Andrea Thompson has been writing and performing poetry across the country for the past 20 years, and currently teaches Spoken Word through OCADU’s Continuing Studies department. She is the author of the collection Eating the Seed, co-editor of the anthology Other Tongues: Mixed-Race Women Speak Out, and has recently released her debut novel, Over Our Heads. She dropped by the blog this week to tell us about learning to write fiction.
From Spoken Word Artist to Novelist: We’re Not in Kansas Anymore.
Publishing a novel was, for me, an epic journey. I began my first attempt about ten years ago by posting an innocently optimistic yellow sticky note above my desk, reminding me: trust the process. Fast-forward one year, and there I was, surrounded by piles of paper, with said sticky note crumpled up at the bottom of the recycling bin. And while the piles of paper I was left with looked like a manuscript, they were, in fact, only a few scenes. They were written in the past tense, in the present tense, and from various points of view–the same scenes written over and over as I changed my mind again and again. Slowly, I came to the painful conclusion: I had no idea what I was doing. I was in over my head.
So I decided to go back to school. At first I was thinking about the writing program at Humber College, but instead I chose to apply to the Creative Writing MFA program at the University of Guelph. It was my birthday when I found a message in my in-box from program coordinator Catherine Bush. I was in.
What followed was two years of learning to write fiction–a process that taught me to be kinder to my earlier budding-novelist self. Fiction was hard! During the first year of the program, I worked with Jeanette Lynes, who helped me craft the first draft by offering an incredible amount of patience and encouragement. In the second year, I began the manuscript as my thesis and began working with my advisor, Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer, who taught me the nuts and bolts of constructing a story arc (among many other things).
When I began to work with Kathryn, the manuscript was a mess. To my mind, it was beyond repair, so at our first meeting, I suggested I throw everything out and start again. But Kathryn reassured me. “Everything is in there,” she insisted. “Everything you need to bring the story together is already there.” Incredibly, she was telling me the same thing I had told myself almost a decade before: trust the process. So I got to work. I read about William S. Burroroughs using what he called the “cut up” method, and decided to give it a try. I got out the tape and scissors, and turned my office into a replica of the movie set for A Beautiful Mind. The insanity of editing had begun.
Two years later, with the assistance of Elizabeth Greene, who talked me out from under the bed when I had once again given up, and Lucianna Ricutelli, Inanna’s Editor in Chief, whose abilities verge on the supernatural, the book was finally born.
The transition from short form to long form writing is like learning to run a marathon after a lifetime of sprinting; like a long-term relationship after a series of one-night-stands. The learning curve has been steep, but the rewards have been worth it. The story is finally out of my body. I’ve learned how to write a novel, and more importantly, to trust myself and the intuition that prompted me to put that sticky note above my desk all those years ago. I had come full circle, and like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, realized I had what I needed all along.
Andrea Thompson visits the Brockton Writers Series Wednesday, January 7, 2015—full of beans Coffee House & Roastery, 1348 Dundas St. W., Toronto (6:30pm, PWYC)—along with Andrew J. Borkowski, Kathryn Kuitenbrouwer and Lee Maracle. The event begins with a special guest talk by Jack Illingworth, Literary Officer at the Ontario Arts Council, about applying for the writing grants the organization provides.