My writing career has three distinct parts, DREAMER, DABBLER and DETERMINED AUTHOR. Just like the tortoise in Aesop's fable, it wasn't until I almost reached the finish line, that I realized how much I wanted to write..
The first time I saw myself as a writer, I was Jennifer Fuller in grade 3. I identified with Supergirl until my mother brought home an Underwood typewriter to polish up her typing skills. I changed my secret identity to Lois Lane. I used my mom's typewriter to write make-believe stories for the Daily Planet newspaper and to enter contests.
I wrote captions to baby pictures, a weekly feature in the Niagara Falls Evening Review, and won so many gift certificates, the newspaper called to see if I would like to do it on a regular basis. My mother had to inform them I wasn't old enough to work. She was impressed however and taught me to type properly, a skill that has been worth its weight in gold. The biggest win of all was my entry into the Bick's Pickle Contest held at the local grocery store. I won a year's supply of pickles, a tour of the Bick's Pickle plant and a pickle green bike. I eventually stopped riding it because all the kids called me Pickle Head. From then on I wrote stories that my teachers always read out loud. I did so well at high school essays I never wrote a final exam. But no one, including me, took my writing seriously. I went to university and teachers college.
Part two of my writing career started as Jennifer Travis, teacher. I thought every lesson should begin with a story - even mathematics. This was a unique idea in the world of teaching. In the late 60's reading more than one story a day to children was considered a waste of time. I was approached by the math consultant to review some lesson material for gifted students. I rewrote most of the lessons. The Math Consultant sent one of them about counting Cheerio's to the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) Newsletter and it was published. They invited me to speak at the NCTM conference in Washington DC. There the acquisition editor of Addison-Wesley Canada asked me to come to their offices on Barber Green Drive when the conference was over. I did and they sent me home with some stuff to edit. Once again I rewrote most of the lessons and was moved from Math Quest, their text book project to a unique math project, which I named. Explorations in Early Childhood Education, Grade One and Grade Two. These math programs sold across the US, getting the Californian and Texas adoption for all schools.
Word got out and I was invited to join many writing teams
- TV Ontario approached me after that about support material for their children's program Mathica's Math Shop.
- Ministry of Education - Support Documents
- Ministry of Education - Independent Learning Centre
- Peel District Board of Education, having a newly introduced Junior Kindergarten program gave me the chance to write introductory materials - "Stepping into Kindergarten" and head up a writing team to produce The Kindergarten Instructional Practices Handbook and the Kindergarten Assessment Practices Handbook.
Once I became a school principal I had no time to write stories.
I really wanted to write stories for children. I enrolled in the Institute of Children's Literature and learned about passive sentences, what actually makes a story and how to submit for publishing.
But the magic moment for me was meeting Frieda Wishinsky. I enrolled in the two week summer course at Humber College School for Writers and Frieda helped me bring it all together. She showed us the importance of a Writers Group and taught us how to be part of a round table critique. She told us that it doesn't matter if anyone likes or dislikes your story, pay attention to what they don't understand. That advice proved valid after I read one of my stories called How the Stepmother Got Ugly to a group of writers. I submitted it to Crows Toes Magazine. They published it in their next issue.
One magazine story led to another and eventually I found the courage to write a novel. My father left me his memoires and I was thinking of using this amazing amount of information, but it was my mother-in-law who got me started. She told me her story of internment during the Second World War. I started jotting it down in the words of a nine year old girl. When the Cherry Blossoms Fell came out in the spring of 2009. That book blossomed into a three-part series. My fathers memories became the novel Kid Soldier due out 2013.
Sometimes people ask me why I didn't turn to writing full time.
The answer is simple. I wasn't ready. I didn't have the knowledge of the process. I didn't have the time and I didn't have the courage.
Now I have all that. I wake in the morning excited about my writing day. I go for a walk and then do some quick chores. I start "working" at 10:00 in the morning and write until 2:00 with a break for lunch. Around 2:00, I print off my stuff and sit it on top of my desk. I begin the next day with editing and getting back into the story.
In the late afternoon, I make a large pot of tea and I read. I belong to two book clubs. I also read about writing. I highly recommend Reading Like a Writer by Francine Prose and Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg.
My advice is
- you can be a writer at any stage in your life
- you need to produce, you can't edit a blank paper
- you have to learn the craft - not a formula
- you need a routine - a writer's day is different than other people's days
- you have to hang out with writers - they are the only ones in the world that really understand what you do