Suzanne Alyssa Andrew is no stranger to the world of writing, publishing, and journalism. She’s written and been published in dozens of magazines, papers, blogs and journals, is an editor for Canadian literary magazine, Taddle Creek, and – AND! – has written her own novel, Circle of Stones. We wonder if Suzanne is ever at a loss for words and lucky for Mentorly, she isn’t!
“I bring two decades of experience working as a story director, writer, editor and producer and a vast, award-winning portfolio of projects on all platforms, from print to digital TV co-productions. Over the course of my career I’ve interviewed hundreds of writers, artists and musicians, including a few celebrity legends, and I have a lot of valuable advice to share.”
What fuels Suzanne? How does she manage to publish so frequently? How does she define success as a writer? If you’re as curious as we are, continue reading for great insight into this field.
I was fortunate that it was something I’ve known since childhood. Storybooks and storytelling were my favourite things! As a lifelong reader, it felt natural and exciting to become a writer. I knew I needed to learn the craft, so my grand adventure was to leave the small west coast town where I grew up in and travel across the country to attend the journalism program at Carleton University in Ottawa. Like many writers, my first published work appeared in the university newspaper. After I graduated, I moved to Toronto and worked as a professional writer and editor on storytelling projects of all kinds. Some of the digital cross-platform projects I worked on for TV and film productions won awards.
I loved being part of big creative projects where I was working in teams with illustrators, designers, animators and actors, and as an arts journalist I also adored writing about what other writers and artists were up to. But I dreamed of publishing a book. I worked diligently to complete my first novel, Circle of Stones. Once I was ready with a carefully edited manuscript, I was very fortunate to find an agent, and then later, a book deal. I think most writers say holding a copy of their book in their hands is their special author moment, but for me, it was talking with my book’s editor and realizing she was deep into the story that had been creating for so long. After that, I loved sharing it with audiences and readers at Toronto events, and on a national book tour. Sharing the story was the best part.
The literary writing community is warm and supportive, and there’s a great deal of flow as writers move around the country, and travel to appear at various festivals, readings and events. I was a fixture in the Toronto literary scene as an editor for Taddle Creek magazine, which hosts issue launches twice a year. I’m now getting to know the many talented authors in my new home city of Vancouver. On the freelance and journalism side, things are competitive! That side became more enjoyable once I was able to hire and coach writers as a story director and editor.
I used to stress myself out by trying to quantify that answer! I realized that my dream was actually very simple: I wanted to be a writer. As long as I keep writing, I’m achieving that goal. So now my definition of success as a writer is to be able to say yes to the question: “Are you writing?”
I’ve always been very motivated by deadlines. A trick I learned was that deadlines I set for myself don’t always stick, so I make myself accountable to my editors, and to my mentor. Whatever I’m working on I have to fully commit. I’m in it because no matter what I’m writing, I’m always learning. I tend to have more ideas than time, so to see something through to completion, my mantra is: “I can do everything I want to—just not all at once.” As far as the isolation goes, I’m never lonely because stories, characters and ideas are very good company.
Sharing a story, character, image or idea and seeing other people react to it and engage with it is the best part of the process. I also enjoy quiet moments when I’m struck by an idea, or a solution to a major structural or plot problem emerges. There’s a real energy inherent in creating a story, when all the ideas are whirring.
Writers and editors tend to be very intelligent people and can sometimes come across as critical and negative. You can hear a lot of catastrophizing. I was in a hobby band once with an emergency services worker and a palliative care researcher and hearing about their work put things into perspective (nobody is dying in publishing, we’re telling stories!). Find ways to hold onto what makes writing fun and meaningful for you.
One year I thought I could release an album with a band I was in, work as a narrative designer full-time, complete a novel draft, work as an editor for the literary magazine, attend and participate in music and literary events and write arts journalism articles all at the same time. That was too much! I had to learn to prioritize and create five-year plans. It was tricky because everything I was trying to do felt meaningful and important, so I had to decide what felt THE MOST meaningful and important right now.
I’m working on my second novel (that was what I decided was THE MOST meaningful and important). After that I’ll get to devote attention to the other book and story ideas waiting next up in the queue in my five-term plan.
I earned a Bachelor of Journalism and a Master’s of Arts in English Literature from Carleton University and have also taken numerous professional development courses and workshops. I also emphasize that learning by doing is effective in writing and editing. I’ve been fortunate for the wise advice from several author mentors. I call them my creative moms.
My favourite part of being a story director and editor turned out to be coaching writers, but when you’re on a project and on deadline there’s not much time to talk about the concerns and issues writers have in the profession. My mentors have been generous in sharing industry knowledge with me over the years and I wish to do the same. I’ve certainly learned a great deal along the way!
To book a session with Suzanne ☞ https://mentorly.co/mentors?m=suzannealyssa