For Julie Lafreniere, writing is therapeutic. It’s a way for her to organize her thoughts and clarify her emotions. While she doesn’t always share her writing in a public forum, she finds it an important part of her life, explaining “it’s an emotional release for me and it’s my favourite thing to do now, communicate these thoughts in writing.”
Growing up, Julie was a “ferocious reader,” having been taught to read at the young age of 3 by her mother, a teacher. Whether it was on family road trips or spending time at home with her mom while she worked on lesson plans for her classroom, Julie was always reading. By the age of 8 or 9, Julie turned to writing stories. This passion for the written word evolved over the course of her life and into university where Julie completed a joint degree in Native Studies and Psychology and began a Master’s degree in English with a focus on Cultural Studies at the University of Winnipeg. While a lot of students might shy away from university courses that have a heavy writing requirement, Julie would choose courses that allowed her this creative outlet over those with multiple-choice tests and exams. “I found writing just came naturally to me,” she said. “When I graduated, I missed being able to communicate my thoughts in writing, so I started blogging on Myspace.”
While she didn’t really have a plan for her writing, she enjoyed it so continued blogging about things that were important to her. “I really like writing about Canadian politics, Indigenous politics, Indigenous issues, intergenerational trauma,” she said. “I love writing about my family and my relationship with my son, and stuff that’s really important to me.” People started to take notice, and a blog post of hers was picked up and published by Redwire Magazine, which was her first paid writing gig. She eventually moved from Myspace to Blogger, where Julie and her cousin Gav Lafreniere started From an Indigenous Perspective, writing about issues such as Indigenous politics, mental illness, LGBTTQ2 issues, and white privilege. Issues that come up in contemporary politics that really grab her will find their way to the blog, as “talking about it doesn’t have the same effect as writing about it,” she explained. “Writing about it is a lot more therapeutic and I can really make clear what I want to say if I write it as opposed to talk about it.”
"I can really make clear what I want to say if I write it as opposed to talk about it.”
Julie has had her writing published without the arduous process of coming up with story ideas or pitching to editors: instead she writes for herself and people take notice. One such piece that she wrote and posted on her blog was called “Adventures of Dating a White Guy” and explored her perspective on dating in Winnipeg and the fears and judgements she had about dating someone from a different background. She was approached and the piece was published in an anthology called Manitowapow: Aboriginal Writings from the Land of Water, edited by Niigaanwewidam James Sinclair and Warren Cariou, which includes chapters by Louis Riel and Gabriel Dumont.
However, these days, Julie finds that writing about every issue, news item, or example of racism takes an incredible emotional toll. Instead, she finds that focusing on her family is the most productive response, explaining, “the best thing I can do to combat these things is to make sure that I’m healthy and that my son is healthy and that my family is healthy and that’s it. I can’t take on the world and all the racism out there. It really weighs on you when you’re always upset about everything, it weighs on you emotionally.” There are still times when writing about an issue is what helps her work through it, however she often writes solely for herself in this capacity.
This is where challenges can sometimes arise – finding not only the emotional energy to write, but the time. The responsibilities of a full-time job and raising a child often leave little time to sit down with a pen and paper. Julie currently works as the Market Research Analyst at Aboriginal Peoples Television Network, where she uses her breadth of communication skills to transform raw marketing data into tangible information for senior management. Being able to distill complex information into something useful for decision making and action is her favourite part of her job, and a skill that extends to her skill as a writer. When I asked her what makes her a good writer, Julie pointed to not only her experience in different forms of writing – from the academic writing she learned in university, to the journalistic writing she honed when she wrote a weekly column for the now-defunct Uptown Magazine, to the personal writing she does for herself or her blog – but her perspective. “Everyone has their own perspective of the world and I think being able to communicate that, whatever background you come from, is your strength as a writer,” she explained. It’s in helping people to “see a perspective that’s different than their own,” whether they agree with it or not, that sets Julie apart as a writer.
"Everyone has their own perspective ... being able to communicate that ... is your strength as a writer."
Julie’s advice for new writers is simple: “keep writing.” Don’t try to emulate other writers, but rather explore what you feel passionate about and put it out there, whether that be on a blog, or on Facebook or Instagram. Making use of the platforms available to you is valuable, as that was how Julie’s own work took off so organically. “I think that was the most rewarding because I wasn’t writing for anyone but myself,” she said. Sharing your thoughts and adding to the conversation helps to not only develop your own skills as a writer and communicator, but also adds to the multitude of perspectives from which we all grow.