Brad Cotton, 34, said he is a writer “not by choice but by compulsion.”
Cotton, whose debut novel, A Work in Progress, is available in stores and online, said that while writing is now part of his regular routine, he only recently turned his passion into a career.
“I got a very late start in writing because any raw talent I had – I won school poetry and speech-writing competitions without even trying – wasn’t recognized or encouraged, but instead sort of shrugged off,” he said.
“The Jewish baby boomer tradition of churning out doctors, lawyers and accountants was a yoke around my neck, and no one ever told me how to take it off, or even that I could.”
Raised in a middle-class family in Toronto, Cotton’s “moderately conservative parents didn’t have the arts play a role in their upbringing and knew little or nothing of it to pass on to their kids,” he said.
“My older brother was a math whiz, my older sister [was into] science, but I excelled at recess and principal office visits. I was the black sheep.”
It wasn’t until Cotton left Associated Hebrew School for the public school system in Grade 7 that he “was even exposed to the idea of art as something beyond childish arts and crafts.”
He was handed a trumpet in his music class and later taught himself to play guitar.
“I tried to paint and came up well short of talent. It didn’t even occur to me to consider writing as a viable art until I began to read more. I read and read and read.”
Cotton said he started writing in high school when he and his classmates were encouraged to keep a daily journal.
“Mostly short stories and misguided poetry resulted. I never thought to take it seriously and have since lost all that stuff. To me, it was just a hobby. In university, my parents were still unaware of how to encourage or support an artistic route, and I was still too green and unaware to pick up on it myself.”
In his early 20s, Cotton started freelance writing for magazines, but he said he couldn’t make a living at it.
“By chance, I ran into a friend, and subsequent conversations led me to sell my soul to the corporate machine and I became an advertising copywriter,” he said.
His work schedule and responsibilities prevented him from writing for his own enjoyment until a few years ago, when he decided he “simply couldn’t hold off any longer.”
He sat down, started typing, and has since completed three novels and one screenplay. He is now in the early stages of his fourth book.
A Work in Progress tells the story of Danny Bayle, a writer whose life is in shambles. His girlfriend has left him, and his grandfather has just passed away. Unable to focus on writing, he ventures into the world in an attempt to jumpstart a new life. He meets some interesting characters, and his new friends begin to influence what could be the story of his life.
“I suppose I find writing therapeutic,” Cotton said. “It’s just something I can do with all the thoughts and ideas I collect in my head. Writers tend to be watchers or critics of life, for better or worse. That’s what writing is, really, an expression of how one sees the world.”
Cotton completed his first novel in his early 20s. “It was a little too amateurish to attempt publishing,” he said.
He spent the next few years practising and polishing his writing and began A Work in Progress when he felt he could “greatly surpass” his original attempt.
“I can’t say A Work in Progress was inspired by one single thing, but instead was made up of many smaller ideas that seemed to fit together well,” he said. ‘The main theme, however, is loss, which is something to which everyone can relate.”
After “a wretched parade of single-page rejection letters one after the other,” Cotton said he received a positive response from Now or Never Publishing.
“Trying to get a book published is certainly not easy, nor is it for the weak of constitution. As a writer, or artist, or musician, you have to be able to deal with criticism on an ongoing basis. If you’re in the business of padding your ego, you should be looking for a different job.”
Cotton said he’s “delighted” that A Work in Progress has been published, although he doesn’t consider himself successful yet.
“Success as an author comes if and when you can reach an audience. Small or large, a readership is really what makes a writer successful. If your writing isn’t read and enjoyed, or at least considered provocative in some way, it’s just words on a page, like a menu, only you can’t order food off a bad novel.”
As an author, Cotton is “chiefly motivated by improvement.”
He said he’s not overly competitive by nature and likes to think he’s aware of his limitations.
“What keeps me going as a writer is that I know I have yet to reach my full potential.”
Cotton’s “humble” advice to any writer is to keep going.
“If you’re a good writer, keep writing, if you’re a bad writer, keep writing. Talk to other writers, editors, publishers, agents and even readers. Ask people to read what you’ve written and accept all criticism for what it’s worth.”
He has already completed a second novel called The Boundless. Cotton said the book explores whether it’s possible to leave your entire life behind and start a new one.