You should check out the latest Pound of Flesh by J.S. Porter (who recently had a review of Atwood printed in the Globe and Mail, by the way). In his column entitled Awakenings, he talks about a ten year period when he didn’t write, and about the time he woke up.
I was asleep from 1975 to 1985. It took me ten years to recover from my African experiences. When I came back from Zambia in 1974, though I didn’t entirely realize it at the time, I was broken. I didn’t read much in my lost years, or write much, or even think much.
My friend Marilyn Gear Pilling says she slept for about 20 years, most of her working life. She woke up near the time of her retirement as a librarian and was reborn as a writer.
His analogy, linking a writer coming into one’s writing to waking from a long period of sleep, struck a chord with me. Looking back, I feel as though there was a time that I was asleep. And now I’m feeling pretty wide awake.
For most of my teenage and early-20s life, I had two hobbies which competed for my spare time: Doctor Who and model railroading. I started with Doctor Who, collecting as many of the books as possible, joining DWIN and other fan clubs, eagerly awaiting information on the new series. When the then editor of Myth Makers called for Doctor Who fan fiction submissions, I jumped at the chance, and wrote the first piece of fiction that I submitted to a publication at the tender age of fourteen.
When Doctor Who looked like it was going to be cancelled, I jumped over to my love of trains and tried to take up model railroading. Unfortunately, I never was very good, and Doctor Who came back into my life through a lingering series, books, and my involvement with Trenchcoat. I kept up my love of trains by participating and building up in Transit Toronto. I wrote thousands of words of Doctor Who fan fiction; I wrote thousands more contributing articles to Transit Toronto.
Looking back, it’s obvious what the two things had in common, but I didn’t know it at the time.
These things were hobbies, and they had to take a back seat to my “serious” work, which between 1991 and 1995 was learning to be an urban planner, even though I couldn’t draw worth a dime. I did, however, write a 125 page thesis on the future of regional government in the GTA. I graduated just as the Harris cuts gutted municipal planning agencies, and so I bummed around and fell out of the planning profession altogether, taking up work in the tech sector. I learned about database management the hard way, and for three years I worked at Mortice Kern Systems maintaining their customer and shipping database.
I don’t regret working for MKS or gaining experience about databases. This and my website experience have been responsible for most of the interviews I’ve received off my resume. The job paid reasonably well (though MKS got a considerable discount given that all of my experience was on-the-job training), so I didn’t mind too much that the position started to consume my soul. At first.
The money paid for Erin’s entry into Canada. It paid our way into marriage and an apartment. But during the period between the time I joined Mortice Kern Systems to close to the day that I left, I wrote little in the way of fiction. There were articles for Transit Toronto, but I didn’t have time to spend on my writing hobby. Adherence to a 9-5 schedule was actively discouraged. I was encouraged to work hard and play hard, by company standards. That really wasn’t me, but as MKS was our primary income, I tried to play that game.
Maybe the flow inside me was constricted, so that something built in me. Sometime after I left MKS, I woke up, and decided to try to adapt one of my Trenchcoat stories into a submission for BBC Books. I got twenty pages in and changed to a different story. Then I gave that up altogether and launched the :Trenchcoat Farewell Project:. Then, in August 2001, I started to write Rosemary and Time.
It took me two years to get really into the writing groove, but by then I knew what it was that I missed. I liked Doctor Who, but it was just a television show. I liked trains and model railroading, but I’m not good at building models. I like research and planning, but I can’t draw. But I can write.
Since then, I’ve put together three young adult novels, submitted one eight times for rejections, completed Sealwife, and worked hard on the :Trenchcoat Farewell Project:. Writing is what I want to do. And it took me almost thirty years to wake up to that reality.
The only problem is, the pay ain’t so good. But oh, well.