Canadian writer and editor Christina Myers is talented, sometimes a bit insecure, often funny, and always inspirational. She candidly shares her journey of writing and navigating the writing world.
She uses real world analogies that bring the writer to an simple understanding of what it takes to be a writer.
Thank you Christina for such a great interview.
BIG: Stories about Life in Plus-Sized Bodies.
The title of this book piqued my interest and I knew immediately that I wanted to read it. As a “plus-sized” person myself I wanted to know what others were saying, feeling, and experiencing. It is made up of twenty-six stories shared by people in big bodies.
It’s an excellent read and proved to be emotional and heart-wrenching but also empowering.
I so enjoyed the book I wanted to share it with you and introduce you to the Editor of the book Christina Myers.
The book is available on Amazon: https://www.amazon.ca/Big-Stories-about-Plus-Sized- or Caitlin Press: https://caitlin-press.com/our-books/big/
The opening paragraph:
“It was, so far as I can recall, the first word attributed to my body. If felt neutral and benign–a biological fact, not an emotional observation. In truth, I was solid. Strong and tall and built in a way that made me feel capable of anything I wanted or needed to do. I was the girl who could reach the top shelf and open jars and help teachers carry heavy boxes and outpace boys on the track and the tennis court.
…I did have the vocabulary or insight to say it as a child but I felt at home in my body.
…This was–as it is for many women–short lived.” Christina Myers
The book is a collaboration of stories edited by the talented Christina Myers.
Who is Christina Myers?
I’m a little bit of a lot of things: I’m a mom to two kids, a writer and editor, an organizer and volunteer, a geek girl, a reader, a bad but enthusiastic gardener, and a fan of arts and crafts, vintage kitchen collectibles, pretty dresses, red lipstick, and new moons.
This year (2020), I published BIG: Stories About Life In Plus-Sized Bodies, which is on shelves now across Canada and the US, and which was published by Caitlin Press (a longtime Canadian literary publisher based in British Columbia.)
It’s a collection of non-fiction stories that are all very different and unique and powerful. I was the creator and editor of the book, and am one of the 26 contributors in it, too.
What’s your message that you want the world to hear?
When I try to see a theme across most of my writing, it’s almost always about imperfection and joy.
By that, I mean that most of my writing, from off-the-cuff posts on social media about daily life, to more intentioned and serious writing, is often about coming to terms with the mistakes and grey areas and hard parts of life, and then finding the spaces where joy can bloom inside them. I suspect this is an outgrowth of my own struggle with perfection/imperfection, and learning over the course of my life that being honest and vulnerable is almost always the most powerful and connective way to live, even when it’s most terrifying.
From a distance, I probably look quite outgoing and bold, but chances are very good that I’m more nervous than anyone else in the room, whether it’s a writing group, a birthday party, or a work meeting.
Q: When did you start writing? Tell me about you’re working on.
I started writing, like most writers, as a kid. But officially, when I was in my 20s and started working as a reporter.
I worked in newspapers for a long time, covering various beats, but also doing regular columns and op-ed writing. More recently, I’ve been doing freelance writing and editing (in between being a stay-at-home parent) and of course my own creative writing work.
Most of my writing has been in newspapers, magazines and online, but in recent years I’ve been published in a number of print anthologies (the most recent one is forthcoming this fall, about travel and adventure, called Fearless Footsteps) and with various literary sites.
My first novel will hopefully be published in 2021 (though with the current state of affairs in the world, lots of things are up in the air!). I also have a children’s picture book manuscript out for consideration at a children’s publisher at the moment, so fingers crossed on that.
A friend once described me as a writer with genre-commitment issues, which is probably true. I write what appeals to me, and what I need to write, even though that often means crossing back and forth over different genres.
Q: What is your education level? Did either getting or not getting mfa impact your writing career.
I have a Bachelor of Arts (not in English, actually, but in psychology) from UBC as well as a Bachelor of Journalism from Thompson Rivers University. In 2015, I completed the Certificate in Creative Writing with the Writer’s Studio at Simon Fraser University. I don’t have an MFA (Master of Fine Arts) and it’s tough to evaluate if it’s made a difference.
To a degree, it depends on which part of my career I’m talking about – certainly it didn’t make any difference when I was a journalist.
But now? Hard to say.
Being part of the Writer’s Studio helped me connect with a community of writers, which is something I really needed and wanted but would have struggled to do on my own, especially as a busy parent.
I think one of the most valuable things in a writing program, be it an MFA or something else, is the community that it creates.
And I feel like I have that, now. Admittedly, I do think about it from time to time – I’ve always loved school, and new challenges. But from a practical perspective, I’m also keenly aware that I have two kids on the precipice of their teen years and now may not be an ideal time to head back to university!
Q: How did you secure your first agent or publisher?
I actually don’t have an agent.
I spent a long time doing the kind of writing that didn’t need an agent (magazines, content writing, and so on). When I moved into more creative and literary work, I decided to approach publishers directly who I thought would be a good fit for my projects (smaller stand-alone writing I sent to journals, or into anthology calls, or for competitions.)
I would say it took about a year to hear back on both of those projects (the anthology that published a few months ago and my novel.)
When my next book is ready to go out for consideration, I’m hoping to find the agent that’s a good fit for me (unless, by chance, they find me first!) to help with that process. I wanted to have some publishing history with bigger projects in my pocket before I went looking.
Q: What challenges did you face during your early years of writing? Whether real or imagined.
The biggest challenge: housework!
I say that jokingly all the time, but the term “housework” for me is a symbolic catch-all for the challenge of finding TIME.
Very few of us are independently wealthy, live alone, have an office that looks out on the ocean, along with an endless supply of motivation and coffee to just churn out reams and reams of writing.
We have children to raise, or elderly parents to care for, dishes to do and laundry to fold, jobs that pay the bills. Finding time often means prioritizing other equally important things – you have to decide what has to stay and what can go.
I can’t stop doing laundry, for example, but I rarely watch TV.
Once you make time, the challenge is almost always (and universally) one of self-doubt: am I smart enough, or talented enough?
Who do I think I am to believe I can write something that other people will want to read?
Will I be criticized, made fun of, or feel foolish?
Millions of people want to write, why do I think I will succeed at it?
I think that is an ever-present challenge for most people. I still struggle with it now.
Q: Are you familiar with “Imposter Syndrome”? Has this doubt and/or insecurity crept into your psyche? what do you do to counteract it if it does?
I’ve told this story before many times but it’s the best way to answer this question.
I got into a taxi one night and the driver and I started chatting about all sorts of things. At one point, he asked me what I did for a living.
I hesitated. “Am I allowed to call myself a writer? Is that legitimate?”
I had been worked as a full-time journalist for more than a dozen years, and at that point had been doing freelance work for several years on top of that, but I STILL doubted myself as a writer.
That moment really shook me up and I tell it often when I’m working with newer writers. Do you write? Do you keep learning and writing and working on it? Do you put your work out into the world whether that’s through traditional publishing or other routes? You’re a writer.
But imposter syndrome isn’t just a writing thing for me.
I could be the poster girl for it, going all the way back to childhood.
Whenever I did well on a test, I told myself I’d gotten lucky and studied exactly the right pages.
When I did something positive that other people noticed or commented on, I’d wave it off – I wasn’t really good or smart or capable, I just accidentally figured out that particular problem or situation.
I constantly felt I had lucked out or somehow inadvertently faked my way into everything – from university acceptances to job offers.
The opportunities I have missed, because of imposter syndrome, are hard for me to think about and it’s something I’ve only recently wrestled with successfully.
I would say just the last few years I’ve been able to stop (sometimes more or less successfully) with this internal dialogue.
Like the many projects in my computer, I too am a work in progress it seems!
Q: Do you compare yourself to other writers? Whether in the way of creativity, the number of books sold/written, perceived talent, etc.?
I try not to. But at times, yes.
Sometimes I have to take a twitter-break because it’s easy to see the successes – the award announcements, the manuscript deals – and forget that behind those was years of work, lots of rejections.
I think there’s two remedies for this.
1.Time spent with friends who are writers.
2. And time spent with friends who are NOT writers.
The former because talking to writer friends reminds you of what’s going on behind the scenes, gives you people to commiserate with who understand where you are.
And the latter because sometimes you need a reminder that there’s a whole universe of people who don’t care about the same things that seem so huge and ever-present to you. It pulls you back out into a different kind of reality.
Q: What is your advice to writers starting out? Can you provide three tips to keep the writer focused on moving forward and not tumbling down the proverbial rabbit hole of self doubt?
- A silly analogy, but one that occurred to me a few years ago, and I still use it to encourage myself: don’t think of writing as cooking.
If you’re making soup and you accidentally spill the entire container of salt into it, you’ve probably ruined the soup. You have to throw it out, right?
If you mix up pancake batter the wrong way, or you grill the steak too long, you can’t undo it. It’s wasted.
Instead, think of writing as making a Lego creation.
You build something, it doesn’t work or look like what you imagined, so you take it apart, remove sections, look at it from a new angle, and you build it again.
After a while, maybe now only one or two bricks are in the wrong place, so you remove those, and put them back in somewhere else, or find different bricks that fit better.
Your work is never wasted, lost, or ruined like pancake batter with too much water added to it. Your work is always simply a creation progress, adding bricks, moving bricks, changing bricks.
2. It is impossible to create the perfect environment to write.
Your house will never be clean enough. You’ll never have all the laundry done.
Your writing space will never look like the dream pictures in a magazine.
Get comfortable with sitting down and working, even if things are a little bit chaotic around you. (For a dash of irony: I just spent a half hour doing dishes and picking up around the kitchen before I let myself sit down to write this, so this is advice I tell myself all the time.)
3. Read about the personal stories of some of your favourite writers (or artists, actors and musicians.)
What they have in common is that their overnight success almost always took years and years.
We love the myth of the debut author who creates a magical novel that goes on to sell millions. But the reality is that most people try and fail and try and fail and try and fail.
Marlon James won the Man Booker Prize – arguably one of the most prestigious literary prizes in the world – in 2015 for a Brief History of Seven Killings.
That book was rejected by nearly 80 publishers before someone picked it up.
How many people stop after two, three, four rejections?
Knowing that some of your idols got told “no” over and over makes it easier to recognize that you’ll be told no, too, and that’s ok. I think about this a lot – just yesterday I read that Mark Ruffallo went on roughly 600 unsuccessful auditions before he had a successful one.
If you want inspiration, don’t look at where someone is today, look at where they were ten or 20 years ago.
Q: What was the best advice you’ve ever received?
I heard a writer at a panel event say: “Find a cheerleader” and went on to explain what she meant by that, and it has stayed with me (and I’m pretty sure it’s actually a major reason why I was able to finish my novel manuscript.)
Find someone who isn’t a writer, who has your back, who will be excited for you, who will see the best in your work, but is not editing you or giving feedback on the work itself.
Maybe a friend or a sibling.
A writer’s workshop or writer’s group can help you improve your writing, taking classes can help you learn craft, but sometimes you need a cheerleader to keep going.
Q: Anything you’d like to add in regards to writers or the professional industry?
This is not a huge industry, especially in Canada.
Be a good person, work with integrity, be honest. You’ll cross paths with the same people over and over, and people have long memories.
Oh, and if you’re doing a reading as part of a lineup of readers: stick to your allotted time limit. Seriously. (Vancouver author and teacher Wayde Compton talked about this while leading one of my very first sessions at the Writer’s Studio and it has stayed with me!)
Q: Now, specifically about BIG. How did you find/choose the contributors?
We put out a submission call on the publisher’s website outlining the project and the deadlines, and I sent it everywhere – through all my writing networks, writing groups on Facebook and elsewhere, through the Writer’s Studio community, to writing instructors that I knew so that they could share it with students. I asked people to spread the word, basically.
Q: How do you put a compilation book together?
Like the punchline of the old joke about how to brush an alligator’s teeth: very very carefully.
Once I had all the submissions, I printed them all out and spent about two weeks in the corner of my local coffee shop and read them all, one by one.
I created a spreadsheet with the titles, the author names, where they were from, the theme or topic of the story, some biographical details, the length of the piece, and so on.
The last column was a space to note if it should be included.
Some stories were immediate – within the first paragraph I’d be thinking YES THIS HAS TO BE IN THE BOOK.
In some cases there were three or four or more stories that were all wonderful but had very similar themes, so I had to decide which of those to include. A rejection isn’t always a reflection of the quality of writing when it comes to an anthology – in fact, almost everything I received blew me away.
But there wasn’t room for every single one and one of the easiest ways to start culling is to figure out which ones overlap too much. I think also people assume that they’ll have a better chance of being accepted if they have a big writing history – there were several stories in this book that was the writer’s first time being published.
Will you do a part 2?
There are enough stories out there for several volumes but I don’t envision doing that right now.
Having said that, I have had this idea rattling around in my brain for almost a year about a different anthology collection and might have to pitch that to a publisher one of these days.
Anthologies are a huge amount of work, for both the editor and the publisher, but to me they’re also one of the most enjoyable forms out there – you get a lot of different tastes and flavours and ideas, all in one place.
Follow Christina on Twitter: @ChristinaMyersA