Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

“…writing was a nasty habit or addiction that I would have to support.”

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This quote, which comes at 2:35 of the attached interview with Guy Vanderhaeghe, sums up a pragmatic approach to the early years of a writing life, years that for many of us can stretch for decades, or a lifetime. In my own case, with one novel published, the early years have been many, and are ongoing.

Though it may sound counter-intuitive, it is liberating to see writing as an addiction (something costly) instead of a career (something that, in theory, should pay the bills). Whether addiction is the word that best suits - perhaps obsessive hobby is a good alternative - the writer benefits because the focus becomes working in service of the writing, instead of the writing working in service of the writer.

Or, more bluntly, another example. I’ve met a few model builders over the years, and some are very good, but none are building their scale replica boats for a living. None are even hinting at making a living. Their hobbies are costly: time, money, perhaps even relationships. (Let’s face it, model building is only sexy in certain circles.)

Go down the list of hobbies: gardening, cycling, dance, running, topiary sculpture. All rewarding, few if any contribute much to the rent. Many are expensive. Writing, in fact, is fairly low cost in comparison. We don’t purchase materials.

The writer’s risk is to become obsessed with the possibility of making a living from the work, and this leads to question that can be deadly if asked too early: “What can this piece earn me?” It’s a question that can choke the creative energy from a story, or cut a good idea down and throw it in the trash bin before it has had a chance to grow.

The danger in focusing our writing towards what we can sell is that we may never get to our best work, or write the stories we want to write. The stories that will have the best chance to sell are the good ones, the ones that have been given the writer’s time, care and attention. This can’t be hurried.

Have a look, it’s a solid interview, also delving into the author’s extensive historical research on the history of the Canadian west, research that is put to great use in his books.