Writers' advice to their younger selves

Three Toronto authors tossed a few pearls at The Spoke Club last night. Bitterly cold outside, but the room was packed anyway.

Michael Winter, Stacey May Fowles, and Brian Francis were the panel for Open Book Toronto's Literary Salon. With Becky Toyne moderating, any sense of the dread panel rhythm (question-answer-counterpoint-thud) disappeared quickly. She redirected her own questions and got the authors opened up, baring bits of not-so-lonely soul to an audience of (mostly) newbie writers.

The theme was Advice for My Younger Self. Being one of the older guys in the audience, I took notes.

When to write? Winter locks himself in a cold room every morning, with the oddest companion (more on that later). For Fowles, it's a 15-hour showerless Saturday binge. Francis writes on the subway, again at lunch, wherever he can, because it's what he wants to do, who he wants to be.

A confessed curmudgeon, Winter shared his rules. Like, open your novel at the last page, not the first page, when you sit down to write. Finish the damn thing, and then go back to edit page one. Fowles takes the opposite approach, rewriting as she writes until she reaches the last line. Francis urged everyone to give ourselves permission to write absolute garbage in our first drafts.

As the panel wrapped up, Winter opened Fowles's book and read the last line. It was as if he was having a look to see whether it required more attention, given Fowles's progessive approach to her craft. She caught him doing it and he pronounced it, "a good last line."

But the best line of the night came early, when Winter explained his rational for writing from a computer hived off from the Internet. He described two rooms, one with a puppy and the other with a dog three days dead. Everyone would rather be in the room with the loving puppy. The Internet is a puppy, he said. But, the dead dog's your novel. Lock yourself in there and work on it.

Time to light another stick of incense. What with the garbage, the dead dog, and the shower I surely need, my garret's smelling foul.

If you'd like to read more of their pearls, check out Descant Magazine's post here.