The Writing Life

And now for something completely different….
Four weeks ago, I started a class at NSCAD on creative non-fiction called “The Writing Life” taught by a writer named James Leck, author of a series of Young Adult novels called “The Adventures of Jack Lime”. Four weeks in, and I’m shocked at just how much I’ve learned from this guy in such a short time, and just how much better my writing can (and will!) be. The following is an example of homework I might submit to the class – a class I so actively participate in I even annoy myself – but instead of reading it aloud to ten other students, I’m putting it out there for all the world to see. Not my usual humorous fare to be certain, but I hope you’ll enjoy it nonetheless…

The coffee shop in downtown Halifax serves as my office space, its patrons my characters in waiting. I listen as the pretty blonde girl at the next table over tells her gay best friend she’s decided to leave her boyfriend of two years. He had hyped a present all day yesterday – she wondered if it was a ring, or at least a piece of jewellery, but instead it was a cheese grater. “A freakin’ cheese grater” she says, “can you imagine? And he thought I’d be excited and GRATEFUL?” Her BFF’s just moved back from Ottawa. He has blonde streaks in his hair and wears a charcoal grey sweater two sizes too small. I listen as they giggle over all the partying they’ll do once cheese grater boy’s gone. Its sounds like some bad murder mystery plot as they gleefully plan his unsuspected demise. I wonder if she’s been unhappy for some time, and her friend’s timely arrival back in the city created an opportunity to escape she simply couldn’t refuse.

I watch another young couple, clearly on a first date. I first assume it’s a blind date, someone’s set them up, with some thought they’d simply be perfect for one another. He’s nervous, and I can smell the cinnamon and nutmeg he heaps in grand amounts, with shaky hands, in his latte from across the room. ( I think I would’ve ordered coffee. Certainly nothing with the words “tall” or “skinny” or “half caff” in them, and definitely not strung together.). Alas, it is an online meet up, as I hear the guy say he’s never been comfortable trying out Plenty of Fish, but all his best girl friends had met their significant others that way. He winks at her and says, even still, he’d suggest they not tell his mother this is how they met. He smiles broadly at this joke, giving her a hopeful look. I think bringing up other women on a first date is just bad form, especially your mama. She’s here for a drink and a chat, not a life long commitment. Soon it becomes quickly apparent he’s lost her. Her face is more guarded now, she’s not laughing quite so hard at his jokes, and then I see her texting madly, under the table, imagining she’s talking to her best girl friend and saying get me the hell out of here!

I can think of at least three other coffee shops I’d vastly prefer – the air itself seems thick with pretention in here, it’s surprisingly cold for such a modern space, and one twinky barista’s kind of a dick – but for some reason it seems to provide me with the best perch upon which to write. I notice a bouquet of mostly white and green flowers duct taped to a pole outside – daisies and those ones that looks like alien spores sticking all about – and I realize that this was the very spot some poor unfortunate girl was struck down while crossing the road. I can’t remember if it was this November past, or the one before it. The flowers are pretty – despite my alien comparisons – and are wrapped in bright colourful paper of light green, yellow and pink. I imagine these must be her favourite colors (why else would they be paired together?), her favourite flowers, and someone who loved and misses her greatly has left them behind. Some might find this morbid, but I find it almost comforting, and like to think the girl must be somewhere smiling and watching, safe and at peace.

I see a family of three walk past, the little girl in pink stopping to smell the bright flowers. I watch her dad pull on her jacket roughly, telling her not to stop, to keep on walking, and I can hear mom raise her voice at him. She’s wearing a light jacket and her face is red from the cold and I can see her breath rising as steam before her. Dad looks angry, and the little girl bursts into tears. Dad seems to raise his hands, and my first thought is that he’s about to strike someone and I’m almost half way out of my chair – to knock sharply on the window, to dash outside, I’m not sure – but then I see him mouth the words “I’m sorry” as he shrugs out of his navy pea coat and hands it to his wife. I suddenly see the smiling face of the little girl pop up in the window, playing an impromptu game of peek a boo with me. She’s giggling as dad laughs and tousles her hair, his fleeting anger already forgotten.

Distracted as I’ve been, I turn back to my battle-scarred laptop. The plastic has snapped on one side around the rolling mechanism that supports the screen – a screen that now wobbles – and I have to remember to snap it back into place every time it’s open, for fear it might crack when I close it. Only two years old, it holds a number of large scratches and small cracks from dropping off my bed after I fall asleep with it drifting precariously on my chest, drifting off while either reading some news article or entertainment gossip, or perhaps working on a blog post. It’s a big black and silver monstrosity, with an unfortunate short battery life due to its many bells and whistles, and it weighs heavily in my man bag, where it’s bruised my hip in the past flopping around as I’m running late towards the many things I’m often late for…work, movies, meeting friends. Still, I’ve grown to love it, and its keyboard seems comfortable and familiar as my fingers glide fluidly across its surface, and I find myself scolding my work computer when it becomes difficult and unresponsive, saying “why can’t you be like Monster at home?”

I notice the time and think I should be going. I’d planned to stop at the grocery store for a few things, make some dinner, call a friend. But then some idea hits me, some image strikes me, a unique character trait pops into my head, or a dramatic plot twist just unravelled before my eyes.

So instead of that walk in the park, or cleaning the dishes in the sink, or curling up on the couch to watch a favourite television show, I’m back to my writing. Drawn into the story. Reshaping, redefining. Discarding characters, creating new ones. Always moving the plot forward, ever in motion.

It’s like an addiction. But so what? There are lots of worse addictions. Hell, I’ve probably HAD or will have most of ‘em.

And so these days, if I’m not eating or sleeping or working that pesky ol’ day job, this is probably where you’ll find me. Just having another good day as a writer 🙂


  1. Me · November 23, 2011

    Your homework is funny too. Just sayin’.

  2. SHEREE FITCH · November 24, 2011

    Love his book.. just got it at word on the Street! Tel us more about what you’ve been learning. Like your visuals.

    • Colin James Morrison · November 24, 2011

      His book’s great. And he’s a terrific teacher. Learned a lot about editing (which I need help with!), rewrites, endings and beginnings, dialogue…Lots of practical stuff I hope to have a chance to use. Maybe it’ll even help me get published someday 🙂

      • Colin James Morrison · November 24, 2011

        AND I’ll pass it along that you’re a fan of Jack Lime 🙂

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