Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015


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To find out, write “Yes” or “No” at the end of each statement.

1. You had an unhappy childhood.
2. You are a member of an oppressed minority.
3. At social gatherings, or in the middle of a conversation, you break off to stare vacantly at the vanishing point, making your friends think you have succumbed to catalepsy.
4. Everything you see, hear, smell, taste, and touch turns to words in your head.
5. Your usual reaction at reading something is, “I can write better than that idiot.”
6. At unpredictable moments, you scribble down something on a piece of scrap paper or the back of your hand. It is not a reminder to pick up milk.
7. You would push your grandmother in front of a streetcar if it could get you published.
8. You envy people who live below the poverty line because they make more money than you do.
9. Nothing feels better than writing a good line or sentence.
10. Writing a bad line or sentence disgusts you.
11. You impatiently crack open fortune cookies.
12. If somebody wins a writing prize or gets a book published, it vaguely nags at you.
13. Everything reminds you of something else.
14. You like to be your own boss, but you often fire yourself.
15. You fantasize about a statue of yourself that pigeons stay away from out of respect.

If you answered “Yes” 10 or more times you are probably a writer.

Samuel Johnson got it right in “Vanity of Human Wishes.” (For “scholar” read “writer”; for “patron” read “arts council”):

Deign on the passing world to turn thine eyes
And pause awhile from Learning to be wise;
Yet think what ills the scholar's life assail,
Toil, envy, want, the patron, and the gaol.
See nations, slowly wise and meanly just,
To buried merit raise the tardy bust.

The photo on my Writer in Residence blog, which shows me in an uncharacteristic outdoor pose, was taken by Agata Wojaczek near the Mississauga home she shares with her husband Andrzej and their daughter Alexandra. Alexandra is almost 13 years old and wants to be a writer. I hope her parents will discourage her as much as possible. It’s not that Alexandra lacks talent. She does indeed have talent. But if she persists in this folly of becoming a writer she could end up as somebody like me.


Elana, No. 13 will likely be included in the next Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders as Attention Excess Disorder (AED).

Re: How To Tell If You're A Writer.
I was caught staring into the vanishing point yesterday at the airport-- working on a poem while waiting to board the plane home. I happened to be sitting across from a young man and he actually snapped his fingers to get my attention. Luckily I was able to 'reel in' the line as I came back. -- Thank you for your comment, Elizabeth. -- Great opener, Fraser. Number 13 goes to the nub-- being in constant conceit.

Elizabeth, I'm grateful for your kind comment and the enlightening biographical detail. I, too, have tried alcohol and drugs as a means to gapping out, but they don't seem to work that way for me.

No, Karen, it would be preaching to the converted.

Thank you so much for explaining the "vanishing point", Fraser. I used to call it my "special place" - still do. My teachers used to call it various things: "Elizabeth, come back from wherever you are and pay attention" and how I hated the snapping of fingers in front of my face! I think a writer's brain goes into overload and needs to shut down all power now and then. I cite alcohol/drugs as well for the same purpose. You forgot that. Love you!

A comic list poem to begin your next reading gig!

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: Toronto.

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Fraser Sutherland

At last count, Fraser Sutherland has published fifteen books: one of them short fiction, four nonfiction and ten poetry, His most recent poetry collection is The Philosophy of As If. A freelance editor, he may be the only Canadian poet who is also a lexicographer. Born and raised in Nova Scotia, he lives in Toronto.

Go to Fraser Sutherland’s Author Page