Reclaiming the Title of Storyteller

Adventures in Storytelling is an ambitious project. In between multiple jobs and mortgages and marriages and home renovations and all manner of adult responsibilities, about a year ago, Luke and I made a big decision. We decided we would go ahead with this project, even if we didn’t really know at the time what the project was, exactly. Now that we’ve had some time to think about what we’re doing, we’ve realised that in some ways we’re doing what has been done many times before: we’re building an online writer’s advice website. Our novel trick, our niche, is that we’re trying to prove that the advice we have isn’t just for writers. It is for any creator, storytellers of every make, shape, and size. Nevertheless, we are very well aware of the fact that we’re moving over well-trodden ground. So why the continued commitment? Why are we passionate about Adventures in Storytelling?

Every act of communication is an act of storytelling. We see the truth of that statement, and it is really at the core of what we’re trying to do. To answer my own question, I’m going to tell you a story.

Still Life with Commander Riker... better art than my Star Trek fan fiction
Still Life with Commander Riker… still manages to be better art than my Star Trek fan fiction

When I was in the seventh grade, I was busy writing Star Trek fan fiction. This was before I was aware the Internet existed, so at the time I didn’t know what fan fiction was, but that didn’t stop me. I was self-aware enough to call my original Star Trek story The Monstrosity. No doubt inspired by Peter David’s New Frontier books, I had invented my own starship and crew, but using some temporal wormholes and an extra-galactic threat, I found excuses to bring an armada of pretty much every Star Trek character together in one place. I don’t know what happened to The Monstrosity—it was written out of loose-leaf paper, and since it lived in my backpack, it became rather care-worn as time went on. I really hope my sister didn’t steal it to embarrass me with at my wedding should I ever get married.

Thanks to The Monstrosity, I was sent to a creative writing conference where I wrote a short science fiction story that would go on to inspire my first adolescent ‘novel,’ Lazer (sic) Beams, Quartze (sic) Crystals and Spanish Onions. (I was never one for spelling). Although far from novel-length, it did inspire a number of lengthy sequels, true to classic space-opera form.

I submit the totally sick Blockbuster notebook as evidence that this is actually from 1997
I submit the totally sick Blockbuster notebook as evidence that this is actually from 1997

My childhood was filled with rampant creative energy. My mother will tell you stories about how I would “play in the pictures I was drawing,” telling myself the story of what was happening even as I drew it. In grade three, my best friend Brian and I were responsible for changing creative writing time from a free-for-all to a silent work period. Mr. Wilson, no doubt, found our excited shouting and peals of laughter to be too much of a distraction for the other students who were actually making progress on what they were writing, as opposed to the constant planning and bargaining we did with each-other as we co-wrote. I don’t even remember what the story we were writing was about, but we sure had fun writing it.

Through high school I kept up the creative pace. In-between learning to write essays and copying Stu’s answers in physics class, I still managed to get my first official credit as a published author, albeit in a small press-anthology that only just managed to escape being a vanity press. Small victory though (and I’m totally bragging here), the editor liked my story so well, it came first in the collection.

High school was also the time I was lucky enough to meet some like-minded people such as my indomitable project partner Luke Gobert. My gain was his misfortune. My inflated teenage head told me that I was naturally the world’s greatest editor, and I fondly tore his hard creative work to shreds. I’ll own I was… slightly unfair. A true testament to Luke’s strength of character, he remained my friend, and even asked me to work on Adventures in Storytelling with him after all this time! He and his partner once gave me a brace of red pens for Christmas, each individually wrapped. I’m still using them today, more than a decade later.

red pens, each wrapped individually as a present to the editor, James.Then came University. Here was my time to shine. In my first year, during NaNoWriMo, I wrote a honest-to-goodness real short novel, Crisis of Idealism: A Space Opera. I paid eight dollars and twenty-four cents to have an unedited copy printed up like a real book. To my infinite horror, somebody borrowed it and never gave it back. I’m not upset I don’t have it anymore, I’m upset because somewhere out there, floating around bookshelves, is a novel with my name on it filled with typos and spelling errors, plot-holes left unmended and (most distressing) left-aligned rather than justified.

But then, just when it seemed like I couldn’t go on about my own accomplishments as a writer any longer, the story took a turn for the worse. Life got busy. Despite what I might have told people at the time, I cared enough about my education to put a fair amount of time into studying. To pay for my education, I actually had to get a job. Life in the big city offered more social opportunity than small town Ontario. In short, I was so busy doing other things that my writing slowed down and down and down until, finally, it stopped.

What a childhood spent writing looks like
This is what a childhood spent writing looks like

Those days of my youth, the ones where I called myself a writer and really meant it, became more and more distant as time went on. Sure, I could practice my craft as I wrote an increasing number of phony-sounding cover letters, but it never felt the same. I took a year off from crappy retail jobs to get an MA, and I was proud of the work I did—perhaps I even generated some new knowledge, who knows?—but the more I worked with the students who were enrolled in the Creative Writing MA, the more I said “I’m in the wrong program.” But despite that, I still couldn’t—or perhaps, wouldn’t—carve out the time to express myself creatively. It wasn’t just writer’s block, it was a wholesale abandonment of an essential part of myself.

I had taught myself to accept that I was not creating. It got to the point where I actively stopped calling myself a writer. I consciously took away something that had been a part of who I am for as long as I can remember.

Luke bailed me out.

On March 12th, 2015, he sent me an email outlining a plan for Adventures in Storytelling. In its inception the project wasn’t quite what it is now, but many of the core values that Luke brought to the table remain. Perhaps most important to me were these words: “This isn’t about success; this is about doing.”

That verb: doing. One of the core tenets of Adventures in Storytelling is the idea that in order to become better creators, we must actually create. This isn’t new advice, nor is it novel—I’m sure plenty of people have heard that for every masterpiece, a painter has one hundred canvases you’ve never seen. Or “practice makes perfect.” I’m sure you can think of another appropriate idiom. That idea of creating volume is important to me. I want to have those one hundred canvases. I care a lot less about the masterpiece. As much as I think we would all like to be recognised for something we have created, that isn’t my end goal with Adventures in Storytelling. It may be that some of our creators get there (if they aren’t there already!), but for me, it’s about the process. It’s about reclaiming an essential part of myself that I have foolishly set aside. Adventures in Storytelling is about being a more-complete version of myself; it is about reclaiming the title of storyteller, and being a writer again.

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