A few weeks ago I was following the Wimbledon final and the struggle between the up and coming Canuck, Milos Raonic, and the well-loved and weathered Andy Murray. Murray won and he said after the match how Raonic’s blistering serve had been easy enough for him to dismantle. Murray is a master at dismantling serves and Raonic’s, while the hardest on the circuit, lacks variety. Raonic said that as long as there was grass on the courts, he would be back and that, meantime, he would work to improve all aspects of his game. None of this, of course, was lost on me, a writer who is only starting to fully understand the value of working on all aspects of your game.
When I was young I laboured under the illusion that talent was all one needed to produce perfect pieces. I would be stunned when a story or poem was praised for all its qualities and still would be passed over. At first I would console myself that I was a misunderstood genius who would not shine her light upon the world until after her death. Yes, I was very young then. As I grew I told myself that I was not the flavour of the month or that other types of writing than mine were now favoured. Then I grew wise and I got to work.
I don’t know if a kind of artistic laziness kept me from learning to manipulate the necessary tools of the trade or whether I needed this time to let my talent blossom unfettered. It is what it is, as they say, but it is not without regret that I can now say I probably missed out. Mastering the tools of the trade—and I don’t mean just being able to use a pen and paper, or a laptop—is essential to fine tune skills and so to enhance greatly whatever raw talent is present.
The journey from learning to read and write, mastering grammar and syntax, developing style and a voice as I manipulate words to make a poem or piece of prose, is one of the most fascinating journeys of my life. And just as it is said that the unexamined life is not worth living, I can now say that any unexamined piece of writing I ever put together has not been worth the ink spilled on it. Except maybe for a few gems that just came out fully formed.
I know I produced some gems in my early days and I would never discourage a person from staying in the unexamined phase for as long as it takes to find that voice, build up that confidence, explore the self. It takes courage to become critical of one’s own writing. We are expected to be like Omar Sharif’s Doctor Zhivago, who sits down at night by the blue light of the moon, Julie Christie’s Lara sleeping stunningly amidst furs, and greet the morning light with a collection of impeccably written poems and with ink that never froze no matter how low the temperature had dropped in that winter décor.
Reality is different and the journey is a long one of many trials and errors but once we get past the expectation that we should produce something perfect rather than that we labour to make something perfect, the journey truly becomes a journey. It is a journey where I learned that the more I know, the more I realize how little I know. Now if Raonic, who can make the Wimbledon final, can humbly admit to the world that he has more work to do on his game then I, who is barely hanging on in this circuit of published writing, can register for my next course, pick up the next book that teaches writing, and humbly ask my fellow writers to teach me what I still have to learn and to flag the mistakes I make.