It’s All Worth It

Recent release of Real Life Diaries series: Living With Rheumatic Disease.

We come to the desk every day and write. We send out our stories, poems and non-fiction articles just waiting for that one bite that will launch us into literary success.  We wonder if we are making progress with all the hours we spend lurking in our own imaginations and putting all those words into the computer. We have those doubtful moments when we question if all the hard work and rejections are worth it. And then one day…

I began my writing practice when I was a kid. My first taste of publication occurred when our high school annual published a poem I’d written for English class. I was already well into studies for theater but seeing my words in print for the first time was a heady experience. I was determined to continue writing after chasing my dreams on the stage. I wrote on and off over the years, compiling stories, poems and even began out the daunting task of crafting my first novel. I never submitted any of these projects, just played with them on those rainy nights off from rehearsals. I was confident that one day I would have all the time in the world to launch a writing career. But that moment came far sooner than I anticipated.

In my thirties I was diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis. It’s a manageable disease and there are worse conditions out there, but this new diagnosis altered the life I built. I spent years in the dance studio and on stage, and suddenly I was faced with a disease that changed the way I moved. I stopped performing for a while, to figure out my new limitations, and that’s when the door to the beginning of my writing life swung wide open. Since I was no longer able to express my creativity through dance and I didn’t have the stamina for the hours of rehearsals and performance, writing became the creative outlet I craved.

I wrote my first story on my great-grandmother, a non-fiction piece about childhood memories; I followed that up with a couple of short poetry and fiction pieces. And then I dove into writing about living with Rheumatoid Arthritis. I was having small successes with the short fiction pieces, but it was me writing about my life with disease that my opened my world. I blogged about my life, I contributed to health articles, I was invited to contribute pieces to arthritis websites around the world, I was sent to an all expense paid health bloggers conference in Toronto, I speak once a year at our local university and now, five years later I am holding a book with my words between the cover.

My biography as a contributing writer to Living With Rheumatic Diseases.

It took a disease to launch my writing life. I now wonder what I was waiting for – the perfect time to begin, I suppose. Life has a funny way of letting you know the time is now and I’m glad I listened. This is still only the beginning of a long journey for me. I still have hundreds of stories waiting to come to life, and my own novels to craft, but despite all the rejections, the rewrites, the edits, and the hours of wordplay, if you keep on coming back to the desk and find joy and purpose in your process, all the hours of commitment are worth it.

Writing My Life

Screenshot (12)“Is there a blanket ban on writing about my life if it involves anyone else?” – Brooke Wyeth, Other Desert Cities by Jon Robin Baitz

I began writing stories in my childhood. It started with writing in my diary, then graduated to the more intricate skills of writing poetry, essays and short stories. I wrote about anything my imagination could conjure, but when I look back now, I see most of those stories and poems evolved from moments in my daily life. My characters were shaped from the people I knew. Plots and stories evolved out of the things I observed. Real life seeped into my writing whether I was aware of it or not.

My first real introduction into the surprising and complicated world of creative non-fiction was about five years ago. I published my first story about my great-grandmother’s farm and the struggle to keep it out of the hands of developers. I found it was easy to write from my memories, enjoying the challenge of painting a picture from a possibly bland topic. After I was diagnosed with RA, I created a blog that described my journey through the day-to-day management of living with chronic illness. From those stories arose the desire to expand and write more about other aspects of my life, and I discovered that it’s sometimes impossible to write my own truth without grazing the lives of others.

It’s a complicated business writing about other people. We own our stories, but we don’t own the stories of others. I have a responsibility to be as honest as I can in my work, but I need to know where to draw the line. No one else can see my truth, just I can’t see someone else’s truth. In my fiction and poetry work, I draw on my own experience and borrow behaviours and personas from the people I meet, disguising them in a hybrid of my own imagination, but in non-fiction, it can be difficult to disguise them. I know that without them, my story would be dry and colorless, so I need to tread carefully, and find a way to respect them without compromising the strength of my work.

It’s a fine line to tread and full of controversy – whether writing about our life or the lives of others, we face the possibility of encountering criticism and objections in how our version is presented. It is the risk we must take as storytellers. We can write the truth or create our own, but we must do it with responsibility and integrity.