Saturday, May 07, 2011

Portrait of the Writer as a Young Lady

When I was sixteen, I wrote stories for my friends sitting in the school cafeteria during lunch, half-attuned to their bubbling conversations but mostly immersed in my own freshly created worlds. I was the world’s happiest writer. I had time, an enthusiastic (and largely uncritical) audience and a tumultuous environ—high school—filled with a vast set of new ideas to constantly draw on.

I thought that if I wanted to become a writer (whatever that meant) as all of my teachers encouraged me to do, I would simply do it. Granted, I defined the occupation of ‘writer’ very generously. If I wrote, I was a writer. So what if only my closest friends saw what I had produced? I was able to entertain them, to while away the lengthy lunch periods the school board granted us and I got great grades in English.

Like I said, I was a very contented writer.

For nearly a decade afterwards, I was happy to write for my own amusement—my audience having slipped away to careers and cities far from our suburban hometown—and I did so, churning out a dizzying amount of trash. Writing mainly in one specific genre, I never strove for originality. I never edited my work but I did re-read it frequently, the way I re-read my favourite authors in that same category. In my head, I was equal to those best-selling published authors. Hey, I enjoyed reading my own work, didn’t I?

Occasionally, I would enter a writing contest, most frequently the one put out by my local newspaper, which offered a fantastic cash prize. At sixteen, I had won a local arts award as an ‘emerging writer’. I got to meet the mayor and June Callwood handed me my award. Aside from the plastic trophy, which I kept on my bedside table until I knocked it over one night and my mother had to perform sloppy glue-based surgery, I won a writing course by correspondence. This package sat in my closet for several years until it grew old and dusty enough to throw away.

What did I need courses for? I was a writer already. A young, unpublished, unknown writer. But the adjectives were only qualifiers. All that was needed to erase them was time.

Over the years I acquired a degree and a day job exciting enough to hold my interest and weighty enough to impress strangers. It should have been enough. It was enough for long stretches of time. But I was still furtively constructing stories and churning out genre novels—I completed at least ten while I was at school and then working. I was still a writer.

But what was I doing about my writing career?

Photo courtesy of Keattikorn at

No comments:

Post a Comment