Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

In Which I Explain The Meaning of Life... where else can you find that on a free web site?

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Greetings again from this month’s Writer in Residence, which is kind of like getting to be Miss December without having to take any clothes off.

Today’s “inspirational quote about writing” is from C.S. Lewis who, as everyone knows, wrote the wonderful Narnia series of fantasy books for children but who also wrote even better books on theology for grown-ups. Fewer lions and snow queens- more indepth analysis of that tricky God notion.

Lewis has this to say about writing,

“We are what we believe we are.”

All those of you who are now gingerly raising a hand and saying, “But Ms. Hines, this quote does not appear to have anything to do with writing.” get ten points and the beautiful Frigidaire freezer. At first glance, it doesn’t. But this is what I think.

Writing is like life. And not just because we’d all rather go through it still in our bathrobes. In writing and in life none of us are ever convinced that we’re where we ought to be. In writing, this dissatisfaction looks something like this:

I am a writer if I write.
Well, no…
I am a writer if I write and get published.
Well, no…
I am a writer if I get published and reviewed.
No, reviewed and they say lovely, wonderful things about my work.
No, reviewed wonderfully plus the book is a bestseller.
OK, a bestseller and then I get awards (please see blog #1… OK, and #2… but I’m OK about this whole thing, really)
No, I get really big award. And then I write another book and it gets published and becomes a bestseller and…

And so it goes. Much like life except that there the list goes: “I’m doing OK if I have a job… a better job…. A partner… a partner with a job… a partner with a better job… and a condo…” You get the picture.

I don’t suggest for a moment that having goals and aspirations isn’t a fine and healthful thing. Every time I sit down to write, I set a writing goal. Usually, this goal is to “sit here until I write something.” When I set the bar higher it’s to “sit here until I write something and without spending half the time surfing around to see if I couldn’t find nice steady job in telemarketing with a health plan.” A girl’s gotta dream.

But having or a achieving a goal doesn’t make me a writer or even a good writer, any more than checking off every item on a list of “Things One Must Accomplish In Life In Order To Be A Worthy Person Or At Least Be Able To Brave The Next Family Get-Together” makes me a worthy person.

You are a writer if you write. Anything. If you feel the urge to express your way of seeing the world or to sort out the difficult business of being human by writing it all down, then you are a writer.

And this is important to know. Because ultimately, it is not getting published or writing a bestseller or receiving awards that makes your passage through this world real or meaningful or even a little easier and more joyful.

A person who is anxiety-ridden and miserable about not having money can win a million dollars and they will simply stop being anxiety-ridden and miserable about money and be that way about something else instead. Similarly, if you write to get published or to make money (hint: do not do this. Writing to make money in Canada is like becoming an actor to make money in Canada or becoming a poet in… well, anywhere really) or for the recognition, that’s all you’re going to get. It won’t change your state of happiness or sense of peace with yourself one bit. You’ll simply be a confused, angry, discontented (insert your most self-unhappy-making trait here) person who got published or won an award. And you will have missed the really good stuff that writing can do for you.

But, if you write to find out what the heck is going on in your own astounding, complex, miraculous self or in this astounding, complex, miraculous world around us, then whatever happens to your work, or doesn’t, you will have accomplished something. You will have accomplished the real goal of writing or creating anything and even of being alive: taking some time to know your own soul.

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

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Anne Hines

Anne Hines is the author of three novels, Fishing Up the Moon (Pedlar Press, 1998), The Spiral Garden (McArthur & Co, 2005) and Come Away: song of songs (McArthur & Co., 2007) and one collection of nonfiction humour, A Year In HineSight (McArthur & Co, 2002). A series of essays, Parting Gifts: notes on loss, love and life is due for publication by McArthur & Co, fall 2008.

Go to Anne Hines’s Author Page