The idea of a New Year and the idea of resolutions seem to go hand in hand. So what does our January Author of the Month, Michelle Berry think of all this? What advice does she offer aspiring fiction writers?
I don't do resolutions (never follow them). I'm more of a Labour-Day-kind-of-Spring-Cleaning-Resolution girl. The kids go to school and I rearrange furniture and clean and vow to be better, to do better, etc. This lasts until about October. When I was younger I would drunkenly slur out a New Year's resolution or two to anyone who happened to be around, but I never followed through with them; exercise more, drink less, eat healthily, keep calm and carry on. It seems arbitrary to commit to these kinds of things only once a year. I admire people who do it—the ones who join gyms the week after New Year's, or buy only organic from January 1st on—but it never works for me. If I decide to change something in my life only because it's a new year, then it becomes more about the day than about the thing that needs changing. If I decide to change something because I want to change something (on any particular day), then it becomes only about the thing. It's almost as if “New Year's” resolutions become the excuse to break them: “Oh, I just said that because it was New Year's Eve.”
As a writer and teacher of creative writing, however, I'm always being asked to come up with writing advice. So, instead of presenting you with my non-existent-made-up New Year's resolutions, I've decided to draft “Resolutions for an Aspiring Fiction Writer.” A little motherly/instructorly advice (if you're like me, you won't follow any of it):
New Year's Resolutions for an Aspiring Fiction Writer in 2014:
- Read. A lot. Read more than you write. And read like a writer, not a reader. So pay attention to detail. Pay attention to why things work in fiction, why things don't work. Go back and read again. Same book. Pay more attention the second time.
- Write—in a quiet room. Not a cafe. Or a bar. Unless you are writing a scene where your characters are drinking coffee in a bar.
- Edit over and over and over and over and over and over...
- Think. Always. Before and after you write. Not during.
- Stretch. Constantly. Avoid carpal tunnel, lower back aches, and eye strain. Remember: writers do not get worker's compensation. You must take care of yourself.
- Learn to make good coffee. Use espresso beans. Spend hours mastering the technique of a perfect cappuccino. This is the art of procrastination. An important tool for any writer to perfect. This also applies to laundry, cleaning, petting cats, walking dogs.
- Be satisfied with the small things in life and get used to the idea that you won't ever be able to afford anything else. Remember: Value Village shopping is an exercise in creativity.
- Don't tell your partner that you are dreading having everyone ask for your autograph the minute you get your first story published. He will never forget you said that and he will laugh about it for years.
- Send your work out. Do you know how many famous writers never sent their work out to be published? Do you? That's right—Zero.
- Finally: exercise more, drink less, eat healthily, keep calm and carry on.
Michelle Berry has been widely published in many Canadian literary magazines, national newspapers, and anthologies. She is the author of seven books of fiction, two novels of which have been published in the UK as well as in Canada. She has published two collections of short stories with Turnstone Press, I Still Don't Even Know You and How To Get There From Here. Turnstone Press also re-released four of Berry's previously published books: Margaret Lives in the Basement, What We All Want, Blur, and Blind Crescent. Berry is a reviewer for The Globe and Mail, and teaches at the University of Toronto and Humber College. Born in California and raised in Victoria, B.C., Berry now lives in Peterborough, ON with her family.