Writer's Block: Victoria Hetherington
Victoria Hetherington, author of Mooncalves (Now or Never Publishing) joins us this week for Writer's Block, sharing more about her powerful first experience playing with a word processor, her sugary writing rituals and just how surprisingly long the process of writing and editing can be.See more details below
All Lit Up: Is there one stand-out moment or experience you had that helped you realize you wanted to become a writer?
Victoria Hetherington: As a kid, I was a sponge for the dark and dirty: I leapt from Grimm’s fairy tales to reading and rereading a pilfered copy of Bear. A literary voyeur at best, I took up writing largely because I loved how word processing looks. It’s true!
Our first computer, ancient even when I was nine years old, chugged away in the basement, sand-coloured and cranky. My father spent long hours at the mercy of this beast, hacking away at his PhD – consumed by the work – while he sporadically consumed frozen burritos, surrounded by medical textbooks.
One afternoon, obsessed as I was with aesthetics, I sat at the computer, opened his thesis file, and soaked up Microsoft Word in all its glory: a kind of manipulable book, a living wall of text rendered in sensible, beautiful Times New Roman, the cursor blinking at the end of a sentence (“much evidence shows that [FANCY WORDS I DIDN’T KNOW AT NINE] though certain experts argue to the contrary…”).
I started typing – “cow hat the bird outside the window oh my god these are words” – and felt powerful, invincible, perfectly equipped to create a book. It’s that kind of bonkers hubris that informs a lot of writing, I think.
Being on a book in BC, Victoria often works outdoors on patios!
ALU: What do you enjoy reading?
VH: My obsessive, sentimental habits inform my reading habits: I’ve read and reread a ton of books, and it tends to be seasonal. Madame Bovary and Chekhov in deep summer. Elif Batuman’s and Joan Didion’s books when the leaves begin to turn yellow, and my dormant academic sensibilities stir. And always I’m discovering new authors and poets and falling in love with their work.
ALU: What’s the most surprising thing about being a writer?
VH: What surprised me about being a writer? How long everything takes! I finished my first draft – or what I thought was my first draft – and expected a bunch of confetti to fall from the dingey ceiling. It didn’t. I put it away for a few weeks, and reread it, then realized it was terrible, and that editing it would take even longer. I think you get really humbled, over and over, if you keep going. You have to compact your ego into a little ball and protect it, but also be really open – to feedback, to new experiences, to new voices. It’s a weird, contradictory way of being that takes some conscious adjusting all the time. But it’s possible.
ALU: Do you have any rituals that you abide by when you’re writing?
VH: Rituals? Yes. Coffee in the morning. Wine at night. Sustaining myself on sugar alone for as long as I can through the writing day: vegan donuts, pears, whatever. Terrible posture, the kind that makes it look like my soul is being sucked in through the computer screen. I’m probably all kinds of unwell. But it works (for me! For now!)
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Victoria Hetherington has worked as a hostess at various Toronto restaurants (all of them have since shuttered, and she hopes it isn’t her fault). She worked as a butcher, as a barista, as a furniture saleslady, as a real estate agent’s assistant (until they found out she couldn’t drive), as a secretary, as a doomed telemarketer (selling a service that didn’t yet exist to a sector that really didn’t need it), and did things for a number of doomed and nefarious Toronto start-ups. She later found work as a copywriter for legal, medical, and financial teams. Throughout it all she maintained her commitment to grubby excess that informs, for better or for worse, her writing.
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Thanks to Victoria for chatting with us for this edition of Writer's Block and to Nathaniel at Now or Never Publishing for connecting us. Check out past Writer's Block features, here.
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