So, You Wanna Be a Writer?!? Beginnings, Endings, and Everything in Between – An Interview with Drew Hayden Taylor

By Maryann Henck

Pho­to Cred­it: Suzanne Carroll

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.

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Drew Hay­den Tay­lor is a pro­lif­ic author and play­wright with over 27 pub­lished books and numer­ous writ­ing awards to his cred­it. He was born and raised on the Curve Lake First Nation in Ontario Cana­da and still lives there.