When I was 26, I signed up for my first creative writing class. By that point in my life, I’d grown frustrated with my lack of discipline when it came to my writing. I had a need to write, but it was too easy to let life get in the way. To talk myself out of it, especially since I was working full time. I was lacking an outlet. A space that encouraged and validated my creativity. I thought that a writing class might give me the structure and stamina I needed.
I remember walking down the hallway towards the classroom. I heard the voices of other people coming from the room. And I did something I never expected myself to do.
I turned around and walked away.
Sure, I was nervous. Walking into a room full of strangers is never easy. And walking into a room full of strangers and sharing your writing adds a whole other layer to it. But I was more than nervous.
I was afraid.
Of what, I couldn’t say for certain. Maybe that the other people wouldn’t like my writing. Or that I wouldn’t connect with anyone in the class. Maybe I wasn’t that talented. Or that I’d come to the realization that, at the end of the day, writing was silly. Impractical. A waste of my time.
Looking back, all these years later, I think what really frightened me was that my writing, something that I clung to desperately to get me through the days, had no value.
We’re living in an age that puts a lot of emphasis on the rewards of publishing. There are more options available to aspiring writers than ever before. There’s nothing stopping anyone from going out and publishing their work and having the ego stroke of a book on the shelf.
But what often gets overlooked is the value of writing, regardless of whether the work ever gets published. We don’t always stop to consider the benefit of putting words on the page. How it’s intrinsically good for us to be creative. It takes a specific kind of bravery to take time out of our busy lives and give our creativity the chance to breathe. To allow our stories to take shape, even if those stories never make it past a few strangers gathered around a table.
Although I’ve moved from student to teacher, I still remember what it felt like to walk down that hallway. The vulnerability and uncertainty. And yes, the fear. And while I can’t promise students that they’ll get published after taking my course, what I can offer is a space where creativity—and a writer’s need to write—is respected, encouraged and recognized.
I ended up turning back before I reached the end of the hallway. I took a deep breath and walked into that classroom. I never looked back. It was one of the smartest—and most valuable—decisions I’ve made when it came to my writing. I gave myself the chance.
Whether it’s in my writing course or someone else’s, I hope you give yourself the same chance, too. Your creativity deserves it.
Brian Francis’ most recent novel, Natural Order, was selected by the Toronto Star, Kobo and Georgia Straight as a Best Book of 2011. His first novel, Fruit, was a 2009 Canada Reads finalist and was named one of Amazon’s “100 Canadian Books to Read in a Lifetime.” He is a regular contributor to CBC Radio’s The Next Chapter and writes a monthly advice column, The Agony Editor, for Quill & Quire magazine.
Join him for his upcoming six-week course, Becoming a Better Writer, which is designed for emerging and recreational writers who want to take their creative writing to the next level, or simply find the inspiration to get back to writing on a regular basis.