One of my not so secret secrets is that I’m attempting to write a novel. I’ve been doing so for what feels like forever and it is probably a few chapters away from completion. That is, if I ever get around to looking at my first draft again.
The reason for this massive delay is that writing is really, really… really hard. On the flip side, it’s also massively rewarding when it goes well. After complaining yet again about this thorny face of writing, a friend recommended that I read Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott. Lamott, like myself, acknowledges that the process of writing can be… wait for it… really hard sometimes. She, however, has some sound advice on how to suck it up and keep writing. Aspiring writers read this book!
It is this painful bit of first-hand experience that makes me endlessly appreciative of any form of writing. I’m especially delighted, then, when I come across great pieces of writing by people who are entirely unexpected.
Take for example, The Joining of Dingo Radish by Rob Harasymchuk. It was my father who introduced me to this book. Offhandedly one day, he mentioned that a guy he worked with happened to have written a book in his ‘free time’. This book turned out to be an award nominated, page turning, crime/thriller set in a small, rural town and Harasymchuk’s first novel. Harasymchuk, a Project Superintendent for a construction company, is a self-taught writer whose dream it is to tell people’s stories for a living.
I read Dingo and was jealous. Not only did Harasymchuk write the perfect Prairie underdog story, he managed to capture the nuances - good and bad - of life in a rural town. Plus, he finished HIS book.
Equally putting me to shame is Chris Willard’s Sundre: a novel. Willard, a former New-Yorker who is currently head of the Painting Department at the Alberta College of Art and Design, wrote this – his second book – after moving to Alberta and becoming captivated by the vastness of the prairies. After spending time in Sundre and in their archives, Willard wrote what reviewer Robert Coover called: “An affectionate elegy for a gone time, laced with strands of old-fashioned prairie wisdom in the face of life’s sad turns.”
Hey – wait a minute! Why is this New Yorker writing the prairie story I SHOULD be writing? I’m sorry. Did I say I was jealous yet?
So, I wonder time and again… what compels people to write these amazing stories? Is it the seductive feeling of a hard battle won over the self-doubting voices in your head? Is it because of the urge we have to communicate our inner thoughts and feelings to others? Or is it the simple need to tell a really good story whether it is about an unlikely hero like with Harasymchuk’s Dingo or, with Willard’s Sundre, about a time in our history slowly being forgotten?
University of Calgary English professor Harry Vandervlist has always been amazed at the tenacity many writers show in drafting and re-working their material. “If you take the time to look at the work an author puts in, which you can sometimes do by studying all the drafts and revisions available at a good archive collection, you realize just how many thousands of hours go into a good piece of writing. The only reason writers stick with the job, I’ve always thought, is because they don’t have any choice. Writers write because they have to. It can be an addiction that doesn’t make life easier for the author, but without it we’d be a lot poorer as readers.”
Our compulsion to write, to tell our stories, in fact, has realized itself in online writing groups, book clubs, poetry slams, and writing camps across the province. It’s for reasons like this that resources like the Writer’s Guild of Alberta exist. See their website (www.writersguild.ab.ca) for info on support for writers as well as for organizations looking to connect with Alberta’s writing talent.
So here’s my challenge to you. Get writing! We all can do it with a little commitment, fearlessness, and support. I’ll show you my work in progress if you show me yours.
Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott (Pantheon Books)
The Joining of Dingo Radish by Rob Harasymchuk (Great Plains Publications)
Sundre: a novel by Chris Willard (Esplande Books)