How many of you have thought, ‘maybe I should write a book’? If you’re reading this blog, I suspect, most of you.
Everyone has a story and many think his or her story might actually be interesting to others. Mostly this is wrong. That would include yours truly.
And even if you do have an interesting story to tell, you still have to have the ability to tell it, in writing, and writing well is not as easy as it seems.
Some people say they ‘always wanted to be a writer’. There’s something glamorous and cerebral and intriguing about being a ‘famous writer’. The mystique of the creative process is a strong attractant. Or maybe the mere love of words and ideas compels someone to share them with others. Or maybe it’s the prospect of celebrity. I suspect this latter factor is rarely true – in my experience, most writers are dangerously introverted, as they should be. Writing is a lonely and tedious endeavour, many long hours facing a keyboard and urging the words out; or lying in bed thinking, ‘how can this piece or paragraph best be expressed’? Writing is done in the creator’s head, not in a think tank.
I am/have been an introvert and spend too much time in my head. So in that respect I am qualified to be a writer. But I never thought I ‘always wanted to be a writer’. I was a decent student, I enjoyed English class, but not with a passion; I didn’t much enjoy French class but I did learn Latin. My Grade X Latin teacher, a grizzled old patriarch who scared the hell out of students, was also the coach of the Senior Football Team (the WHVS Tigers) and he insisted that if I wanted to play on his team I better learn discipline. That meant mastering verb conjugations and noun declensions. I wasn’t sure what that had to do with playing football but I studied hard. Latin became one of my best subjects as my mark reached the 90s from the low 70s. I also worked hard on the practice field and I became a ‘star running back’ for the Junior Tigers. However I never made his team – my family moved from Welland to Peterborough. I became the star running back for the Adam Scott Senior Lions (The coach, a grizzled old phys-ed teacher, didn’t much care about my scholastics. He asked me what grade I was in. “Grade XIII, Sir.” “What are your marks?”, he then asked. “80s and 90s,” I replied. “Too bad, he shrugged.)
I did want to be a lawyer and I wanted to play football for the Queen’s Golden Gaels. This meant more hard work and further development of language skills. Who knew lawyers spoke Latin: mens rea, ipso facto, caveat emptor; ceteris paribus (nope, that’s economists). I took a BA in economics and politics but also studied philosophy and religion, and learned to write decent essays. And to stretch my mind to new ideas. These were probably the most lasting lessons learned. My failures were much more painful at the time (oh and probably still if I dwell on them), but temporary: I didn’t make the varsity football team and I failed first year law school. Philosophically, I later realized, this was ‘healthy’: have some early life failures to prepare you for later ones!
There were other life lessons learned at Queen’s, or perhaps more accurately I didn’t learn at Queen’s. The main one of these is dealing with risk. Life is about risk and can’t be avoided. It may be a bigger danger to try protect yourself against risk. As the Buddhists would say, and certainly M. Scott Peck (The Road Less Travelled) life is suffering. Oh, fragile ego. The issue is to accept failure as a part of life, and develop resilience against ‘failure’. And yet I am still, decades on in my life, dealing with ‘failure’ and rejection and loss. Do we avoid life in order to protect ourselves against its vagaries? Do we dither and procrastinate and never call that girl for fear of rejection? Do we save our hearts from ever being broken by never falling in love? Do we spend hours and hours nursing our creative genius and never expose our stories to the light of day, for fear of ridicule?