Writer’s Digest, a top resource for writers, has been sending out emails announcing their 83rd annual writing competition. It sounds like an exciting opportunity and frankly, I have been seriously thinking about throwing my hat in the ring and giving it a try this year.
The timing seems good as I appear to be developing consistency in my output, publishing a new blog each week and steadily working on a few other stories I am juggling. There is no rush to finish any one of the latter products, just a clear commitment to putting words to paper and seeing parts of stories come to fruition. Maybe tackling a special assignment like a writing competition is what I need to keep things interesting and seeing a short story through to the end.
What to write about is a bigger dilemma. And with it comes a bit of writers’ stage-fright!
Clearly I am not experiencing any shortage of ideas to draw from, whether from my journals or in my memory banks, but what is that great idea to potentially make the writing community take notice?
Some people might say that my “relentlessly cheerful” life has been mostly sunshine, lollipops and rainbows, and frankly I would not entirely disagree with them. However, a lot of that is driven by a positive attitude and a strong hope that things will turn out for the best, or at least they way they are supposed to with a life lesson to accompany them.
But sunshine, lollipop and rainbow stories are not necessarily the most interesting ones to write about or to read. Sure, I’m a sucker for a happy ending, but there needs to be tension and stirred emotions along the way in order for the happy ending to seem deserved and a fitting conclusion to a journey.
At the opposite end of the emotional spectrum, I have experienced moments of deep grief, disappointment, sadness, darkness and despair. Who hasn’t at one time or another? It is part of being human is it not?
I have also experienced moments of having to learn to let go of things that are not within my grasp to fix, and to adapt when things are not the way I would like them to be, even if the intent is to maintain collective harmony and happiness. That was a tough lesson to learn!
Fear comes into play when I think of reopening old wounds, sometimes very deep ones, metaphorically speaking, replaying unpleasant events in vivid detail in order to seek inspiration for a gripping tale. Who in their right mind would put themselves through that? Well, I guess some writers do…. Writers can be a little crazy like that!. I admit that some of those “life wounds” may not have completely healed yet, but maybe writing is an opportunity to apply some antibiotic ointment, metaphorically speaking, and heal them once and for all.
In the end, I believe that these are the experiences to draw from that probably make for a stronger, more compelling story that will resonate far more with readers if they can identify with it, especially on a deeply personal level, and hopefully find reconciliation or resolution for their own situation.
Of course, I can certainly play with characters and plots in order for them to be composites of experiences whether I experienced them directly or just witnessed as an innocent bystander. While they do not have to be an accurate recount of historic events in my life, for a story to have that authenticity and reality, the gritty details of human emotions sometimes take root in something that was experienced or closely observed. I don’t think such raw or deep emotions can be entirely imagined, which can make writing a hobby of fear and bravery if one chooses to put oneself in such a vulnerable position for the purpose of sharing.
It is clear that for me to deliver the stories sitting in my subconscious, I will need to work hard to break out of my lighter, more humourous voice as I don’t see it being the ideal vehicle to share profound life-altering moments – it would be as appropriate as laughing out loud at a funeral.
Again… the fear… can I pull it off and tell a story in a voice other than the one that seems natural to me today? If an actor can stretch himself to play numerous diverse roles (think Meryl Streep) I firmly believe a writer can and needs to do the same thing to give life to a wide range of characters and the complex range of emotional baggage they carry.
In that same vein, I am trying to prepare myself to take beloved characters to whom I have given life, and put them in dramatic situations, even precarious, life-threatening ones? I hate the idea of having to hurt or to kill off a great character. It goes completely against my instincts and positive outlook on life. I heard of an author who was so sad after making a character suffer a brutal death, she cried for three days. Unfortunately for some wonderful things we build, their time is short and precious…What a hot mess I will be the first time I have to kill off a character I created!
Another fear is when is a personal story too personal for sharing? My moral compass tells me that there are limits and that certain moments between me and another individual should probably remain that way, despite their unique circumstances that would make for some great story-telling. Will they mind? Will someone be unhappy if I shared? I think the answer is pretty clear, some moments are not meant to be shared.
All that to say, as I have gotten older and perhaps a little wiser, I seem to have mastered most of the insecurities and lived pretty comfortably as a result. Who knew that even after the thousands of pages I have written or edited in my day job, the shift to fiction would introduce a brand new set of fears and insecurities? I suppose it is normal with any new challenge and at the end of the day, it’s situations like that we can count on to reassure us that we are always learning, always growing and truly alive!