Writer’s Block: Amy Spurway

Whether she’s in the ‘garbage zone’ or the ‘glamour zone,’ author Amy Spurway commits to her writing 100%. Amy shares her five essential steps to curing her writer’s block and how shaving her head helped her better understand the novels’ main character Stacey, a.k.a Crow (Goose Lane Editions), who after being diagnosed with inoperable brain tumours, leaves Toronto behind for her mother’s trailer in rural Cape Breton and a larger-than-life cast of family and friends.


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All Lit Up: Have you ever experienced writer’s block? What did you do about it?Amy Spurway: In much of my professional writing life, writer’s block was a concept I didn’t entertain due to the nature of my work. When clients are paying you or you’re working to a deadline, you have no choice but to blast through any perceived blocks. Not feeling inspired or struggling to find the flow? Tough beans, kid. Write, revise, repeat, until the job is done.With my novel, I didn’t so much experience writer’s block as I did writer’s epically paralyzing crises of confidence, also known as OMG, WHAT AM I EVEN DOING WITH MY LIFE?!?  Over the years, I got through those episodes by using a fairly straightforward five step process:Step 1. At the onset of crisis, frantically start searching on Career Beacon for full time day jobs that would render this whole novel writing thing blessedly impossible.Step 2. Realize that I am not, in fact, qualified for or interested in any of the jobs on Career Beacon.Step 3. Cry.Step 4. Stop crying and re-read something I wrote that would make me laugh…or cry harder.Step 5. Write, revise, repeat. Until the next epically paralyzing crisis of confidence comes along. ALU: Which writers have influenced you or had the most impact on your writing?AS: Three of my all-time favourite writers are Douglas Adams, Kurt Vonnegut and Salman Rushdie. All three share a glorious penchant for absurdity, for larger-than-life stories and characters, for careening between the profound and the profane, and for playful use of language. Apart from giving me sheer delight as a reader, they’ve impacted my work by showing me how other forms of writing can feed and influence the creation of novels and literary fiction. Adams wrote radio plays and sketch comedy. Vonnegut worked in newspapers, magazines, and as a copywriter. Rushdie was in advertising. The skills and techniques that those types of writing entail could account for the way that Adams, Vonnegut and Rushdie stylistically blend powerful, distinct narrative voices with such beautifully intricate stories. Whenever I need to raise my writerly gaze with a quick hit of inspiration, I’ll read aloud bits of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Slaughterhouse-Five, or Haroun and the Sea of StoriesALU: Do you have any rituals that you abide by when writing?AS: My pre-writing rituals tend to be a bit seasonal and are very much at the mercy of other elements of my life, but in general, I like to do something physical and I like to listen to music before I sit down to write. In the warmer months I can combine the two by going for a run, since my running playlist contains lots of super get-my-brain-in-writing-gear songs. When the weather, or life, or my body is un-cooperative, a little bit of yoga or a quick walk around the block will suffice. After that, I’ll listen to music that helps set the mood or tone of whatever it is I’m writing. Then I head down to my little cave of an office with a cup of something hot, where I’ll read a bit of whatever I was working on out loud to make sure it flows. Then, I start writing.
 Amy’s workspaceALU: What’s the toughest part of being a writer?AS: The toughest part for me is navigating the polarities inherent in this line of work. The feast or famine, when it comes to money. The highs of ego, and the lows of imposter syndrome. The fun of events and festivals versus the drudgery of writing and re-writing alone in a basement. Feels like there is a glamour zone and a garbage zone, and I am constantly shifting gears, mentally, physically, emotionally, socially, and financially between the two. I’m not the type of person who naturally finds or even seeks balance because part of me seems to thrive on and in extremes. When I’m in the glamor zone, I am in it 100%. Likewise, when I’m in the garbage zone, I am 100% present with that as well. Then, rather unpredictably, things change, and suddenly I’m en route to the opposite pole. Working with the swing of the pendulum on so many simultaneous fronts is a challenge, and the transition can be rough until I find my glamour or garbage groove again. But it’s also an opportunity for growth and learning every time.
 Solid writing advice from AmyALU: What question do you wish someone would ask you about your book? What was the most interesting research you did for your book?AS: I shaved my head, in the name of research for Crow, so I could have an accurate sense of what it would feel like, physically and emotionally. I went from shoulder length curls to a #2 buzz cut. Apart from informing that part of the story, it had a surprisingly profound personal impact. It was one of the most empowering and liberating things I have ever experienced in my life. It was fascinating to see how other people reacted, but more importantly, it gave me a new kind of fearlessness and a completely different relationship with my identity as a woman. ALU: Why do you write?AS: I don’t feel like I have much choice. I come from people who are story tellers, and storytelling has been a part of me in one way or another for as long as I can remember. Writing is how I make sense of the world. It is how I process the events unfolding around and within me. It helps me explore darkness, and see the lighter side of life, and of myself. It is the most reliable way I know of to engage with and elicit emotion. I also genuinely love toying with words, voice, and symbolism. Plus, I am not qualified for any of the jobs currently posted on Career Beacon. * * *Amy Spurway’s home in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, is full of good books, loud people, and weird art. She spends her days writing, reading, diffusing kid-related crises, and devising various schemes. She eats ridiculous quantities of vegetables, makes wildly eclectic musical playlists, and believes that everything can be explained by —or blamed on — astrology.* * *A special thank you to Nathaniel at Goose Lane Editions and to Amy Spurway for joining us on the ALU blog!Read more from our Writer’s Block column>>