Novelist, screenwriter and copywriter Emily Saso (The Weather Inside) is no stranger to the Toronto International Festival of Authors. As a returning Delegate she’s hosted events, observed events, and even participated in them as a featured author. Here’s how her Festival experiences have continued to play a role in her writing life!
By Emily Saso
Novel writing is an isolating practice. You can take your laptop to a busy coffee shop, even pull it out on the bus or subway, but in the end it’s often just you in a room, alone. Much of that alone time is constructive: it’s when the physical act of focused writing gets done, for example. Some of that alone time, however, can have negative side effects.
For me, the downside of being so often alone is that it creates the perfect conditions for self-doubt to grow. I’ll be sitting at my desk, in the silence that I need to write, and into my head pops a voice: “Who cares what you think?” “Why are you even bothering?” “You know that no one will ever want to read this, right?”
When I wrote my first novel, I was plagued by these thoughts. And you know what pulled me out of them? The 2013 edition of the Toronto International Festival of Authors.
I met Anthony Marra at TIFA in 2013. I was blown away by his first novel, A Constellation of Vital Phenomena. I couldn’t believe that a real live person had the talent, empathy and imagination to create such a moving piece of literary art. He must be super-human, I thought. He must float on an astral plane.
After Marra’s panel, I waited in line to get his signature. We chatted a bit, mostly me droning on about what his book meant to me. Then I just spat it out. “I’m a writer too,” I told him. Then I clawed it back. “I mean, I’m a struggling writer.” Marra put down his pen; he looked at me.
“I’m a struggling writer, too,” he said.
The relief, the happiness, that those words of his unleashed. Anthony Marra struggles, too! And yet here he is at TIFA, signing his book for me in the Marilyn Brewer Community Space! Maybe, I thought, just maybe, there’s a chance that if I don’t give up, I can end up here, too.
Three years later, I did. My first novel found a publisher and I was lucky enough to participate in the Festival’s Lit On Tour programme. Not only that, but my novel was on sale in the Marilyn Brewer Community Space! I could hardly believe it.
Here’s the thing: I’m still struggling. But I’m also hopeful about my writing, and more passionate about the craft than ever. The Toronto International Festival of Authors has given me that, because it’s given me access to a community of writers.
The encouragement that I have received—and continue to receive every year—from this community has been remarkable. Whether that encouragement arrives during a brief moment with Anthony Marra; or in Vikas Swarup’s tales of balancing a day job with novel writing; or in a confession from Amulya Malladi about writing with depression; or through the stories that were shared with me by festival attendees about writing rejection and success, or how they changed their definition of success altogether.
As an emerging author, it’s so crucial to connect with other writers, both the ones who have been published, and the ones who haven’t (or haven’t yet). It’s so important to hear their stories live and in colour, and to weigh them next to your own.
Writing novels is an isolated, challenging affair. Having a community helps immeasurably. In fact, I think it’s essential. Every year, I find my community at TIFA. I hope you find yours, too.
Visit egoburn.blogspot.com to keep up with Emily’s reflections on writing. Stay tuned for more Delegate-penned pieces on #FestofAuthors18!