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.

Why Everything Falls Into Place

Still Sweeping excerpt by J.G. Chayko (published 2011)

A writer friend of mine posted on his social media page: “some days I feel like everything is going wrong and some days I feel like everything falls into place.”

Most days of writing can be a struggle. It takes work to craft that perfect piece we finally deem ready for the public eye. While we all want those easy days where the right words come in the right order at exactly the right time, I realize that our successes would not be quite as sweet without the struggle. It’s because of our failures and frustrations that we achieved success in the first place. Those labours are the core to our success – they are our passions, our efforts, our desire and our inspirations. Without them, it wouldn’t feel nearly as rewarding. It’s those frustrations and setbacks that drive us to keep going. They teach us to dig deeper, push harder, take a second and even a third look and make us question if it is really our best work.

Life would not be stimulating if everything was just handed to us. We would lose our ability to imagine, we would lose the remarkable creativity that defines us. What would we learn if we never had to struggle? There’d be no impetus to do the things we love if we sat down and wrote a perfect piece every single time. What would happen to our curiosity that took us there in the first place?

That’s the roller coaster, the topsy-turvy unpredictable world of an artistic life. We will, and should, have these days – and when we achieve the triumphs we worked so hard for, we can be thankful for those times where everything seemed to be going wrong.

 

 

Working It Out

20161128_151932Contrary to popular belief, writers actually do (and must) participate in a life outside of our own secluded world – I can’t always be at my desk, but no matter where I go or what task I am currently performing, my mind is constantly in motion, spinning out chunks of dialogue, visualising settings and chasing plots. I write down as much as I can when I’m on the road, hoping I can call it up again when I’m ready to work. It doesn’t always turn out that way – sometimes I come to the desk and my muse doesn’t. Those incredible images that were filled with color two days ago are black and white; the fantastic dialogue has silenced; my characters are nowhere to be found.

This happens to all of us at one time or another. We show up for work but our muse and our literary characters have clearly made other plans. It used to be that when this happened, I walked away from the desk and went back to daily life, just hoping my muse would reappear in a glittering shower of inspiration. Nothing is more frustrating than showing up at my desk and staring at the screen for two hours, wondering if there was something else I could have been doing instead of wasting time – as it turns out, there is.

In his book “On Writing”, Stephen King states: “if you want to be a writer you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot”. It so happened that one day I came to the desk and the words didn’t come with me, so in an effort to spark some motivation, I picked up his book, opened it to the page where this sentence was written (page 145 for your reference), and stumbled upon a new awareness: reading is not only an enjoyable pastime, but it is a big part of my work as a writer. I am learning about my craft and staying in my writing mind when I come to the desk.

Now I don’t get frustrated when the words don’t come – I use that time to read. It’s another way for me to keep coming to the desk. It’s the purest form of research. It’s enjoyable, inspiring and most important, it keeps me focussed. Reading about writing or reading about the experience of other authors, will ultimately ignite a road flare that summons my muse back to me.

 

 

 

I Write, Therefore I Am…

20160811_164147When do you call yourself a writer? This seems to be a complicated dilemma for many. Some people feel they can’t truly call themselves a writer until they’ve received some sort of exceptional endorsement for their work. I disagree.

There is no test, no exam, no screening method, no extraordinary circumstance that suddenly makes one “a writer.” When people ask me when I called myself a writer, I tell them I called myself a writer the first moment I picked up a pen. Before my first publication, before my first meager payment for a short story, I was a writer. A publication or a payment should never define you as such – short stories, poetry, memoir, novels, essays or blog posts – quite simply, if you write you are a writer. All you need to do is do it.

 

 

A Writing Crusade

20160715_195609I mainly write fiction, creative non-fiction and poetry, but every now and then I like to step outside of my comfort zone and challenge myself by writing in a new genre. And anytime that challenge helps out with a cause, it brings with it a delightful feeling of satisfaction.

Here is a review I wrote for a local show produced by The Page Theatre, a wonderful little up and coming theatre company created by a friend of mine through her passion and love for theatre. Since their creation almost four years ago, they have produced four shows, taking one of them all the way to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. It’s no easy feat trying to get a theatre company (or any company) off the ground, but if I can help them out on their creative journey, and develop my own skills along the way, I will gladly do so.

And now I present the review for their latest show: Barrymore’s Ghost.

https://corkboardsandcoffeehouses.com/barrymores-ghost-a-review/

 

 

 

Vacancy

Aviary Photo_131047800285478307The blank page is the writers’ canvas. Don’t be intimidated by its stark whiteness, its vacant stare, its arrogant lines undulating across the page – know it is there to fuel your imagination and give you permission to write anything you desire. It is not there to restrict or impose rules but to inspire, to animate and excite. The blank page is the window to new worlds, new characters, new places, new happenings – it invites you to write down every emotion, memory, secret or vision. It is our friend, our rival, our therapist, our lover, and our companion. It plays devil’s advocate driving us to reveal our most intimate thoughts – and out of the jumble that gushes onto the page, we will unearth the stories we are destined to cultivate.

 

Paper Cups, Hands and Airline Bags

DSC_3303 (3)On stage, when an actor forgets their lines they must improvise in order to keep the dialogue and story moving. In live theatre, there’s no opportunity to go back and start again – actors must do their level best to carry on in spite of forgotten lines, costume mishaps and missing sound cues.

Writer’s also need to develop the skill of improvisation but in a slightly different manner. Much like an actor that must be prepared for anything that can happen on stage, writers must always be prepared to seize inspiration, at any moment, at any time. I have developed a habit of carrying a notebook and a pen in my bag for just such moments, but there are times when I am unable to access my notebook and must be ready to improvise in order to catch my ideas.

I was travelling on an airplane recently, and we encountered some turbulence. I had been happily typing away on my tablet, but then came the announcement for table trays to be returned to their upright positions and seatbelts securely fashioned. I reluctantly put my tablet away, and patiently waited to get through the turbulence. It was at this shaky and ill-timed moment that a tremendous idea came to me – one that would make or break the current article I was writing. I had to get it down, and so I grabbed the first thing that was available for me to write on – the airline’s disposable bag, with a lovely pictograph of a person suffering from airline sickness. I scribbled down my thoughts on both sides of that bag and was even offered an extra one from another passenger in the seat next to me (conveniently, my better half), and I even think the stewardess sitting across from me, who was fascinated by my writing frenzy in a moment of unpredictability, was ready to offer me another one.

Here are some items I have written on in a desperate moment:

A paper cup

My hand

A script

A book

A gum wrapper (a big challenge)

A work document (not highly recommended)

A transit ticket (over the small print)

A napkin

A receipt

These are just a few examples of what I like to call “necessary improvisation” for writers.

Regardless of what happens on stage, the actors’ adage is always “the show must go on” – and in the writing world, so must our words.