Culture & Conversation

Becoming a writer

Carnet de 1827 (notebook written by Alfred de Vigny when he came to Maine-Giraud in 1827 after his aunt's death), and letters to his "steward", Philippe Soulet. Townhall of Champagne-Vigny, Charente, France

Carnet de 1827 (notebook written by Alfred de Vigny when he came to Maine-Giraud in 1827 after his aunt’s death), and letters to his “steward”, Philippe Soulet. Townhall of Champagne-Vigny, Charente, France

Becoming a Writer, May 3rd

There’s a tension around owning the label “writer,” even among published authors such as Zoe Whittal, Alex Ohlin, Padma Viswanathan and Christopher DiRaddo, all panellists at the “Becoming a Writer” roundtable.

Maybe it’s because the label is elusive. In today’s landscape of writing, publishing and social media, lines are blurred. Can anyone call themselves a writer?

“I think there is a danger in using publication as a marker of a writer,” says Alex Ohlin, the author of Inside, who says it’s not easy to get published.

“As long as you are writing, you’re always becoming a writer,” says ex-Montrealer Padma Viswanathan, the author of The Ever After of Ashwin Rao, who states that literature is fuelled by personal tastes. She tells her creative writing students that she teaches from her own personal (literary) canon and encourages them to develop their own repertoire of essential books.

Labels aside, the authors were eager to share their biggest challenges as writers. Whittall, the author of Holding Still As Long as Possible, says the key is knowing when your piece is finished and ready to send to the publisher. She tells her writing students to tuck away their manuscripts for at least six months before re-reading them, but she cautions against spending too much time re-writing.

Ohlin shares the sense that anxiety and self-doubt never go away, even for a published author.  These emotions motivate her always to do better and become a better writer. Viswanathan speaks of the importance of finding a mentor in your community who believes in your work and can help make connections with gatekeepers. For DiRaddo, the author of The Geography of Pluto, the challenge is finding time for stillness in order to write, especially amidst the noise from social media and myriad other distractions. Despite these challenges, there is nothing each author would rather do than write.

To be a writer, “you have to be willing to be foolish, to take risks,” says Ohlin. Thinking about the end product or the challenges would distract you from the business of writing.

The frankness and warmth of speakers sharing their evolving creative processes left a palpable inspiration in the room. Even those who missed the event can hear the same message: take pen to paper or fingers to keyboard and become the writer you’ve always wanted to be.

The Blue Metropolis Festival runs until May 4th. Consult their website for more information.

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Elvira Truglia is a Montreal-based freelance journalist who writes about the intersections of culture, politics and social issues.

PHOTO: Wikimedia Commons


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