A Professor and Journalist visits SMUS
by Jiawen Chan & Jacki Zhang
What is your writing process and editing process like? Do you have any quirks or routines?
I believe very much in dedicating as much dedicated time as possible to writing. Writing takes time (and space) to undertake. And editing is a very important part of that process, one that also takes a great deal of time. I tend to like to write early in the morning. For me, writing is so time intensive that it’s NEVER a matter of not having something to write about – it’s always that I don’t have the time write down all the things that are whirling around in my head.
What is your favorite writing tool? Computer? Pen?
I keep many sketchbooks of ideas – I always write in pencil in those sketch books. I have very bad handwriting, a hard time with spelling, and I like to erase and cross things out. I do, however, write a lot on my laptop.
What contributes to your writing style?
I have always been interested in creative nonfiction – in the act of employing literary conventions of aesthetics and sound and rhythm and rhyme in the service of “real” events. I also enjoy the process of assembling and collaging texts, of working in “polyvocal’ ranges.
Having earned your PhD, do you feel that your extensive post-secondary studies have influenced or changed the way you think?
As an academic geographer and researcher/teacher within a faculty of medicine, I’ve come to expect consistent critical feedback on my thoughts and arguments – the foundation of my writing as a scholar. I need to anchor all my academic/scholarly research in the literatures and knowledge contexts of others. This also makes me a careful reader, one who is always working to position myself in reference to others. I learn in an interdisciplinary manner, drawing inspiration from myriad and often unlikely sources. I think writing is about conveying ideas. I believe in comprehensible writing, that assumes a reader is an intelligent and interested person with whom I’m in conversation. To be read is a privilege and an honour, not something to be taken for granted.
What do you think makes a piece of writing interesting?
I believe that what is being written ABOUT should be compelling and evocative and that THE FORM of what is being said is being done in a new and fresh way (but not in way that is arrogant or dehistoricized).
Who is your favorite dead celebrity?
She’s not really a ‘celebrity’ but I always feel in debt to Nellie McClung. Though I have to say, I always like Katherine Hepburn – because she had great pants and was one strong woman!
Finally, do you have any advice for a young aspiring writer?
WRITE! Write a lot, write all the time, read, read, read, – and then write. And edit. Edit some more. Talk with people about writing who will be blunt and honest with you about where you need to improve. Get out and doing some living! You need experiences about which to write.
Edited for length and clarity
This story appeared in the December issue of The Jag student newspaper. Click here to read the full edition.