In July 2015 I moved back to Canada after living in Istanbul for 17 years. The reasons for coming back were personal, political, practical, and it was not a decision I came to easily. My relationship with Istanbul was intense, complicated, passionate. Breaking up with Istanbul was the most heartbreaking and painful decision I’ve ever made. But it was my decision.
I didn’t come back with much of a plan, partly because I wasn’t really sure that I wanted to be here. Of course the one question everyone asked me was, “What are you going to do now?” This was often followed by all sorts of well-meaning advice and people telling me what they thought I should do next. I’ve always been a writer of some sort, so one of the most common suggestions was, “You should write a book about your life.” At the time, I was grieving all that I had lost - my life and friends in Istanbul, my beloved identity as a stranger in a strange land, all the dreams and plans I had of living happily ever after in that land - and I was angry and confused, and I just didn’t want to think about what I’d left behind. But I thought, maybe, someday, I’ll write that book.
One day that first summer in Canada, as I wandered aimlessly around a bookstore in Ottawa, I saw this book. The cover caught my attention, but when I started flipping through it I was immediately drawn to the author’s sense of humour and the way she approached the topic. So I bought it. But I didn’t read it. I put it on a shelf and continued to admire the cover from time to time.
Last year I picked up Writing Is My Drink and started reading it, and I couldn’t put it down. Theo Pauline Nestor tells us about her life, loves, family, and failures, and how all of those things led to her finding her voice. The stories are not in chronological order, because this isn’t a book about her life, it’s a book about her struggle to become a Writer and how life can sometimes get in the way of that. Not a single one of her stories or life experiences even vaguely resembled mine, but every chapter and every lesson resonated deeply with me. The “Try This” activities at the end of each chapter also got me thinking in new and productive ways.
One of the first things I did when Andrea and I started meeting regularly to work on our writing (that is, as soon as I knew Andrea well enough to know she’d give my precious book back) was lend her this book. Of course, I had to read it again before I gave it to her. So much good stuff! I learned even more about my voice on the second reading.
When I decided I wanted to write about this book for our blog I thought I’d just skim through it and remind myself why I loved it. Nope. Sat down and read the whole thing from cover to cover in one day. Turns out I didn’t want to skim it, I wanted to immerse myself in it.
In fact I could write at length on many of the things I learned from this book, and I would love to do just that, but today I just want to share two little gems with you (and encourage you to go and get your own copy of Writing Is My Drink that you can read over and over).
Gem #1: Find the writers that speak to you.
Find out what it is about their writing that speaks to you, and what makes you excited about being a writer when you read their work. Instead of just thinking, “Wow, that’s great,” ask yourself “Wow, what’s so great about that?”
All of us were readers long before we ever dreamed of being writers. Love of reading is what made most of us want to be writers, made us want to connect with others through the magic of the written word. However, many of us still read like, well, readers. We devour books rather than savour them. To elevate our writing and find our authentic voice we need to read like writers. Interview your books. Ask them why they moved you, or failed to. Explore why it feels like reading some books is more natural than breathing, while reading others is hard work. When you understand what you are drawn to, you will be one step closer to finding and using your own voice.
Gem #2: “One of the essential characteristics of a writer is the willingness and ability to see the stories in our lives and to believe our observations, thoughts, and obsessions are worth following to the page.” (I couldn’t have said it better myself, so I didn’t even try.)
I believe that all writers need an audience, to believe that what they are writing will be read, even if only by a few people. When you believe that what you have to say is worth hearing, you move another step closer to finding your voice. By sharing your stories, or Your Story, you allow others into your life and you create connections. You give others the opportunity to read your work and think, “Wow, what’s so great about this?” and become part of your tribe.
So, this week I’d like to challenge all of you to expand your audience. You have a few different choices:
If you only want an audience of one, send me an email (madeleine at writefromlife.com) and I will be delighted to read you.
If you want to take a chance and connect with some strangers, then take a look at our list of prompts and post your 10-15 minute writing in the comments below.
If you really want to push yourself to reach a bigger audience, then we’d love to give you the opportunity. Tell us what’s so great about one of your favourite books/authors by writing an article (500 to 1000 words) and we will publish it on our website.
No matter which option you choose, I can’t wait to hear from you!
And, in case you were wondering, I’m still not going to write a book about my life. But I’ve got plenty of other things to write about and lots of other stories I’m excited to tell. My voice isn’t a memoir voice, and I am perfectly okay with that.