Whatever the creative endeavor, most of us suffer from a little voice in our heads that says, “Not good enough.” Most often that voice starts with somebody else. Amanda Palmer wrote a song about the phenomenon. Today’s guest tells us about the voice in his head and what he does about it. Nathan Lowell presents…
Growing up in Nigeria my love of reading came from my father. I remember him reading the graphic albums Tintin and Asterix & Obelix. The albums, although visual, still told a great story. I would read the same albums over and over again. Sometimes I would copy the artwork but create my own dialogue balloons. I didn’t realize at the time that this was my first foray into writing.
Later when we moved to Canada I became immersed in comic books. Again they were visual but the stories had become a little more grown-up. I read Batman, Spider-man, Superman, X-men, Spawn, and countless other titles. I eventually moved on to more mature work by Frank Miller and Neil Gaiman. I wasn’t particularly interested in the writing, though. I was more interested in the artwork. I wanted to be a comic book artist. I drew every day, on whatever pieces of paper I could find. I was sketching non-stop. The only problem was in order to break into the business I would have to move down to the States and I didn’t think my mom would allow a 15-year-old to do that.
Around this time my brother introduced me to the books of Michael Crichton. Jurassic Park was huge at that time and until then I didn’t know that movies were based on books. So I immersed myself in all of Michael Crichton’s works. I couldn’t believe books could be just as entertaining as comic books. But being a writer was still not something I aspired to.
In grade 11 English Class the teacher gave us an assignment. We had just completed reading a novel (I can’t remember the name of it now) but we had two options. Option one: continue the story from where the book had ended, or option two: write a completely different story. Most, if not all my friends and classmates chose option one. They knew the characters and story. Why not just tell what happened next? I, on the other hand, chose option two. I thought this would be my chance to display my writing prowess.
I sat down and brainstormed all sorts of ideas: aliens, robots, monsters, but nothing I could develop a story around. Then I remembered a story that my uncle back home told us about this witch who wore a white dress and, at night, stood on the side of the road. Whenever anyone would pass by her she should would follow them and call out their names. If they turned she would kill them. The only way to tell she was a witch was that her feet were turned backwards (how she managed to walk or run I still don’t know!).
I poured my heart and soul into this story. It was going to scare the daylights out of my teacher. He would be so impressed that he would proclaim me the next great writer. When the marks came back, all my friends and classmates, who had not worked as hard as I had, got A’s and B’s. When I received my masterpiece, it had a big C- on it. I was crushed. I went up to the teacher and asked him why I had gotten lower than all the other students. I added that unlike them I had written an original story. He said although it was good (maybe he was being kind), creative writing might not be for me.
This was a double-whammy. First, I couldn’t become a comic book artist and now I wasn’t good enough to be a writer. So I put it all aside and continued on with my studies. Basketball was a big part of my life so this became my focus.
In my final year of high school I was taking a class called Contemporary Issues when one day the teacher said something that changed my life. He told us that he had written a textbook fifteen years ago and he was so proud of that fact that it was still in print. Until then I didn’t know anyone who had written anything, forget the fact that they had actually gotten it published. The writers of the books I had read seemed to me as if they were from another world. They were special beings from another planet who had created these extraordinary stories. Now everything had changed. I thought if a mere earthling like my teacher could do it, so could I!
This revelation ignited a passion in me. I read voraciously. I read classics as well as contemporaries. I became a student of novels. I was particularly interested in mysteries and suspense.
During my second year in university I decided to write a novel. “How hard could it be?” I asked myself. For two years I wrote at every opportunity. I wrote in the mornings. I wrote at nights. I wrote in between classes. I wrote in the library. I wrote on the bus. Eventually I had a 250-page manuscript. I then began the process of finding and submitting to publishers and agents. Like the old story goes, I was rejected and rejected and rejected.
I graduated and got a job ‘in the real world.’ I gave up on writing. I was done. It was time to focus and get serious, on my career. But then I met a man who was not only my co-worker but became my mentor and friend. With his encouragement I started writing again. In fact, I began to write short stories just to entertain him. I was so impressed that he had a collection of 3,000—which have now become 4,000—books. He was a great support in my writing my next novel, RACE. The passion to create had returned!
Again, I poured my heart and soul into writing. I spent six months researching it and another nine months writing it. After going through the rejection process for my previous novel I waited. I spent another year editing RACE. I made sure that it was the best book it could possibly be. I then began submitting to agents and publishers. Again, I was rejected. But this time I knew I had a good book.
Finally, after over a hundred rejections one publisher in Toronto accepted the novel. RACE came out to positive reviews. It was even reviewed by a national newspaper in Canada (The Globe and Mail). I was named one of the ten rising Canadian mystery writers to watch by Quill & Quire, a respected literary magazine in Canada that was launched in 1935. I used to read Quill & Quire when I was in university. I didn’t think I would actually end up having my photo in it years later.
Now I’m not trying to toot my own horn. No. I’m only stating that one should never give up on one’s dreams.
Still there are times I doubt myself. Times when nothing is going right–the writing is not flowing, the books are not selling, or whatever else is not working–that I think of that grade 11 English teacher and a voice pops up in my head that says, maybe he was right. But I know how to jettison that annoying little voice now.
I just sit down, turn on my laptop and start writing another book.