Let It Go: Creating a Sustainable Writing Life, with Chelene Knight





Dear Current Occupant

Let It Go: Free Yourself From Old Beliefs and Find a New Path to Joy

Breathing Space Creative

Carol Shields Prize for Fiction

Free Workshop: Say No With Love

Chelene on Instagram


Let It Go: Creating a Sustainable Writing Life, with Chelene Knight – Full Transcript



Well, hey there, Writer. Welcome to The Resilient Writers Radio Show. I'm your host, Rhonda Douglas. And this is the podcast for writers who want to create and sustain a writing life they love. 

Because let's face it, the writing life has its ups and downs, and we want to not just write, but also to be able to enjoy the process so that we'll spend more time with our butt-in-chair getting those words on the page. 

This podcast is for writers who love books and everything that goes into the making of them. For writers who want to learn and grow in their craft and improve their writing skills. Writers who want to finish their books and get them out into the world so their ideal readers can enjoy them. 

Writers who want to spend more time in that flow state. Writers who want to connect with other writers to celebrate and be in community. In this crazy roller coaster ride, we call the writing life. 

We are resilient writers. We're writing for the rest of our lives and we're having a good time doing it. So welcome Writer, I'm so glad you're here. Let's jump right into today's show. 


Well, hey there Writer, welcome back to another episode of The Resilient Writers Radio Show. I'm really excited today. I have been a fan of this author since I first read her memoir, Dear Current Occupant. But today we're going to talk about, well, we're going to really dive into stuff, but let me introduce Chelene Knight. 

She is the author of the novel Junie, which won the City of Vancouver Book Award and was long listed for the inaugural Carol Shields Prize for Fiction, which was amazing. 

And the memoir Dear Current Occupant, which everybody has to read, won the City of Vancouver Book Award, was long listed for the George Ryga Award for Social Awareness and Literature. And she's also the author of the poetry book Braided Skin. 

Previously, she was the managing editor at Room Magazine and the director of The Growing Room Festival in Vancouver. She's also worked as a poetry professor at the University of Toronto and the University of British Columbia. And she's a literary agent at the Transatlantic Agency, just so, so grounded in everything to do with writing. 

She has her own literary studio right now called the Breathing Space Creative, through which she's launched the Forever Writers Club, which is a membership for writers focused on creative sustainability and a whole sort of set of coaching options for you related to sustaining creative energy, which I love, we're gonna need all of it. Welcome. 


Yay, thank you so much for having me, Rhonda. 


Oh, I'm really excited. And you know, as I say, I've been a fan of yours for a long time. I have a funny feeling you're also the Arc Poetry Writer in Residence at the moment, aren't you? 


Yes, I almost forgot. Yeah, that's great. 


Yeah, yeah, just saw that. So I just want to start with just celebrating you for this reason. So this book that we're going to get into, Let It Go, I read it this weekend and I have followed your Instagram for a while now. And I just it's just a balm to my soul, that Instagram account, it's like every time it comes across my feed, I feel like everything in me just settled down, you know? 

And I just, this guys, if you're listening to this, you have to go follow because this woman does the hard work of saying no, of you know, the excavation of what it takes to be your authentic self in a world that really does not want you to. It's just, I want to celebrate you for doing the work and the gift of reflecting that work back out. Cause I think that's huge. 


Thank you so much for that. I appreciate that. 


I really think that, yeah, that it's unique. I don't see a lot of people talking about this. Okay. So what is this that I'm talking about? So I really want to dive into your current book, which is called, Let It Go. and I'm going to get the subtitle here right now. Hang on, here it is.: Let it go, Free Yourself From Old Beliefs and Find a New Path to Joy. Can you tell me what brought you to be writing that book? 


Well, it's actually quite practical in that this project was a commissioned book. So I had a publisher approach me and ask me to write it. And you know, as writers, this whole negative self-talk thing started. I was like, oh no… one, how am I gonna do this? Two, am I the best person? And just all of these things started to come up for me. 

But when I finally slowed down and just thought about it, I said, okay, this is an opportunity for me to really get to know all the sides of myself that I'd maybe not explored in my other books. And also, wow, what a beautiful opportunity to explore self-love and joy, all the things that I've always wanted to talk about and kind of hint at in my other books and never once have I ever addressed this directly. 

So this book became a really beautiful opportunity for self-discovery and I think that is what kind of created the momentum and kind of quieted down that voice that said, no, you are not the best person to write about this. And I, you know, once I got over that and I really figured out what the shape of the book was going – and what I know about myself is like shape is everything. If I can get a sense of how this book is going to unfold, that is often what calls me back into drafting, which is hard for me. 

The drafting is hard because I'm a revision person and a mind mapper. I like to just kind of play with things. So when it gets to actually, ooh, blinking cursor, I've got to type words, how do I do that? So finding my own personal entry point into this book, I think is what has made it what it is. It feels the most me, which is really cool. And yeah, the process of writing it, I think really opened so many doors for me, professionally, personally, emotionally. It really stretched me as a writer. 


God, how awesome is that? Yeah. I totally, you know, in your work, I can see what you say about form and the shape of something. Yeah. So I took so much away from this book as a woman, as an introvert or as you encouraged us to rethink about that, rename that deep listener, which is really great. 

But I acknowledge also, it didn't feel like it was written for me, right? It felt like it was a gift, an offering to Black women, Black creators. Do you wanna say something about that? 


Yeah, so I'd love to. I love that you brought this up because this was an interesting conversation very early on in the book. And again, this was a commissioned project. So the way that it was presented to me was all about Black love, Black joy, really zooming in on who the other person on the other side would be. 

And I think honestly, that is what scared me about this project, you know, showing up as a, you know, a mixed race Black woman, but who am I speaking for? And I was very worried about having folks think this is the experience when really my experience is one of who knows how many, just a drop in the bucket. And so what really excited me was, okay, I can share my experiences and I'm gonna touch on race, I'm gonna touch on gender, I'm gonna touch on motherhood, all kinds of things. 

But what I really want this book to do is when someone sees it, they pick it up, they think, oh, wow, this is interesting. And as they start to read, they come into more, these more complex layers of identity. through the engagement of the book versus me saying, hey, this is for this exact person. So leaning into what it means to be a Black woman, that is throughout the entire book. 

And so again, really interesting conversations happened around the title of the book and whether or not including the word Black was important. And I actually decided not to, and I had so many discussions with so many other, you know, Black writer friends and we talked about this. And I thought this was going to be a really interesting way to position this book to not have Black in the title and to see what happens and what conversations come up. And so far, it's been really amazing, like so refreshing to have questions around who this book is for. 

And then to allow me to just kind of lean into that without letting the title do the work or putting the I guess the strain on the title. And again, this is not something I'd ever thought about before this book. So what a great, yeah, what a great question. Because again, I think there's so many conversations connected to that I haven't had yet. And that's exciting, because who knows, like, this book could have a very long shelf life, where some of these conversations might come up two years from now, or three years from now. 


Yeah, yeah. Wow. No, that's so great. I loved it, I mean, really the book just hit me like it really got me where I went. Sometimes you pick up a book and it's like the book you need right now. But I loved, you referenced a lot this idea of guides, Black writers who were your guides, Black people who were your guides and just people you've learned from. 

And can we talk a little bit about guides? Because I think a lot of people would see you as a guide. You're an award-winning writer. And as I say, like you really are out there like showing how to do the work, to have creative balance, to bring your authentic self to the world. So how do you think about guides and how do you integrate them into your writing life and your life generally? 


I love the idea of guides. In general, to me, it feels safe, it feels comforting and guides can be... specific people. So in the book, I talk about a lot of the people who have opened up this idea of joy for me. So I was in conversation with, I think, nine or 10 other Black leaders across North America. So these are folks in the mental health industry, people who are also writers and have multiple books out. 

I spoke to a chef. I spoke to all kinds of different people in different industries, different Black leaders to really look at what their definition of joy was, or maybe just some experiences with joy, so that those things could inform how I show up on the page, which made things really, I think, made things a lot more layered and complex. 

And what happened through that was that as I was writing the book, I started to come into some learnings and some unlearnings, which were really unexpected. And that happened through conversation, through the guides. But another thing that guides could be are just our collaborators. So our books, our favorite books, our favorite writers. 

For me, I'm learning that my guides now are also my processes and my writing tools and some of the things that I've stored and saved over the years. So could that be a guide? And that's a question I might pose to your audience: what are some things, some people, places, processes, things and patterns that have contributed to who you are as a creative, as a writer? And how can those things become lifelong guides? You know, interesting question. See where it takes you. 


And the book is full of that. So the book is organized by season. Can you say a little bit about why you wanted to organize it by season? 


The seasons are also a guide, as you noticed. Like you read through the seasons become a pillar of stability, something to lean on, something I know is going to be there. And again, when you have something that is stable and firm in a world that is forever falling apart, I think that's really important to be able to pinpoint, okay, at least I can rely on this. 

But what I knew to be true about myself is that I would shape shift depending on the season. There were certain layers of me personally and creatively that only came out in specific seasons. And I used to think that was a flaw, was something wrong with me, something I was maybe hiding about myself? And I realized, no, it's just the season that calls different pieces of me to come out. 

So again, I kind of transformed that into a superpower where now I can predict what the Chelene of summer is going to look like. And because I have this knowledge now, I can also plan and prioritize in a more strategic way, because if I can predict my patterns, then okay, I can plan around that. I can maybe pull back. the expectations a little bit because of what I know to be true in the summer. So a lot of the book is me sharing very personal experiences connected to all of this. 

But I think the seasonal aspect is also just practical in that it gives the reader a tangible way to break things down to say, okay, I'm going to work through this in this season, or I'm going to work through some of these topics in this season. So the season is a fun shape. I think it was very easy for me to build the book once I knew what that was. 


Right, right. I wanted to ask about the community call questions. So I love them, right? You talk about them just being like cyclical questions that you ask every season. 

And I'll just read them out: What do I need or want to make space for right now? How am I really feeling? I want to be honest about my feelings with myself and others. And what feels heavy? What do I want to try to let go of this by season's end? 

I mean, those are some seriously fabulous questions, right? Like I feel like if I took those into my life, into my day, I don't know, they provide immense clarity if you really sit with them, right? So how did you come to those questions in particular? The ones that you bring from your own experience or from your experience working with writers or all of it? 


Yeah, definitely. I think a little bit of it came from all areas. But for me, when I think about what those questions do, what is their action, they kind of forced me to slow down. And I think in a world where we are all zipping by, we're doing so many different things, we're not always offered the opportunity to really look at some of these more, I guess, intense internal questions. 

And I think when I started to dive into that and really pay attention and really be honest, the data that I was able to extract from answering those questions was so valuable and I could see that right away. It's like, okay, if I wanna really prioritize letting go of this thing, why is that? What is it connected to? What is it preventing me from doing? How is it hindering me and my creative projects? Really to just stop and unravel some of this stuff. 

And then again, once you've got all of that data, you're going in and you're looking at your patterns, just so much you can learn about yourself. I think as a creative person, just from slowing down and asking some really specific questions and then saying, okay, well, what action can I take? Now that I have this, what the heck am I gonna do? 

And that's actually what led me or part of what led me to my Say No With Love workshop and building that out because it's a great space to answer some of those questions for ourselves. 


So I would love to talk a little bit about that because I've got a friend, she's a songwriter and we talk about like, we were joking at one point about getting ourselves printed with these big T-shirts that just say NO, like the shirt just says NO and you just wear it everywhere. 

So how do you think about saying no with love in order to be able to have the kind of energy that you need to be able to put in your art? 


Yeah, so I think right now we're in a time where we're all kind of saying no, like I see that coming up quite a bit. But what's interesting about the workshop is that we kind of take that no, and we work backwards. So it's actually a really detailed seven step process, because again, sometimes we don't want to say no, we actually want to say yes with conditions or we want to say no, not right now. say yes with conditions. 

Yes, you see, and again, there's all of these different, I guess, approaches to the no. Again, we just kind of gloss over it. So in the workshop, we break it down. So we look at how we wanna show up this season? Again, the seasons come back. What is something that we wanna call our superpower? What do we wanna focus on just for the season? And then what are three to five big picture priorities that we wanna focus on just this season? 

And we go through all of these different steps to figure out what those things are. And once you have it at the end of it, this is basically now a decision-making tool where when an opportunity comes your way, you're gonna filter it through the Say No With Love map and you get to decide how far it needs to go, how far that opportunity needs to make its way through. 

Maybe only the first filter, maybe only the first two or maybe all three. But when you know it is rooted in something intentional, and it is rooted in a belief or a value, a boundary, something you've really thought deeply about, you can watch the guilt and the shame shrink away, because when we say no, we're like, oh no, I just lost an opportunity. 

That will not happen when you say no with love, because you understand that the saying yes with conditions, for example, might mean I can do this, I can take this opportunity, but in order to do it, I'm gonna need you to change these three things. Whatever those three things are, it's uniquely connected to who you are. as an individual, but again, this is how we preserve our energy and how we protect it because the no is rooted to something, you know, uniquely tethered to us as individuals. It's deep work. 


No, it is deep work. And I feel like as women, we in this culture, we don't feel like we have permission to say no. You know, and the more the more you're kind of like that busy woman who is seen to get shit done. the less permission you have to say no. And then you find you've, you know, lived your entire life for other people's agendas. So it's such powerful, powerful work. Yeah. 

Can I go back to some of your earlier work? So I'm thinking about Dear Current Occupant, Junie, and your initial work in poetry as well, Braided Skin. When, because you work across different forms, different genres, when are you aware that a project is going to take a certain form? And how do you decide that is the form? Do you know what I mean? 


I love this question, because one thing and I'll zoom the lens out and say when you have an idea. Pay attention to what excites you about it. Because I think as writers, our initial response is, this new idea is a book. And this has thrown me off course so many times. Any new idea, ooh, that's a book. 

But figuring out what the container is for that idea is really important. And then when you figure out, okay, this is a book, now you have to ask yourself, what do I envision the reader experience to be? How does this unfold? And that will often give you some hints. Okay, well, maybe it's a book of poetry or maybe it's a novel. Maybe it's something that doesn't have a genre, doesn't fit anywhere. Good luck with that, by the way. It's gonna be a tough one. But sometimes just figuring out again, what excites you about it? 

So for me, it's often that reader experience. How do I envision them holding this and what's happening to them as they're making their way through this book? That's often a really good indication of what that container will be. So for example, for Junie, that was a historical novel, kind of an interesting play with a lot of the rules of fiction for me. I really kind of stepped on some toes with that book. But I knew that Junie's story was much too big to fit inside a poetry collection. And there were so many things that I really wanted to be specific about in terms of storytelling. 

I knew that just had, it couldn't be a short story collection. It had to be a novel. So I had to ask myself some really specific questions about reader experience and what I wanted this book to do. And that kind of pointed me in the right direction. 


Hmm. That's interesting. I don't hear a lot of writers talk about that. If we think about the reader experience, it's often towards, you know, towards the end, right? And it's a little late to be shaping that thing now that you're done. Yeah, really interesting. 

When you work on a project like Junie or Dear Current Occupant, how is your process different for and kind of like… I guess I'm trying to get to what does it feel like for you to write poetry versus what does it feel like for you to write prose of different kinds? 


Yeah, it definitely, I think each genre has a different feeling. I think for me, when I look back at the history of my writing experiences, one thing that has allowed me to feel, to feel really good, to feel the experience of joy and to feel empowered is to think about how all the genres connect in some way. 

I firmly believe that poetry is the foundation for all writing. And if you can master it to some extent, then you can write anything. Because I think when we have the ability to play with language, the way that poetry encourages you to play with language, there's so many different ways that you can go in terms of each, each project. 

But for me, again, it becomes very practical. If I'm writing poetry, there are certain things I need in my environment to be able to call on some of this unique imagery. If I'm writing just straightforward narrative nonfiction, again, I'm very aware of myself. So I almost have to turn myself off so that I can focus on the story that I'm telling. Fiction; this is a totally different beast. I feel like I can't write in my office, for example, you folks can't see this, but I'm in my office right now. I need to change environments. I need to be somewhere totally different where I think again, it just allows me to think outside of my everyday life. 

So get to know yourself as a writer and pay attention to what genre asks of you. Because I think so often we're thinking about, well, what can this genre give me and my story? But what do I have to give to the genre? What if we reverse the question? What's possible then? 


Hmm. Interesting. Wow. You're a font of really good, deep questions. So good. 

So I wanted to ask in light of Let It Go, like where are you finding joy these days? Like where's your joy rooted in like, if you just think of like the last season. 


I think my joy is rooted in the way I'm showing up for others and either, you know, in working with clients, working with other writers, but also just how I'm really thinking about how I'm being nourished as well. So if I'm in a space with someone and I'm offering them something, how am I getting something back? I'm always thinking about that now and it just feels like it allows for me to be so much more intentional. 

So I think my joy is coming from aligned conversation and aligned relationships. It's just so nice. It's so nice because again, it just makes us think about what spaces we put ourselves in and how we can contribute and what we can get back. There's so much joy in that. That's been my season lately. 


Gosh, I love that so much. In the book, you talk about non-negotiables and I've seen you talk about that on social media. Can you talk a little about non-negotiables and how they connect to living a joy-filled life as a creative person and just as like, just as a human? 


Yes, for sure. I think non-negotiables, for me, as a word, when I hear it, it sounds empowering to me. But non-negotiables in terms of our creative projects, like I think from the conversations I've had with many writers, especially newer writers who don't yet have their book in the world, they often think that they don't have a say. And whatever the publisher suggests, that's what they got to do. They got to not rock the boat and lean into it. 

And I'm like: this is a cooperative relationship. Your publisher wants to put out the best book possible and they want to make sure that your ideas are honored and shaped in the right way. So one thing that I offer writers is to think about your project pillars. 

And that's made up of three things. Your why, so why do you wanna write at all? Why are you a writer? And also why are you writing this particular book? Map that out. Your second project pillar is your book's action. What is it going to do when it's out in the world? Imagine it as a real person. It's out there talking and doing things. What is that book going to do? And the final project pillar is your book's non-negotiables. What are a few things you are unwilling to change and why? 

And the why is a really important part because when you get feedback from the workshop group or an editor, they might be poking on something that's non-negotiable, but they don't know that. And the feeling in your body is going to be like, how dare that person suggest this? And you're kind of going to go off in this weird way. 

But if you understand that non-negotiable, now you've got something to come back to the table with and say, actually, I think we should have a conversation about this because what you're suggesting is part of something I just don't want to unravel and here's why. So then again, you're having this beautiful, proactive and encouraging conversation about the next version of your book instead of just being upset when someone suggested something that you didn't like. 

So the non-negotiables become the project pillars, really they become a compass. They allow you to make decisions about your creative project and decisions that feel connected to who you are and where you want this book to go. 


Yeah, love that. Wow, this is so rich. Like I just, there's so much here. I wanna ask about non-negotiables in the process as well. Like, do you have any non-negotiables for how you set yourself up to do the writing amidst doing all the serving that you do, right? Because it's possible to end up completely drained and with nothing left to give to the page. But I think that you're someone who, from what I can tell anyway, sets your life up for something different. So can you talk about non-negotiables process? 


Yeah, I think for me, I might even replace non-negotiables in this context and call in boundaries, because boundaries are a little bit different in that we have to remember there's a consequence that we have to deliver on when it comes to boundaries. So if someone is pushing against our boundaries and encroaching on our writing time, for example, what is the consequence of that? It's up to me. It's not up to anyone else. 

If someone sends me an email at two in the morning and I check it and I respond to it and I'm mad because someone was encroaching on my writing time, well, that's my problem because I shouldn't have responded to the email. So I think about what I need to put in place in terms of boundaries, how to protect my writing time because as you said, I spend a lot of time serving others. So my writing time really is only on the weekends. So how do I protect that? 

And I've spent a lot of time talking with my family, letting them know, here's this time, here's why it's really valuable to me, and here's also what you get out of it. So I think a really important part of the boundary work around protecting our time is letting people close to you know how they benefit from helping you protect that time. And that can be really helpful, instead of saying, here's the consequence, I say, here's how it will positively affect you as well, while also making sure they're aware of the consequence. 

So again, it's such detailed work, but over the last, I think five or six years, this is really what's allowed for me to work on multiple books at one time, to enjoy it, to still show up for clients in a beautiful way. This is really thinking about how I show up, what's important to me. 

And then here's the thing that I wanna recommend to folks, if you have a notebook in front of you, please write it down. All of this work and all these things that Rhonda and I have talked about, how can you make it so that you go back in and reinvestigate all of this? Because it will not stay the same. What are your boundaries today? They will not be your boundary six months from now. What is your process now? Will not be your process a year from now. So giving yourself an opportunity to go back in, figure out what isn't working and then change it. 

That's why I don't believe in writer's block because like, well, there's something else that you just have to fix. That's all it is. 


Right. And I think so many writers that I speak to, and I think it's very gendered, don't feel like they have permission to set a boundary, right, that their kids get access to them 24/7, their partners get access to them 24/7, and they don't really have permission to set a boundary. 


And the truth is nobody has to give you permission to set a boundary, right? That's exactly why we have to give it to ourselves. Yeah, we have to give ourselves permission because again, we're waiting around for some mystical being to say it's okay to do it. 

And I think this is part of why I love talking about this stuff, because maybe that my personal story becomes permission for someone else to say, oh, well, Chelene did this, what if I try it? And if it doesn't work for you, you say, well, what aspect of that process didn't work? And how can I alter it just so that, you know, this can work for me because we're not all living the same lives as well. Like I'm a parent, but my son is 22. So it's very different from parents of, you know, small children who have to give more of their time and their physical energy, right? Like that's changed for me over the years. So. 


Yeah, same. When you're not actively parenting, it is different, but there are other boundaries that you often need to put into place. I feel like it's really a gift to yourself. And when I love watching other women set boundaries, I just feel like the more of us that do it, it just starts this tiny little step in like what's hopefully eventually some kind of revolution where women are allowed to and able to lovingly set a boundary, right? As you say, saying no with love, setting boundaries. Yeah, good. 

So I will put a link to the Saying No With Love workshop that you offer in the show notes. And I'll also link out to your Instagram so people know where to find you. And so I'm just, as we're coming to a close today, anything that you would wanna add, Chelene, that I haven't asked you about Let It Go in particular, about that book and what you hope it leaves behind for people? 


I think if I were to think of one core message, it would be that the work that you do on yourself, like I think this is, I think the letting go then starts to happen organically. Because I think one question that I often get is, well, how, how do I let go? How do I drop this thing off? And it's like, just continue to work on yourself and evolve as a person and continually develop yourself personally. and then watch the letting go start to happen. It becomes a by-product of that work.  So that's probably the one big takeaway. 


And if you're looking for another guide to help you on that, certainly the book itself is great. And there were so many questions and so many just reflections based on your own story of how you evolved into different pieces of letting go that I think are really valuable for people to engage with. So thanks so much for that. And thanks for being here today. 


Thank you. It's been awesome. 


Thanks so much for hanging out with me today and for listening all the way to the end. I hope you enjoyed today's episode of the Resilient Writers Radio Show. While you're here, I would really appreciate it if you'd consider leaving a rating and review of the show. You can do that in whatever app you're using to listen to the show right now, and it just takes a few minutes. 


Your ratings and reviews tell the podcast algorithm gods that, yes, This is a great show, definitely recommend it to other writers. And that will help us reach new listeners who might need a boost in their writing lives today as well. So please take a moment and leave a review. I'd really appreciate it, and I promise to read every single one. Thank you so much.


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