Wednesday, January 30, 2013
Finding Bliss in NorthWord Magazine
I think many people have a writer hidden inside them. I know that I did, and it may surprise some that for years - decades, really - I wrote no more than grocery lists. I suppose I always knew I was a writer and that I had ideas fighting to get out and onto a page, but I just never took the time to put pen to paper (hands to keyboard?) to let the ideas flow. Writing is an incredible release, but I think it can also be a bit daunting because you don't have any idea if what you write is "good" or not. You just write it and then it sits there, your thoughts exposed to the world, and you wonder what to do with it. And just maybe sometimes you write something and you think it is worthy of being shared, but then you wonder where to share it. Where to send this poem, this short story, this outpouring of your heart? Well, if you are like me and have a yearning to see your words printed on paper you send it to NorthWord Magazine, our own little literary journal.
I've written about NorthWord before, and for good reason. It's a lovely little publication, and it is published by a group of volunteers in our own community. Even better it is comprised entirely of submissions from the public, each issue based around a theme to form a cohesive whole. The themes are often broad ones, like "Fire" or "Harmony", broad enough to welcome so many takes on the theme and so many thoughts. I have had the pleasure - the honour, really - of being published in NorthWord twice, and the first time, some months ago, was the first time I have seen my written work in print for decades.
Don't get me wrong, people. I love this blog and I pour myself into it, and I have done so for two years. I am proud of it, and what it has accomplished, and the opportunities it has brought me. However, I will admit that there is nothing quite like seeing your work in printed form, staring up at you from a magazine or a newspaper. I remember seeing my short story entitled "The Legacy" in NorthWord, and feeling a bit overwhelmed by it all. It is a true story, and a deeply personal one about my father, my daughter, and a piano, and when I shared it I knew it was something I would be proud to see in print. When that issue of NorthWord was published, under the theme "Harmony" and guest edited by my dear friend Kiran Malik-Khan, I was not only pleased and proud but a little tearful, too. It was a bit like sending my baby out into the world and having it received with open arms, and it was so very, very gratifying.
When you submit to NorthWord you do so by email, and you submit to the managing editor who is a lovely lady named Jane (and I mean lovely - she reminds me so much of one of my sisters, although I have not told Jane that, my stylish, petite, intellectual, and wonderful sister who so resembles Jane). This is where it gets interesting, though, as every issue of NorthWord has a guest editor, someone who decides which submissions will be included. And what Jane does when she receives the submissions is very intriguing - because you see she removes the name of the author, and then sends it on to the guest editor as an anonymous submission so that every single piece of work is judged on merit alone and not name recognition. This levelling of the playing field delights me, because it means every single submission is treated equally and without regard to who has written it. You could be an award winning novelist or a novice just out of the literary gate, a senior or a high school student - it doesn't matter. What matters are the words.
The last time I submitted to NorthWord, on the theme of "Fire", I did so with trepidation. I submitted one piece, a story about the massive Richardson fire that burned in our boreal forest a couple of years ago, and then, on a whim, I submitted a poem. The poem was not something I intended to submit. It was a last minute thought, a "well, I've never submitted a poem for publication" idea. It was, in fact, the first poem I have written since high school, and I was dubious about the quality. It did not rhyme. It seemed a bit faulty to me, lacking in some sort of poetic flow, but what it had was emotion, and truth. What it had was fire, and so I tacked it on to the email, and sent it. I knew that when it was inevitably rejected no one would know I had written it except the lovely Jane, and so my pathetic (and failed) attempt at poetry would remain hidden from the world. No one could have been more surprised than I to discover an email in their inbox, then, stating that my poem - the one I so doubted - had been selected for publication. And not selected because my name was on it, but rather because the guest editor had thought it worthy of publication. Maybe, just maybe, my poem wasn't as bad as I thought, and so when the most recent issue of NorthWord arrived, themed "Fire", there was my little poem, with my name on it - and again I felt close to tears.
Because of its nature NorthWord is dependent on the public to succeed. It is a free magazine, relying on sponsorships to survive, and it is entirely reliant on members of the public to submit their works for publication. You are not paid for your pieces, but please believe me when I say this: paid or not there is nothing like seeing something you have written in print. Every single time I pass a newspaper rack where I see a copy of Connect Weekly with a cover story I have written I get a little jolt of excitement. Every time I see a copy of YMM Magazine I get a little thrill knowing a story I worked so very hard on is in it. Every time I come across a copy of Big Spirit magazine in a doctor's waiting room I feel like flipping it open to the page where my name is, to quietly say "I did this". This is not some ego trip or some bold narcissism, though - this is simply pride in what I do. This is the visible result of my time spent researching and learning and listening and talking and, finally, writing. I always think it will get old, this feeling I get when I see my words in print, but it never seems to happen. Every single time I hold a copy of those two editions of NorthWord in which I have been published I get this feeling, this pride and this sense of accomplishment. The funny thing is that I am a writer and I don't have words for that feeling, because that feeling, as much as I try to capture it and force it onto this screen, refuses to be caught. But here's the amazing thing - I don't need to describe it to you, because you can feel it too.
NorthWord isn't just for professional writers, or those already published. It is for anyone who wishes to take a try at it, anyone who has ever wanted to experience the feeling of being published. It is for everyone who has ever wanted to share their thoughts with their world, uncertain though they may be about their value, just as I was so uncertain about my poem. It is for the writer inside all of us, and it is for those who wish to see their work judged on merit alone, not their name and whether or not they are known as a writer. It is, in the end, for you.
The theme of the next issue of NorthWord is "Change". The guest editor is a lovely lady named Dawn Booth, one well known as part of the SNAP Wood Buffalo team, and a person who I admire a great deal for so many reasons. Dawn is awaiting submissions to this issue, and Jane is waiting for your emails, ready to remove your name and send them on to Dawn where she will select those that based on merit alone deserve publication. You will not always be successful - my story on the Richardson fire was rejected, for instance. Rejection is part of the writing game, too, and so even if you are not successful there is no reason to give up. And while rejection can be painful it is the acceptance that is truly amazing. I remember getting the email advising me that my poem had been selected and thinking "wow, really? MY poem?". That's a moment I will likely never forget.
For me, though, the best moment is when I flip open the cover and find my name. It's in that moment that I find what can only be described as a form of bliss. It is in that moment that I feel this warm glow, knowing that something I have written is now on paper, just like all the magazines and newspapers and books I have read over the course of my life. That blissful feeling is something beyond compare, and beyond description, and the incredible thing is that there is a chance for you to feel it too. All you need to do is take a pen to paper, or hands to keyboard, and let your words flow. All you need is the courage to send an email with your work attached, knowing that if you are rejected no one will know the piece was yours - but knowing that if it is accepted you can attach your name to it if you wish, and see your name in print. It is a brave step, sending something you have written out into the world - and I know that better than anyone. I also know this: the rewards outweigh any risk in the end. That brave step, that feeling of trepidation and anxiety? Trust me - the bliss of seeing your words in print make it worth it. Seeing your work in print washes away the fear. I know, because a few months ago I attached a little poem to an email, expecting to never see it again, and instead I have a copy of it beside me today as I write. Instead my poem is right here in print, and every time I glance down at it I feel that warm little glow again. I look at the story about my father, and my daughter, and I realize that while my father is immortalized in my heart he is also memorialized in print. This is your chance, too. This is your chance to feel what I feel, and all it takes is one simple step. Write your poem, your short story, your thoughts - and then send it to NorthWord. You just never know what will happen, and you will never know how it feels to see your words in print if you don't try. So, this is my encouragement to you - just try. Release the writer hidden inside you. All I can say is that I am so eternally grateful that one day I took that step, because it changed my life forever. And I have never, ever regretted it for a moment.