Using Stories to Make People Think

This is the second of a five part series by Dan Davidson about the professional authors participating in the Yukon Writers’ Festival and the Young Authors Conference during the first week of May.

Whitehorse based writer and filmmaker Kelly Milner grew up in the Yukon. She cut her writing teeth doing feature articles for a local newspaper.

“I loved that job and it helped me pursue a degree in journalism where I specialized in documentary film,” Milner says.

After gaining that degree, she took a career detour and got a Masters in Resource Management.

“I didn’t follow a normal career path, as I ended up working in land claims implementation for almost two decades and only came back to storytelling a few years ago. I think it was only recently when I started telling stories and exploring new media that I really felt I had something to offer as a creative person.”

In 2015, she decided to get back to her storytelling roots and founded her own media production company. Her first film is called SHIFT, and it blends her experience working with indigenous communities with her unique Northern storytelling perspective.

She’s also been writing magazine articles and helping other people with their projects.

Kelly Milner will be one of the four mentor authors at this year’s edition of the Young Authors’ Conference, being held at FH Collins High School on May 4 and 5. She says she’s had a lot of experience conducting workshops, but mostly for adults, and more connected with planning and public consultation processes. This will be a new experience for her and she’s looking forward to it.

“I wanted to be a storyteller because I like to make people think. So much of what I read, or the media I consume, is material that expands or challenges my own understanding of issues or ideas. That is where I get my inspiration.

“I very much believe that finding ways to help people become informed in new and interesting ways will help ensure that we have an engaged society and that can have meaningful dialogue on important issues.”

She finds that the work she has done outside of writing and documentary work has been an asset in preparing her for the work she does now. She recommends that young writers gain that kind of background.

“My advice is to go out and explore the world first,” Milner says. “In order to write about life, you need to experience it. And have different arrows in your quiver, so to speak. This is a hard business and you need to be able to draw on different skills at different times to make a living.”

The creative task for a documentary maker is somewhat different than it is for those who write or create fiction.

“My biggest challenge is acknowledging there are people behind every story I tell and that they are their stories, not mine,” Milner says. “I think that is an incredible responsibility as a writer and being true to your subject while respecting the individual and their realities can sometimes be a difficult balance.”

Milner likes to have deadlines to push her creative process along.

“I write best under pressure,” she says. “I’m a dedicated procrastinator. I will often spend weeks formulating the story I want to tell in my mind and then will write it all in one go. I then like to take a few days away from it and then come back to do a more focused re-write and fact check. When it comes to my film projects, it is a very different story and I find there is a lot more back and forth with collaborators to make sure I am getting the story right.”

Milner will also participate at the Live Words public reading in Whitehorse on May 3, and at a public event in Haines Junction on the evening of May 6.

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