Writer in Residence

What I Wish Someone Had Told Me About Being a Writer #1 - Q& A With Andrew Sullivan

By Zoe Whittall

For the last two months I've been writer-in-residence at U of T in Scarborough. This means I get an office to write in, I run a writing group with creative writing students once a week, and give editorial notes on their work. It's made me think a lot about what kinds of advice I can give them that is relevant and practical, and what I wished I'd been told before I published my first book. So I decided to ask my author friends those two questions - what do you wish you'd known, and what advice do you give now. Here is the first installment with novelist and short fiction writer Andrew Sullivan. I know Andrew because I wrote a review of his first book for the Globe & Mail and shortly after we had a beer for some reason. Apparently I gave him slightly lecture-y advice about getting a job that wasn't writing, to avoid being broke forever, which I think is how I felt in 2013. His new novel, Waste, was named a Best Book of 2016 by The Globe & Mail, The Walrus, CBC Books, and The Writers' Trust.


1. What is the one thing you wish someone had told you before you published your first book?  

Nobody cares. And that shouldn't be disheartening.

Nobody cares and you are able to do whatever you want, write whatever you want, express yourself however you want. No one will care as much about your writing as you do, not any editor, publicist, reader, or even your mom. And part of your job will eventually be to make them care, to write stories that are compelling and surprising and unsettling, to create things people will start to care about. Just don't expect them to be there waiting for you to arrive. 

2. And is there a piece of advice you always give to emerging writers? 

I quote the American poet Usher's "Let Me See" where he says "Don't talk about it, be about it." Lots of people have ideas. Lots of people have stories to tell. But you're either going to do it, or you aren't. I don't need to hear about the book you'd like to write - I want to read it.

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.

Zoe Whittall’s next novel, The Best Kind of People, will be published in fall of 2016 with House of Anansi Press. Her novel Holding Still for as Long as Possible, won a Lambda Literary award, was shortlisted for the Relit award, and was an American Library Association’s Stonewall Honor Book. She’s published three books of poetry, and works as a freelance TV writer and journalist in Toronto.

Her books have been translated into French, Swedish, and Korean.