I wrote the first words of what would become Surviving the Storm almost five years ago. During that time, the lessons have been many, and the learning curve steep. With the task of navigating my first series being much closer to the end than the beginning, I wanted to take the opportunity to share a little something about the experience. Here are three things that I’ve learned along the way that I hope to always carry with me.
The world is a confusing and scary place. Move forward with respect.
People suck. We’re territorial and opportunistic. We go out of our way to be terrible to each other. Our own systems and cultures are built around inequality and greed. I want to say you need only look to our past for proof, but truth be told, the present isn’t a whole lot better. That being said, I believe the opportunity for positive change has never been greater.
One such opportunity revolves around the path to reconciliation for Canada’s Indigenous population. I’m doing what I can to understand how we got here and what I can do to be better moving forward. In the spirit of inclusion, I wanted to create a home for something positive. That’s when I found Mati.
As one of the two protagonists of Surviving, I was excited to tell her story, and show the world how strong she is. I used one of the most poignant scenes from the book for a project that paired local artists and writers in a collaboration of creativity. Mati shared a story that her grandmother told her. It was a story that gave her hope for the future. I loved the message, and what it brought to the novel.
Sometime after, I read a book called Elements of Indigenous Style, and it changed everything. It helped me to understand Indigenous culture in a way that I had never been shown before. I wanted to do the right thing, so I reached out to The Nation where Mati’s family would have come from with the intention of starting a discussion about how best to represent her. I never heard back, but as it turns out, that may have been a stroke of luck. Another point made in the book that took a little time to sink in, is that Mati’s story, especially the parts relating to history and origin, are not mine to tell.
I saw no other way forward, so I changed Mati’s background. I made sure certain details still fit from a cultural perspective, but that culture, for better or worse, is no longer showcased in the story. Maybe the line between being inclusive and telling a story that is not your is narrow, and maybe it’s not. What I do know is that I regret putting the first version of that story out into the world. It weighs on me now, and likely will until senility finds me.
I write characters of all ages, backgrounds, and orientations. That doesn’t mean I’m comfortable putting up a billboard with flashing lights to advertise the fact. Whether that’s the right decision, only time will tell. For the moment, I prefer to stay in my lane while I learn and understand so I can move forward with respect.
Don’t be afraid to burn it down and start again.
I’m no <insert your favourite writer here>, but I’m getting better. I see it with each project I finish, especially this one. I still have a lot to learn, though. The road ahead is long. Longer than I sometimes want to admit.
A year ago, I thought Surviving was in good shape. I planned on publishing it last November. Then I attended, my first When Words Collide writing festival. Long story short, it became clear I had started the story in the wrong spot, so I cut the first 3,000 words. A bunch of other issues were brought up as well. The plot had some room for improvement, so I brought in the Alex character. The book was headed in a better direction, but in the back of my mind, a few minor details worried me.
Earlier this year, I put the manuscript out for feedback. An avid reader new to The Storm series came back with a long list of it. This turned out to be both wonderful and disappointing. Disappointing only in the way that it confirmed the concerns I had, and how much more work it required. I fine-tuned Mati’s character, and took Alex from a meek government employee to a troubled anti-hero who not only helps push Surviving forward, but will transform the next installment in the series, Chasing the Storm.
No, it hasn’t been easy. Maybe if I had written it all in one go, if it wasn’t a jumbled pile of starting and stopping, it would have come together easier. Maybe doesn’t matter here. I was given what I was given, and it’s my job to make it the best it can be. Sometimes, it doesn’t matter how much work you’ve put into a piece, if it doesn’t fit, then it needs to go. Have the courage to realize it and keep going.
You can only do what you can do.
It’s not easy finding time to write and publish books with a growing family and a full-time job, especially a job that continues to take most of my time and energy. I’m not looking for sympathy, this is all my choice. If you can call it a choice. I don’t mean to be over-dramatic, but some days it seems to be the only thing that keeps me going.
I’m finicky about a lot of things in life. Meeting deadlines and keeping my word are high on the list. This means I do what I say, even if it’s harmful to my physical or mental well-being. It’s possible I’m coming around, though. Perhaps it’s the years of saying I need to take better care of myself, or the pandemic is changing what I’m willing to give, but I’m moving at a different speed these days. The fact that I’m only human is beginning to settle in as fact.
That’s nice, you say. Everyone can take better care of themselves, but what’s your point? The point is, I’ve decided to push back the launch date of Surviving the Storm. It needs a little more polish, and as much as I’m still coming around to the fact that nothing is perfect, I need this to be as close as it can be for where I’m at in my writing journey. I have a tentative launch date set, but I want to do this right for once, so look out for the official announcement coming soon.
In the meantime, here’s to facing the future with an open mind and an open heart. I hope you are safe and well.
Ann Edall-Robson says
The writing journey is remarkable if we allow ourselves to realize what is important, not to others, but to us. Thank you for the insight into your experience.
Thank you, Ann. You are right, I hope to keep that focus moving forward.
Margaret G. Hanna says
Someone (I don’t know who) said, we learn from our mistakes. That works only if we realize we’ve made a mistake and then make the effort to figure out how we could have done it better. You’ve done that in spades. Not only that, but your “confession” has given the rest of us the courage to own up to our mistakes. Thanks for being so brave and so honest.
Thank you, Margaret. Mistakes are what allow us to improve, but as you say we need to recognize what’s been done for it to do any good. In case I ever need a reminder, I only have to look down to the “do better” tattooed on my arm.
Your insight and honesty cause me to stop and think about how these lessons also apply in my life. We think we shape the words we write but often it is the words that shape us. Thank you.
Thank you, Tandy. You are correct, it goes both ways!