I was a storyteller before I knew I was a storyteller.
When I was a girl, I had a CD of cheesy Celtic traditionals that I’d play while trying to fall asleep. When I wasn’t on my belly on the carpet, reading by the beam of light from the space at the bottom of the door, I’d lay in the dark, dreaming up detailed stories in my head to go with the music – foxes in their burrows, epic sword battles between rival warrior princesses, the last harrowing days of Atlantis, packs of wolves on the hunt, a couple locked in the throes of passion.
I didn’t even think writing these stories down was an option. They were just fantasies, distractions. Besides, I was a competitive singer, and spent my days inhabiting other, better stories. In the space of one hour, I could be a woman hopelessly waiting for her seafaring husband to come home, an elderly cat mourning the loss of her youth and beauty, and Evita Peron begging Argentina not to cry for her.
The one time I did dip my toes into writing my honest thoughts and experiences down, my junior high language arts teacher took one read-through and immediately suggested to my parents that I seek counselling. That shut me up pretty quickly.
So I started telling stories in different ways, in paint and charcoal and sharpie marker on the beat-up guitar case I lugged around during my high school years. Souls floating down the river Styx, a woman with moss and flowers growing between her thighs, self-portraits with wriggling fish between my teeth. I loved to make art, but even then, it felt a bit inadequate. I was writing casually, journaling, crafting little poems and short stories. But nothing serious. Nothing I’d ever show anyone, or, God forbid, hand in as an assignment.
Writing had rules. Writing required training. With music and art I could afford to be free and abstract and authentic, I could have fun, I could communicate what I wanted to express without feeling as though I wasn’t contributing anything of worth. Music and art were less… real, somehow, than writing.
But it would do no good. I’ve always been completely in love with language. I had to write. So, despite all of my reservations, despite insecurity and self-doubt, despite finding the literary ‘greats’ to be dry and unrelatable, and despite not being able to figure out what the hell a semicolon was for, I wrote.
Anyone who writes will tell you the same thing – the world inside of your head is so much richer, so much more brilliant and gorgeous than anything you’re capable of putting down on paper. Writing is an exercise in frustration. It’s a workout. A battle. And like so many writers, I thought emulating the authors and bloggers I loved would help me say what I meant to say, would help me wrestle those words down from my brain.
I’d have powerthesaurus.org open in one tab, my favourite blogs lined up beside it, and books stacked on my desk with my favourite passages marked. I did all the cliche things writers are supposed to do – hole up in coffee shops, wear a beret, try to love Hemingway. I wrote about all the right things, the popular things. I took on stories that weren’t really mine to tell. And you know what? That worked for a little while. In fact, it worked so well that I was able to quit my job to write full-time.
But writing like other people, writing like your idea of a writer, is not the point of storytelling.
Last year, on a whim, I joined a writing group called Whitespace Writers. These workshops completely changed not only my approach to writing, but my approach to life. WW stripped away all of the misconceptions I had about the practice of writing, and built my confidence back up from the rubble. It helped me recognize and celebrate my unique, authentic voice. It helped me tell the stories that have lived inside of me for years, but that I never thought to let out to play, because they weren’t ‘good enough’, or ‘interesting’, or ‘worth the effort’. It helped me get back into the simple joy of putting pen to paper and opening wide the doors of the soul.
All of a sudden, I wasn’t scared of ugliness anymore, or vulnerability, or semicolons. I began to understand that the true goal of writing is honest expression, nothing more, nothing less. With every exercise, every story, every class, every week, I became a better writer. My readers began to notice. My clients began to notice. I began to get more work, and not just work that paid the bills – work that was meaningful to me. I want every writer I know to feel the kind of freedom that I’ve felt expanding within me, and my craft, since that first meeting.
I’m thrilled to share that I’ve partnered up with Whitespace Writers this January to teach the Find Your Voice, Tell Your Story workshop.
Even if you’ve never written a word in your life, everyone has a story to tell. The world needs authentic voices right now. In an age obsessed with hashtags and followers and pageviews, formulaic listicles and buzzword-dense fluff, the most profound and unique gift you can offer is your honesty and vulnerability.
Whitespace Writers helped me reclaim my voice and have the bravery to tell my stories. Now, I want to pass on that gift. This is not your college writing class. This is something so much more.
So come write with me. I would absolutely love to hear your stories.
Sign up at whitespacewriters.com.