Nineteen ninety-seven. That was probably the last time I sat down and completed what one could call a ‘work of fiction.’ I was in high school and my English teacher would have given me the assignment with strict instructions on word count, theme, and possibly even plot. I had some pretty serious English teachers back in the day (thank goodness).
Although I have been a lover of writing for as long as I can remember, I’ve always been drawn to the world of non-fiction. I have journals dating back to my childhood, I’ve started to write my memoirs more than once, and I chose a career in journalism where I report facts and tell other people’s real life stories.
For me, fiction has always been a magical world penned by authors that intimidate me more than inspire. I could never wrap my head around how one single person (e.g. J.K. Rowling) could create such an incredible piece of fantasy all from the inner workings of their imagination. I also never believed that I, a pretty darn good non-fiction writer, could join the made up world of mystery, romance, thriller, or tragedy.
Well, fast-forward almost 20 years to 2016. I received a message from Tracey Richardson, a known fiction writer in Owen Sound. Tracey was reaching out to see if I would like to join her local fiction-writing club, Ascribe Writers (the blog you’re reading right now), and my first reaction was ‘hells to the no.’
As a journalist, I live in a world of constant writing and looming deadlines so to add another writing component to my life seemed like too much. That’s what I told myself anyway. I think deep down, I was still unsettled at the thought of writing fiction or more honestly, at the thought of failing at writing fiction. But I eventually accepted Tracey’s invitation, attended a couple of meetings and even signed myself up for the winter writing retreat at Russet Hill House in Grey County. This would be an entire day dedicated to fiction writing with no distractions or excuses, my first real crack at the bat. So where to start?
Tracey had suggested to me at my first Ascribe Writers meeting in October to start with a character, just one person, but even that felt overwhelming. What kind of character? Was the character male or female? Where does he or she live? What would be special or interesting about this person? These were just a few of the questions on my mind leading up to the retreat.
Doubt was on my mind too.
What if I couldn’t come up with a character? What if I got writer’s block before I even started? What if I couldn’t do it?
And then again what if I could?
During one of my morning meditations (a fancy word for the five minutes I spend visualizing positive thoughts between waking up and getting out of bed) an idea was formed. It wasn’t groundbreaking or earthshattering but it was an idea and I had a character to go along with it. I told myself right there in that moment that I was going to roll with it, enough with the pressure of writing a piece of fiction mastery on my first attempt. I was going to keep it light and have some fun.
And that’s what I did that day at Russet Hill House. I took my idea and my one character and I started to research (thank you Google). As a journalist, research is a comfortable territory for me so I enjoyed the process. I also enjoyed having other supportive writers around me. I typically work alone in my home office so when I’m stumped on a piece it’s up to me, myself and I to figure it out. That wasn’t the case at the retreat. When I hit a roadblock, there were a handful of other creative minds in the room to help me navigate my way through it. I’ve never experienced that before and it was kind of awesome.
By the end of the day, I was shocked to see that not only had I formed a plot, I had also developed a whole group of characters, which I was pretty proud of.
It might not be Harry Potter (yet) but it’s a start and I am excited about this new journey into the wonderful world of fiction. My ‘hells to the no’ is slowly transitioning into ‘okay, I can do this, just keep writing’ and it’s a nice place to be.