Everyone has a talent for something. Everyone. It might be writing, it might be restoring old cars, it might be playing guitar, it might be a talent for mathematics… but finding that thing and doing it is the best favour you can do for yourself – and possibly for others as well. I believe that a very important part of the journey in seeking fulfillment in life is to find the things that you love to do, that you feel destined to do, and then, no matter how steep the learning curve or how daunting the fear of failure, find ways to do those things.
Since I was old enough to read, I knew that I wanted to write. When I was a little kid reading illustrated books, I wanted to draw my own. When I was a little older and reading comic books and short novels, I literally began writing the books that I wanted to read. I’ve tried lots of other things, but writing is the act of creativity that I always come back to. There are many other things in life that I do, but writing has become part of what I am.
I was in Grade 6 when I knew for sure that I wanted to be an author. I had a great homeroom teacher who would give us these open-ended writing prompts, which I really liked. I was never really into “topics”, because if the topic didn’t interest me, I couldn’t write anything about it, since I wasn’t invested in the story. Anyway, one day we were given a “topic” instead of a prompt; our teacher simply wrote “Hurricane Hazel” on the board.
None of us knew what Hurricane Hazel was, since we grew up in southwestern Ontario, where there are tornadoes but not hurricanes, but someone looked it up and discovered that Hurricane Hazel hit Toronto in 1954, which was a long time before any of us were born, and a long way from our little hamlet of Ruthven, Ontario. So, I wasn’t invested in writing about it, and while all of the other kids began dutifully writing about what it might have been like to live in a big city when a hurricane hit, I decided that I would write a story about a backroad drag race instead.
In the story I had this guy driving a ‘69 Mustang with a 428 Super Cobra Jet Engine, one of the fastest cars ever built (and still my dream car, so many years later). Anyway, another guy pulls up beside the Mustang in a ‘76 Chevette, one of the most underpowered economy cars ever built. The guy in the Mustang can’t believe it when the guy in the Chevette rolls down the window and challenges him to a drag race. So the guy in the Mustang sighs, “Okay, if you want. But I only race for ownership papers.” The light turns green and the Chevette takes off like a rocket. By the time guy in the Mustang catches up at the next stop sign, it’s over; he’s lost his awesome Mustang to this guy in the crappy Chevette, and he wonders, “How is this possible?” And the guy in the Chevette opens the hood of his car and reveals a V-12 Rolls Merlin engine from a Hawker Hurricane fighter plane wedged in under the hood… and the car’s nickname painted on its fender is “Hurricane Hazel”. Ta- DA!
I wasn’t sure how my teacher would react, because I had sidestepped the topic and wrote the story that I wanted to write instead of the one I was supposed to write, but it turned out that my teacher loved it, and even let me read the story to the class, who also really liked it. And I’ll be honest about it, I took some subversive joy from creating a story that was different from what everyone expected, and I really liked it when people responded positively! And that was what got me started down the long road to becoming a “professional” author, I suppose; it’s one of the few professions where you can break (or at least bend) the rules, and people might actually appreciate you for it.
Want to try it for yourself? Here are the “simple” steps (which can be modified for any kind of creative endeavour, really):
- Read frequently, widely, deeply, and enthusiastically.
- The common denominators of great writing are thought and feeling. Whenever you have a great idea and/or a strong feeling, drop everything and write the first draft (unless you’re captaining a cruise ship, or performing open-heart surgery, or something like that – in these cases, drop everything and write as soon as you reasonably can).
- Once you’ve purged that first draft with all of the passion and fury in your soul, take a break from it. Return later, and revise it, over and over and over again, until you’ve cleared away all the dust and rubble, and your original idea/feeling shines through in all of its original glory.
- Send the work out! Let it live on its own now. Your writing will never cause anyone to think and/or feel anything if you don’t share it with them.
- Go back to Step One and repeat. If you do it often enough and sincerely enough, and if you are disciplined and persistent, eventually you will transform yourself from a writer into an author.
So, whether it’s writing, or any other act of expression that you feel in your bones that you want – that you need – to do, then do it. Turn your back on fear, climb that learning curve, and write the story that you want to read.