Photo credit: Emily Cooper Photography
Ivan Coyote is currently serving as a Specialist in Inclusion and Creative Expression at Yukon University. Ivan's 13th book, Care Of, was released in June 2021 by McClelland and Stewart, and their new show Playlist will premiere in February of 2024.
Willing Myself to Start
About 15 years ago, right around this same dark, slippery, and snowy time of year, I was driving in my truck down an icy highway, lonely on tour in Ontario, listening to CBC Radio. I was trying not to let the snowflakes that were space warping towards my windshield mesmerize me too much. Anna Maria Tremonti was interviewing Kay Ryan, the sixteenth Poet Laureate of the United States on The Current. Anna Maria asked her what so many journalists have asked so many artists before, Kay, where do you find your inspiration?
This was radio, so I couldn’t see the poet’s face, but I wish to this day that I could have. There was a pause, just a little more than a breath of space, and Kay Ryan spoke, and said something that made me immediately pull my truck over to the side of the road, and scramble for a pen. I needed to write down what she said exactly how she had phrased it, so I would get it right, and never forget it. And I never have. In fact, I memorized every word of it that day, and I have repeated it hundreds of times since.
“Inspiration?” Kay Ryan said. “Oh, I don’t depend too much on inspiration. I depend on starting. On willing myself to start.”
Over the years these words have become like a prayer to me, recited to invoke a state of readiness to write or create that always helps me just sit down and get to work. I am currently working on three projects right now: my fourteenth book, my seventh theatre show, and my first kid’s book, and I still repeat Kay Ryan’s quote to myself every time I settle my ass down into my chair, and it still works. And it apparently works for Kay Ryan too. Three years after I first heard her speak those words, she won a little old thing called The Pulitzer Prize.
So, I share them with you.
The single most important thing I have learned about my own creative practice over the years is that it is just that: practice. Just like the weightlifter quaking through the tenth rep of their third set, or the guitar player picking out a scale with calloused fingertips, for me, it is about just sitting down and beginning. And then sitting down and beginning again.
I cannot wait for magic stars to align on a perfectly clear night when the house is clean and I have no chores to do, or family obligations, and no new episodes of my favourite show to watch to sit down and write. I must not wait for creativity to strike me, or it never will. For me, creative spark is not a magic firefly that must be captured in a special jar without damaging the dust on its wings. Creative spark arrives only when I am already in the process of practising the act of creating.
I have learned that I must sit down and open my computer or notebook and depend upon starting. I must will myself to start. Once I have stretched out a few sentences and clumsily strummed a few word chords, then I can dare to invite the muse to visit me and make room for it to land on my shoulder, and whisper in my ear what might just happen next.
If I am listening. If I am already writing. If I am ready when inspiration comes, then I can open the door to it.
But I don’t depend too much upon inspiration. I depend on starting. On willing myself to start.
Book a one-on-one creative consulting session with writer and performer, Ivan Coyote.
Ivan Coyote is available for free 45-minute creative consulting sessions in their role as Inclusion and Creative Expression Specialist at Yukon University. Bring in your creative writing project (maximum of 25 pages), or your film pitch to talk it over, or your idea for that play you have always wanted to write. Bring your own ideas in and bounce them off of supportive ears for feedback and inspiration. Sessions can be booked at Ayamdigut Campus, at Innovation and Entrepreneurship (NorthLight) or at Midnight Sun Coffee Roasters.
If you have any questions or need help with booking your consultation, reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Free Write Fridays
Bring your ideas, your laptop or pen and paper and your coffee mug, and join us for a free write session. Open to all genres and all writers. This is a chance to show up for yourself and your writing in a friendly and mutually supportive space. We will say hello, sit down together and then get to work.
Finish that poem you have been working on. Start that novel you have been dreaming about. Get that homework done. Work alone, but together with Ivan Coyote.
Room A2309 (Academic Support Centre), Ayamdigut Campus
Born and raised in Whitehorse, Yukon, they are the author of thirteen books, the creator of four films, seven stage shows, and three albums that combine storytelling with music. Coyote’s books have won the ReLit Award, the B.C. Book Prize for Writing That Provokes, been named a Stonewall Honour Book, been longlisted for Canada Reads, been shortlisted for the Hilary Weston Prize for non-fiction, and the Governor General's Award for non-fiction twice. Ivan was given an honorary Doctor of Laws from Simon Fraser University in 2017, and an Honorary Doctor of Arts from Yukon University in 2023.
Coyote’s stories grapple with the complex and intensely personal topics of gender identity, family, class, and queer liberation, but always with a generous heart, and a quick wit. Ivan's stories manage to handle both the hilarious and the historical with reverence and compassion, and remind us all of our own fallible and imperfect humanity, while at the same time inspiring us to change the world.