How can I know what I think until I see what I say?
-E. M Forster
The most original thing a writer can do is write like himself. It is also his most difficult task.
Every writing workshop begins with an introduction.
Go around the room and introduce yourself to the group.
Tell us who you are and how you got here.
I was ten when my school principal phoned to tell me I had won first place in the school’s hobby show. It meant a trophy with my name on it! and a sleek red ribbon to glue in my scrapbook.
I was stunned.
A plain black binder of poetry had shut down the arts and craft hobbyists. Theirs were creations to admire. My poems and limericks had won praise at home but this was the real world.
Words mattered, I learned. My words.
Newly confident, I concluded an audience was needed. I began to corral the neighbourhood kids to my backyard, sit on plastic lawn chairs and watch my dramatization of fairy tales.They were a motley audience, there no doubt to see if I could get through my lines wearing a large paper mâché monster head. It had tiny holes not quite big enough to see through.
There are days I’m still wearing that costume piece but I’ve cut bigger holes since then.
At summer camp and high school, the audience grew a little as I further explored the stage lights. My performances were fantastic flops until I played the promiscuous actress Lois Lane and fell in love with the lead actor. The scripts belonged to others. My own writing was limited to diaries, stuffed with teen rants and angst.
In my final year of high school, I enrolled in an advanced English class. Our teacher, Ms. Weppler, had unruly hair and kooky eyes but she let us muck about in our musings and daydreams. In third term, I made a mock documentary about my school. Nothing about it was homework. At the top of my final written essay, she scrawled a large pencil A plus and wrote in the margins,
You are a natural. A writer!
That bold definition stayed buried somewhere as I took off to Montreal to to study lit, then film at McGill. I joined campus radio and became the news director. Back in Toronto, I worked part time in a bookstore before joining a television network as an intern, writer and soon, producer. Television writing honed my love of story but I chaffed at ratings and promotional puffery. It took a kick out the door and a decade of writing workshops to push me toward the start line, naked and trembling.
Still, hard silence on the page was common. I was too busy stuffing my days with those other definitions to be still and simply write. If writers require quiet, what was I doing being so busy with all those things I loved?
Join me, reader friend, as I tend to those early seeds.
Maybe I’ll get lucky. Sexpot Lois Lane lurks yet, threatening a ruckus.
Watch out for sprouts.