Community & Current Events

Riel Nason: Novelist

By: Ann Douglas

Photography by Sean McGrath Author: Canadian Living Credits: Photography by Sean McGrath

Community & Current Events

Riel Nason: Novelist

By: Ann Douglas

Name: Riel Nason
Location: Quispamsis, N.B.
Job: Novelist

A stack of rejection letters for a short-story collection might have tempted a less determined writer to abandon her authorial dreams. But failing to sell her first book merely spurred New Brunswick novelist Riel Nason to get to work on a novel.

"I had a major agent representing me," she recalls. "So I figured I'd better get something else written."

Her dream
That "something else" became her award-winning novel The Town That Drowned (Goose Lane Editions, 2011), about a New Brunswick town that got flooded during the construction of the Mactaquac Dam in the late 1960s. The novel – which was her first – would go on to win the 2012 Commonwealth Book Prize.

Objectively speaking, Riel didn't have time to pen a novel when she started writing The Town That Drowned back in January of 2008. But she didn't allow that to stand in her way.

"My daughter was only seven months old at the time. My son was two and a half years old. And I was home with them," she recalls. "When my husband would come home at five o'clock, we'd eat supper really fast and I would nurse my daughter. Then I would zip upstairs and sit on the bed and my husband would take the kids downstairs to the playroom. I would put in earplugs and try to write for two hours or until there was crying or upset. I did that for three months until I had the first draft."

That first draft was written longhand in a notebook. Thirty drafts and a whole lot of "crazy doubt" later, Riel had a publishable book in her hands.

A sign she made and hung over her desk helped her stick to her writing. It read, in part: "You are either doing it or you're not. You will never have more time than you do now, only less. You are a good writer. You will regret it if you don't try."

The secret
If there were a reality show for would-be authors, Riel Nason would surely make it into the winners' circle, because she possesses an essential trait for anyone who hopes to be published: what Robert Herjavec, high-tech entrepreneur, television personality ("Shark Tank," "Dragons' Den"), and author of The Will to Win: Leading, Competing, Succeeding (HarperCollins, $33), describes as the ability to shake off failure. "You're going to have horrible days," he insists. "But you've just got to keep going."

Turning to colleagues who understand the challenges of the writing life is an important survival strategy for would-be authors, says John Degen, executive director of The Writers' Union of Canada. He advises connecting with others in the industry. "Writing in Canada is as much a relationship business as it is a craft. That means going out and making connections."

3 ways to fund your dreams
Are your dreams being limited by the amount of money you have? According to Vancouver writer Lori Bamber, a former financial adviser, there are three steps to renegotiating your relationship with money and creating the life of your dreams.

1. Dream big
"A lot of us dream too small," says Bamber. "We dream about getting out of our current jobs, but we haven't thought about anything beyond that."

Start envisioning the specific details of the life you hope to create. Ask yourself not what you want to do to earn money, but how you want to live.

Think about the kinds of activities you'll be doing, both at work and at play. Ponder the income you'll need to sustain those activities. Think about where that income will come from.

2. Get a handle on your spending  
This next step might not be quite as inspiring, but it's just as crucial. Track your expenses for three to six months and zero in on all non-essential spending. You'll probably find you're spending a lot of money you wouldn't have spent had you been living a life that made you happier, says Bamber.

"In my financial planning practice and in my work since, I have never met a person who did not spend a lot of money comforting themselves or rewarding themselves because of a job they didn't enjoy. That can be as much as 30 to 50 percent of their discretionary expenses. If that's true for you, that's income you won't need to replace when you are doing work you love."

3. Make a leaner budget
Write your business plan. Retrain for a new career. Start looking for a new job that might pay less but is a lot more satisfying. And while planning your escape, start implementing your new, leaner budget. Stash the extra in your account so you'll have a "cash cushion" to make your transition a little more comfortable.

We have more inspiring stories of extraordinary Canadians.
                                               
This story was originally titled "Meet the Dreamers" in the December 2013 issue.
           
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Riel Nason: Novelist

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