Books·Magic 8 Q&A

Anne Michaels shares the best writing advice she's ever received

The poet and novelist takes the CBC Books Magic 8 Q&A.
Anne Michaels is a Canadian novelist and poet. (Marzena Pogorzaly)

Anne Michaels is an award-winning poet and novelist, whose books include All We Saw, The Winter Vault and Fugitive Pieces. Her internationally acclaimed works have been translated into more than 45 languages. Over her career, Michaels has won the Orange Prize (now known as the Women's Prize for Fiction), the Guardian Fiction Prize and the Lannan Award for Fiction.

Below, Michaels takes the CBC Books Magic 8 Q&A and answers eight questions from eight fellow Canadian writers. 

1. Mariko Tamaki asks, "How much of your writing process involves actual physical writing these days? Do you go right to the computer or do you work things out with pen and ink first?"

All writing is physical, whether pen and paper or at the computer. For me, pen and paper comes first — writing in your own hand makes it much harder to evade what must be said.

2. Madeleine Thien asks, "When does talking to oneself become a problem? Or, when does not talking to oneself become a problem?"

By its very nature, all writing is addressing another, whether the living or the dead, the real or the imagined listener.

3. Ivan Coyote asks, "What is one story that is rattling ghosts around in your head, but for whatever reason, you haven't tackled it yet?"

In a lifetime, there is always a single story that needs to be told and is at the core of everything one writes. Everything we write is part of that larger story.

4. Rachel Cusk asks, "Name some of the rituals or habits you indulge in while writing." 


5. Billy-Ray Belcourt asks, "Do you use humour in your writing or in your public performances? If so, why do you think this is an important literary device?"

Humour is not a device — it is a wound, it is vulnerability, it is defence, it is seduction.

6. Aisha Sasha John asks, "What do you care nothing about?"

A real writer cares about everything, even what that writer scorns or ignores.

7. Hartley Lin asks, "What is one of your most memorable early interactions with art?"

Listening to stories being told, as a child in the back seat of the car at night.

8. Helen Humphreys asks, "What is the best piece of advice about writing that you have ever received?"

Be as brave as you are.


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