Monica Heisey brings the funny, but she also brings the heartbreak. She is able to openly and honestly reveal herself, using her personal experiences to explore larger themes.
Her website lists her as a comedian and writer living in Toronto, but those titles don’t do justice to the many ways she works her craft. She has a history of performing live improv and stand up, which is probably why she can weave tragedy and comedy so deftly. She could break a pen and, as the ink spilled out, it would form an essay on her first break up, foiled by the history of the burrito. Her essays, articles, and short fiction have appeared in VICE, Broadly, The Hairpin, Rookie, The Guardian, Reader’s Digest, The Huffington Post, FASHION, Playboy, Noisey, and the list goes on. She was an editor at She Does the City and is now editor-at-large at VICE’s female-centric channel Broadly. Her fantastic new book I Can’t Believe It’s Not Better: A Woman’s Guide to Coping With Life is as hilarious and heartfelt as Heisey herself.
She kindly took the time to answer a few questions for me.
What was your first piece of professional writing? What do you consider “professional writing”? Were you scared about it?
My first piece of professional writing was for my grandfather’s Penetanguishine quarterly newspaper in Georgian Bay. I was 11 and we went out in this helicopter to take pictures for their spring issue. I wrote up a little first-person account of the experience. A few weeks after my story was published, I got a cheque in the mail for $65. My grandpa had processed an invoice for me and paid me like the regular writing staff.
These days I consider “professional writing” to be writing that helps you earn your income, although I’m not convinced financial gain is a good metric by which to judge creative pursuits. “Professional” writing and “good” writing can be very different things.
You wear a lot of hats in your career and I have always been impressed by how you balance all these projects. Do you have a set plan when you are working?
That’s so kind of you to say! I have a lot of To Do lists, which I divide into “TO DO” and “TO DO THIS WEEK.” Then I further divide the “THIS WEEK” list into a daily list of tasks… I may have a slight problem with lists. But it can be hard to keep track of everything without them! It’s hard enough writing and sending out invoices when you have to remember to check in every few weeks to make sure you actually got paid.
You have extensive experience in online content and non-fiction articles for magazines, papers, etc. How did you get into this? Was it difficult to make connections? Is that when you started editing?
I worked for my student newspaper in university because my friends were doing it and I enjoyed writing (also arts writers got free tickets to shows and got to interview minor Canadian celebrities, so). I thought I was going to be an academic, so did a graduate degree in London after my Bachelor’s was finished. During the initial months of crushing loneliness involved in moving to a new country, I started a blog, which formed the basis of my clips when I applied to intern for VICE UK a year or so later. Once I got that first publication I started connecting (in person and online) with writers and editors who had a similar sensibility to mine. I would read and share their stuff, and they’d do the same, and I started working with/for some of them. I started editing for She Does the City, a women’s website based out of Toronto, after a few years of writing for them.
What is the project you are most proud of? What is the project you are least proud of? What did you learn from both of these experiences?
I’m most proud of my book, I think? It’s certainly the largest project I’ve pulled off, and I did it all by myself, which was very validating. Plus, books are a great way to impress your older relatives. My least was my first piece for VICE, which was a piece I wrote about a polyamory convention I attended. I was too excited, and in my efforts to be funny I think I was careless and a little rude. Some of the people who attended the event I wrote about were very upset with me, which felt terrible. I think it’s important to ask yourself why you’re making the jokes you’re making, and what purpose the laughter you’re causing serves.
How important has your personal life been to your career? You use honesty and self reflection as tools in your writing and it makes it easy to identify with you. Is it scary being that honest with yourself in something that the general public has free reign to troll? Is this something you’ve always been comfortable with, or did you cultivate this soft-skin (that might not be the right way to phrase that) over time?
I think because I started with a personal blog that only friends read and a student newspaper that mattered to like, 5% of campus, I never really worried about the pitfalls of a wider readership until it was too late. My internship was really a trial by fire: start writing publicly as a young woman on the internet and you’re going to get the death threats and the comments about your body and the debates about whether you are or are not fuckable. There’s so much of it and it’s so unoriginal that it kind of becomes a boring white noise in the background. I’ve always been a pretty open person, and sharing stories online just feels like a logical extension of that. I don’t write anything I wouldn’t say to my friends over coffee. Although I try not to picture my mom being at the table for it too. As far as I can tell, honesty is less scary than dishonesty, because if you’re honest you’re not going to get exposed as a liar, just as a weirdo. And everyone already knows I’m a weirdo.
You have a lot of experience performing live (especially doing improv and comedy), which is not typical of writers. How has this impacted you as a writer? I feel like your readings must be off the charts!
I am definitely less scared of live readings than some of my writer friends. I’m not sure how my writing has been impacted by my improv or stand up, but I know my stand up and improv have been affected by my writing. I think it’s made me a much worse improviser and a much better stand up, because I’m interested in what I make being precise and thought-out.
Do you have anything you would like to plug?
I’m currently editor-at-large with Broadly, VICE’s women’s channel. The site is publishing a lot of amazing work and I’m very proud to be a part of it.
Follow Monica on Twitter: @monicaheisey
Christine Bortolin is an actor and writer living in Vancouver, BC. Watch her new web series Golden Futures at christinebortolin.com and follow her on Twitter @theonlybortolin