Marie Bilodeau: Remember How Great it Feels to Write
Staying mindful of the reward helps motivate this author and storyteller
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Meet Marie Bilodeau
Marie Bilodeau is an Ottawa-based author and storyteller. Her speculative fiction has won several awards and has been translated into French and Chinese. Marie is also a storyteller and has told stories across Canada in theatres, tea shops, at festivals, and under disco balls!
Despite her success, Marie still struggles with distraction and motivation (like all of us!), so we caught up with her to learn how she stays committed to her writing and evades those ever-present distractions.
How did you know that you wanted to be a writer and what were your first steps in making this your career?
My life is speckled with moments of committing and recommitting to my writing, much like a continuous string of vow renewals. From every filled notebook and fancy pen to completed manuscripts and published books, writing has been a constant part of my life.
When I quit my full-time job several years ago, I really wanted to give living from writing a go. I think that’s the moment I decided it would be my career and not just a “side thing,” despite having multiple published books, hit some bestsellers lists, and won awards. Something about trusting my skills enough to say “I think I can make this work” really crystallized my commitment. (I quit without a plan. Don’t do that!)
What is the hardest part about being a writer?
The hardest part of being a writer is…*drum roll*…writing! The physical act of sitting down in the chair and stringing words along will always be the toughest for me. And doing it again, and again, and again. I try to remind myself how great it feels to have written, and that usually gets me through it.
Now, to be clear, I love writing. I love when my characters take on a life of their own: when the plot goes wonky-fun, when the settings are sharper than where I’m currently sitting. But it’s still hard to just, you know, do it. To get the words down. But also it’s the most basic part of writing, so gotta keep at it.
How do you incorporate Freedom into your daily working routine?
I keep a notebook where I write stats about every writing session (I love stats). It’s all super low tech: a line per writing session, and I change pen color on whims because color is pretty! On each line, I record when I start, when I finish, how many words I wrote, what worked, and what went wrong. The two most indicative columns are the last two. What went wrong is often “I’m hungry!” or “I’m whiny!” or “I don’t wanna!”
Now, because I love me some metrics, I can tell you exactly what’s written in my “what worked” column every time I have a good session. Two things: 1 – phone was in another room, and 2 – Freedom was on. If those two elements are not met, I am doomed to at least half the word count. (And yet, I do not always do these things, for a variety of reasons. But I know they work!)
What are your biggest distractors while writing and how do you conquer them?
I am my biggest distractor to writing. Me! By far! I want to do anything else but sit quietly and write. So I have to cage myself. No Internet. Focus on words. Outlines help me in that regard. Prepping for the writing the day before also helps. It’s a constant struggle to remind myself that I have to do these things to be productive though.
So I leave myself notes, peppered all around my desk. They help remind me what I’m trying to accomplish, and what my goals are. Rarely are those goals “doomscroll through social media for half the day.” (And yet that’s so easy to do in comparison to writing!)
What environments are most productive for you?
I used to write in coffee shops all the time, but obviously, that changed with the pandemic. At first, I did writing dates with friends on Zoom, but they soon became distracting. Now I write in the basement, where my office is (it’s a nice basement), and that’s proving quite productive.
I used to go to convents to write, too. They’re great! Three square meals, a room with a desk, no wi-fi and, if you find the right one, you can sign up for a quiet retreat so no one even talks to you. Then you get to hang out with just your story. I can’t wait to get back to one!
How does live storytelling inspire your writing and vice versa?
I started storytelling because I wasn’t getting published and figured I could tell people stories and they’d be too polite to leave! (I wasn’t wrong!) I thought there would be a lot more crossover between written and spoken but turns out I was mostly wrong about that. But telling stories live has helped to solidify my understanding of how people interact with story, since I see their reactions live.
I found out early on that it’s much easier to elicit sad reactions than it is to make people laugh. But because I was obsessed with mastering laughter, I gained lots of valuable tools on what worked well in that regard. Once, someone laughed so hard he almost fell off his chair. That’s the reaction I want, and maybe a few “off the chair moments,” too. Practice makes perfect!
What advice would you give younger writers regarding staying productive and focused?
There’s no secret remedy. No magic spell. No silver bullet. So try different things and see what works for you. That’s important. And, when you realize you’ve stopped writing (it will happen often), forgive your past self and focus back on the writing. That’s it. The words are your main job, so get them done, and always learn to get them done better. You’ve got this!
What upcoming project are you currently most excited about?
My Heirs of a Broken Land epic fantasy trilogy is currently re-releasing, and I’m so happy with them! Beautiful new covers, but the same heart to the story that launched my career and built my fan base. Seeing them back in readers’ hands is a dream come true.
For more about Marie, visit her website and follow her on Twitter and Facebook.