Yes, I am getting older – and better

I’m in my mid-fifties. Looking back on a life involved with language and literature, I realise that I’ve been a writer almost since I became literate. For quite a lot of that time, I’ve been a very bad writer, and there were two reasons.

One, I had no lessons in the craft, no mentor, nobody to point me past the English composition of my public and high-school days. High school English is no place to learn to write. I remember one English teacher who would routinely dissect stories in front of the class, finding fault but never offering a single constructive suggestion for how it might have been done differently.

Two, I was young. Now, there are some writers who are brilliant writers in youth, who produce works at the age of seventeen or twenty-six that cut right to the heart of a matter and make the reader laugh, weep, get angry or – well, something. I was not one of those writers. I thought I could write, but every time I tried, I proved I couldn’t – at least, I proved it to myself. I sucked – oh, yes, I did. (Lest you think this is modesty, let me say I recently unearthed a folder of my high-school writing. I sucked. I just didn’t suck as badly as everyone around me.) So I thought I wasn’t a writer, when really, I was just a very bad, very unschooled writer.

Well, time passed. I got older. It’s not so bad – beats hell out of the alternative. I read, and I tried to figure out why, particularly, I liked some books and not others. I learned about grammar and punctuation and I got my first thesaurus, and my Oxford English Dictionary. Unlike a lot of writers (but, I’ll bet, like a lot of them, too), I never kept a journal, mainly because I couldn’t be bothered and never kept it up anyway.

At university I learned to write a decent essay. I learned to construct a sentence, a paragraph and an argument, and I learned that if I was going to write about stuff I didn’t know, I’d better research it first.

I read and read and read. Somewhere in the reading and analysing, I learned how to construct a plot. I learned how to extract humour from a situation, and how to write it amusingly. When I was thirty-six, I got paid for the very first time for my writing. It was a piece of slice-of-life humour about my animals and my weaving; I called it “A Loom with a Zoo”. On top of the cheque, I had a note from the editor of the magazine( Threads) telling me I had a “lovely and distinctive” writing voice.

I remember standing there, with the letter in my hand and realising that I had something here, something that nobody else had, something that had struck the editor of a magazine as worth complimenting me on. And I thought “Maybe I can learn this writing thing.” I’d never be a wunderkind; I was way too old for that. But who cared, really, if I wasn’t the youngest writer on the block? Not me.

Twenty years later – almost exactly twenty years later, in fact – I’m still learning this writing thing. I’m not the best writer around, nor the youngest, nor the richest. I am, however, a writer. The youth problem has been remedied. I’ve also found mentors, and I’ve learned that writing is a mutual-mentoring game, which means that to some of my mentors, I, too, am a mentor.

How cool is that?

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4 Responses to Yes, I am getting older – and better

  1. Pauline Clark says:

    I’d say that’s very cool, Elizabeth! Keep on writing….
    PS Maybe we ought to have one of those “Grownups read things they wrote as children” nights! Haha…heard one on CBC one day…it was hilarious.

  2. Catch me reading any of that stuff in public now!

  3. Lucinda Kempe says:

    Hello Mentor! You are a wonderful, generous and hilarious editor and mentor. “Did you read this paragraph?” you recently asked me. Gotcha, you could have said. Yes, at some point, we own what we do, as you did, and go on to become the best writers we can be. But not without each other. I’ve kept a journal since age twelve. I suspect all that spew, unchecked, un-punctuated and grammatically bad didn’t help my craft. Never mind. I’m working on it now cause I got brave, and put it in the world. Duck! The only way to improve is to be fearless. Thank the Goddesses there are writer’s like you who help writers like me get betta!!!! Ray and hoo for the Mentors!!!

    • ecreith says:

      That is brave – putting your life out into the world in writing. I haven’t had the nerve for that yet. Ray and hoo to you, too, Lucinda!

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