Pamela Westoby, a very young 30, attended the University of Western Ontario and received her degree in history. A Toronto-based writer/photographer, her first book, Hoyden, was published in April 2002 by ECW Press. She is currently hashing out her second novel and is busy temping and freelancing.
Stephanie: What made you decide to become a writer? How did you become a writer?
Pamela: To be honest I can’t recall what made me decide to be a writer - I’ve wanted to be a writer/photographer literally all my life so that’s a tough one. I suppose it’s because I’ve always been both very expressive and curious about the human condition and writing has given me the ability to investigate and utilize both.
As far as how I became a writer, I’ve always done things like keep a journal, volunteer for student newspapers, played around with various manuscripts in my spare time. And I’ve networked, networked, networked in the journalism/publishing world – a definite must for any freelancer or aspiring writer. Essentially, I’ve just had to have a lot of discipline and I’ve kept at until I could support myself doing it - or mostly support myself!
Stephanie: What do you like about your job?
Pamela: I know it sounds trite and cheesy, but I adore the outlet that writing gives me. I love the freedom to create, the ability to communicate my emotions and experiences. Now I can look at the most horrid situation and think ‘Hey, at least I can write about it!’ Not many people can say that and so I always feel lucky when I consider my position.
I also like the PR/book promo aspect, which is very fun. At first it seems odd to be promoting yourself and your book, but once you become accustomed to it, it’s so educational, enlightening and titillating. I mean, who wouldn’t enjoy being on TV or being featured in a press interview?
Stephanie: What is your least favourite part of the job?
Pamela: Probably editing, but not because I’m so partial to my work that I can’t stand to see portions of it cut or changed; I’m a very objective editor of my own work so editing is not painful in that regard. I just find it to be time consuming and tedious and because it’s done toward the completion of the book I’m always anxious and impatient to have the book done and out by that point. I guess editing would be considered the labour portion of the whole ‘writing is like birth’ simile.
Stephanie: What advice do you have for someone considering becoming a writer?
Pamela: While you’re waiting for the royalties to come pouring in, I would recommend choosing a job/position that has a reasonable amount of flexibility, that does not require a lot of overtime and that does not tax you too much mentally. Obviously working in an industry that demands a 70-hour work week and gets you home mentally exhausted is going to do nothing for your career as writer. Personally, I find temping to be perfect in this regard. You work only 9 to 5, there’s zero pressure and no work to take home. Also, you are constantly being introduced to different people, places and industries, thus providing great grist for the mill! The pay not be great or even steady, but at least you’ll be following your heart and furthering your career as a writer.
Additionally, you may want to try your hand at freelance writing, which is a great way to keep your writing skills honed as well as make connections in the publishing industry. It’s a tougher way to make money, but if you succeed at it you’ll find it quite lucrative and rewarding.
And finally, participate in short story contests and try volunteering for student or local papers – just keep your hand in things and sharpen your skills any way you can. And attending readings, joining lit clubs/groups never hurts, either, especially in regard to networking.
Stephanie: Is there a specific education you think you need to be a writer? What kind of education did you get? How much do you think your education had to do with your writing?
Pamela: Because you should always write what you know and what interests you, I don’t think that there’s a specific educational course or degree that you necessarily have to take or follow. With so many genres and outlets for writers, you can have an engineering degree and still be able to write. The bottom line is if you have the desire to write, no course of study will impede you.
Of course, if you’d like to improve or learn about specific types/styles of writing (screenplays, creative writing, journalism) there are courses and degrees available at almost all colleges and universities. Also, taking courses that will expose you to different styles of literature and history is naturally helpful.
My degree is in history, which helped me to hone my skills as both a researcher and writer. With all the reading and essay writing involved in the history program, I became skilled at interpreting large amounts of information and presenting this material in a concise and coherent manner. So while I took history primarily out of interest for the subject matter, it was a program that has stood me in good stead as a writer.
Stephanie: What is your favourite book to read?
Pamela: Thoreau’s Walden, hands down. It keeps me grounded even under the most chaotic of circumstances. I seriously recommend reading it and keeping it on hand always. Definitely required reading for anyone pursuing the life of the starving artist!
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