An Unscripted Life of Words

Borrowing from the title of my blog, an unscripted life of words sums up how I sort of “stumbled” into writing. It wasn’t planned, not the way some people plot their way to the White House, anyway. No, before I even thought about a career as a writer, I had imagined myself seated at a Steinway in Carnegie Hall or Roy Thomson Hall or on the stage of the Grammy Awards, wooing the audience as I belted out song after song. Oh, how that seems like a lifetime ago.

I grew up in a musical household. My father played the piano, as did my mother and sister for a time. And then when I was six I took up piano lessons, demonstrating a natural ability for the piano since I played by ear. Music came to dominate my life, playing at church, singing in as well as directing adult and youth gospel choirs. I dreamed of the rock star life, at least as I saw it portrayed on TV — roaming from city to city performing, hearing the crowd chant my name for an encore.

While I love music, and still play the piano almost daily, something shifted when I entered high school. I found myself writing more. And by the time I had to start thinking about university, pursuing music was no longer of interest to me. I went off to study journalism, but it didn’t take long for me to realize that that was not the type of writing that I wanted to do. But what would I do? I took some time to think, moving to Nice, France, to study for a year. I returned to Canada and completed a Bachelor’s degree in French Literature. But while I was studying, I spent more time writing — holed up in a coffee shop or in a quiet corner of the university library — than I did researching term papers or studying for exams.

After university, life went on and me along with it. I moved to Ottawa, Ontario, and eventually joined the civil service. But my move to Ottawa was an important first step, as I look back now, on the trajectory of me becoming a writer. In Ottawa I made time for my writing, something that I hadn’t done before that time. I wrote in the morning before heading to the office, on my lunch hour, and in the evening before returning home. My morning writing time especially was sacred. I wouldn’t give it up for anything, even when I went on vacation or visited family.

And now, if I could point to an event that made me stop and listen to my heart’s true desire, it was the day my father passed away. It was March 2001 when cancer claimed my father, who was 58, and only three short years into his retirement. It made me realize that now was the time to do what I was passionate about, and not wait for my retirement. I didn’t just up and quit my job, though. Well, not exactly anyway. But I made changes to my lifestyle that allowed me to put my writing at the centre of things, and when I did that, providence moved.

Ten years after my father’s death, and with several publication credits to my name, my first novel, Freestyle Love, was released by Lazy Day Publishing. There were times when I wanted to give up because I doubted myself and my talent. There were seasons when almost every short story I submitted was accepted for publication and there were other times when rejection was the dominant theme. But I managed to keep on keeping on. I learned to husband my dreams and, oddly enough, I’ve learned to let myself be guided, to listen to that small still voice.

Yes, this writing life of mine has certainly been unscripted — taken me to places I never imagined going — but as the saying goes, I wouldn’t take nothing for my journey now.

Guest post by Marcus Lopes.


  1. Jo,
    i loved your piece. It was both thoughtful and provocative. But, why did you use your for you're and put an apostrophe in words that are supposed to be plural. If we can't count on you to take a minute to look up the difference between possessive and plural, or your and you're, who can a poor writer trust?

  2. Furthermore, bad typing caused me to not put I in capital letters and forget and miss a question mark. So, I guess I can't toss the first stone.

  3. Oh dear, forgive me Jo. It was to Marcus I was directing my finicky comments.

  4. Thank you for taking the time to comment.
    Hopefully Marcus will drop by and learn from your comments for future pieces.

    I post articles as I receive them so it's down to each writer to proofread and edit their own work in order to put their best foot (or text) forward.

  5. Dear Marcus,

    I'm glad you persevered and are sharing your talent with us. Congratulations on publishing your first novel.

  6. Wow nice blog post... got great things to learn from.. thanks anyways


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