Writer in Residence

Sit How You Want

By Jowita Bydlowska

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What I want to quickly talk about is outlines. I hate them but I think in fiction they’re a must. I hate them because they mean all this extra work and they stop me from diving into the rainbow pool of my ideas to swim around like a magical seal in beautiful sentences and words. Outlines are dry and instructional and they take all the fun out of writing the book I want to be writing. I just waaaaanaa write a booook, guuuuys! I don’t care if it haz an outline! Iz a book! It haz many pages. Iz important! Because: book!

I’ve written a lot of books. At least 15. I’ve only published two but there are three more out of that 15 that I will try to get out before I go to heaven. Only three that I’m happy to work on for the next 50 years—they’re the ones I wrote from outlines, which makes them somewhat salvageable.

I know, 15 might sound impressive but that number is so high because I skipped the outline part for most of those books. As result many fall apart —yes, they are home to many extraordinary sentences and fun scenes and even coherent plot, but something always happens when I try to go into the second draft. The magical pool of ideas becomes a swamp and I can’t even tell if I’m swimming or why I’m swimming. Things spill. So now, 15-books-later wiser, I do outlines dutifully, and think of them as maps or instructions manual. With my outline I know exactly where the edges of the pool are, how deep the water and if I’m a fat seal or a skinny seal and maybe even why it matters what size of a seal I am.

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Let’s move onto the writers-who-are-artists part. Today, I’m talking to Robin Richardson , the author of two collections of poetry and Editor-in-Chief at Minola Review. Richardson’s latest collection, Sit How You Want, is launching in 2018 with Véhicule Press. I ask Robin the beigest of bland questions which she answers gracefully.

Robin, tell me about your art:

I studied illustration in undergrad at OCAD University (shout out to Gary Taxali and Hector Herrara), but never took it as seriously as I did my writing. Now I continue to draw, not diligently, but whenever the spirit moves me. I find it a very meditative process and enjoy the way it allows me to shut off my brain, which is massively over-used while writing. Also nice because I can listen to podcasts while drawing. The biggest benefit to this, and it's total icing, is that I do make money from my art. Not only do I sell originals and prints via Etsy but I also get fairly regular commissions from friends looking for tattoo designs, decorative art, or promo material.

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The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book.


Jowita Bydlowska was born in Warsaw, Poland, and moved to Canada as a teen. She is the author of the bestselling memoir Drunk Mom. A journalist and fiction writer, she lives in Toronto, Canada.