I have been a writer for twenty-three years. When I was fourteen, someone read my work, believed in it and encouraged me to take it seriously. I can’t remember if I’d even shown anyone anything but this woman (to whom I dedicated my first published novel) pushed me to go forward. I haven’t exactly looked back since and I hope she knows that she changed my life for the better. Sometimes it just takes one person.
I went to hear Joseph Boyden speak at Carleton University in Ottawa recently. I’d read his first book and it was beautifully written. Going to hear him speak, I was unsure of what to expect, maybe a lecture about the importance of historical research?
Instead I came “face to face” with a genuine man. It was an amazing experience and I wanted to share it with you. I want to talk about influential people and how they can make a difference. Boyden’s talk was personal, even in a room of several hundred people. I never felt like it was a crowd or that it was something he’d done too often. He spoke from the heart and about his words.
I’ve been afraid to talk too much about my writing process, or even too loudly about my books. I suppose for fear that my ability to write would fade or vanish. Boyden spoke about his process and I sat on the edge of my seat. He could have been speaking about mine. The movie in his head that he transcribes from shows a different program than mine but I am not alone. He talked about the characters in his head that spoke to him. Mine have long been loud and demanding, sometimes to my dismay. I also have no control sometimes and the best-laid plot points have to be quickly rewritten. But I do not speak of this because I am afraid of negative reactions from people or even the characters themselves. I am afraid that people might tell me I’m doing it wrong, or worse, that the characters might become silent altogether. Boyden assures us that this most likely won’t happen. There are no guarantees in life. But his ability to speak of it and continue to write brings me hope. He recommended ignoring our critics who say that we can’t or even can’t do it again. They can’t know. We need to be true to the work. His whole talk brought me hope, made me fall in love with words all over again.
One of things he spoke of hit home in an entirely different way. He told the story of trying to get a date with a young woman when he was in university. After two years of effort he finally asked, ‘why not?’ She said that he didn’t take his writing seriously. My first thought during that story was, do I? By her standards, no. By mine, I’m not sure. I’ve accomplished a lot, written four novels, almost five, in ten years. That’s not to mention short stories and poetry and all the editing that’s associated with being a writer. It’s never ending and sometimes overwhelming but I wouldn’t trade it for the world. I don’t write every day, finding it difficult to make time with a part-time job and going to class. But despite two degrees, a diploma and learning a second language I think I’ve done okay. I am doing my best to stay true to those words, to the characters and to the essence of being a writer. I’m here to tell their stories, whatever they might end up being.
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