Tuesday, April 13, 2004

On being a writer...

We buried Brent yesterday…

OK, actually, it was several weeks ago. But I wrote that line at the time. I thought it was going to be a catalyst for me to pull together my thoughts. In my mind, they were all coming clear as I drove home from Toronto. It all seemed so real and ready to come out.

Brent’s funeral was tough. When someone dies, it’s inevitable that you start to question the worth of your own life. And when someone is young and vital and seems to have their best years ahead of them, (don’t they always?) it’s even tougher. And for me, the loss of Brent was also wrapped up with conflicted feelings about seeing all my old colleagues, most of whom I haven’t seen since I parted company with Advocis.

Brent had become a major influence in my life, as he was with many others. He was like that. I only knew him through work, but he had a big impact. And those that spoke at his funeral made it clear that he had a major influence on most of the people around him. When I heard he was dead, I started remembering some of the times we spent together and some of the things we talked about. I wish it were more. But there are some things that come to my mind, or at least they did on that lonely drive back from Toronto and in the days just after. But now it’s several weeks later, and I never did sit down to write those words of wisdom. No reason either. I just didn’t get around to it.

No matter how hard I try to be profound, I’m not. Perhaps I’m trying too hard. I’ve got my eyes closed right now. I don’t really want to read what I’m typing. I’d like for the words to just roll off my fingertips, like rain off the edge of the roof. I want to feel like my writing is a force of nature. Like there’s something inside of me struggling to get out and all I have to do is sit down at the keyboard and it flows out. I’ve been there occasionally…sometimes it’s when I’m writing a story about something on deadline. I’ve thought about it for so long that the words just flow. I’ve gone over what I want to say so many times in my mind that writing is just a formality. And occasionally I get typing so fast that the thoughts don’t seem to be slowed down at all. As if there were something else controlling my fingers.

But that doesn’t happen very often. I tend to self edit as I go along. I’m always looking at what I’ve just written and thinking that it needs to be changed. Or perhaps I’ll go back to work on the punctuation or the spelling. I get lost in stuff like that. Sometimes, it’s like the words don’t come to me, but when I put them down on paper, they’re there. I don’t feel right about changing them. I’ve always said that I’m the kind of person who writes a first draft and then never worries about a second. I do a lot of editing in my head before I put pen to paper (so to speak). But once it’s down there, it takes on a life of its own. And I feel like maybe I’m killing something if I start to edit it too much. I know that sounds stupid, but what the heck.

The other problem I have is that I’m always writing as though someone were going to read what I’ve written. I’m not much for putting my thoughts down in some haphazard way. I’m always considering what their impact will be. Does that come from a newspaper background? I’m not sure. But for me, writing is not the private experience that it is for some. It’s a very public thing. I figure that someone is going to read this stuff and then they’re going to look up from the paper and smile at me…with one of those “Oh, I see the way it is with you” kind of smirks. I think that everyone knows more about most things than I do but they humour me and say “This is good. No, really, it is” I know better. That’s a pretty insecure thing to say, isn’t it? Just while I’m sitting here typing it out, I’m starting to think, what the hell is this all about? Why is all this stuff about me?

I fancy myself a storyteller. I’ve read scores of books by a wide variety of authors – suspense, comedy, historical fiction, non-fiction, romance – I’ve read those stories and I know that I could create them too. I’m sure of it…but the sad truth is that even when I’m given the chance to show the world what I can do, I haven’t come through. I’ve talked about being a writer for years, especially when I was working as a reporter. But still, I still didn’t quite get around to writing those stories.

The only time I really tried was in university and I had a schedule that left my mornings open. I spent them sitting at an old IBM Selectric on the second floor of our house on Rae St. in Regina. We had a metal typing table, the kind with metal extension wings that you could fold down or up on either side, depending on where you liked your manuscript pages to sit. I’d sit at that little table with a fresh sheet of paper rolled in, and look out the window at whatever was going on outside. I used to sit there a lot. My goals were modest. I really hoped to create about 1000 words a day, or about 4 double-spaced pages. But I rarely made it. A full page of copy at the end of the morning was a pretty good day. More common was a few crumpled-up pages in the garbage can, with nonsense typed on them…like warm-up exercises. “Thequickbrownfoxjumpedoverthelazydog.”

OK…this has been an interesting sidebar to my musings about my reaction to Brent's death. It's been several months since I left full-time employment and a lot has happened to me. I've spent a lot of time healing my body and my mind. And I've spent a lot of time in my basement study, writing, designing my website, working on book proposals, writing up ideas for stories... I'd like to think that writing is my profession, but the bad news is that I’ve only been writing for a few minutes and my wrist and arm are starting to get sore. This repetitive stress syndrome is a real problem for me. I don’t know what I’m going to do if I can't sit at the keyboard for more than a few minutes at a stretch. I need to get serious about my ergonomics here at the office. I need a keyboard tray, so I can experiment with different positions, etc. No point in putting this stuff off.

This has been interesting. Now I’m going to post this to The Daily Upload. Sure, no one except you will see it, but I feel good about what I’m doing. Perhaps confession is good for the soul.

No comments: