Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Success As A Moving Target

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I always wanted to be a writer. There’s a part of me that hates saying that, because it feels cliché, like I’m trying to prove my right to be here—perhaps to myself, perhaps to other people. In fact, I recently saw an online interview with an author who said the very same, and I wanted to punch the answer through the screen. Thing is, writing can be such a painful, ridiculous and unprofitable pursuit, rife with rejection and discouragement, that it actually makes sense we’d have these kinds of stock phrases, systems and mechanisms for proving it’s a good idea.

It’s certainly true that as long as I can remember, the act has been a necessary compulsion for me. From the time I could string words together I was always “pointlessly” writing down all my silly musings in an increasing pile of battered notebooks. (A recent trip to my parents’ basement and the bankers boxes full of my terrible writing proved this.) I didn’t always have a firm definition of what “being a writer” actually was, nor am I sure I have it now. The measure of success is always shifting slightly forward, one achievement unlocked only meaning another lies in wait. Disappointment is everywhere and elation is fleeting. Despite this, I dutifully penned my piles of bad pre-teen poetry, wrote embarrassingly emotive short stories in high school, and embarked on my first novel when I was in university. I stuffed my writing time in-between terrible jobs and terrible relationships into my twenties, and when I finally had a bound book with my name on it, it still didn’t feel like enough.

I have said in the past that the problem with writing as a vocation is that it never really satiates, that you’re constantly striving for a goal that is unattainable. One deadline just means another on the horizon. One book just means it's time to write a second. Nothing finished ever feels quite right, and ever being truly done always just a little bit out of grasp. It’s a unique form of masochism and denial, one you readily consent to every time you sit down to write.

At my first public reading for Infidelity, I got off the stage and was surprisingly greeted by my beloved high school English teacher. I hadn’t seen him since I left Scarborough for good when I was nineteen, and despite the fifteen years between then and now he looked almost exactly the same. In that moment I was that awkward girl who just wanted so badly to be a writer. Maybe it was the nerves of just being on stage, but without thinking I threw my arms around him—likely our first ever hug—and I heard him say he was proud of me.

I do know that moment felt like success, my arms around the man who had slipped me copies of Douglas Coupland, Joan Didion, and Brett Easton Ellis novels when I was barely seventeen. The man who was hard on me with his belief, who thought I may become something if I just kept going. We exchanged pleasantries, I signed his book, and then he was gone, but I was buoyed by his gesture for the rest of the day.

Maybe literary success is really in the smallest things. The way someone you love and respect is proud of you after they finish reading something you’ve written, or when you’ve achieved something with a piece you didn’t know was really possible. It simply can't be about measuring yourself against phrases, systems, and mechanisms that litter the landscape. It all feels so impossible to measure other than in those tiny moments that bring you solace, that give you a vague sense, that despite the beating you feel like you're taking, you’re doing the right thing.

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.

Stacey May Fowles

Stacey May Fowles is a writer and magazine professional living in Toronto. She is a regular contributor to The National Post books section and currently works at The Walrus. Her latest novel is Infidelity, out this fall with ECW Press.

Go to Stacey May Fowles’s Author Page