Monica Heisey’s journey to success

Queen’s alum discusses her bumpy journey to success as a TV writer and author

Credit: 
Supplied by Monica Heisey

By all measures of success, Monica Heisey is killing the writing game.  

She currently holds a spot in the writer’s room of the critically acclaimed Eugene Levy and Catharine O’Hara sitcom, Schitt’s Creek. Her first memoir, released in 2015, garnered support from comedians like Lena Dunham and Rob Delaney. Her pieces appear in The New Yorker, The Huffington Post and countless other publications that warrant a separate article unto themselves. 

Heisey’s journey began when she was the Postscript editor at The Journal. However, her journey to fame and fortune wasn’t all fun and games.

With all her current success and popularity, you might be surprised to learn that Monica’s experience at Queen’s University was kind of ‘meh’. Or that her strong work ethic wasn’t established until later in life. Or that, as her book title I Can’t Believe It’s Not Better suggests, she still may not be totally satisfied. However, Monica’s relatively typical life experiences speak to her incredible talent of turning everyday experiences as a millennial woman into hilarious, necessary reading.

The Journal sat down with Heisey to discuss her path to literary superstardom, staying honest in her pieces and even cross-dressing in Renaissance era clothes.

QJ: Describe your time at Queen’s and your general journey of how you got to where you are today.

Queen’s was a bit of a mixed bag for me! I made friends who are still my nearest and dearest today, but I never really felt like I fit in with the overall campus vibe. I didn’t go to a private school and wasn’t particularly interested in pancake keggers, and it took me a while to figure out that Kingston has a really cool, fun arts scene outside of the university. But the English department was really great and kept me interested and happy and busy. I also spent a lot of time at the QP, slowly learning the lesson that I do not really like beer. 

After Queen’s I went to King’s College London and did a Master’s degree in Shakespearean literature. I worked in the library at the Globe Theatre for a bit, and then started writing and performing comedy around London with friends and got an internship at VICE UK. Working for VICE really opened up who was seeing my stuff, and one freelance assignment led to another until I was paying rent with writing, a little bit of live comedy, and this weird in-costume bartending gig. Eventually my visa expired and I moved back to Canada, where I kept freelancing and got my book deal. Shortly after I started working in TV writing and now that’s most of what I do, but I try to still write a prose piece or two every month, to keep that up. 

What is the most useful skill or lesson you learned from Queen’s?

No matter where you are, you can find your people. Also: no one can stop you from wearing pyjamas to class but you, and you should.

What was your work ethic like as a university student, and does it differ from your current work ethic?

I was... not a great student. I skipped a lot of class and really only did as much work as I felt I needed to get a good grade, unless it was a class I was really interested in. In retrospect I played myself. No one cared that I was missing class except Future Me, the adult woman at a weird book party wishing she’d paid more attention in literary criticism and theory. University is a really wonderful place and unfortunately remains a huge privilege, one that was more or less wasted on me until fourth year, when I decided I wanted to pursue a graduate degree and had to step it up a bit. I’m pretty embarrassed by that, looking back. Things really changed when I was out on my own and had to make rent and build an actual career that would last. These days I work a lot harder.

What did you get involved in during your time at Queen’s?

I was on the editorial board of The Undergraduate Review, and did The Journal, and was involved with an improv troupe who performed at Time to Laugh, that weird second-floor comedy club on Princess... does that place still exist? [Ed.’s note: it does not] I was a Gael, too. I guess I was medium-involved. 

What accomplishment of yours are you most proud of?
 
My book, I think. Sometimes I still can't believe I wrote a book and it's been out in the world for two years now. Like, who let that 25-year-old idiot publish a book? 
 
Where do you find most of the inspiration for your writing comes from?
 
I'm very lucky, I basically get to write about whatever I find interesting or funny, so I just try to be attentive of where my interests fall naturally and sort of prod those areas. Sometimes that's like a whole big deep dive and I'll order a bunch of books about like, cross-dressing in the Renaissance and take notes and watch documentaries for a few weeks, and sometimes it's like, wow, I have an unnaturally strong aversion to those Paint Nights where all the girls paint the same picture of a tree, why is that? I have a ton of insane notes on my phone about different things I've noticed and decided might make a good short story or sketch or weird bit. They're not all winners.
 
Your writing touches on a wide range of topics, spanning from food to sex to mental health. What do you hope to accomplish by being so open in your writing?
 
Writing from my own experience just seemed like the easiest way to write something I knew was true and that I could stand behind. I also have very open and loud friends and family, so a lot of stuff that people are like "wow, sharing that, huh?" is very much standard dinner time chat to me. And they're such common, everyday things! "I enjoy food," "My mental health exists on a spectrum," and "I enjoy sex," are all pretty universal statements. There are definitely lots of topics I'd be nervous to write about, those just aren't them. 
 
What is your ultimate, bucket list-completing career goal?
 
For Drew Barrymore to play me in a Lifetime biopic about writing my ninth book and learning to love on a Greek island, age 40. 
 
What could a current Queen’s student do right now to help them become a successful writer like yourself?
 
Start now! You're in such a great place to figure out what interests you. If you want to make any kind of art, your personal taste is something you need to hone and pay attention to, because it will guide what you want to make and who you want to make it with. Read a lot and write a lot and put your stuff out there, through on-campus publications or by submitting to websites and magazines you like. And be generous with your early work: you will probably think it's bad later, but try to see what's good about it now. 
 
Rapid fire round:
 
Favourite course you took at Queen’s?
 
I find it's really more about the professor than the course itself. Gwynn DuJardin, Edward Lobb, and Tracy Ware were big deal professors for me.
 
Best on-campus food?
 
I feel like some cheese something from the Lazy Scholar, or those egg sandwiches in the bottom of the biology building where they sometimes do English classes—the one with all the questionable photos of med students and their cadavers? 
 
What are you watching and/or reading right now?
 
Reading The Idiot by Eli Batuman and re-watching Spaced, a British sitcom that I love with all my heart.
 
What advice would you give to incoming frosh?
 
If the theme party seems like it's racist, it's probably racist, and you should say so.
 
What advice would you give to outgoing grads?
 
University didn't matter that much. No offence to your sociology degree, but now is really when you figure out what you want to do with your life.
 
Is there anything you’d like to plug?
 
Please buy my dumb book, I Can't Believe It's Not Better, in stores and on Amazon now. 
 

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