The Three Rs: Tanis Rideout
March 8, 2013 § Leave a comment
Tanis Rideout’s work has appeared in numerous publications and been shortlisted for several prizes, including the Bronwen Wallace Memorial Award for Emerging Writers and the CBC Literary Award. Born in Belgium, Tanis grew up in Bermuda and in Kingston, Ontario, and now lives in Toronto. She recently received her MFA from the University of Guelph-Humber. Above All Things is her first novel.
When did you first know you wanted to write books?
Not until quite late. I always loved books and I remember thinking when I was quite small, maybe around 10, that someday I’d love to have a job with books, but it didn’t occur to me that one could write them.
I wrote terrible angst-y poems in high school, as we all likely did, but it wasn’t until I was in university that I truly realised one could be a writer. It was in a Canadian Literature class, reading In the Skin of a Lion by Ondaatje, and I suddenly understood, in a very visceral way, that someone was on the other side of the book, someone that was alive, that didn’t live too far away and had written it because that’s what he had to do, not because someone hired him, or told him to. I think that was the day I figured out that someday I wanted to do that.
What does your day look like while you’re writing a book?
For me it depends on where I am in the process and whether it’s fiction or poetry. But let’s go talk fiction. In the morning I take care of any other work that needs doing – business-y stuff, other writing for events, or magazines that kind of thing. In the afternoon I try and commit myself to new work. I generally set myself word counts – really early on in the process it might be 500 words a day, and as I get going that increases up to about 2,000 words a day. I work until I get that many words down. Some days it’s really easy, some days I have to go back to my desk after dinner.
I’m generally at my desk from roughly 9-5 Monday to Friday. If writing’s going really well, or really terribly, I’ll write in the evenings and often at least one day on the weekend. I also occasionally suffer from insomnia, and love writing in the middle of the night when there are very, very few distractions.
Do you type or write?
It depends. For fiction I make a lot of notes by hand, but mostly I write on the computer. I’ve just started on a new project and am using Scrivener – a computer program for novel writing, and I’m loving it for a first draft, it’s great for organising. When I get stuck though, I switch to pen and paper. I write poetry almost exclusively with pen and paper.
What do you read while you’re writing?
Oh – that varies a lot. In order to write poetry I have to be reading poetry. If I’m writing fiction I try and read things that connect to what I’m writing thematically, or structurally, but I also just read for my own enjoyment – I generally have something on the go that I consider I’m reading for work, and something that is purely for pleasure, though there’s generally some overlap with that.
What I find interesting is that when I’m immersed enough in a project everything I read, watch, take in, becomes fodder, becomes seen through the lens of what I’m writing.
What have you read recently that you really loved?
I am always the worst with this question! I forget books so quickly, through no fault of theirs. Having just gone to look at the pile of books next to my bed I’m going to name two. One is The Blondes by Emily Schultz. A really smart, almost ‘zombie’ novel about a disease that is turning blondes, real or bottled, in to rabid killers. It’s got a wonderful narrator and is funny and scary, and as I said, tremendously smart. It’s the kind of book I would love to write.
The other is Artful by Ali Smith. I love the mix of narrative and lecture, and her language is just so extraordinary. Again – the kind of writer I would love to aim to be.
What are your all-time favourites?
Oh, again, so so hard! I’m just going to start listing books I love… 1984, Ocean Sea, Never Let Me Go, Oryx and Crake, Moveable Feast, Coming Through Slaughter. I could go on and on.
You can either write or read for the rest of your life – but not both. Which do you choose?
Reading. There’s no way for me to write without it. I think it’s at least half the job anyway. I think I’d be pretty miserable without writing, but could – hopefully – find other outlets. I don’t think I could possibly go without reading.
What’s your third R, and why?
Probably something like re-visiting or re-imagining – because it can apply to work – to edit and go back over stuff from a new angle, digging things up, but it also refers to my not very productive habit of playing things over and over again in my head wishing I had said or behaved differently.