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Want to be a successful Black writer in Canada? Whitney French has advice for you

From shutting out the noise to thinking outside the CanLit box, Whitney French has seven tips for aspiring Black writers.
Whitney French is an emerging writer, editor and educator. (Aden Abebe)

Whitney French is a writer, storyteller and educator. She's also a workshop facilitator and has self-published the poetry collection 3 Cities, so she knows what it takes to kickstart a writing career in Canada.

Here are French's seven top tips on how Black Canadian writers can successfully thrive as new voices in today's literary scene.


1. Read (Writers are readers)

"It amazes me that folks who claim to be committed to the written word admit to not reading that much. Writing is an art form of paying homage — we must be mindful of the Black Canadian tradition we are working within and whose shoulders we stand on. Yes, read Dionne Brand, Lawrence Hill and George Elliott Clarke, but also read Black writers on the rise, along with the many unheralded Black Canadian writers who are out there."

2. Shut out the noise (Reclaiming your time)

"It's no secret there have been a number of CanLit scandals — and Black, Indigenous and people of colour, as well as other vulnerable communities, are those impacted by the aftermath. Sometimes it's necessary to survive and to shut out the noise, while other times it's necessary to speak up and reclaim that space. M. Nourbese Philip once shared with me the importance of writing through the pain of it, especially when dealing with a public attack on a community you belong to. It's important to recognize when to give it attention — and when to redirect attention toward self."

3. Protect your writing time (Writing is sacred)

"I have been fortunate to have David Chariandy as a mentor, and one thing that resonates was how he protects his writing time. I'm presently carving out my own writing space, intentionally telling loved ones that this is sacred time. And Black women, I'm looking at you specifically: we have a history of being everyone's everything but this is for you. Protecting your writing time is your right."

4. Think outside of CanLit (Subvert the structures)

"The global literary world is getting smaller. If you have a compelling story to tell, it doesn't have to only exist within the confines of CanLit. So get creative! My personal writing journey has always been about building internal resources and seeking out multiple opportunities rather than waiting for permission from external sources. This can look like a number of things: self-publishing and DIY creative projects, artist residencies outside of Canada, online mentorship with international writers, international literary journals and culturally specific reading series and works."

5. Find your folks (Black writers supporting Black writers)

"It is important for any writer to connect with other writers. But it's especially important for Black writers to connect with other Black writers. Many talented white writers have helped me in invaluable ways. But they have never been told their writing isn't "white enough" or "too white" or "we already have one white novel this year." The reality of being a Black writer in an anti-Black world is something other writers can never truly understand. Having an outlet to voice these complexities is a part of a Black writer's survival."

6. A writer's worth (Setting a pay standard)

"Often writers have to advocate for themselves when it comes to receiving adequate pay. Setting and sticking to a standard is harder than it sounds, especially when rent is due and families are hungry. It means saying no sometimes, it means knowing your value and it means fighting for an equal exchange in energy for a manuscript, an article or a writing workshop. Holding that confidence while negotiating payment is imperative and prepares you for future interactions."

7. Write (Like, right now)

"As in stop reading this article, find a quiet spot with a notebook or laptop and get your butt in that chair. Time yourself. Invite an accountability buddy. Give yourself a word count goal. Do the thing that brings you joy. Get to it!"

Whitney French is curating a forthcoming nonfiction collection called Black Writing Matters. Find her at whitneyfrenchwrites.com.

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