“It seems like New Year’s resolutions are made to be broken – at least that’s what it feels like for me. Every year I envisioned these grand sweeping dreams and every year those dreams floated away from my reach, bursting like delicate soap bubbles.
Lost in the shadow of my grand promises, however, I somehow achieved a cluster of small goals I failed to recognize as accomplishment. In fact, as it turned out, many of my finest moments and triumphs in the last year were due to the surprising result of broken resolutions.”– J.G. Chayko, The Old Lady in My Bones.
Sometimes we accomplish more in a year than we realize. I hope that everyone can take a moment to celebrate the small victories hidden in the pages of our lives. No matter how big or small, every achievement should be celebrated. I look forward to picking up my pen, gathering my notebooks, opening a new word document and rediscovering the triumphs waiting in another year of broken resolutions – one day at a time, one word at a time, one story at a time.
Cheers to all for a very happy, healthy and creative New Year in 2017.
When 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.
Sometimes the only thing I need to inspire me is a quiet place to call my own; a creative sanctuary that unlocks my imagination and leads me to new possibilities. I am always seeking different places to stimulate my creativity – parks, coffee shops, libraries, restaurants, museums – but in the spring and summer months, my creative refuge can be found in my own backyard – or in this case, my patio.
When the sun makes its reappearance and the mercury begins to climb, I often retreat to the comfort and harmony of my patio. Everything I need is at my fingertips, just by stepping over the threshold and back into my home, but my patio offers me a barrier against the distractions of daily life and technology. I can leave my phone inside, knowing it is safe from light fingers; I can make my own tea and get refills at my own discretion; I can absorb the beauty of the great outdoors without taking precious time to drive or walk anywhere else; I can arrive in seconds, leave and return again in the same moment. My music is the chirrup of robins and chickadees, the haunting cry of seagulls; my stimulus are the people in my neighborhood, my solace is the flow of words that trickle out with the hiss of sprinklers in nearby yards. The constant motion of the outdoors is the white noise I can tune in or out of at will. In my writing sanctuary, I can cultivate my words and watch my stories bloom alongside my garden.
“I like this place and could willingly waste my time in it.”
The 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.
“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.
When the afterglow of writing a terrific piece burns out, we often wonder if we will ever match it or top its triumph. We will wallow in the shade of disappointment doubting our ability – but I’ve learned that writing is a deep well always replenishing the words we use, and we will always be able to draw from the springs of our creativity to refill the parched wasteland of accomplishment.