Illustration by Tina Rae Quinn
We want to showcase and shout about the people and personalities behind the wonderful writing which you can read on our blog every week. This week, Tina Rae Quinn has agreed to answer questions about her art and her writing, the books she reads and the best writing advice she’s ever been given, which we are delighted to share.
Why Do I Write?
I can either live, or I can be destroyed.
There are many beasts living inside me. You may have known them as Fear, Anxiety, Insecurity, Restlessness, Anguish, Despair, Regret, and countless others. The wildest of them all is Imagination, the almighty beast that creates all the other brutes, large or small.
Writing is my way of taming Imagination. Giving the superior creature room to breathe. Nurturing it with attentiveness. Connecting with its needs, and befriending it, so that instead of crushing me and destroying me into shreds of madness, it’s commanded by me as my greatest architect. Using words as bricks, we conjure up new worlds together.
When I put my pen to paper, I look the beast directly in the eye. There’s no hiding for either of us. My mind goes blank. The beast takes over my entire being. I forget where I am. I breathe in musicality that is not quite classical. My hand scribbles down whatever Imagination desires on the paper. Without judgment, I make sense of myself and the beast as we are on the same page. Without drugs, I hallucinate to heal the pain and losses I’ve endured, one SWC prompt at a time. With hope, I transform the twists and turns I didn’t know how to bear in life into narratives that I can comprehend with new-found developments.
As Melissa Pritchard conveys, writing is A Solemn Pleasure, “a profound vocation of healing”(28). In its truest essence, writing (also painting and creating) is my way of mending the deepest wounds that doctors can’t see, can’t treat, but only I can feel and seal.
I write because I need to go on with my life.
I write to make the emotional subjects tangible, so I can deposit the excess into my feeling bank.
I write to remind myself that life is worth living, to caress the mundane moments I may have overlooked while too busy surviving.
Pursuing “The Other Tiger” as per Jorge Luis Borges’ poem, merging the internal with the external, I write to tell my tales and to heal. Leaving no ugly truth untold, I write because the urge to advocate for the beasts who feel misunderstood is greater than any other desire. And maybe, we are all just creatures who are hurt and need to be heard.
What’s the best piece of writing advice I’ve been given?
While doing a BFA in Theatre Performance, in my second year, I had a class studying Hamlet, and its various parodies, such as Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead by Tom Stoppard. We had to write several papers to analyze these plays on different topics. Writing was not my strongest suit. In fact, it was my worst.
When I got my first paper back, I didn’t get a grade on it. Instead, the professor wrote “SEE ME AFTER CLASS!” in big red messy handwriting on the last page.
I was working two jobs at the time, supporting my brother and myself, paying tuition and all. I didn’t want to fail the class since I had paid for it. If I even failed one paper, I was doomed.
I entered the professor’s office after class and felt like shitting myself. The professor handed me a banana. “Would you like one?” he asked.
“No, thank you,” I said, looking down at the paper in my hand. I was numb in the head.
“Maybe later then. Bananas are good for you. I am going to have one if you don’t mind,” he said with a smile. He gestured for me to sit down, and started peeling a banana.
I nodded. Social conversation also wasn’t my strong suit.
“Great. I guess you’re here about your paper,” he said. He was still smiling while scratching his bald head.
“Do you know why you didn’t get a grade, Tina?” he asked, then took a big bite of the banana.
I shook my head and paused. “Cause it was bad?”
“Well, it wasn’t all bad,” he said. He took the paper from my hand and scratched his hairless head again.
“Tina, let me ask you, do you proofread your paper?” He looked at me attentively, then took another bite of the banana.
I burst into tears and cried. “No, I don’t! I hate writing!”
“Well, Tina, you gotta start proofreading. You can’t just hand in your first draft.” The professor put the banana down on his desk, then flipped through my paper.
“It’s important that you learn how to write.”
I started bawling. He handed me a box of tissues. “But I hate writing. Why do I need to know how to write?”
“Well, what happens when you need to write an email or a letter or send in applications?”
I took a few more tissue papers, still sobbing. “Can’t I just call people up?”
He laughed. “Well, there are times when you can’t just call.”
“Let’s make a deal. You proofread this paper. Rewrite it and send it back to me next week. And I’ll give you a grade that counts as the first effort. Can you do that?”
I stopped crying and started blowing my nose. “That’s all? I can rewrite the paper?”
He looked at me all smiles. “Yes, but you gotta start proofreading all your papers from now on. Don’t send in your first drafts anymore, okay?”
I laughed. “Okay.”
I handed him back the tissue box on my way out.
“That’s why I have them. Everybody cries when they come into my office,” he chuckled.
“Would you like that banana now?”
Looking back, this scene is still vivid in my head, like it was just yesterday when I cried in Mr. Kugler’s office. His writing advice seems so simple now. Yet, back then, I had no clue I was supposed to proofread and rewrite before I handed in a written assignment. No one had ever told me I could do that before he did. Since then, rewriting has been the basis of writing for me. I’ve also come to value and enjoy writing. I now write for work and leisure. Not only do I no longer hand in my “shitty first drafts,” as Anne Lamott calls them, but I also find comfort in them: no matter how shitty the writing is, eat a banana. It’s only the first draft.
Who is my ideal reader? Who do I write for?
I write for the inner child. I suppose my ideal reader is anyone who enjoys my writing style and those who resonate with my stories, regardless of age, gender, and cultural background, including myself.
What am I reading at the moment?
I like to read several things at once to keep my brain entertained and to accompany my mood for the day. I am rereading The Hobbit, for I don’t know how many times. It’s always on my nightstand because I love it so much. I am also reading home body, the third poetry collection by Rupi Kaur. Her poetry has comforted me whenever I travel on the emotional cosmic journey. Nicholas, a series of French children’s books. I read the Chinese translation when I was a child. I am reading it in English again because it cracks me up and puts me in a good mood before bed.
One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Márquez in Chinese because Spanish translates most beautifully in Chinese, in my opinion. Lastly, I am re-reading “Curse of the Starving Class,” a play by Sam Shepard, as research for the story I am writing. It’s got brilliant rhythm and imagery, also very fitting for the current economic climate regarding inflation. I highly recommend it if you enjoy reading plays or like to get into them.
What are my writing aspirations or dreams?
At the moment, I aspire to finish the stories that I’ve set out to write. And then whatever becomes of them or me, become. I dream of continuing to write because I love the creative process and the challenge, not because I seek approval or desire a specific title. And I hope to always remember how I feel when answering this question. But, of course, if I end up publishing my stories and selling millions of copies like Rupi Kaur, that won’t hurt either. (One should always dream big.)
Tina Rae Quinn
Sunday Writers' Club member
Tina Rae Quinn defines herself as a story artist. She writes, paints, and creates digital content to tell stories about the sweet bitterness in life. She was born Taiwanese, raised Canadian, and revived as a C-PTSD warrior and TNBC survivor in Vienna, Austria, where she’s currently based. With a BFA in Theatre Performance, an MA in English Literature & Media Studies, and a career in Tech as a self-taught digital marketing manager, she specializes in growth and transition, like spring and autumn. She aspires to create illustration books that the inner child can pick up at any stage during adulthood.