Someone asked me recently what advice I’d have for them towards becoming a writer. I really didn’t know what to offer. After all, I’d only just figured out that I was a writer in the last four years.
Now that we’ve launched a book at www.mantracking.ca , I’ve been reflecting on my career path, and laughing at how I ignored all of the signs pointing towards writing for over a decade.
In high school I went to the guidance counsellor and was told that my test results showed that I should be an advertising executive, lawyer, actor, or a pastor. All involved being a strong communicator, but I was shy. So I searched the average salaries of professions and decided that I should be a pilot due to their high salaries and ability to travel the world. Unfortunately my vision wasn’t 20/20, so that idea was grounded.
I chose to pursue engineering, until I met physics. My physics teacher told me I would go nowhere in math or science. I finished his class with an 80, but the damage was done.
My accounting teacher was a chartered accountant. His ‘cool factor’ and real examples made me apply for accounting programs at university. I got a commerce degree, won a provincial team competition for accounting and began my career with one of the top accounting firms in Canada.
I lasted less than a year — I quit to become a rickshaw runner.
Throughout school I wrote. I had a journal that was my only solace when I was depressed; I wrote poetry, random thoughts, and intense goings on. I bought cards that were blank and wrote in poems or prose for my friends and family on special occasions. Even if it was in the car on the way to a party I could whip off a least a limerick and sometimes a sonnet. My friends marvelled at how quickly and fluidly I could write, but I thought everyone could do that.
My career turned into a patchwork quilt of high tech jobs in cubicles followed by corner offices. I travelled to feel alive. When I did I had multiple journals with me. If I hadn’t captured the new world around me to my expectations, the words continued to plague me, spinning like a tornado through the trailer park in my brain until I had words worthy of settling on the page.
After an unexpected layoff in the high tech world, one day I was bored and wrote two “articles.” I wasn’t sure what to do with them but I sent them to the Ottawa Citizen. By the end of the week, one was run as a letter to the Editor, and the other landed me a telephone call from the Fashion Editor. She wanted my article and she paid me for it. When I saw it in print, I laughed when I read the bottom of that article: “Nadine Robinson is an Ottawa writer.” I cut out it out and then flipped to the classifieds and kept looking for work.
Two years later, when I was back in cubicle land, I contacted the Citizen again for fun to see if they’d consider an article on BluesFest. They weren’t interested, but the editor called back the following week and gave me my first writing “assignment.” It was different than what I’d pitched, but none-the-less it was my first commission. I still have that cheque stub.
I continued in marketing and business development roles for half a dozen years and in one role I wrote an article for my employer that was published in Canadian Government Executive magazine.
Then I moved from Ottawa to the Sault and found out that sometimes limited career choices can be a blessing in disguise.
I wanted to do something that made me happy. I liked writing and teaching. Lucky for me, the editor at the Sault Star, Frank Rupnik, took a chance on me as a freelance columnist. I also got work teaching at the University.
That was four years ago.
Then, when I crossed the border one day the agent asked me what I did for a living and I said I was a writer. I surprised myself with that title/revelation, but it felt right.
And so I wrote, and I pitched articles to different publications. I landed a handful of freelance clients. People liked my work, and I liked writing it, so that was good. I was making a living-ish.
Then along came the opportunity to work on a book with Terry Grant, the original Mantracker (and in my mind the only Mantracker). I’m honoured to now call myself Terry’s sidekick on Mantracking: The Ultimate Guide to Tracking Man or Beast.
I am a writer. Writers write.
Now let’s hope that buyers buy.