(Edit, from Wednesday) I love this country. We have an awards show for authors. There's a red carpet and actors in tuxes and everything. Canadian actors, of course. But actors. And we have a host who is the son of a former Prime Minister and his younger, hippy, pretty wife who had partied with Mick and Keef back in the day. And there's another party down the street, a literacy fundraiser, with a host who is the son of another former Prime Minister and his gorgeous eastern European wife. Do other countries have PM's kids who grow up to be good lookin entertainment types? Do they televise awards for writers??? All the writers look slightly embarrassed and uncomfortable. Author as rock star. Incongruent. Somebody famous introduces each author with an arty taped segment featuring the writer talking, reading passages, and doing writerly things like gazing out a window. Then one by one they come up to the stage to collect the leather bound copy of their own book- while at home Heidi gasps lustily. Leather bound copy. Thank you Justin Trudeau! Yay Canada!
Ok now you can read what I really wrote about...
I fancy myself a writer.
Wasn't that writerly of me? I used a somewhat British sounding expression. I used the word "fancy" which was not meant in this case as a description of adornment, as in, "Them taillights is pretty fancy, Heidi," but more in the way of, "Mmm, I fancy a sweet right now," which in Canadian would be, "I wanna Marsbar, eh?"
Damn I'm good with the words.
This is a big day for me because tonight, in the fair city of Toronto, the place that smells like human sewage and dead fish, many writer type people will push themselves away from their desks, take a shower, try to look less dazed than usual and put on some nice clothes. They will all gather in a room with cameras, where they will smile with tight lips and golf claps. The result of the evening is that somebody there will win The Giller Prize which is basically a huge pat on the back and a bucket of cash. It's enough cash that the author won't have to work at the grocery store to pay the bills.
I won't be there.
I will be in my rec room, hopefully with a nice cold beer, watching intently on my one channel, twitching with envy.
I have not written a Giller-worthy novel and in fact, have not read any of this year's nominees. I have file folders full of rejection letters though, and I poke at this current novel in progress regularly. I guess that makes me a writer.
But what does that mean? When I tell people that I "do some writing" I always feel awkward. I've got three completed at this point, but only one that's truly finished. But if I tell people that I've written a novel, the reaction is usually one of awe. I don't really get it because to me it's just not a big deal to write a novel. I've done it three times! Last year, I signed up for National Novel Writing Month and finished one off in 30 days. That was with me dragging a nasty depression/anxiety problem with me. And an undiagnosed attention deficit thing. And a puppy. It's a crap novel with plot holes and characters who switched names halfway throught but that's not the point: the point is I did it. I love to write. It's something I can do.
When I think of A Writer, I think of her:
Margaret Atwood. She has bright sharp eyes. I imagine her with her glasses perched on the end of her aristcratic nose, methodically sorting through words that will become her next huge seller. I have never seen her teeth.
When I think of A Writer, I don't think of her:
What a friggin mess. (Believe me, I have teeth.)
Writing takes so many different skills.
-First, we have to be able to type. That's still a difficulty for me. It's improving.
-Imagination. The ideas have to come into our heads freely.
-A half decent grasp of the english language. A totally decent grasp is way better. Like.
-Discipline. That novel is never going to get finished if it's rattling around in my head. It took me seven years to get throught the first one. Seven friggin years...and I was not writing the whole time. It's long but it's not seven years worth of typing. Having two babies in two years kind of slowed the process down. But the writing has to happen, regularly, if it's going to result in a novel. I'm not Stephen King's hugest fan in the world. Sometimes his writing amuses me, often brings up very surprising gut feelings, and sometimes downright bugs me. But I have a lot of respect for him. He knows his audience, he knows his genre and he is consistent. He writes every day. Every day, people. Like a job. (Plus he's just slightly nuts and I love that about him.)Know what my favourite Stephen King book is? "On Writing." Brilliant. Part autobiography, part how-to. I learned so much from it and plan to read it again. Many times.
-Training. I didn't go to university for creative writing. I have to learn it the hard way. I have several books on my shelf to help me out; dictionaries, thesaurus, The Elements of Style. I should really crack them open more often...
-Reading. That's another thing I learned from Professor King. How can we write if we aren't keeping that reading muscle flexed? Reading other work shows us what we should and shouldn't write. (And it's so enjoyable.)
-An attention span. This goes with the discipline thing. Gahhhhh.
-A place to write. I just got my nook set up the way I want it this weekend. I'll show you a photo sometime. My desk overlooks the family room, I've got my kleenex box, my basket full of ponytail holders and the nail clipper- I cannot work without a nail clipper- and behind me, shelves of books. And the rear speakers for the surround sound. I am so happy now. It used to be very cluttered and it distracted me. Now I can work. Unless another hangnail sprouts. Clippers!!!!
-An income other than writing. This is not paying me well. Not one bit. I have yet to make a single penny. Jethro says this is an investment. Maybe it's a good thing I went nuts and couldn't work for him anymore.
-Patience. This is very hard.
-A dog to walk. Nobody can spend this much time in a desk chair
-Spongeability. That's not a real word, is it? But I can't think of any other way to describe that quality, that way of absorbing all that's around us, and let it sit, heavy and moist in the brain, until it gets slowly squeezed back out into a story.
-A plastic horse. He's on my desk. The neighbour's little boys gave him to me after my horse died this summer. It's a nice little reminder of who I am and what I do and what keeps me going. And, that I can't just write. There's more to me.
-A cat to walk across the keyboard. That's a good trance breaker. He hasn't been moving much this week anymore but if he does leave his heat vent I'll nab him for some lap time. I might even let him type a few sdzddddddddddddd.
-Thick skin. Here's where things get difficult. The rejection letters really make a writer feel...rejected....
-Resilience: the drive to keep going after walking into a book store and seeing crap that you don't feel is deserving of publication.
-Time. I'm the only one who can make it.
-Ability to follow directions and jump through hoops. Uh oh. I'm so deficient here. I have to get better at it, because once the book has been written, the real work starts. Now I have to research which agents and publishers would be a good fit for my work, what they want from me, and what size envelope they want me to put it in.
I keep at it. I have to write, I really do. Any time I've gone too long, too many months, without writing, I go seriously nutty. I get cranky and growly at my loved ones, mostly because of the amount of noise in my head. If I want the voices to stop, I have to write it down.
It can be rewarding though. The right combination of words can be a pure pleasure. That helps to keep me going.
But there are also some books that fire me up intensely. I've just become of huge fan of Susannah Clarke. How she conceived of her masterpiece is just beyond me. I wanted to keep reading. At times it made me want to never write again out of shame for my own weak skills, but it rekindled my need to strive for better.
But sometimes walking into a bookstore is like being kicked in the gut.
Because of things like this:(Notice that it's a novel. Just in case you were wondering, the words, "a novel" have been scrolled across the front cover. It's a novel. Get it?)
Laugh or cry? I don't know. I just don't know.
Which leads me, inevitably, to this:
Say what you want about Courtney Love...it's been said before, I'm sure. But regardless, I've gained a little measure of respect for her. I could be jealous that somebody decided to publish a book for her. I could wonder how exactly this happened. Whose idea was this, anyways?
But at least she isn't attempting to pass herself off as a novelist. This is a scrapbook. It's a mess, just like the woman herself. What a nutjob. I like her because she makes me feel mentally stable and I don't get that feeling too often. Thanks, Courtney.
And do notice the glasses perched on the end of her aristocratic and expensive nose.****
So I settle myself in my little nest and get busy. The dog snores, the washing machine hums, and I stretch my arms up over my head. "If they can do it, I can do it. If they can do it, I can do it..."
Back to work.
****I perch my glasses firmly and crookedly on my face, just below my unibrow.