The best part of my world is being able to share this space with Jessy Lee, my daughter. She amazes me. She is my best support and my loudest advocate. She is almost 16 years old, an avid reader and a published author. These last few months I’ve watched her craft her first novelette. Okay, not her first long text, but her first fully researched well thought-out and stressed-over text. Watching her live this process I’ve come to remember a few things: she’s passionate, she’s resilient and she’s the best teacher I know.
This past summer while I crammed my-brain-full-of-often-regurgitated-goodness-don’t-think-for-yourself-articles, my daughter was living her craft. She attended Sage Hill Teen Writing experience for young writers where she learned that often the best things to write about are the farcical events from personal experience. At the end of that week Jess, my sister and I attended Saskatchewan Festival of Words. While each of us had full passes and we all snuck off on our own during the day to savour our favourite authors and genres, we met up during larger sessions. While the three of us ate lunch that Friday in July, my sister and I were quite downcast, missing Don Kerr’s noon reading from the previous year that reminded us of our spunky Nana; my sister and I simply braved Douglas Gibson, a publisher. But Jess was riveted. She stayed afterwards and chatted. She nabbed the book I’d purchased – of course I’d purchased Gibson’s book. He’s Munro’s publisher, and all things Munro must come home, to be read dozens of times and alter my perspectives of self, of relationship, of faith and of conformity – and Jess had Gibson sign the book.
“That’s so me. If he can do that, so can I.” Jess stood fierce. Her soccer nickname is Shin-Kicker and the glaze of her eyes as she then gathered Maureen Jennings’ books deposited them in front of me and strode out the door to Jennings’ session had nothing on any game play. She’d simply made up her mind.
By late August the characters had come together. The plot was beginning to form. We’d go for long car rides, her forgoing the chance to soak-up time behind the wheel prior to her driver’s test to hold me captive to discuss characterization – Can you envision them being friends? Would you do this? – and setting – What do you mean this feels like Alberta? Well that’s just wrong. How? Oh, okay, so the river needs to run nearer town; I’ve the town mapped out. This doesn’t make sense if the rail line came through Saskatchewan only a few years before the murder – and then we’d make yet another pass through The Avenues.
I began receiving texts on Fridays last Fall:
Take your time, I want to write.
Why not go out for supper with friends, there’s some research I need to do.
In her clothing class she longed for a research project in the time period of her story. Dinner became filled with lengthy stories dancing between friends, soccer and detailed descriptions of 1910 footwear.
She read all Jennings work. We watched the Murdock Mysteries over and over and over.
And she wrote. I’ve never seen anyone so focused.
This summer at the Festival she had listened to Terry Fallis share how he had published his novel online with much success chapter by chapter before the novel had been picked up by a publisher. This had happened before Fallis had submitted his work for the Leacock and had won.
Though Jess has been published traditionally, she wanted to try publishing her own story online. Last summer she expressed that if Fallis could do it, so could she. Not much daunts Jess.
And she understood she needed this online perspective. After all, she’s going to open her own publishing house. Ask her, she’ll tell you.
So, by last November the novelette was crafted, printed and we were back to driving around. The jaunts became longer. Much coffee was consumed. We visited many small towns hours away.
All of this and she plays competitive soccer five nights a week, writes to perform spoken word and there is school too.
The point? She is living it!
I’ve heard writers, friends, family and educators say that the difference between good writers and great writers is that they write. But I am beginning to wonder if the difference between writers (all of us) and those (kids) who grow up to publish great writers is that they have been taught the skills to create with minimal support, they seek critical feedback without pause, they envision themselves as becoming successful and, most importantly, they find great personal joy in the process.
Now, imagine if all our learning spaces might be like this…