This blog is the first in a series called The Books That Made Me A Writer. To begin the series, each of the writers in the One Lit Place Advanced Manuscript Workshop are weighing in on the works of fiction and nonfiction that have been so formative and meaningful as to have shaped, informed, and effectively made them into the writers they are today.
by Deb Mowatt
#5 Heidi, Johanna Spyri
I can’t consider the books that spurred me to write without remembering those that aided my passion for reading.
My parents and grandparents enjoyed books, filled our shelves full of them, and read to me often when I was very young, so to read seemed as much a part of being alive as breathing. When I turned ten, my grandmother gifted me a with a collection of classics from Rand McNally & Company. Gems like Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, Gulliver’s Travels, Treasure Island, and so many more provided journeys of imagination that heightened my love of reading and my worldview.
Of all those precious gems, Heidi was my favourite. What an adventure Heidi lived; what a resilient, young woman she was. I read that novel many times over and, although age-stained and musty from decades in a box in my parent’s basement, it was one book I salvaged when selling their home. It required months of airing out before I could reread it, but here it sits today on my desk as I write this, an old friend that has added so much to my life.
#4 Writer’s Market, published by Writer’s Digest Books
Somewhere around 1985, I discovered Writer’s Digest Magazine and through it, their yearly publication, The Writer’s Market. My first copy of the thick publishing info-packed book, was purchased by mail − the request letter for it typed up on a manual typewriter, just as my first submissions to the publishers listed in it were.
As I was obsessed with writing but lacked the knowledge of how “real writers” got their efforts into print, The Writer’s Market became my go-to learner’s manual on how the publishing industry worked: how to write proposals, submit material, organize my time (around a house full of kids, work, and other interests), what markets my work was suited to and where contests were available, plus so much more. With that book came a new reality for me: I was not the only person suffering with the crazy need to hammer ideas onto a page and other writers had no magic wands to wave for instant success either.
It was thrilling to find the book in my local library (even though it had to be read in the building). I still buy a copy occasionally for my personal use since each new edition is fresh and filled with valuable info I like to have on hand, and because the library won’t let me scribble or highlight in theirs.
#3 The Educated Imagination, Northrop Frye
First introduced to me as a university text, The Educated Imagination caused me to think about the value of the study of literature and the drive to write. Since first reading it, I have reread it many times, and was pleased, so many years after that first reading, when my son came home from university to say that his professor required him to read the very same book.
There are many ways to become educated, and what I have taken away from my readings of this book is that ongoing broad learning is invaluable as a building block for one’s imagination and essential for those who feel compelled to write.
Now in it’s 19th edition, The Canadian Writer’s Market became another go-to source of information for me when, filled with excitement that there was – finally – a comprehensive resource for Canadian writers, I happily paid for my first copy. Filled with information about who publishes in Canada, how to present your work to those publishers, contest information, practical advice, etc., and updated yearly, The Canadian Writer’s Market became essential to me as a writer. Also, the book opened my eyes to just how vibrant and valuable our Canadian publishing industry is and encouraged me to submit my work within my home country.
As soon as I was old enough to walk the miles to the library in my home town on my own, I became a fixture there during after-school hours. The library, at that time, was a place of silent reverence and, when the almighty librarian suggested to me that I might appreciate The Diary of Anne Frank, I dutifully took it home with me to read. She was a wise woman, that librarian. With that one suggestion, she opened my eyes to the world as I had never known it.
Anne’s writing captivated me, taught me, upset me, and even made me laugh. I wondered how she did it – how she found the strength to write with such honesty or to write at all given the horrors of her reality. Yet Anne yearned to be a writer, and so she wrote.
There has been no other book in my life to have such an impact on me as Anne’s book. Her writing opened my heart and mind and started me asking questions about truth, about war, about love and life in ways I would never have imagined before. Through her writing I came to believe that the urge to put words on paper, if even just for one’s own purpose, is among the greatest gifts life has to offer.
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Bio: Deb Mowatt is an award-winning author of several short stories and poems. Her non-fiction book, Job Search Sucks! was published in 2010, and the e-book version is soon to be released. In December 2018, Deb completed a collection of some of her shorter works of fiction under the title Grab Bag. She is a proud member of Cambridge Writer’s Collective and a happy online student of One Lit Place in the Advanced Manuscript Workshop, where she is completing a novel, with four other projects awaiting their turn in her filing cabinet.