If you’re a writer who claims to never read reviews of your work, you’re probably lying, says Marina Endicott, this year’s Writer-in-Residence at the University of Alberta.
“I do try not to read them, but then they come to your email and it’s hard to avoid them,” the Canadian author says with a laugh.
“The recovery process from reading a bad review can be three weeks — it’s stupid. A wise thing would be not to read them.”
Thankfully, Endicott hasn’t had to face much criticism, as her three novels have garnered mostly acclaim from the Canadian literary scene — her 2011 novel, The Little Shadows, was shortlisted for the Governor General’s Award for Fiction.
Now, Endicott is turning the tables and dishing out constructive criticism to aspiring writers this year in her Writer-in-Residence position. It’s her own experience with criticism that’s given her the insight needed to help writers revise and perfect their manuscripts.
“I don’t think there’s really much place for destructive criticism. It just doesn’t make sense in teaching because what you always want in teaching is to make them go back and write again,” Endicott says.
“And if somebody has reached the line of despair, they’re not going to jump off and write again.”
Writing over and over again is exactly what Endicott suggests in order to succeed as a writer. It’s no surprise, then, that the first thing you notice upon walking into her quaint office in Humanities are her multiple novels stacked elegantly on a wooden shelf — some translated into other languages — highlighting the work she’s accomplished since kick-starting her literary career in 2001.
In fact, Endicott says writer’s block has never struck her.
“You have to go do it, you just have to. Of course, there’s times the muse comes along and hits you with a rhythm stick and it’s great,” she says.
“But there are other times when more thinking has to be done or you have to live longer to be able to solve a problem in a scene … There’s always work you can do.”
Although Endicott has managed to avoid the dreaded writing curse, she admits that writing has turned into work for her. But as she points out, that’s not necessarily not a bad thing.
“I like the work of it,” she says. “It feels like work in a good way. One great thing is that it doesn’t feel like goofing off or self-indulgent. I think before you get to a certain level of publication and maybe a certain volume of work, one of the dangers is you can feel as if you are following some ridiculous folly you shouldn’t be doing. It no longer feels like that.”
Still, Endicott says her job as Writer-in-Residence has been a welcome reprieve from the difficulties of writing her new novel, which is set to be published in a year and a half.
“It’s tricky because you have to change thought worlds from your own all-consuming world of the novel to give that same attention to somebody else’s world,” she says. “So I try to pack appointments into two days where I don’t try to think much about my work and just concentrate on other people’s.”
In the seven months left of her residency, Endicott hopes her impact on the U of A’s literary community “sort of sneaks in under the radar” as she helps writers craft their stories — all the while giving them just the right touch of constructive criticism.
“People are shy about bringing their writing to somebody. It can be a difficult thing to open your heart and show your work to somebody, especially if you aren’t used to publishing,” she says.
“So courage. It’s okay — you can come and see me.”
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