“My one piece of advice is to forget the he said, she said, and to write about what you know. Nothing matters when you write. It’s just you and the paper. Forget deadlines and write with confidence. Confidence is the difference between ordinary and extraordinary writers. Be bold – say what is real and what is almost always the hardest to write.”
–Nigel Regan, Former Chief Reporter at The Bermuda Sun
No, this wasn’t a quote from an article I found online. This was a quote from a conversation I wrote down in my journal during a family vacation in Bermuda on October 7, 2004.
The story goes that we were on a bus to Hamilton and I found my 16 year old self sitting next to a guy reading a magazine and listening to the rare and elusive CD player. He took out his camera and I asked him if he had gotten any good shots. He looked up, and in a British tongue said, “No, they’re quite boring.” Being the curious teenager I was, I asked if I could see. He responded with a laugh.
He was a reporter for the Bermuda Sun, which I thought was the coolest thing in the entire world. He showed me pictures he had taken for a story he was working on about women on the island being separated from their families. I found myself saddened by it, and I asked him how he was able to write about such powerful things.
We chatted for what seemed like forever. He offered me advice on learning shorthand – a skill I’ve attempted, but never been able to master. I told him about my interest in writing and I asked him what advice he would give to someone like me. That’s when he gave me the quote above. I remember writing it down almost immediately on that bus because I never wanted to forget it.
To him, this was a minor conversation in passing. To me, he was the most brilliant person I had ever met.
I was enamored by the way he spoke of writing – his passion contagious. I laughed when he said that the only writer anyone should ever read, no matter how challenging, was William Shakespeare. He added that ‘if reading a novel requires effort or struggle – don’t read it.’ However, he acknowledged that ‘Billy Shakespeare is worth that effort and struggle.’
I never forgot about this conversation over the years. It’s no surprise that while I was cleaning out boxes filled with my old journals that I found this entry – an entry dedicated entirely to this encounter.
In an instant, I was back on that bus and I could see his face and hear his voice. I could feel the sun on my skin and the salt air in my lungs. As I sat there smiling, I did what any normal person would do: I Googled him. I went through some of his work online and found an article about what he’s doing now (circa 2014).
So where the heck am I going with this?
My point is that you never can underestimate the impact you have on someone’s life. I wrote about that encounter multiple times in my journal. I wrote how I wanted to live a life like him. I wanted to have an easiness about me. I wrote about how I was sick of writing about things that were meaningless. I erased entire thesis papers because they were too much of a struggle to understand.
In a time of teenage angst, he made me feel like I was valued and could bring something to the table. My parents did too, but let’s be honest, they have to do that – having a stranger do this? Well, that was meaningful.
Following that encounter, I watched the voice in my journals change. I started writing without fear. Embarrassingly honest entries flooded the pages, but at least they were always real. This sense of honesty is something I still try to accomplish in my writing today. I want you to laugh with me. I want you to feel the blush rise up from your chest and settle onto your cheeks. I want you to see the world as I do for long enough to get chills or have tears well up in your eyes.
Thank you Nigel for being honest with me that day. Thank you for not shrugging me off as some annoying kid on the bus. Thank you for offering me advice that on some subconscious level I absorbed. Thank you for helping me be brave and encouraging me to write confidently. Thank you for being one of my favorite things about that family trip.
I’ve come to find that the greatest moments are usually the smallest, and at the time, seemingly insignificant ones. What impact do you have on those around you? Are you inspiring others to be the best version of themselves? Are you offering words of encouragement to those that are struggling? Are you striving to write/say/do what you know? Are you being real? Do you underestimate people because of their age or experiences?
In an article written upon his leaving Bermuda to head back to England Nigel said, “The best stories, the most meaningful stories, come from regular people, and it is here that I am truly grateful to all those I have written about who trusted me to give an accurate reflection of their experience.”
Maybe this innate need to gather human experiences is why he gave me the time of day, but Nigel, if you see this… my only hope is that reading it is effortless.