Questions and Answers

The question box has debuted, and there are questions in it. Heartfelt thanks to those of you who took the time. Keep at it. Nothing is too big, nothing is too small, nothing is too specific, and, because it’s anonymous, nothing is too embarrassing. Maybe you will ask the question that everyone secretly wants to ask.

Just to preface: writers love to give opinions as if their opinion was the last word. There is no single answer to most questions. So take this with a grain of salt. It’s just what I think or what worked for me.

Q: I was just wondering what your writing process looks like? Mine is kind of “read things I like then wait for inspiration to strike at 3am.” So has yours evolved past that?

A: Well, you are definitely on the right track. Most writing comes from reading—if you don’t read widely and find out what you like, you have no idea who your peers are, what interests you, or what you want to measure yourself against. It’s like driving with your eyes covered. So keep reading and read as widely as you have time for. But the 3am inspiration part is hard to sustain. Inspiration is something you can’t rely on and that you need to practice for, the same way a musician practices an instrument. I’m pretty systematic about writing these days: sit down at set hours I’ve blocked off for that purpose, write a certain number of words or revise a certain number of pages, depending on whether I’m composing or editing. Don’t stop till I’ve filled the quota. It’s very boring. Much of it I have to delete. But I don’t manage to find the useful stuff, the real through line, without that discipline. That said, my favourite thing is the excitement of a sudden idea unfolding. I just need to keep the routine in order to make sure I am ready when inspiration strikes.

Q: What are your thoughts on basing works of fiction on personal experiences?

A: My thoughts are that this is completely inevitable and also fraught. I never knew or heard of a writer who didn’t in some way use their experience as material, even when it was transformed into fiction. The difficulty is that your experience includes other people. So do it but tread carefully. Be kind, ask permission when necessary, be mindful of context. And remember that something being meaningful to you doesn’t necessarily make for good art. You have to transform it into something that will mean something to that intriguing stranger, the reader. And if you’ve transformed it successfully, it moves beyond personal experience.

Q: How long have you taken to write your books? Like how long does the process usually (roughly) take?

A: This is a horrible answer, but it takes years and a lot of false starts. I still struggle with this and I recently published my sixth book. I also wrote three books that no one wanted to publish, two of which eventually were reworked as part of other things. Similarly, I’ve had a number of plays professionally produced, but also wrote at least four (not counting ones I myself abandoned) that no one wanted. This is how it goes, for most writers. In all cases, the process took a long time. Ideas need to sit. Sometimes I’ll start something, be wildly excited, and still be unable to finish it for more than a year, even as a rough draft. Sometimes I’ll write really quickly, and then have a gap of a year before I’m able to rewrite. This is why I often move between different projects, because nothing comes smoothly. Now, that said, I have had books that moved from first notes to completed drafts in under three months. But the rewriting took much longer. There’s just no way to get around it, I’m afraid. Writing takes a long time. If I had to give a timeline I’d say 2-5 years for each book, but in fits and starts. And of course, sometimes I’d need to stop working on poems to focus on a play that was under contract, etc. It’s worth it in the end, but the end is sometimes hard to see.