Series: On becoming a professional writer by Bonnie Toews (Part 2)
2. Come out of Your Writer’s Shell
Sooner or later the desire to write becomes an urge to test what we’ve written on readers. At this stage, we don’t see the pressing need as God-driven. Rather, it is an expression of “me” as I search for the person I want to become. We all go through different forms of identity crisis for varying lengths of time at sporadic stages of our lives. Most of us see it as part of our journey to self-discovery, not as an identity crisis, but each time that moment strikes, it usually precipitates a crisis at work, in a relationship or of faith. The second time this “urge” overtook me, I walked out of Teachers College after I had just enjoyed a highly successful week of practice teaching. When I received my mark and praise from my classroom teacher, who said I was a “natural,” I should have been elated. I think I thanked her. I hope I did. But inside I felt empty. The praise and the mark meant nothing. I got on the streetcar waiting for the impact of my week’s success to hit. Nothing. I arrived home to an apartment I shared with three other girls and said, “I’m leaving Teachers College.” Two of the girls came from home, which was a university town in southern Ontario, and we didn’t do unorthodox things like this. Their first questions were: “Why?” and then, “What will your parents say?” One of the girls was already a teacher. She knew I liked to fly against the winds of convention, so she was certain something had happened. I showed her my marks and the practice teacher’s assessment. She shook her head. “Do you know how hard this is for many of us to get a mark like this?” I knew. I felt a need to apologize to all those students who were working so hard to gain good standings so they could get the scarce teaching jobs available then. After probing every possibility with earnest concern, she asked, “What are you going to do?” I didn’t know. Did I think to pray? No. Did I think about God at all? No. Not in that moment. But I was listening to my Inner Voice.
I had heard it two years before. Then, I went through a period of standing still, of jumping off the merry-go-round: a rebellion against role playing. For two weeks I refused to leave my room in the dormitory. I did not go to class. I refused to see people. I grieved, while I acknowledged I did not belong in the music education degree course I was taking at university. In a small pond, I was a big frog—at ten years old I had a BIG powerful singing voice, and my vocal accomplishments were recognized, then and all through high school—but in Toronto, amongst my university classmates, I was in the middle of a collection of outstanding musicians. Every time I improved in music theory or instrumental practice, they surpassed me three times more. I was always behind. The only reason I chose music education was because it offered the only course my father’s university didn’t. There was no way I was going to Queen’s where he, or my mother, could use their influence because he was a professor there. I had won many medals in singing. I was already performing at a Royal Conservatory grade 10 level of piano. My selecting a music career seemed natural to them. They engaged the best voice coach in Toronto, but after one year, she told me, “Bonnie, you have such talent, but you will be lucky if your voice makes it through the next two years. Your vocal chords are seriously damaged.” Did I seek God during my two-week retreat? In my meditations, I delved deeply into my despair, and yes, God was in my internal conversation, but it never occurred to me that I needed to ask Him what was His will for me. In my mind I didn’t have control of my life so why I would I consider giving Him control?
My retreat ended when one of my dorm mates figured out, if she asked me for help, I would come out of my room. She was right. I always responded when others needed me. I ended that “turning in” session with no answers to my self-questioning, but more courage to risk listening to myself. And then my musical instruments professor threatened that, if I didn’t hand in my term paper on time, he would see that I was expelled at Christmas. I didn’t relish my parents’ outrage, so I crammed three weeks of research into non-stop 36 hours and delivered my paper on time. To my astonishment, I got an A, but my essay examining teaching methods of instrumental music to high school students was an analysis not dependent on my aptitude to “demonstrate” to the students how I wanted them to perform. On paper it was far easier to be exceptional than it was in reality. Through the rest of my ‘music ed’ program, the only subjects that fascinated me were English and History, and so I drifted off to participate in the university newspaper, when I should have been practicing. I learned the mechanics of running a newspaper and the ‘pyramid’ skills of writing and then copy editing news. I breathed in printer’s ink.
When I worked evenings in the newspaper office, hours passed and I didn’t notice. My parents never learned of my “time out,” nor did they know of my secret infatuation with printer’s ink. I did not show them my news pieces in the Varsity, (they were my private pleasure) and I did not suffer another conflict of direction until I walked out of Teachers’ College.
Next: Look Beyond the Compulsion
Author’s Bio: Through a career that has ranged from teacher to editorial director of 30 business magazines, Canadian journalist Bonnie Toews has covered significant events such as the 20th Century’s international humanitarian relief effort following the Rwandan genocide. As a result of this experience, the plight of children in war is a recurring theme in her novels. She has published hundreds of articles and won five Canadian business press awards. Her website explores the passion and research behind her novel writing. Currently, she is a member of the Military Writers Society of America, American Authors Association and American Christian Fiction Writers.
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