Tigers on a gold leash.
On the day that Alice Munro was given the Nobel Prize, the sixteen-year-old New Zealand pop sensation Ella Yelich O’Connor – aka Lorde – performed live in the Q studios on CBC Radio.
I’m thrilled for Alice Munro, obviously. But honestly, I was more compelled by the Lorde interview.
Listen to it here. Her voice doesn’t sound like a pop star’s, does it? She’s soft-spoken, thoughtful, mysterious, curious. She is beautifully – and quietly – sure of herself.
Her voice gave me serious pause. This is the rare, confident voice of a teenager who makes art the way she wants, because she doesn’t care what anyone thinks. She’s not defensive, she’s not self-effacing, and she’s not aggressive.
(For Francesca Lia Block fans – I know you’re out there – isn’t Lorde like a Kiwi Witch Baby?)
This girl was trying to write short fiction like Raymond Carver when she was twelve years old!
About nine minutes into the interview, Jian Ghomeshi asks her when she knew that her song, “Royals,” was a big deal. Here’s how she responds:
“Well, I thought it was cool. I think if you have enough faith in something, then other people’s faith just kind of… I don’t know. I have a pretty good gut, and when I like something, it tends to be okay.”
She laughs, and peppers this profound comment with a few “I don’t knows,” which makes her actually sound like a 16-year-old. Which is weirdly reassuring.
A little later she says:
“If I think that something is cool and no one else does, I’m still going to think it’s cool. So I’m not really stressed out about, you know, what other people think about the music that I make.”
Read that sentence again, but picture Alice Munro saying it about the stories that she writes.
Now read it again, and picture yourself saying it about what you’re working on right now.
If it helps, picture yourself at sixteen years of age:
You’re wearing that army-green coat with the hood that’s too big for you. You’re sitting in the park, alone on a swing, digging your sneakers in the sand. You were listening to your Walkman as you walked here but the batteries died so now it’s just quiet. The sun is setting over the houses and the trees and you don’t have to be anything for anyone right now.
Now ask yourself: what do you think is cool?
Great news: that quiet teenager is still you. You are still just as unique, cool and brave as she is. But the awesome thing is that you’re so much older now. So. What do you feel like writing?
What if you used your talent, practice and experience but wrote with the energy of that sixteen-year-old?
What if you wrote with honesty, curiosity and excitement?
What if you wrote like a teenager who doesn’t care what other people think?
PS: I know the Little Bird Contest isn’t until next summer, but think about it: what if you started a brand new story right now? You could finish it and revise it and polish it by next June! Go here to find out more. If you aren’t a lifetime subscriber already, consider becoming one: you can download our full library of winning short stories selected by Alix Ohlin, Zsuzsi Gartner, Matthew Trafford and Jessica Westhead. And you’ll get an exciting new volume every year.
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