I’m 72. When I was eight years old, I wrote my first story. It was a miniature comic book starring a budgie bird. Now, this was no accident, since we actually did have a budgie named Billy. However, my story’s budgie was different, since I turned him into a her. Yes: I wrote a feminist bird biography at age eight… notwithstanding the fact that I somehow made her give immaculate birth to a baby budgie, and thereafter had her sport a bandage on her lower abdomen in about the same spot as my dad’s recent appendectomy dressing.
My next authorial milestone occurred the following year when I wrote a composition that won a writing contest perpetrated by the head of the English Department of the Protestant School Board of Greater Montreal. (The fact that I was a Jewish child in the Protestant School system was inconsequential; we weren’t allowed in the Catholic system – which was mostly French, and our Jewish system? Please. Too Jewish, as comedian Jackie Mason used to say.) In any case, I got to wear a gold cardboard crown that the visiting English-Department director personally bestowed upon my curly-haired head.
However, my ardent desire to write pure fiction, such as it was, became sadly derailed the year after that. As a ten-year-old, I had fallen in deep (though unrequited) love with the Cherry Ames series of books. Cherry was a nurse, or at least a student nurse. I didn’t understand or appreciate the difference, so in the knock-off story I started to write, the heroine was a nursing student at the exciting beginning of her nascent career – analogous to my writing career, I guess you could say.
Well: my hopes for a future as a novelist were shaken, because my literal-minded mother dared to critique my work, and insisted, for example, that student nurses’ uniforms were not all white. Since I’d been used to unconditional praise of my writing to that point, I couldn’t cope well with any criticism. I was not familiar with the concept of “revision.”
Cut to the present. I am now very familiar with the concept of revision. In fact, I enjoy revising, editing, fixing my (and others’) writing even more than the original act of writing itself. I can’t wait until I finish a first draft of a piece so that I can set upon it with metaphorical scissors, tape, etc., reconstructing, chopping and constructing what I hope will be better literature.
I’ve also discovered that I’m far more comfortable with truth – especially memoir – than I am with fiction. Sure, I may slightly enhance the facts of a memory, but the essential story is unvarnished.
Another thing: I’ve become much more at ease with the concept of a middle. English teachers used to tell me that I had great beginnings and endings, but – where was the middle? They were right, of course. And it’s because, as I said earlier, I was so eager to get to the fun phase of revising, that I rushed to end things rather than linger over a nice conflict-riddled core.
Finally, here I am with two of my books gracing my coffee table, and magazine and newspaper pieces in my files turning rather yellow with age by now, but I am still plotting (pardon pun) my next move. You see, my ending to all of this hasn’t been written yet. How could it be? I’m not quite finished with the middle.
Montrealer Ellie Presner is a former social worker. Her blog, https://
Ellie has written, edited, and proofread for a wide variety of publications, but the high point of her writing career is the nomination she received for a National Magazine Award for “Taking Back the Night,” which was reprinted in Essays: Patterns and Perspectives by Oxford University Press. She still gets a charge out of the fact that her name is just above Bertrand Russell’s in the Table of Contents.
Ellie recently published her first book, Surviving Hollywood North: Crew Confessions from an Insider, a memoir of her decade in the film business as a script coordinator.
When not feverishly working at her Mac, Ellie may be found ensconced in her recliner with her fluffy long-haired cat, Annie, glued to her lap.
Ellie Presner is a Montreal writer and editor. Her books include a memoir of the crazy decade she spent as a script coordinator: Surviving Hollywood North: Crew Confessions from an Insider ; and First Kiss and other True Fiction stories of angst, anger and loads of humour.
Find her at:
T – @EllieMtlQc
F – facebook.com/ellie.presner
W – crossedeyesanddottedtees.
About SURVIVING HOLYWOOD NORTH
Back in the 1990s, Ellie Presner worked on a TV series with Tony Scott, laboured on a script with Patrick McGoohan, chatted with John Ritter over canapés and nodded “Hi!” to Terence Stamp in the hall. Ellie’s irreverent memoir, Surviving Hollywood North: Crew Confessions of an Insider, reveals the ups and downs she experienced while immersed in the flourishing film business in Montreal.