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Verse & Vision: John Carroll on the Craft and Challenges of Publishing

Discover John Carroll’s expert insights on writing, honesty in storytelling, and the challenges of publishing in this Verse & Vision Q&A with Jay Lang.

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John Carroll, photo by Skylar Carroll

Welcome back to “Verse & Vision,” the fifth installment in our ongoing series, where we explore the multifaceted world of writing and publishing (check out the last instalment in case you missed it). Today, I am thrilled to introduce you to John Carroll, a distinguished Professor Emeritus at UFV English Department and a versatile published author. John brings a wealth of expertise in creative writing, scriptwriting, and theatre history, making his insights invaluable for aspiring and established writers alike.

In this guest column, John Carroll shares his perspectives on the craft, the importance of honesty in storytelling, and the evolving challenges faced by writers in the modern literary landscape. His experience as an educator and author offers a unique blend of practical advice and inspiration.

Without further ado, let’s dive into John Carroll’s reflections on the art and science of writing.

Jay Lang: As an expert in the field of creative writing, is there a common mistake that you see new writers make?

John Carroll: “Optimism. Although I can’t argue that’s a bad thing. New writers (mostly young) are often not aware of how difficult it is to find a suitable agent and/or publisher. Another point: many new writers don’t understand how essential it is to understand the medium of writing and the particular genre they are writing in. This implies reading broadly and deeply (and not only in the chosen genre).”

What makes a good writer great?

“A perfect mix of honesty and technique.”

How essential are creative writing courses?

“Creative writing courses can be useful, but I wouldn’t overemphasize their importance. One can become a writer without them, if one has the passion and the discipline, but I would say some kind of support group of like-minded writers is key.”

Vision & Verse banner, image by Lance Marwood

What is the most important takeaway you want your students to leave with?

“There is no single important takeaway; there are a number of principles that I think would help them. One is writing with honesty (that’s a topic that would take a lot of unpacking and there’s no space for that here). Another is writing regularly—if you’re not writing, you’re not a writer.”

Publish or perish? True or false?

“If you don’t publish, then you won’t be read by anyone.”

Are you of the belief that writers should write what they know?

“No. Writers should write what they feel, what they love, whatever the hell they want to write.”

The internet is inundated with tips and tricks for new writers, have you found a lot of this material to be bullshit?

“The internet is a proving ground for bullshit, but it’s also a place where useful and even inspirational material is shared. The trick is in distinguishing between the one ad the other.”

What are the biggest challenges you’ve encountered as a writer?

“Getting published.”

What is your greatest achievement as a writer?

“Writing something that connects with another human being. And the fact that I have written consistently for years and continue to enjoy it.”

Do you feel the need to be cautious of social concerns when writing?

”Of course. We all should be. As a writer, no matter what your content, you are giving your readers an opportunity to see the world through your eyes (or your mind). In that sense then, all creativity is a moral act.”

When writing a novel, do you feel you have a certain obligation to the reader?

“I certainly think about the reader from time to time, and ask myself the questions, Will they be bored? Will they be delighted? Will they find this relevant? Will what I write stay with them?”

Between teaching creative writing and penning your novels, is there a burnout phase?

“I’ve never experienced burnout.”

Crying Houses and Other Catastrophes by John Carroll

How much time do you spend thinking about what to write vs writing?

“Traditionally, I have been a gardener. I start with a basic idea and putter around until I find I’ve roughed in a story. They I tackle the second draft. These days I’ve shifted a bit more in the direction of architect and have experimented with planning out my story before I actually begin the draft. For me, this is a delicate operation because I need to find a careful balance between what is planned and what is hiding in the subconscious and ready to surprise me. A major delight for me is surprising myself in the moment. I have never been convinced that rigorous planning doesn’t interfere with spontaneity.”

John Carroll, holding an MFA in Creative Writing from UBC and an MA in Directing from the University of Western Washington, stands as a distinguished Professor Emeritus within the UFV English Department. With a wealth of expertise in scriptwriting, dramatic theory, and theatre history, he has left an indelible mark on countless students over the years.

Beyond his illustrious teaching career, Carroll is recognized as a published author across various genres. His works span fiction, poetry, and children’s literature, showcasing his versatile talent and creative range. As both an educator and a writer, Carroll continues to inspire and enrich the literary landscape with his contributions and insights.

You can purchase some of John’s work here.

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