to go to only one place for all my juicy literary gossip. Because there is so much writing-about-writing to consume and so little time. 

This being the case, I sometimes think I should stop contributing to this particular navel-gazing canon. But then I think... What Would Joey Do?

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Criticism Survival Kit

I don't handle criticism as well as I would like, but I have found a system that works for me. Here’s the blueprint:

1. Go into shock
2. Get defensive
3. Apologize
4. Make bad joke
5. Make excuses
6. Suck up to critic
7. Go, essentially, catatonic
8. Stare down at notebook
9. Scribble 
10. Leave room
11. Crawl into deep hole
12. Claw at earthy walls
13. Pace/cry/whimper
14. Clean dirt from nails
15. Crawl out
16. Go for long walk
17. Talk about it with loving husband 
18. Talk about it with understanding friend 
19. Realize critic was right
20. Make edits based on criticism
21. Laugh about the whole thing at brunch

Anyways, yesterday, while speed walking on a treadmill -- and nearly falling off because I checked out my own butt -- I listened to a DEAR SUGAR podcast. Featuring everybody's favourite guy ever, George Saunders, the podcast goes over different ways writers deal with bad reviews and criticism. I found it helpful, and so I wanted to share.

It didn't help me streamline my patented 21-step system, but it did put things into perspective. It also emphasized the benefits of good criticism, namely that sometimes (or, in my case, always) the critics are right. 

Thanks to the very talented author Rebecca Rosenblum for tweeting this out. Check out her blog if you can. It’s full of goodies for writers.