There’s a 75-year-old woman who lives about four blocks away from me. She doesn’t speak any English, and she’s never read any of my books.
But, get this, she is my biggest fan.
She doesn’t know what I write, but she believes in my message anyway.
This woman raised me.
She taught me my multiplication tables. Showed me how to garden. Fry an egg. Wash my clothes. She made me three meals a day for most of my childhood.
This woman is my grandmother.
My grandma’s greatest attribute is her smile. You know it’s real because the corners of her eyes crinkle when she does it. She’s about 4’10”, 110 pounds, has a pixie cut that’s streaked with white and gray hairs, and she wears these thick wool vests in the middle of the summer. She doesn’t believe in sunscreen, and she’s the most frugal woman on the planet. My grandma is no saint or cute old lady. She’s feisty, mercurial and temperamental. Most importantly, she’s a fighter. A survivor. And she taught me how to be one too.
Grandma endured an impoverished, war-torn childhood. At one point, she survived off tree bark and grass and lost all her toenails because she couldn’t afford shoes. Just when Grandma started leading a more comfortable life (she married her college sweetheart, my grandpa, and he became a CEO), she gave up her home and quit her job so she could come to Canada and help my parents look after me and my baby brother. Her life went from upper-middle class to lower class at the snap of a finger, and she became an unpaid, glorified babysitter.
When I was a kid, I hated my grandma. She was strict and mean and forced me to eat veggies. She yelled at me over the littlest things and always told me that with my terrible attitude and lack of perseverance I’d never amount to greatness. I spent most of my life trying to excel in school, hoping it’d make her proud. She never was. Or at least she never showed it.
When I got pregnant at twenty-one, straight out of university, my family was terrified that I’d never make anything of myself. They were afraid that since I decided to start a family so soon, I’d never pursue a career. That I’d stay at home all day instead of making money. That, to them, was unheard of. A great shame and waste of my talents, they thought.
Fast forward to a year later, when I began my writing journey after my daughter was born, everyone had their reservations.
You can’t make money off writing novels, they said.
No one will read it, they said.
Only my grandma (and my husband) believed in me. Even when my husband had doubts, Grandma didn’t. I had no clue why. She’d never shown much interest in my other pursuits before. But for some reason, she was a champion and supporter of my writing. In fact, she volunteers to babysit almost every single day so I can squeeze in some precious, much needed, toddler-free writing time.
Last week, Grandma and I had a chat. I told her I was afraid I’d fail. That I’d write for years and never see any success. She told me: “You’re not good at dancing or singing or acting or anything else. Your greatest talent is your ability to write. To craft amazing stories. If you give up now, all the work you’ve done up to this point would’ve been for nothing. Giving up is not an option. Writing is your passion. It’s your everything. Keep writing.”
I was stunned. I asked her, “But what if I write and write and nobody reads it? Isn’t that pointless, then?”
To which she wisely replied, “Everyone starts somewhere. Gymnasts and athletes and actors go to school and get trained for years before anyone even knows their name. Do they stop their daily training just because no one can see how hard they’re working? Do they give up? No! You can’t expect to be famous overnight. It’ll take lots of time!”
My grandma, who doesn’t read and doesn’t know a thing about writing or publishing, happens to give the best advice. And she’s spot on about everything. I just needed someone to echo all the advice I’ve read in online forums and heard from friends.
I’m going to keep writing because I love it. Because I need to get the words out. Because characters come up to me when I’m about to go to sleep at night and beg me to tell the world their story. Some of the stuff I write is no good. But that’s part of the process. Not every piece an artist creates is gold. Sometimes they’re just rough sketches. Failures teach me something valuable each and every time.
I write because that’s my gift and my purpose and I won’t squander it.
I might not be great yet, but hopefully, with time, I will be.
Thanks for reading.