Creative Writing's a Beach(ball)

Beachballs and creative writing have a lot in common . You can shove a beachball underwater—out of sight, out of mind—but it will inevitably escape its watery dungeon and shatter the waters surface like a breaching humpback whale.

I wish I’d kept my first rejection letter. Among writers, that’s like framing your first earned dollar bill. But no, the letter threw me  into the throes of a teen-aged writer funk. My writing career was over ... why would I keep the letter?

Hey, I was 13 years old. Puberty is notable for a couple of things: (a) myopic self-absorption and (b) less-than-stellar  thinking skills.

The letter was a gem, too: photocopied crooked on a machine low on ink. I suspect the editor’s signature may have been photocopied, as well. A keep-sake if there ever was one—on so many levels. Alas.

I started high school a year later. Despite the Department of Education’s cruel practice of adding Grade 13 to the mind-numbing purgatory known as high school, there were exactly zero—ZERO—classes offered in creative writing. So, after a dubious attempt at one (1) short story in grade nine, my only notable output during five years of high school was a single haiku:

School really bugs me
My freakin’ English teacher
Makes me write haikus

(My teacher laughed out loud and gave me an A.”)

After high school, I enrolled in a Radio, Television, and Journalism (RTJ) program at college, but not for journalism. I went there with a vague idea of emulating WKRP’s Dr. Johnny Fever, and I had a blast as a DJ on our college radio station. The television courses were fascinating; I enjoyed the  technical director role in the production control room.

The creative writing beachball remained incarcerated in Davy Jones locker—I submitted weekly articles to the college paper only because I had to.

Yet despite my lack of interest and work ethic (compared to my radio & television classes), guess where my best marks kept showing up? I felt like Lady MacBeth: “Out, damned spot beachball! Out, I say!”

Fast forward a couple of years, to a different college in a different province. Without planning to, guess who ends up writing an article or two for the college paper? And the following year, becomes the editor?

You’d think the sight of a neon-colored beachball punching its way to the surface—repeatedly—would qualify as a “sign” of some kind. And yet, after graduation, I managed to submerge the beachball again.

Looking back, it’s both fascinating and a little disturbing to realize how much influence my first rejection letter continued to wreak.

Years later,
the beach ball resurfaced with a big splash when I began blogging. Things went well for the first little while—I was even “discovered” and signed a book-publishing contract. Then the marketing department torpedoed my book, and my blogging audience tapered off shortly after.

That was it. Beach ball malevolently spiked by a lawn dart dropped from orbit.

In hindsight, I should’ve recognized the symmetry between my original rejection letter and this latest set-back. But I was again in a writer-blocked funk. I tossed the deflated beachball into a pile of rotting kelp, to be carried away by the cold and heartless tide.

Fast forward to 2012: Another unexpected beachball ambush explodes to the surface, like a saltwater slap in the face. And this time—despite my fears, insecurities, and that nagging voice in the back of my head—I surrendered. And I’ve been writing ever since.

Your gift may not be creative writing. But if there’s a beachball of creativity/passion that you keep squelching because of (fill in blank as needed), take it from me:

Give up. Surrender. Embrace it. Don’t fight the beach ball. It’s relentless and will not be silenced.

And should I ever find that first rejection letter again ... I'll pin it above my writing desk and use it as a dartboard.

Write on.

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