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The Ink-Stained-Wretch

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It’s hard to say where the expression Ink-Stained-Wretch originates. Though I have found almost no reliable sources, at least one researcher told me in passing that the phrase comes from Canadian novelist Hugh Garner. Kurt Vonnegut’s novel Deadeye Dick attributes it to Alexander Woollcott, but this is probably wrong as well. To great alarm, I have encountered at least two co-editors who had attributed the expression to myself. I quickly disavowed them of this notion. However it originated, the expression is a catch-all for writers, whether they be journalists, poets, novelists, or anything in between.

This is what I am.

Truthfully, I cannot remember a time when writing and storytelling were not a part of my existence. Theoretically, it is possible to find my earliest stories buried somewhere in the basement of my parent’s homes, where crumpled pages glued to cardboard reveal the handwriting of my babysitter, who patiently put to page the dictation of a very bored and surly four-year-old. These horrifying records survive to this day, only because my family would probably be upset if I destroyed them.

I began writing in earnest at the age of fifteen. Whether or not this was a good idea is entirely unclear. With my first netbook and a code for Microsoft Office, I decided that then was a good time to write my first novel. This was perhaps my first mistake, as it is perhaps a backwards way to learn how to write, to try the novel before the short story. I finished my first manuscript when I was 16. I was enormously proud of myself, and it was terrible. I had no idea what I was doing. I can’t prove I’ve got much more of an idea today, save for a fashionable peppering of cynicism.

Three years later when I was nineteen, a heavily edited and revised version of this manuscript was published in a limited print run. It was called Wychman Road. It survived print for nearly eight months before a dispute with its publisher ended my contract. That publisher went bankrupt and closed up shop briefly afterwards. Wychman Road sold just over one hundred copies. I believe there are one or two copies still sitting on shelves at the UofT bookstore. I have not checked. In some ways, I am relieved at the failure of this first attempt. It is a far darker, and more violent tale than anything I would like to create today, driven as it was by the angst and bitterness of puberty. I do not believe it would be acceptable to refer to myself as an Ink-Stained-Wretch until the morning that first novel went out of print. I was studying in the UK at the time.

In the six years between when I began to write and today, there has never been any considerable period where I did not have a project. The day after I finished my first book, I began writing my second manuscript. Two weeks before I finished that second outing, I started my third. As of now, I have written a total of five completed novel-length manuscripts, and something close to thirty short stories. Out of all these hundreds of thousands of words, I always think whatever the last thing I wrote is the only one worth reading.

Each story is my favourite only during the days or months when I am working on it. After finishing one story, I move on to the next. This can make editing my work hard, as it means I have to look back at what I’ve done. For me, this is painful but necessary. Too many times have my stories been rejected just for the sin of being too rough of a draft. Editing is rewarding only when I make a change to a story that I know has improved it. The great danger of editing is that sometimes instead of making something better, you’re just taking a painful amount of time to make it slightly different.

Continuing to write while handling school, work, and life involves discipline. When starting a project, I go through a process. I sketch a one or two-page outline with pen and paper and let it sit. Once I’m ready, I sit either at my desk at home or in a library. I create a new document on the computer. I type out the title and relevant information. I then create headers in the document and type out the title of every chapter (these can change later). I must always have written the title of the final chapter before I begin writing the first. It’s important to know where a story is going before it starts.

I tend not to write in the morning. Most of my writing is done at stolen moments between classes, or well into the night. A point must be made to open a manuscript every day, even if barely a sentence gets committed to the page. I’m happy if I can reach two thousand words each week.

When I was younger, I wrote in the genre of fantasy. Now, I write in the setting of science fiction. I have a great fondness for tales of space travel, aliens, and androids. I say the setting now, instead of genre because that makes it easier to convince others that what I am doing is still literary fiction, even as it reaches into the future. I have no desire to leave science fiction. It is only in the last six months since my first book went off shelves that I began to write shorter fiction. I find the limitations challenging. Writing within a page limit is hard.

The final part of my routine is the next morning. Nearly twice a month, I wake to an email with headers reading something along the following: Martian Mustache, Rejected. Electric Arteries, Rejected. Human Epicurious, Rejected. Rocket Connection, Rejected. Empathy-Breeders, Rejected.

But still, I can’t seem to stop, because, in many ways, writing is a disease. This might sound like a complaint. It’s not. Writing is a disease that makes me happy.

Writing is, in many ways, about failure, and ignoring failure to continue. I have been a writer for nearly six years. I’ve been an Ink-Stained Wretch for about one.

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