Friday, May 1, 2020

TRUE TO LIFE: Chapter Two


Allow yourself to begin
What makes a writer? Simply, the need to process thought and experience by putting words on a page, and the discipline to sit until the work is down, reworked, and finished. And something more: not just the courage, but the craft and technical skill to make the words meaningful to others, whether they find an audience right away or not.
In Amsterdam, in 1942, just before the Nazis drove her family into hiding, a thirteen-year-old girl was given a plaid notebook for her birthday. Anne Frank made sense of the insanity of global conflict and the hardships of her daily life by scribbling in that notebook. She wrote with the passion, clarity, and insight of a born writer; she edited her work, too, with an eye to publication.
Anne Frank changed the world. When the diary was discovered and published after her death in Bergen-Belsen, her words forever altered the way the world looked at the Nazi atrocities of the Second World War. Six million Jewish men, women, and children died in the Holocaust, but one of them was a child with a name, a face, and a wise, unforgettable voice. In 1999, Time magazine published its selection of the “Hundred Most Influential People of the Twentieth Century.” Along with great world leaders, scientists, warriors, movie stars, and artists, the list included a girl shut in an attic with a notebook.
A writer is someone who needs to write, who finds a way to get the words onto paper, and who works to make those words tell a living story. And sometimes a writer is a person who changes the world with words.
Do you feel that this definition leaves you out? What would it take for you to consider yourself a writer? Untamed Margaret Atwoodesque hair? A garret in Paris? A literature prize? If you set the bar too high, you’ll never start. How about seeing your name in print somewhere, above or below a piece of your writing? Would that be enough? We’ll work on that.
In the meantime, how about a notebook full of your words? They’re written, aren’t they? So didn’t a writer write them? Don’t cut yourself off and count yourself out. Every writer has to start somewhere.
CBC Radio host Eleanor Wachtel interviews writers from around the world for her superb program Writers and Company, a must for anyone interested in literature (broadcast on Sunday afternoons on CBC Radio One; available as a podcast at She was once asked what, if anything, the hundreds of writers she has talked to have in common. She replied, “They all define themselves as outsiders.”
Haven’t you always been something of an outsider? So you fit the bill. And if you don’t define yourself as an outsider, you fit another bill.
Enough with the self-doubt. You’re going to write. Let’s get to work.                       

The writer must be universal in sympathy and an outcast by nature; only then can he see clearly.
julian barnes

Why shouldn’t you have the right to become who you are?
wayson choy

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