Writers on Writing: Voices of the Quebec Writers’ Federation

The Canadian province of Quebec, which has a predominantly French-speaking population, is home to a lively English-language literary community. The Quebec Writers’ Federation (QWF) supports this community, and on QWF Writes, its members talk writing; publish essays on craft, translation, and the writer’s life; and share their experiences with each other — and writers around the world.

This QWF Writes reading list highlights our favorite essays, on topics from exploring truth in memoir to shaping story arc in young adult fiction. Dive into our editors’ picks, and learn more about the Quebec Writers’ Federation after the collection.

A QWF Writes reading list

This reading list, curated by Discover editors, offers a sampling of writing from QWF members.

“Bye Bye Darlings: The Editing Gauntlet” by Alice Zorn

A piece about editing, rewriting, and killing your darlings:

I’ve rewritten the manuscript three times since I thought it was finished in 2013. Cutting, puzzling, moving pages around. Lots of darlings sent marching to the recycling bin. At each stage of editing, the book becomes more of an entity that lives separate from me. Which is what it will have to be when it’s sent off into the world.

“A Memoirist’s Dilemma: Telling the Truth Without Betrayal” by Karen Zey

A former educator considers a commitment to both truth and confidentiality:

If the child is in grade one rather than two, if she’s blonde not brunette, if the family has three kids, not four — do these tiny changes undermine the truth of what happened? No.

“Hadassah Arms and Other Quandaries: Translating Cultures” by Anna Leventhal

“Translating Montreal: Where Blueberries Are Not Myrtilles” (by Neil Smith) is another recommended essay on translation.

An author discusses the complications of translating a book from English to French:

In a small way, my characters lost a bit of their identity, and were given a new one, as though they had passed through the Ellis Island of literature. This, I’ve decided, is what I love about translation. My book; not my book. My city; not my city. A beautifully imperfect balance.

“Writing with the Body” by Kathleen Winter

A writer keeps moving to heal her ruined legs:

I’ve always felt the brain organizes and computes while writing, but the body is the place where story lives. I guess I just didn’t know until I nearly lost the use of my legs that I have to forget about sitting down in a chair altogether if I want to thrive, both as a writer and as a human.

“Writing Tragedy” by Jack Todd

A writer reflects on two different incidents that represent the poles of his writing life:

If you choose to write you will have to accept that you will always fall short, that you will come up against the boundaries of talent and perception, that you will always feel some more profound truth lies just beyond your grasp.

“Damn That Story Arc” by Lori Weber

The young adult genre is challenging for a writer who believes that life is not full of closure:

But fiction is not real life, and in YA fiction we are told that the young reader wants some reassurance that the world isn’t a despicable place. It was my first moment of awareness that writing for a YA audience came with some pretty heavy responsibility.

We chatted with QWF Writes editor Crystal Chan about this literary community in Quebec and how the site was born.

Can you tell us more about the Quebec Writers’ Federation?

Read more about the impact of QWF from the perspective of poet Carolyn Marie Souaid.

Some members published in QWF Writes:

Sean Michaels
Neil Smith
Claire Holden Rothman
Anna Leventhal
Kathleen Winter
Guillaume Morissette
Jack Todd

We want to help writers write. We promote their work, supporting and representing them through programs, awards, and competitions that help launch careers. We send writers to readings, festivals, schools, and to work with at-risk youth. Anyone can attend our annual awards gala — where you may find yourself drinking wine beside your favorite author — or join a workshop. We offer workshops on topics like travel writing, selling your novel, screenwriting, and more.

If you’re an emerging writer, I encourage you to apply for the mentorship program.

QWF Mentorship Program "mentee" Sivan Slapak at the 2015 Mentorship Reading.
QWF Mentorship Program “mentee” Sivan Slapak at the 2015 Mentorship Reading.

It doesn’t matter if you’ve never set foot in Canada. Read or submit great writing to carte blanche, our online literary magazine. Read QWF Writes or follow the blog of the inaugural CBC/QWF Writer-in-Residence. Find the right writing coach in our Hire-a-Writer directory.

Visiting Montreal? Check out the events calendar.

If you live here, join us! QWF is an invaluable resource. It opens the door to your literary community.

How did QWF Writes come about?

For many years, QWF published a print quarterly with features and announcements. When we switched to putting the news into an e-newsletter, we stopped publishing the quarterly. But what about the articles on writing that readers looked for?

We started QWF Writes to continue publishing insight from our writers into the writing life. The good thing is, now that it’s online, anyone worldwide can enjoy these essays about what it’s like to be a writer.

English-language writers in Quebec are both hardy and a little bit insecure, perhaps because they live in a primarily French-speaking environment. I love editing QWF Writes because it gives me a chance to ask writers in Quebec: Why do you write? How do you write?

English-language writers in Quebec are both hardy and a little bit insecure, perhaps because they live in a primarily French-speaking environment.

Each essay on QWF Writes hits an ideal word count: all succinct yet meaningful, relatable pieces. What do you look for in an essay for the site?

An image from "From the Underground: A Writer’s Life with Zines" by Jeff Miller. Photo by Sara Spike.
An image from “From the Underground: A Writer’s Life with Zines” by Jeff Miller. Photo by Sara Spike.

We publish short essays, generally around 700 words. A single solid idea behind the essay is best, because you won’t get much space to work through a complex set of ideas.

What seems to work best for QWF Writes is advice wrapped up in a personal story. Really wrapped up — without a trace, hopefully, of a self-help tone. A recent post by Peter Richardson, for example, is a funny disaster-on-the-job piece about a writer who shows up unprepared. There’s no hit-you-on-the-head takeaway.

Or take one of the most encouraging pieces we’ve published, “My Invincible Summer: Rebooting My Writing Purpose” by Susan Doherty Hannaford. It manages to encourage writers while telling the story of a writer’s struggle with a horrific, life-threatening autoimmune disease.

As an editor receiving and reading essays on a regular basis, can you give one tip to writers submitting to QWF Writes?

What unique, surprising insight can you share with other writers?

Tailor. Tailor your pitch to us. Read the essays on the website and make sure your idea doesn’t echo last month’s piece. But on the other hand, think about how your general topic and approach would echo the kind of pieces QWF Writes has published. Then, tailor it to you. What unique, surprising insight can you share with other writers?

What other sites, magazines, or publications do you love to read?

Reading a website like QWF Writes gives me a lot of choice. I like hopping from short piece to short piece on a general topic online. LitHub is a good online curator of lit articles around the web. Brain Pickings offers condensations of interesting books. Canadians should visit Quill & Quire, which is also a print magazine, and 49th Shelf. For anything from short stories to audio stories, visit carte blanche, QWF’s online literary magazine. I also just tore through an old series in Montreal’s English-language newspaper, the Montreal Gazette, called Write On Montreal.

Sometimes the best inspiration (or procrastination) comes from reading about the challenges faced by other writers.

I guess most readers love QWF Writes because they love reading about writers on writing. I do too. Sometimes the best inspiration (or procrastination) comes from reading about the challenges faced by other writers. If you’re interested in the writing life, an in-depth look at the creative process can be found in biographies of writers, or memoirs by writers. There’s also the New York TimesWriters on Writing series, which was collected into a book. I also like CBC’s Writers & Company, a radio show hosted by an unparalleled interviewer, Eleanor Wachtel.

Read more from the QWF Writes community, and follow the Quebec Writers’ Federation on Twitter (@OfficialQWF) and Facebook (Quebec Writers’ Federation).