There’s no direct path to becoming a writer and no clear definition of what that occupation entails.
However, on Friday, four published authors discussed the subject in Watson Hall on behalf of the Department of English Language and Literature at Queen’s.
The Dream Weavers panel tried to offer an answer, while featuring some of the most promising authors in Canadian literature—Catherine Hernandez, Kai Cheng Thom, Casey Plett, and Canisia Lubrin.
Hernandez moderated the discussion, which explored the panelists’ personal dreams, ancestry, writing processes, and predictions for the future of Canadian Literature.
Hernandez is the 2018 Writer in Residence at Queen’s, and author of the Queen’s Reads Choice for 2018-19, Scarborough.
The panelists gave personal advice to the room of students in the early stages of their own literary adventures. Thom stressed a significant part of becoming a writer is simply accepting that one’s own voice matters.
Thom, a poet, fiction-writer, and essayist, grounded a piece of writing’s worth in its readers.
“It takes a lot to say that your work is worthy, and it’s good enough, even if just your friends read it,” said Thom, whose works include novel Fierce Femmes and Notorious Liars: A Dangerous Trans Girl’s Confabulous Memoir, children’s book From the Stars in the Sky to the Fish in the Sea, and poetry collection A Place Called No Homeland.
Plett added each writer has to be their own greatest supporter because their work will inevitably be critiqued, sharing her negative experience with a mentor who suggested her work wasn’t productive.
Plett won the 2015 Lambda Literary Award for Transgender Fiction in recognition of her debut short story collection A Safe Girl to Love. She published her first novel, Little Fish, earlier this year.
The panelists emphasized the difficulty doesn’t lay in the decision to start writing, but persisting in the face of rejection.
Speaking from personal experience, Lubrin stressed rejection is common, and presented writing as a game of perseverance.
Lubrin published her first collection of poetry, Voodoo Hypothesis, in 2017. Her work has also been published in a variety of literary journals.
“A lot of people have talent, but not everyone has the endurance [to succeed],” Lubrin said.
The panel agreed Canadian literature is a small scene, where few have a fair shot at getting their work published because of industry-wide nepotism. They encouraged the audience’s aspiring writers to work as often as possible to increase the likelihood of having their pieces published.
For those interested in improving the quality of their writing, the panel had clear instructions: be present, notice, and observe.
“The thing that you’re trying to create is of this world, so be present in this world. Take things in, walk away, and write about it,” Lubrin said. The panel joked this is the reason why everyone hates writers.
The authors described the writing process as intensely personal, with Lubrin offering her own as an example. When writing, she drafts by hand and then takes a break to do something completely different—like pruning her house plants—while mentally sifting through the work. She usually writes between 3 a.m. and 6 a.m.
The Dream Weavers panel was a critical discussion about the reality of being an author in Canadian literature, and a must-see event for any aspiring writer at Queen’s.
“I don’t sleep, my writing world is tough,” Lubrin said. “Not everyone would survive it.”
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