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Putting pen to paper

by Archives November 9, 2005

Just about everyone is writing something these days. One young woman is spinning her 10 year journaling project into a mad scientist novel, while someone from a local writers group is living in seclusion writing a novel which, in his words, will change the way we think about visits to the dentist.

They, like many who put pen paper, have one thing in common-they want to be writers.

Why not? The life of a writer can be an enviable one. To some it presents an aura of glamour. Seeing one’s work in print or on television, mixing and mingling with well-known movie stars, meeting with admiring readers at lectures and luncheons; being-for some fortunate writers-rewarded financially as well.

But those who want to be writers generally have few misconceptions. The above mentioned moments are bought and paid for by the unremitting labor-year in, and year out-of dropping the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair, of getting words on paper, revising, editing revising again, and then searching under rocks for a respectable agent who will look under other rocks for a reputable publisher.

For many it is not about being a writer; with a little luck that may come in time-for now it is about writing.

Twenty-six year old Jessica Murphy says she writes because she likes creating alternate worlds with odd characters where she can call the shots.

“Essentially, I like being in control and writing provides me with a sense of mastery in a strange and chaotic world,” she said.

At the moment, Murphy isn’t writing fiction; the Alumnus graduated from Concordia with a B.A. in Honours English Literature and is far too busy as a Ph.D student in Etudes Anglais at the University of Montreal. She does plan to get back to writing and hopes to publish her novel, the one in the drawer, before too much dust settles on it.

“My style is intensely personal prose,” said Murphy. “I like to try to shock my readers by addressing issues such as eating disorders, dysfunctional families and suicide that many people would rather downplay or ignore.”

Melissa Tomecz, who graduated from Concordia with a degree in English Literature, enjoys writing children’s books. She found her style changed as she matured.

“For the stories I used to write they were filled with humor, action and romance,” Tomecz said. “Those were my three ingredients for a well rounded story. I still look back at what I wrote because it had everything I thought was important.”

Tomecz, like Murphy, steps into another world when she writes and this gives her a new perspective.

“I write because it’s one way in which I can just lose myself in another realm and it gives me the satisfaction of expressing my emotions in a literal and different way,” she said.

“I used to write fiction based on stuff that I loved at the time, for example, Batman or Ghostbusters, or things I imagined up about animals or vampires. Now, I find interest in writing poems that are inspired by certain events or people or situations,” said Tomecz.

According to some well, and lesser known Canadian authors at the gathering of Canadian Authors Association last week in Mont Tremblant, writing something good takes time and must be self-taught.

The consensus among these writers is that nothing happens on paper until someone rubs the right combination of words together about an idea that anyone can take an interest in. When this happens, little can stop the creative tide. Something quite personal and individualistic takes over to guide the effort: joy, anger, desire, lust, sex.

People learn to write, but we are natural storytellers. Essayist Roger Rosenblatt considers the mind of a writer to be a natural progression from the time one begins to talk to the time one dies.

“We were built to tell stories,” Rosenblatt writes in his New York Times column. “And thus to keep the larger, longer story of ourselves alive. We change as we grow and so does our writing. When we lose the capacity to put things together to make connections, the disability is akin to schizophrenia. The storytelling capacity is gone, and with it, our nature.”

While Rosenblatt views writing as natural, bestselling author Richard Rohmer thought he could present future writers with a winning formula.

Rohmer’s 1984 bestseller, How to Write a Bestseller, was one of the first how-to guides to writing to hit the market. Rohmer’s other bestsellers include Triad, Ultimatum and Retaliation, as well as some non-fiction of note; The Green North: Mid Canada, but he was criticized for attempting to simplify the writing process.

Rohmer’s critics were silenced. Since the 1980s there have been a wide variety of how-to books on writing, attributed mostly to Rohmer’s first book.

“That’s because there are endless ways to write a book,” said Garth Featherstone, one of the lesser known authors hovering around the wine table at Mont Trembant. Featherstone is in transition from just writing to becoming a writer. Featherstone and his agent are in negotiations with the publishing house McClelland and Stewart over his first “yet to be titled” novel.

Featherstone confesses he never read, and never will read, a how-to book, but he wishes his agent had.

“At least a book would give him an idea of what it takes to write a book. The negotiations remind me of a Three Stooges movie,” Featherstone said. “I am the guy always being asked to cut here and slash there and take the hit.”

There is a humorous tone behind Featherstone’s frustrations because he and his agent have an agreement in principle with the publishing house. His tax forms next year will say “writer” under occupation.

“I just cannot appreciate that now I have to write with the bottom line as my motivator,” he said. “Maybe I will write and let the writer part be taken over by the agents and publishers and their editors.”

One thing about the human beings behind the pen, or keyboards, is that some have quivering egos. This is contrary to romantic notions about writer arrogance. According to the late publishing icon Henry Porter, writers with insecurities are not alone.

But if arrogance can be avoided, all the better. Agents and editors will be grateful for its absence, not to mention those who have to live close to a writer in progress.

Write well, not good!

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