This past week, feeling a little nervous about the upcoming release of Clearwater, as well as more than anxious about my thesis for my MFA, I put it all aside and went searching for the first novel I ever wrote. I found it, and a few other bits and pieces of writing, on the top shelf of a closet in my computer room.
Life was grand, the summer after Grade 8. I was heavy into 80’s music – Duran Duran, Paul Young, Nik Kershaw – anything big-haired and British. I had a fantastic group of friends, and to top it all off, a 7-11 had opened recently, the first in Prince George, BC.
Being a teenager (pathologically?) prone to fantastical imaginings, I came up with an idea for a story, not-so-loosely based on a guy in a rock band.
I bled pens dry that summer, and wrote my fingers to nubs. I filled a notebook, then moved onto looseleaf paper that I shoved into a binder. A daily walk for Slurpees with my friend Diane was often my only break. I’d sit in my backyard on a plastic chaise longue – my corporeal self visible in case anyone checked to see if I was actually looking after my younger brother and sister; my head (my true self) lost in a world of my own creation. My friends awaited each new chapter, their enthusiasm for my project driving me onward. That fall, when it was finished, they stole my book and took it to the “cool” English teacher at school. While I will never know if she actually read it, she blurbed it, scrawling on the inside back cover: “5 stars for a writer your age.”
Bliss! I had arrived.
The next summer, I wrote another novel, again about a rock star – a drummer this time. This one I kept to myself, though. I’d moved away, back to Regina, and, well – boys. The novels slipped away – from my desk, to my bookshelves, to boxes in the crawlspace.
I dug out those ancient novels this past week. I was relieved to see (from the few sentences I could bear to look at) that my writing has improved since I was fourteen. But even with all the angsty, soap-operatic writing, the dialogue tags, and the dreaded adverbs, I was stunned by the proof of commitment in front of me. Two novels. Both written by hand. And I’d loved every minute of writing them.
Clearwater, too, was a blast to write. I know the characters as well as I knew the rock stars I “invented” so long ago. (Okay, so it was John Taylor et al, complete with Canadian accents and fake names. I admit it! The characters in Clearwater are completely fictional, though. Truly.)
And yet, in recent months, something had gone missing.
This summer, as I met with Lawrence Hill in the makeshift Sage Hill Writers’ Confessional (a friar’s office with walls painted insane-asylum-green; the chairs, a soft, powder blue velvet), I put it all on the line to the writing gods when I said, “I miss when writing was fun.”
Lawrence Hill is a great listener, and a wonderful mentor. He gave me Four Rules For Kim that, if I can keep them close at hand, will serve to remind me that above all, this writing thing is supposed to be enjoyable. Hard, yes. Challenging. But ultimately satisfying, as overcoming challenges should be.
Shortly after that meeting in the confessional, my proofs from Coteau arrived. It was “fun” seeing the layout of my book. It was “not fun” seeing all the things that still needed to be fixed. And yet – a challenge!
To sit with “then” and “now” is both unbelievable and remarkable. Challenging as the past year has been, I’m pretty happy to have reached a goal.
I’m grateful for my time at Sage Hill, and I’m happy I excavated those old novels. While I may never again feel as though I’ve “arrived,” it’s okay.
The fun, they say, is in the journey. Right?