Whenever l write a sentence I am sure it is the best. It is the best sentence I could have written and the best sentence that has been written. It means exactly what I meant it to say. Is this unruly confidence the nature of the writer, or the nature of written words?

I feel safe under words, when they’re written down. When I speak them – and when I speak them in a different language – they’re lost to me, invisible because I haven’t seen them and I didn’t plan for them to come out that way. They float somewhere above my head, marking me. I lose confidence in myself. That’s not what I meant to say! That’s not me!

I wonder if it’s what people feel like when they write and they can’t express themselves. I wonder if people who can speak and say what they mean feel as confident speaking as I do writing. Imagine that, standing there with confidence.

I asked my students to write a project in sentences. They choose an image and write a sentence next to it. This sequence of sentences and images forms a story. A class book will then be made up of one sentence and image from each student’s story. My teacher asked me today whether this was maybe a bit too easy for them. In grade three, they’ve been writing sentences for a while. With the most confidence I’ve had yet, I said that I respectfully disagree. I said that as a writer, I think that writing a really good sentence is a lot harder than writing a paragraph you’re not that worried about.

I said it with the confidence of someone who has written a lot of sentences and who knows how that is done. I said it with the confidence of someone who goes on tangents in her blog posts and somehow remains sure she will come back to the main thing. I said it like I meant it, my hand on my heart when I said the word “writer.”

And I realized that confidence doesn’t come from the words themselves, the ones I’ve written down or the ones that happened to come out of my mouth. Confidence comes from somewhere a lot more meaningful, and to have forgotten that is absurd. Confidence seeps through you. It’s in there and it fills up everything. That I write using it only means that I dig deeper then when I’m speaking. I need to speak to you, to speak to them, from a place deeper in me. I need to stand there knowing who I am and I need to share that with everyone. I need to seep out at you. I need to!


(from Amy Cuddy’s TED Talk on power posing,

photo from

I just put a sticky note next to my bed, where I roll over every morning and wonder why I ever got myself into a job where I have to wake up in the mornings. It says “Confidence.” The “e” trails off, and it’s boxed over in pen marks to indicate an evident stress on the one word that’s on the sticky note. And maybe tomorrow I’ll scoff at myself for writing it, and maybe the next day it will fall down as sticky notes do. But maybe the next day, or the one after, (Friday, thank god), I will wake up and I will meditate, as I am supposed to do every day of 2013 and onwards, and I will think to myself: confidence. And it won’t seem so silly, the word and the idea, because I will have been practicing it all week.

Fake prose

Sometimes I can write a page of words without them meaning anything. It’s a problem (or blessing) that arose from the take-no-prisoner’s writing style I used as a kid: I must write a story, no time for thinking. Sentences would drop out of the sky with fully-formed stories behind them. The fully-formed stories would turn into my story. But since I hadn’t written a story yet, since I only had one page of words in front of me, it was meaningless, all nonsense.

Sentences like “she walked through mud without caring about the time that she had been dragged through it.” Sentences like “she believed in the worst of times.” Sentences like “she lived in tribes, she ate in a cafeteria.” Nonsense sentences like these all mean something to me when I write them down, the same way dreams make sense when you are in them. Then you wake up and you remember that there was a whole story behind that part of the dream you can remember. Then you try to tell somebody about the dream and it all falls apart. That wasn’t real. I dreamt that.

I taught myself to write by writing non-writing, by writing fake prose. I did a first draft of a novel this way and got a nasty shock when I revisited page one. But having gone through that unconscious writing phase where everything and anything meant something and should be written down let me get to where I am now: with a novel that’s actually a story. The holes are filled in and sentences are now used intentionally.

Journals- Keeping Your Memory_2

(photo from West Island Gazette)

Then a few nights ago (fake prose is always written at night) I lay down (fake prose is always written on one’s back, with a computer up against the knees) and hammered out a two page story that I’m sure isn’t a real story. I have yet to read it again, but I know it contains sentences of the aforementioned kind, where things are suggested and things are interesting, but they’re coming from a place inside my head that isn’t really me.

If it’s not really my thinking process coming up with the prose, then the writing process becomes an interesting one. It means that I am interpreter, rather than a composer. It means I’m looking for meaning in language rather than trying to use language to expose meaning. It acknowledges the notion that stories fall out of somewhere complete unto themselves and that it’s the writer’s job to mine them. And since that’s what I believe about stories, then I’m happy that I write in a way that can deliver them.

I hope that when I think I’m writing fake prose I’m really writing magical prose. We all know I’m just writing bad prose and trying to pass it off as something else, but there is something undeniably magical about a first draft, before the words realize where they are.