Wednesday, June 23, 2010

"On a creative writing class just finished" by Ingrid Haring-Mendes

Dear Brian, and all my fellow Creative Writing class friends,

I was browsing through the Chapter's yesterday, for a novel to send to my brother. He is a doctor in one of England's fine hospitals, but will be spending the next ten days in Austria visiting with our mother and father. Last night my parents flew out to Vienna, and agreed to put two books into their suitcase. I had no problem picking the first novel, I knew it would be "Three Cups of Tea" by Greg Mortenson.

When my brother was a little boy he wanted to be a mountain climber, he's still an adventurer at heart and so I knew this would be the perfect book. The second novel turned out to be more of a problem; I've already given him some of my favourite stories ever written, like "A Fine Balance" and "Lord of the Rings", while some of the other books I love, like "Eat, Pray, Love" and "The Horse Whisperer", may not quite be his cup of afternoon tea. And so I found myself walking up and down the fiction section looking for a suitable novel.

While I was doing this, the most peculiar thing happened. There on a shelf among all the colourful spines, I saw one that had the words 'by Ingrid Haring-Mendes' on it. I couldn't quite make out the title yet, but I smiled, as I imagined the feeling of looking at my name along side all those hard working, brave writers.

It has been a joy to have spent the last two months of Tuesday evenings discovering the art and work of creative writing with all of you. Thank you. I remember not to long ago leafing through The Living Arts Centre catalogue wondering whether I should take the Black and White Film Photography class. I'm a photographer, but a digital photographer, and I've been toying with the thought of learning black and white film for a while. But then I saw the Creative Writing course, and a tiny little voice in my head said, "pick me, pick me, pick me." And I listened. I'm mighty thankful I did, because I think these Tuesday evenings may have just changed the whole course of my life. I can't ever go back to not writing now.

I love what I've learned about myself from this class: my favourite things to write are first sentences. When I open my eyes in the morning, a first sentence makes itself conscious, or when I'm in the shower, I'll think up something that sounds just the way I'd like it to.

I learned a lot about writing too. Like how important it is to write every day, even when my head is empty of ideas and words. I read in Chris Guillebeau's manifesto, "279 Days to Overnight Success" that you should set yourself a word count to write every day, like 1000 words if you're really ambitious, or maybe 800 if you know you'll never manage the 1000. I picked 500 on each of the five days of the week, with weekends being optional. I've found that following this can be a bit tricky, particularly when I'm trying to describe by showing, not telling a white beach house. There's this mosquito that keeps buzzing around in my head, especially ferocious, on days when inspiration is lacking. His favourite phrase sounds like this "bzzzz I have nothing to write about, bzzzzz there's nothing to write about, bzzzzz I write like crap."

You see I have this idea that I need to be brimming with inspiration in order to write. That the words need to flow out of me, flood the paper, and unite with a big bang to create a masterpiece that will be studied by scholars of literature hundreds of years from now. One day however, I heard Elizabeth Gilbert speak, in a talk she gave for TED in 2009 on nurturing creativity, about how she approached writing after her mega blockbuster memoir "Eat, Pray, Love." She made a vow long ago that she will write, no matter what. She will meet her end of the bargain, whether inspiration chooses to join her there or not.

I also realized how important it is to read every day. There are pieces of writing that are so exquisite, I often feel they must have been transcribed from some heavenly place that became accessible to those hard working people who took the time to write and write and write, even when they wanted to scream and scream and scream. Why pass up these masterworks?

Through the course of our Tuesdays evenings, I've discovered reading for more than just the pleasure of entertainment. I read to see how a writer writes. For example, I'm working on a story that is meant to be read like a memoir, but it's really fiction. So I took "Memoirs of a Geisha" down from my shelf, and reread it for a second time, because Arthur Golden has so kindly worked to perfect that genre. And on the days when I lament the fact that I wrote better in the fourth grade than I do now, I think about how Arthur who threw out his entire 800 page draft and began again because he couldn't find the right voice.

Perhaps the most important teaching of all though, came from you Brian, in the form of your subtle yet very clear encouragement to submit our work for publishing. When you first suggested this it took me by surprise, but you made it appear so simple, that one day I found myself submitting a piece of my work for the first time, and then I submitted a second piece. Of course I'm still waiting to be published, it would be rather miraculous if it were to happen after just 28 days of writing, but I like the new habit.

And so before I get carried away with my ramblings - I clearly remember one of our first lessons here, that if you're sharing in class please keep the word count to the 800 mark - I have one last thing to tell you all dear class mates and Brian. If in many, many, many years - because writing like all art takes much practice - you find yourself in Chapters or Indigo, walking back and forth between the rows of books, and spy on the shelf a spine with the words 'by Ingrid Haring-Mendes' on it, take a minute and give yourself a pat on the back. It is because of all of you and your encouragement that the book found its way onto that shelf.

Sincerely and with a big hug to all,

For information about Brian's creative writing courses and writing workshops, see here.


  1. Ingrid, what a lovely essay! You write very well. I expect to see you on a bookshelf soon, and I look forward to reading you.


  2. Ingrid,
    I, too, have recently finished one of Brian's courses, Intensive writing and I cannot agree more that they are worth the effort of that one day commitment for quite a number of weeks. The atmosphere, the discussions, the support is always inspiring, energizing, rewarding. There are many pathways to success and they differ from person to person. Good luck on yours, may it be not a very long one and may you meet with success at the end! Dreaming, writing and persevering are definitely the 'prerequisites' of what it takes to get there. Once again, good luck!

  3. Ingrid, you write beautifully. I am sure I will one day walk into Chapters, pick up your newly published novel, take it to the counter and smile in anticipation of its reading.I enjoyed listening to your work in class, you are a sensitive writer. regards Sue


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