But He Must Have Moments of Stillness: Letters to Yann Martel


I quit my job in February without a ‘next step’. I could no longer stand the idea of being a labourer when my passion was the written word. Too many days in a row of feeling too tired to write or having spent a full eight hours repeating the same monotonous task to find any inspiration. I needed a break.

Within the first few days of being unemployed, I promised myself that I would spend each day as if I was working my dream job: a novelist. The only problem was that I still lacked inspiration. I could sit at the keyboard all day and write about anything but fiction. I think there may be a stage fright element. I’m afraid to find out what might be in the abyss, but that fear is manageable, I’m more afraid that my audience will not like what I have to say.

In other ways I was embarrassed of what I might write. I was a 25-year-old white man living in my parents’ basement, and worse, I was unemployed in the way a gaggle of self-absorbed white girls from upper-crust neighbourhoods in New York had started the show Girls; a way that leaned heavily on parental support and a ‘my mom says I’m talented’ mentality. I was too late to write the spin-off series anyway.

So instead of writing fiction, I wrote anything I could think of. A somewhat rewarding exercise, but having made my way through both an English degree and a journalism diploma by largely enjoying the craft, it was not all that productive. I was already good at spinning opinions and rants and criticisms.

Within the first week, I came across Yann Martel’s website, What is Stephen Harper Reading, and decided to take on the challenge for myself. As Martel had sent Harper a novel and a letter every two-weeks, I would complete a novel and a letter in the same time frame. Right now, I’m beating Harper 3-0. The fourth and fifth books will arrive courtesy of Amazon in a day or two (a fact I’m dismayed about as I take great pleasure in rummaging through piles of musty old books to find a few hidden gems in thrift and antique stores around the country).

The challenge of it wasn’t the only reason I took to Martel’s path. As an aspiring writer, I’ve taken note of the lifestyles of various greats. Many wrote in the morning for only a few hours per day, and for some, the first order of business to get the creative juices flowing was to write correspondence, whether it be to family, friend, or publisher.

I’ve found that Martel’s book list has given me an opportunity to pick up books I’d never thought to read. I read constantly and from a considerably diverse library, but it has been a nice change to step even beyond that.

I doubt Martel will ever read these letters and that’s more than fine with me. Each letter is a short-form book report, an application of thematic elements to day-to-day life, and how, as a grown man, I can apply the lessons of a novel to be a better, more conscientious person.
Read the first of Bryan’s letters to Martel here: The Death of Ivan Ilych
Feature Image created by Bryan Myers.


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