Life has not been easy lately. While some people are likely going through struggles that make my life seem like a cake walk, the burdens I carry seem no less heavy to me. And some days, the weight of them pulls me down, and makes it hard to lift my head up to get a look at the goals that I’ve had my eyes on for so long.
If you’ve read my blog previously you’ll know that a man I knew, a good man, was killed in a vehicle collision a number of weeks ago. More recently, a dear friend of mine, a man I consider my mentor, who is near as kin to me, had to undergo surgery to remove a mass from his lung. Despite a positive prognosis, I was absolutely terrified to see him go under the knife, as he was not someone I was prepared to lose while there were still so many things I wanted to ask him, and even more I wished to say. Then, most recently, I was injured at work (it’s a bit of a long story, that I won’t get into here. Suffice to say it was during a physical confrontation…which I won).
With all the weight that was bearing down on me, despite my resolve that it should be otherwise, I was not doing much writing, nor was I inclined to.
Then, I got lucky. A friend took a chance on me and sent me her story to read and give feedback on. I say she took a chance because she sent her work to an uneducated goon, and there were no guarantees that I would be able to add anything constructive.
While I found I had no stories in me at all, I was able to read someone else’s, and so I set to work. The process of reading her story critically, with my best eye, has helped me immensely.
First of all, I was able to discover that I actually had something useful to say about her work, which surprised me as much as anyone.
Second of all, it has inspired me to move forward on my own stuff. I have not written the Great Canadian Novel, but I got some ideas down – ideas that are outside the realm/genre of what I normally write. I took a bit of a chance and tried to think outside of the self-imposed box I seem to have sealed myself in, and tried to examine my creative process from a different perspective. Now, these ideas may, eventually, turn into a really good story, or they may end up as forgotten scribbles in a note book. The important thing was that the ideas were moving.
Yesterday, my wife and I were in a bookstore, and I saw a book by an author I’ve never read, or even heard of before. As ridiculous as it is for me to say – seeing as I’m a new author, that no one has ever heard of, published with a small indie house – I don’t often read authors that I’ve either never met, haven’t read before, or haven’t been recommended to me. But I saw this book, read the first page, and took a chance and bought it. I’m now about a quarter of the way in and loving it. If I’d not taken a chance and picked it up, I’d have missed out on a damned good story.
When we write, we often tend to stick to the old addage, “write what you know”. But, the further I move in this writing life, the more I discover this is not always a great idea. It is when we move out of our boxes, our safe places, that we really begin to make some progress.
I am a big fan of the idea that, in order to write a good story, you have to write what you want to read, and write a story that matters to you. This is a concept that, as far as I am concerned, is not negotiable. So, I’m not saying you should abandon the things you love. What I’m saying is, if you take a chance – write in a different genre, put down some new ideas, try a new author, or even do something as crazy as sending your work to where someone might actually read it – you might have more success than you anticipated.
For me, learning to do this is another step down the long road of this craft. I hope you’re willing to take a chance and move along with me.