Wednesday, May 07, 2014

On Writing #29 : Sara Heinonen

On Writing
Sara Heinonen

Every time the concerns of my life shift, so does the focus of the novel I'm working on. With each draft I take my characters somewhere different because I need to be completely taken with what they are taken with. After eight years working on this novel, I have to believe that I've also taken each draft somewhere better. I've learned to accept that my writing process isn't efficient or predictable. It's not like my day job: it's art, or at least an attempt at it. It's a form of love too. I prefer writing to any other work, even though art is a difficult job and love can drive you crazy. I'm giving this novel my time, my heart, and my mind.

Or trying to. Writing with a busy mind in a busy world is an ongoing test of discipline. The temptation is always there to escape the isolation of writing and go out into that world and bite into it rather than sit in a room and try to describe the taste. I won't even mention the internet, that devilish world that has highjacked all of our brains. What I try to remember is that my days are richer and more vivid when my thoughts find a way into fiction. This is also true when I am immersed in reading: reading your excellent writing, dear fellow writer.

Writing makes me come alive. Other things do too, of course, but they aren't always accessible. Words always are. But words left as thoughts alone don't cut it: I need to make them more real by writing them down. Snippets of written thoughts on scraps of paper don't cut it either. They need to be connected to other thoughts and figured out and developed. And made so compelling that they must be read by at least somebody other than me and, in the best scenario, lots of somebodies.

Writing well is the most challenging mental work I've ever encountered. It has taken over a decade of serious commitment to fiction to get a handle on my written voice. And I still make beginner's mistakes, which pisses me off because I want more than anything to produce great work. There's a point in every writing project when I question its value. Doubt has tripped me up many times but hasn't stopped me yet. I don't want to write: I need to.

I write because I need to get life right through fiction. And what do I mean by "right"? Good question. Ask me again when I'm eighty. In the meantime, don't wish me luck, wish me perseverance. And good perseverance to you too, with whatever makes you come alive.

Sara Heinonen is the author of Dear Leaves, I Miss You All, a collection of short stories published by Mansfield Press in 2013. Her fiction has appeared in many Canadian literary magazines including Grain, Event, The Fiddlehead, and Taddle Creek. She lives in Toronto and also at

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