Books·Magic 8 Q&A

Poet Laura Ritland's advice for writers: 'Never dwell on rejection'

The author of the poetry collection East and West answers eight questions from eight fellow authors.
Laura Ritland's debut book of poetry is East and West. (Signal Poetry)

April is National Poetry Month and CBC Books is highlighting Canadian poets throughout the month.

Laura Ritland is a Vancouver-based poet. Her debut poetry book, East and West, looks at diversity of thought, geography and sensation using vibrant language and lyrical cadence.  

Below, Ritland takes the CBC Books Magic 8 Q&A and answers eight questions from eight fellow authors.

1. Jeff Latosik asks, "How can writers get better at accepting rejection and critical feedback? "

Know the criticism that matters and the criticism that doesn't. Criticism that matters will bring you to an old problem in a new way, will resonate with what you know to be true about your work, will be offered with care, honesty and insight. Welcome the opportunity to change. But also defend what's yours to the teeth. If you disagree with critical feedback, know exactly why and keep that reason fixed in your mind. Never dwell on rejection. Ninety-five per cent of the time it's not about you. The other five per cent is room to grow.

2. Adeena Karasick asks, "If you were going to repurpose one text, what would it be?"

Charles Darwin's The Voyage of the Beagle. I'd love to turn that text on its head.

3. Canisia Lubrin asks, "What is the most challenging thing about writing that you embrace?"

Being wrong. I like changing my mind a billion and one times over. Unfortunately, this also means that I end up drowning in a billion and one drafts.

4. Cassie Stocks asks, "Did you have an epiphanic moment when you realized writing meant something special to you or was it a slow reckoning?"

When I was six, I imagined making a perfect book. The idea was that it would be exactly the book I'd always wanted to read, because I'd be the author and I knew exactly what I'd like to read about! I've never felt so sure about anything.

5. Catherine Hernandez asks, "Who is your most feared critic?"

Anyone whom I admire, especially if they are terrifyingly brilliant.

6. Tanya Talaga asks, "What has been your biggest barrier to overcome in writing?"

Being an ally rather than an enemy to my writing. I've struggled at times to feel like I have a right to be writing. I've had to push back against a persistent sense of being less-than, not-as, not-enough, under-this and sub-that. I don't think that this is an unusual barrier for women and women of colour to face, nor that I've had it the worst. Knowing that these feelings aren't necessarily typical self-criticism, but part of a system of internalized social prejudices has definitely helped — as well as the strength of friends who can be my allies when I can't be one to myself. We need to be our best allies to each other.

7. Djamila Ibrahim asks, "What dream job or jobs did you have growing up? Has it or have they appeared in your writing?"

Being a writer has always been the dream, but I'd have loved to become a sculptor. One of the poems in my book pays homage to the wonderful installation artist and sculptor, Lee Bul.  

8. Trevor Cole asks, "How do you decide what to write about next?"

I try to direct my attention to what feels most urgent and necessary — whether that be in life, the times, where I am and what's happening around me. But it's also really up to chance. Often, I'll become obsessed with a new idea or topic. I'll keep x or y in mind and then, often without much prompting, something happens in the world that gives me occasion to write about it.


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