January's Author of the Month is Shirley Camia. Shirley's second poetry collection, The Significance of Moths was released in April 2015. In 19 Questions about Process: An interview with Shirley Camia (below), she shares a few thoughts about her creative process. You can also find out what the motivation was for Shirley's book in her Behind the Page: The Significance of Moths by Shirley Camia.
Shirley Camia's book with Turnstone Press is:
When did you first come to think of yourself as a professional writer?
I actually don't like the term "professional writer." I may use the word, but don’t fully believe in the title. There are a lot of connotations and expectations associated with it, and for me, it has a very finite nature, as though once you call yourself a writer, you’re done and you don’t need to write anymore. It can breed complacency. It’s the same way Maya Angelou didn’t consider herself a Christian—she considered the act of being Christian a work in progress, something that she needed to work on regularly. I feel the same way about writing.
Do you still submit individual poems to ’zines and journals for publication? Why or why not?
I haven’t sent many poems to ‘zines and journals at all. I mailed out a handful years ago—all rejected—and I haven’t submitted any ever since. To be honest, I never thought that my first collection would be published. I was just writing and asked a colleague for some feedback. Without his push I wouldn’t have had the confidence to send my first manuscript to publishers. Now, with two books published, I’m working on other projects and haven’t given much thought to ‘zines and journals.
What inspires you?
Everything from small moments of intimacy to large sacrifices, from sadness to happiness. Other people. Their artistry, writing and otherwise, and everyday lives.
Is there a particular time of day which you write best?
I love writing in the morning before I have to get to work. No one else is awake and I can sit and savour the quiet without any—or many—distractions.
Please describe your typical writing routine.
I don’t have a typical writing routine—not that I think, anyway. I write when I have time, usually in the morning, but also right before bed. My job as a journalist demands a lot of my waking hours, so I try to fit writing in when I can.
When you write a poem, do you always finish it in one sitting or do you draft it in stages, going back to it, building the poem over time?
It’s more of a slow build. Very few of my poems are done in one sitting. What usually happens is that I have an idea, or a line that pops into my head and I use whatever is on hand—scrap paper, napkins, those cardboard coffee holders—to write it down. Then, when I have a moment, I flesh out the idea. I leave the poem and go back to it a few times, to see if I still like the words that I chose, if it flows and conveys the meaning and tone I want it to convey.
How do you know that a poem is finished? Is a poem ever finished for you?
I don’t know if a poem is ever finished. I rarely feel that way. But I also don’t want to be editing the same poems forever. I learned a good lesson as an hourly newsreader/writer—set a deadline and finish the work by the deadline. For me, that has been the only way to cut out doubt, cut out endless revision, get work done and be ok with the result.
Some writers prefer the process of composing a manuscript while others prefer the editorial stage of fine tuning and polishing. Do you have a preference? Why?
Composing. Limitless creating. Once it gets to the editing stage, I realize that what I thought was great was actually … not so good. A real confidence killer. But it’s worth it. Who wants to show off mediocrity?
Do you write any other form besides poetry?
I’m beginning to explore other forms of writing and it’s terrifying. I’m writing a longer story that incorporates both prose and poetry, and I have no idea how to structure it. When I write poetry, I think about the contents of each individual poem, not the order in which they will appear. Di Brandt suggested that I write out a chronological timeline. Her advice has helped, but I still feel like a tourist without a map.
What is it about poetry which draws you to it?
I love the elusive nature of poetry. It’s hiding in broad daylight. Poems can be interpreted in so many ways, and can simultaneously be so open and so vague.
Do you journal? How does journaling figure into your writing process?
It doesn’t. Between writing stories as a journalist and writing my own projects, I’m full up!
You have travelled extensively. How has travel figured into your creative process? Do you write while on road, or do you prefer to just take it all in, and compose once you are “home” in your usual writing environment?
Travel has inspired a considerable amount of my writing. But do I write on the road or write from “home?” A bit of both. I’ve written some poems while traveling, but more recently I’ve begun processing a lot of experiences that happened years ago, as though my brain is only beginning to understand my senses.
What do you think about a writer’s need to be part of social networks?
That’s a toss up. I understand the need for social networks, to talk out processes, share articles, promote work and deal with the many challenges that come with writing. I’m not heavily involved in them, but I appreciate the communities that I’m in and find the information shared in those networks useful. But when I find myself a few hours deep into procrastinating—and not spending that valuable time writing as a result—I curse them!
Do you enjoy giving public readings?
Yes and no. I get nervous in front of people. And on top of that, I have to share stories about such personal experiences. I’ve had people counter and say, but you’ve read the news to listeners all over Canada as a newsreader. Yes, but those people weren’t in the tiny, dark studio with me! What I do enjoy, however, is the connection and the conversations that follow the readings. I consider that the reward for getting up onstage to share my poems.
Do you keep any talismans or lucky charms nearby when you write?
No. But old pictures have inspired new projects, so when I work on them, I look at the pictures and see where my mind takes me.
Are you a habitual consumer of anything while you write?
Since I like to write in the morning, I always have a good, strong cup of coffee on hand. It’s the closest thing I have to a ritual. I get my Brazilian beans from my local roaster, Full of Beans, and each morning, I brew my coffee with a French press. A good cuppa, my laptop, and I’m all set.
Favourite music to listen to while you write?
I don’t listen to music when I write. I find it too distracting.
When you do sit down to flesh out those lines and ideas you've jotted down, do you draft your poems longhand or do you prefer to compose at a keyboard?
Both. It really depends where I am and what's in front of me. There are long stretches of time where all I'm doing is sitting cramped on some sort of transport, and in those times, I'll use a pen and paper. But if I have access to my computer, I'm banging the keyboard. My penmanship has become super sloppy as a result!
If you could not be a writer, what career might you have?
I would stick to my day job, covering arts and music stories as a journalist with JAZZ.FM91. It’s a pretty amazing gig. I get to meet creative people doing all sorts of inspiring things and then I share their stories on the radio. Throw in a bit of travel in there, and I could almost imagine life without writing. Almost.