The Thousand Lives of a Reader

book-1276778_1920 (2)“A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies, said Jojen. The man who never reads lives only one.”
—George R. R. Martin

When I was much smaller than I am now, my family would often “lose” me because I would hide behind a chair in the sitting room with a book and read until I fell asleep. And while I don’t remember every single book that I read, I do remember, vividly, what I loved so much about them.

In a world full of brown carpets and white lace curtains, the colors, textures, and creatures that Dr. Suess introduced me set my mind on fire. I yearned to roam beaches with Sneetches, whether star-bellied or not. I almost tasted the river of chocolate and the blades of candy grass with Willy Wonka. I felt the talons of Farley Mowat’s Owl, Wol, gently pressing into my shoulder as my eyes traced the words that described him. When I read Jacques Martin’s books, I could smell the cool, heavy rain as it pattered on the forest leaves.

When the world told me to sit on a bus as it bounced along the pot-holed roads to drop me off, I was wielding a heavy iron blade with Aragorn. I was sitting in Gryffindor tower next to a fire with a pile of spellbooks stacked around me.

In the quiet summer afternoons when the world wanted to close the blinds and rest, I slipped into 1920’s Japan and learned what it felt like to sleep like a Geisha, with my head on a small, hard wooden brace instead of a pillow.

When the world turned dark, and I felt like the loneliest person alive, I wandered with Merlin and learned that there is an important difference between being alone, and being lonely, and I felt my fingertips tingle with a spell.

In my relatively short life, I have floated over the shoulder of a young Jewish girl during WW2. I watched as a country vet pulled a newborn calf into the world. I have felt the heat of a dragon’s fire on my skin. I have felt the damp of rain in my cloak and the cold edge of a blade against my ribs.

I have travelled around the world a thousand times, backwards and forwards through time. I have been to Middle Earth, and Westeros, and a hundred other worlds outside of our own. I have been a woman, a man, a child, a spirit, a beast, and a shadow. And all without leaving Canada.

Books have taken me on countless journeys to places I wouldn’t have even imagined. They have taught me what it is like to really, truly live in another’s shoes. They have pushed my mind beyond its limits and opened my eyes to truths and to lies. Because of them, I have lived a thousand lives, and will live a thousand more before I am done.

*As a Canadian, who lives in Alberta, I feel obligated to mention that should you wish to donate to the Red Cross to help evacuees from Fort McMurray who are fleeing from the devastating forest fires that have laid waste to many, many homes, and displaced so many families, you can do so here.


What Skills Make a Writer?

What Skills Make a Writer?Writing isn’t just about writing. It is a skill that is created and honed and grown by a plethora of other skills coming together to form a cohesive and separate form of art. It is like market of trades that meets and expands and works together to serve the greater good of your soul.

In order to write at all, even poorly, we require certain skills. In order to write well, we first need to develop other arts. Why? Because if we simply expect to be able to write for an audience with no purpose or understanding of the skill, we will fail. It is actually as simple as that.

You see it with many self-published authors (not even close to all, mind you, but many). They write a story because that has always been a dream of theirs, but they never quite mastered any of the other skills that go with it, so their story falls short and is what anyone who received work of a similar quality from a carpenter would call “shoddy”. Like I have said before, wanting to write is not enough. Neither is physically being able to type. You need more than just an ability to hold a pencil to create anything worth reading.

Like what, you ask? Let us explore:

Reading: Writers have to be readers. Lovers of words from books, articles, blog posts, advertisements, commercials, newspapers… everything. In order to begin to understand tone and style and flow we must read for pleasure and for learning. In our early years we likely read simply for pleasure. In our school years, we probably read for learning. But now that we want to be writers, we need to be able to read in both ways at the same time.

Imagination: I don’t care whether you want to write fiction or non-fiction. You must have an imagination to do either. Too many people confuse having a lively imagination with the ability to dream up dragons and sea monsters, but to tell a story, any story, you need to be able to see it in your mind. That’s what your imagination does. It creates faces and voices and gestures, and yes, sometimes knights and wizards and flying horses too. Your imagination is an absolute necessity to writing.

Patience: Writers must be patient creatures. We must be the fisherman who sits in the boat all afternoon, quietly waiting for the fish to bite. We must allow stories to come to us, and we must be patient with our skills. We must recognize that it takes time to become something great, and that the best thing to do to fill the time until then is to keep on running that whetstone along our minds.

Optimism: Writing is one of the only trades that makes you put in thousands of hours of work before giving you a dime, if it ever does. The only thing that you can do to keep pushing yourself to write that next line, to dot the next “i” is to be optimistic that someone, somewhere will want to read what you have created. That you have the ability to create something worth reading, worth finishing. We may not all feel like optimists, but what else would you call someone who works and works and works in their spare time in the hopes that perhaps it will pay off someday?

An Understanding of the Great Good: Often, we feel that our characters, our stories, are part of ourselves. They are like our children, having never existed before we created them. We carefully shape and mold them into something solid, something real. And then, if necessary, we destroy them. Writers should be able to recognize when a sacrifice needs to be made, whether that means cutting a character or giving up on a story. If you can’t accept that you will sometimes fail, you have already done so.

Thinker: Writers have to be able to think critically, and to analyze. We need to problem solve and see a variety of possible solutions as opposed to one straight road. We need to be able to foresee at the very least the immediate path ahead, if not a few miles even farther. You idea is point A to point B, thinking is what gets you from one to the other.

We also need to have a good sense of humor, a willingness to learn, and bit of humility and confidence. We should try to exercise forgiveness, if not to others, than to ourselves. We should know when to push ourselves and when to take a break.

I think that one of the reasons that writers are so intriguing is that the craft requires us to wear so many different hats. We are the lone wolves that wish to be part of a pack of other lone wolves. We are the ones who place other writers on pedestals but never hope to be there ourselves. We are passionate and cold all at once, and we are smart and witty and thoughtful. We are not the same but we are similar in some ways. We are sometimes the most conflicting professionals to walk the earth, but I don’t think I would have it any other way.

What skills do you think are essential to writing? Which do you have the most trouble with?

Until next time you can find me on Facebook.