Jennifer Dinsmore Editorial
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The Magic of Stories

I was four years old and sitting quietly on the carpet in my kindergarten classroom, butt firmly planted on the square of red tape. I sat staring at the cover of a picture book, completely mesmerized. I don’t recall if it was silent reading, my classmates doing the same around me, or if it was our free time and the other kids rushed around me in a frenzy of make-believe play. Either way, I was oblivious to anything but the book’s glossy cover. It had a lilac border surrounding the image of a storybook king in profile. (You know the type: luxurious, fur-lined robes and golden crown atop wavy dark hair.) The king was reading a book — the very book I held in my hands. My young mind was captivated by the repeating image this created, wondering at the many kings that stretched out into infinity while growing smaller and more abstract. For how long I gazed at this cover I do not recall, nor do I remember what the story was about. I’m sure I quickly forgot all about it, in fact. (After all, what four-year-old bothers with existential musings when there is the water station to play with?!)

Yet as I grew I would catch myself thinking about the book at odd moments, and that same indefinable sense of . . . something would hover at the edge of my thoughts. My nose was constantly buried in books, seeking to recapture that feeling. It was as though I had yet to solve some mystery and it was not until years later that I came to realize that what I experienced as a young child was simply the awe at the potential that stories hold. They have the power to amuse, frighten, console, and educate. They have the power to suspend one in a single, endless moment, taking one completely outside themselves and making anything seem possible. They are, quite simply, magic.

But as with magicians pulling rabbits out of top hats, with age I found that the magic began to fade away. Stories, once producing endless awe and enjoyment became routine and boring. Predictable. I couldn’t focus on any one book. Originally interested I’d toss them aside after only a few chapters because the outcomes seemed obvious. Oh, it was the ex-husband who did it? Sure. Oh, they break up only to realize how much they truly love each other and either a) a tragedy befalls one and they never get to profess their undying allegiance or b) they spy each other across a crowded coffee shop and everything gets wrapped up in a neat little bow? Yawn. Bestsellers fell flat, short stories too focused on the minutiae of everyday, fantasies and science fiction seemed trite. (Hero is bestowed task, is joined by offbeat sidekick, bad things happen, discovers critical life lesson, saves day. End scene.) What was worse was the knowledge that I would have loved many of these stories had I been in a better frame of mind. I had to admit to myself that I had become bored with reading, seeing it as an almost pointless endeavour. A concept completely foreign to the girl who buys purses based solely on their ability to hold a novel or two!

Over the past year I have tried, in vain, to locate the source of my discontent. Had my job in publishing brought me too close to the source? Was it the fault of reading challenges and pledges? Perhaps it was the simple stress of trying to keep up with what’s new and hot and designated as “must reads”. I felt exhausted and overwhelmed. As a child I had composed countless adventure tales so I sought to write again, hoping it would rekindle the magic. Yet all that resulted in is numerous documents taking up space on my hard drive, abandoned after only a page or two. I began to contemplate other things to do with my life. Should I go back to school? Become a personal trainer or interior decorator? As fraught as my relationship to them had become, books still exerted a pull over me that I could not deny. I longed for the days I’d simply wander the shelves of my local library or bookstore, unconcerned about what I felt I should be reading and selecting tomes at random. But who had the time to so nowadays? In my late twenties I have many other things to contend with and, at best, all I could squeeze in was an indifferent chapter or two before bed. The bookworm born that day in my Kindergarten classroom longed to feel, just for a second, what I had felt when gazing at all those purple-robed kings. I wanted that promise of something more. I wanted to be transported.

Which brings me to the present day. I came to realize that the only time I had come close to any type of job satisfaction of late was with the odd freelance assignments I picked up. Though practically working two full-time jobs I enjoyed the nights I’d spend bent over a manuscript, searching for typos and flagging underdeveloped storylines. So, after some careful thought and a lot of anxiety I decided to quit my job and begin my career as a freelance editor. What a relief! I finally feel that I have direction once again and am truly excited about helping writers of all types polish their words. (So if you have a thesis paper due or tired manuscript you need rejuvenated, why not get in touch for a free sample edit?) What’s more, I’ve managed to land a part-time job as a bookseller and am beginning to feel that magic start creeping back into my life. It’s a joy to hear the unique experiences of those who come into the store, seeking something to ease their troubles (or perhaps solve them). They too are seeking the magic that is inherent in all stories, something I believe we as humans are hardwired to do. There is no denying we are a story-telling race; we have done so throughout history and will continue to do so until the end. We tell stories every day — to ourselves, to strangers, to our children at night and around campfires. We give in to the impulse to weave narratives (true or untrue, meant to uncover truths or conceal them), and in doing so we reveal more of ourselves than we realize.

Seeing as how I am on a bit of a journey of self-discovery, I’ve decided to also do a little armchair travelling this year across my lovely home country of Canada. What stories do we as a nation tell? Are we as disparate as we all sometimes think, or more close than we lead ourselves to believe? I’ll also seek to get back to the simple pleasure of wandering through bookshelves and seeking the magic within those titles that call out to me. (I’m always open to suggestions so feel free to share in the comments below.)

On a final note, I’ll be providing tips on writing and editing for authors, bloggers, and students. I’ve been working on a few ideas over the holidays for fun and useful extras so be sure to sign up below if you don’t want to miss out!

I do hope you’ll join me as I explore life between the pages. Gather round, everyone, and let’s get to it . . .