Passing the Torch
Walking with a friend in the dark is better than walking alone in the light. Helen Keller
We're born alone, we live alone, we die alone. Orson Welles
Two quotes, two different perspectives. Which one do you subscribe to? Give that some thought while I tell you where I stand. For me, everything is better when it’s shared, whether it’s dinner, a movie, a good read, or more esoteric things like what I’m learning or have learned from others. Sharing makes life better. Actually it’s what life is about. Now, you’re probably asking yourself, what does this have to do with passing the torch? I’m hoping to figure that out as I write down my thoughts. This is my process: ideas pop into my head, I get them down, figure things out as I go, edit later. I know what I believe. That’s not the problem, but sometimes, getting it down on paper isn’t straightforward. In fact, it rarely is. So come along for the ride won’t you, and we’ll see where we end up.
I think most people believe writers work alone, perhaps in a dark, airless space, neck and shoulders stooped forward in search of that next great line somewhere hidden in the computer screen. I know what you’re thinking, this is such a stereotypical view, but all I can tell you is it’s not without legs. In fact, at this exact moment, I have a kink in my neck.
We do work alone, although for me, I know I’m not completely alone. What with the voices in my head and the characters sitting on my bony shoulders complaining about their perch, among other things, and pushing me to get their story written correctly, some quiet time alone might be good, but not likely in my life.
And of course, those stories have to be injected with reality so having a life outside my artistic one feeds my stories. I overhear conversations on the bus and get insight into the lives of my characters. I take an interest in what goes on at the coffee shop; making up whole lives in the time it takes to drink my herbal tea. So you see, I’m no longer toiling alone. I have my pestering characters and I have real life dialogues and situations (read here, truth is stranger than fiction), all fuelling what comes out on the page. And I’m learning things along the way, things I want to talk about and share.
There’s that share word again. You know from the first paragraph, I’m a big believer in sharing my experiences, my successes, my failures, my insecurities, what I’ve learned along the way. I believe (look at me, just full of opinions) none of us succeeds alone. And just to go further with this point, I think our work can only get better if we share it with others, whether that is within a critique group, with a good friend (writer or otherwise) or by taking courses and workshops, attending festivals, hanging out with other writers and finding our tribe, the one that believes that we are in this together.
Look, in a previous life, about a hundred years ago, I had a regular job with responsibilities over a lot of people. This is double talk to say that I was a leader. And as a leader, it was important to me to ensure everyone had a voice in the decisions we made, and in the work we did. Why? Well I guess I believe that many heads, challenged to put their best thinking caps on without any pressure to think alike, make better decisions. Oh, sure in an emergency situation (I used to run a prison, back in one of my previous lives and if you had a riot on your hands), you’re not going to sit around talking about the best course of action. As a leader, you have to act. I agree with that. But generally speaking I do think better decisions are made when you work with others collaboratively. Of course, I’m a woman and as they say, women do tend to work collaboratively. But I digress.
Yes, I know what you’re thinking: but won’t someone steal my idea? We all have to answer this question for ourselves. I believe (God, I wish I’d get off my soap box.), in abundance. I don’t think by sharing my work someone is going to steal my ideas, I don’t think someone’s success will be at the cost of my own. I do think that there is enough success to go around for all of us scribes and our work only gets better if we flaunt it, get advice, discuss, share (that word again) and support each other through the process.
I’m so adamant about sharing I took matters in my own hands (being the pushy woman I am). I arrived in Whistler twelve years ago with the idea that I would write fiction (where I come up with these things is beyond me). I searched out other like-minded individuals. I had story ideas, those nattering characters, as I’ve said before, but I’d never written fiction (well, as long as you don’t count writing strategic and business plans in the fiction category) so I went looking for help. There were no writing groups here when I arrived, so I put an ad in the paper and 26 people showed up at my door for the first meeting. The group now spans close to 150 members, and includes three critique groups in Whistler, one in Pemberton and another one in Squamish, all spawned from that morsel of an ad.
We have since organized a writer’s festival, 2013 will mark its 12th year. In 2001 (the first year), we had 20 participants and one guest speaker, the author, Andreas Schroeder. The opening night happened in my living room. Fast forward 11 years to 2012, the festival drew close to 600 participants and was a multi-venue, multi-day, multi-author event. We’ve also organized and delivered a yearly Writer In Residence Program since 2007 for emerging writers.
A great deal of my time and effort has gone into the festival and the Writer In Residence programs along with other literary programming throughout the year, but that effort has not only enriched this community and it’s writers and readers, but it’s made me a better writer. It has allowed me to learn from others and have others learn from me (it’s also allowed me to feed my need to organize people and events, or as my husband calls it, ‘bossing people around’).
Have you answered the question I posed at the beginning yet? As you can see, I answered it for myself a long time ago, but it was nice to get these thoughts, as disjointed as they may seem to you, down on paper. Thanks for joining me on this ride of discovery. Couldn’t have done it without you. Yes, still selling my beliefs about sharing right to the last line.
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