Author Debbie Willis and Poet Marco Melfi discuss the common qualms between writers
The space between writing in your notebook and publishing a piece can feel vast, but this is something all writers experience at multiple points in their careers. In fact, it’s at that point that many writers walk away from the precipice, feeling defeated and unworthy of a press’ eyes.
The Writers Guild of Alberta (WGA) is one of the many organizations in the city working to propel rookie writers into the ranks of being published. But before getting published, there’s much more to be done.
Edmonton poet Marco Melfi says a big part of crossing that divide is learning how to expose yourself to people and experiences that will continually sharpen your skills.
He found Edmonton’s strong poetry community to be a great asset when he was refining his craft and looking at creating a manifest to be published. Melfi found places like the Stroll of Poets Society to offer a productive community where he could grow and The Olive Reading Series to expose him to new ideas and forms of writing regularly.
Fellow author Debbie Willis agrees that people are the greatest asset to succeeding in writing. Whether she’s on a roll with her words or hitting brick walls, the ability to exchange work with people and get honest feedback is fundamental to Willis.
But there are ways to ensure you’re doing everything you can to nudge the process. Willis, who now works as an acquisitions editor at Freehand Books in Calgary, says having clean, polished copy is essential as well as researching the publications you pitch to.
“I’ve accepted novels that I think are just extraordinary, but they’ve been rejected for two years straight at other presses,” she says.
She also adds that she can right away tell the difference between a general “kick-at-the-can” query letter and a well-researched one.
Melfi, who’s been been writing poetry for over a decade, did exactly this and researched the press he applied to thoroughly to be sure it would be the right fit, which he saw pay off when he published a poetry collection entitled In Between Trains. The chapbook, a small collection of poetry, even won him the 2014 Sharon Drummond Chapbook Award.
But it wasn’t easy; “it can be an obstacle if you have a few setbacks and you stop pursuing it, but you’ve got to step back and persevere.”
Willis, who’s been writing for 15 years now echoes his words, saying the divide doesn’t get smaller, even after publishing your first book.
“After publishing your first book—I think this happens to a lot of writers—your second book is this big, looming anxiety,” she says. “You kind of write your first book in a sort of dream, you don’t even really know you’re writing a book and then the second one is this very deliberate, ‘Ok, I’m a professional writer now attitude; I should know how to do this.’”
She says her second book took her much longer than she would have thought at eight years and definitely became a source of unrest at times. Willis mentions she has writer friends that are quite prolific and yet, face similar scenarios and insecurities.
“It’s kind of an act of faith and it’s hard to keep the faith,” Willis says. “You have to almost believe in a subconscious mind that’s smarter than you and that you are heading in the right direction even though it’s gonna take a long time to get there.”
Thu., Nov. 2 (7 pm)
Finding Your Audience
$5 for non-WGA members