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Archives | Sylvia McNicoll

Writing about Writers––Not a walk in the park.

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Disclaimer: I’ve written about Timothy Findley (I apologize Tiff that I never sent you a copy of the article. The Post editor switched my photo of you with someone else, so how could I? I know you’re laughing on a cloud somewhere) Jill Downie, Estelle Salata, Fred Kerner, Alan Cumyn, Eric Walters, Arthur Slade, Sharon McKay, David Poulsen, most recently Anita Daher, Hugh Brewster and Sarah Harvey. None of this pertains to you guys, it’s about those other writers.  Don’t be an over sensitive artist!

First problem, writers are all over sensitive artists. That’s how they are able to convey an amazing range of emotions with words.

Secondly, they know good writing and grammar and while they probably spell as badly as I do, we can all spot spelling errors in other people’s work, especially in our own names.

Thirdly, they, of course, know the subject matter better than you do and they’re probably slightly if not overwhelmingly bored with the topic.  

Fourthly they wish they were raised by wolves or grew up in a more exciting place or played extreme sports or won a Governor General–in short they long for a more scintillating curriculum vitae.  They want you to give them one.  Okay, maybe this is just me.

They don’t like to see themselves in the mirror, metaphorically speaking. Writers are often unaware of the image they project, whiny, braggy, grumpy, sappy, sardonic, name another couple dwarves.  Perhaps they’re annoyed because they’re not more widely read and celebrated.  If they’re celebrated award winners, they wish they were better known or wrote more.  If they’re popular writers they wish they were recognized with awards and celebrations.  (Writers do love to party.)  Your article should project the image they want to see in the mirror rather than the true reflection.

Finally there’s the work involved.  In order to know a writer well enough to write about them, I read some of their latest books and that involves finding them somewhere.  Actually I have to say that’s the fun part.  Publishers often email pdfs of stories instantly.  It’s one of the few times I use my ereader.  Then I get to read and it’s all part of my job. “Leave me alone, can’t you see I’m working!”  

I also stalk the author on the internet, reading other articles about him, reading her blog and checking out his website. Next I must disturb the writer at work to interview her.  No getting around it.  I like meeting writers in person but most often the interview is by telephone; if I’m lucky Skype.  Then I look at all the details I’ve assembled and panic about slant and email for clarification on details.  This goes on throughout the process.

Lastly I write.  Six months later the article comes out and….

I’ve gotten to know another writer better.

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