Almost five years ago to the day, I built my first website in a small, bright flat in the Kreuzberg district of Berlin.
It was early spring and the starlings roosted just beyond the window. I worked on the website in the afternoon after mornings writing in the Amerika-Gedenkbibliothe--the old American Library, perched along the canal. I was in Berlin because I'd been awarded a Canada Council grant to complete my first short story collection and had recently left my full-time job working at a small Canadian university. I had no idea what would happen after my grant ran out. Would I stay in Europe? Travel? Open my own business?
I had never felt so free.
In a way, taking the leap to write in Europe felt like the real beginning of my writing career. Not because of the gritty romance of Europe, or even the grant itself. I had begun to publish stories and had just been nominated for my first major award, but taking these steps to arrange my life so I'd have long, full days to dream, imagine, and write was an important opening for me. Each day as I walked the canal, watching the long canal boats ply the grimy waters, the spark of possibility seemed everywhere.
Leaving my job and stepping out into the world this way involved a certain amount of risk. Without getting all Eat Pray Love, stepping out of the security of what I'd known allowed me to begin to shape the life I most wanted to live.
I believe that great writing involves some sort of risk. Not quitting-our-jobs kind of risk, in most cases. But leaving what we know, if only in our hearts and minds. Choosing to take those first steps, to put thoughts on a page, to share that writing with the world, takes a huge amount of courage.
That's why writing is such a beautiful metaphor for life. Each day, when we write, we're confronted with the terror (and, hopefully, comfort) of the blank page. As with life, good writing is not created only by imposing our will or a pre-conceived idea of the way things will be. Controlling the story will only suffocate life on the page. It's a fine art between structure and the messy, pulsing chaos at the heart of the story.
In other words, great writing involves letting go.
Sitting in that bright Berlin flat, trying to build that website over copious amounts of bitter coffee and the occasional German dunkel, I had no idea of how the next five years would unfold. I did not know that more grants lay in store, that I would land an agent or negotiate a book deal with my dream editor for my debut novel. I didn't yet know of the stories and publications and interviews (so many interviews!) and reviews to come. Or that I would begin to teach and share with people like you, through offering writing workshops that incorporate not only the skill and tools for writing, but the philosophy, values, and encouragement for how to take risks and feel safely supported in the process.
And now, as I launch this new website, I'm thinking about how the seeds we plant sometimes bloom many years in the future, when we least expect it. Don't get me wrong. Dreams are hard work. A dream without a plan is only ever a wish.
But dreaming starts somewhere. Each time we make time to be with ourselves, with our secret thoughts and the private stories that live inside us, the stories that have yet to be born in the world, we're planting the seeds for a future we can't yet begin to imagine.