Perhaps you’ve toyed with the idea of becoming a professional writer, or you simply want to indulge in flights of fancy that you later commit to paper. Whether you turn your passion into your profession or rekindle the embers of that passion every now and then, there’s always something to learn from veteran writers. Since one of my passions is improv, I asked Anishnawbe writer Drew Hayden Taylor if he’d mind doing an improv interview with me. As someone who is used to scripting his characters’ responses, Drew was skeptical at first but warmed up to the interview in no time. During our Skype call, I sent him 10 rapid-fire questions one by one, which he, in turn, had to answer off the cuff. The result is a writer’s unadulterated lowdown on writing.
1. The Right Stuff: In your view, what three virtues are necessary for becoming a writer?
Imagination. Perseverance. Understanding of structure.
2. The Beginning: What do you wish you’d known when you began your writing career?
The importance of creating as you write. To this day I hate doing multiple drafts, but it’s a necessary evil. There are no such things as good writers, only good rewriters.
3. The Must-Do: Tell me about something aspiring writers should definitely do.
Read. Good writers are good readers and great writers are great readers. The more you read, the more you understand, consciously and subconsciously, and can appreciate story development, character arcs, etc.
4. The No-Go: Tell me about something aspiring writers should definitely avoid.
Paying attention to critics and naysayers. Constructive criticism is always good – you don’t want to write/live in a bubble, but many writers/actors refuse to read reviews because that’s not what being a writer is about.
5. The Imagination: Complete this sentence: “Imagination is…”
“Imagination is the most important part in developing a story.” You can learn structure, you can learn style, but coming up with that idea – and how to develop that idea in a unique way – is the mother lode. I think it was Einstein who said something to the effect that imagination is more important that knowledge.
6. Creating Characters: Does it sometimes feel as if characters develop a mind of their own, contrary to what you had planned for them?
That’s when you know you have characters worth writing. I am a firm believer in having a well-developed storyline before engaging in the writing. But if your characters are developed enough, they should do about 40% of the writing for you.
7. Memory: In her essay entitled “Yonder,” American writer Siri Hustvedt states that “writing fiction is like remembering what never happened.” What’s your take on that statement?
It could also be my take on what could happen. Or should happen. Fiction is a portal to all possibilities.
8. The Pinnacle of Success: When did you know you’d made it as a writer?
I’m still waiting.
9. The Writer’s Tombstone: John Keats’ tombstone in Rome bears the following epitaph: “Here lies one whose name was writ in water.” How do you hope to be remembered?
As a contemporary storyteller with a well-developed funny bone who had occasional flashes of originality.
10. Closing Remarks: Anything you’d like to mention that I haven’t asked you yet?
Writing is a portal into another universe. It’s up to the writer to make that universe worth staying in.