Creative Writing

Edmonton International Fringe Theatre Festival play cover - True Story written by Marty ChanAt the time I was trying to break in as a writer, I was fortunate enough to get into the Edmonton International Fringe Theatre Festival. I really wanted to try my hand at theatre, and I wasn't having luck finding companies to produce my work. So I decided to put on my own play and see what happens.

This was in 1990, and the play was called Weeping Moon. It was a play I’d written for a university course and it won third prize in a playwriting competition. So I thought, “Third prize, that must mean it's going to be a Fringe hit!”

It failed miserably, but I loved the experience of producing my own show. Seeing audiences react to it positively and negatively. And I took enough out of that experience to think, “I want to do more of this.” And every year after that for about 6 consecutive years I wrote and produced my own play at the Fringe. That really got me going from dream to reality.

One of the big reasons I continue to work in this city is because I realized, after seeing one of my shows produced off-Broadway, that Edmonton can do anything that any other cultural centre can do. It’s just that this happens to be a smaller place. Edmonton is a little more intimate. And, as a result, we’re a lot more supportive in our own theatre community.

It's like Goldilocks and the Three Bears. Some cities are too big, some cities are too small. And Edmonton for me is just right.

Marty’s Tips on Getting into Creative Writing

Only get into the creative writing business if you're serious. If you think everything you create is going to be loved by the world, you’re going to get a wake-up call after your first or second rejection letter.

It's a tough slog and you’re not going to get a lot of support early on. If you stick to it and develop your voice and develop your craft though, eventually people will discover you and believe in your work. When you find those first few people who support your work, whether it’s in theatre or fiction or non-fiction writing, hang onto those moments. Because you'll never get those moments back.

People ask me what my favourite book is. My favourite will always be my very first book, The Mystery of the Frozen Brains. A writer only has one first book published. It’s the equivalent of learning to ride a bicycle. There's only one time when you’ll ride a bicycle for the first time in your life. And that is one of the greatest feelings in the world.

Marty’s Tips on Writing Habits

Try to write for 1 hour a day. Do this before work. It will get you out of the trap many beginning writers fall into, namely working all day and then being too exhausted in the evenings to write. Try to write 2 to 3 pages in that hour. In a month, that will give you about half of a full-length script or a third of a manuscript. That’s in a month. Think about if you did that for 3 months.

If you love to write, do the thing you love first thing each day. It doesn’t have to be for a long time. But it has to be consistent. Once you've done that, the rest of the day you can do whatever you need to do to pay the bills. But always make sure you do the thing you love first.

Where Next?

Marty Chan

Photo of Marty Chan

Marty Chan is a playwright, radio writer, television story editor, and young adult author. His work has been produced in New York City and throughout Canada. Marty's story, "Driven", will appear in an Asian Canadian collection of short stories called Henry Chow and Other Stories (May 2010). In October 2010, his latest book, The Mystery of the Cyber Bully, will launch.

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