Sunday, October 19, 2014

Each Story Begins With a Choice

Every time we sit down to write, we must make a choice.

Do we play it safe or do we take a risk?

Do we create a story that lets us feel safe and grounded, a story that removes danger (and threats of danger) from our world?

Or do we create a story that forces us to climb a high wire and take risks, to reach into the dark box of our hidden (and not-so-hidden) fears and confront them?

For most of us, it’s not a choice that we’re aware of as we begin to move our pens across the page.

In that moment of beginning, we write what we need to write, exploring our imaginations, memories, and experiences in ways that we hope will help us understand who we are and how we came to be who we are.

But by its very nature, the act of writing involves taking risks. 

So, when we set out to describe the world--either the physical one that we inhabit or the one that we see in our imagination--that simple act of description can feel like a risk, an act of defiance.

Perhaps that's because in describing the world in which we live, we are trying to share what someone told us never to share or because we’re revealing stories that we thought always had to be hidden.
  
When we write, we take the risk of showing our true self and letting others hear our voice, our thoughts, our opinions.

When we write--whether we’re writing a novel, short story, memoir, essay, or poem--we end up testing ourselves against the expectations and standards of our field, and risk criticism, negative comments, and displeased readers. 

When we write, we take the scariest risk of all, which involves stepping across a line that has been declared off limits.

We don’t always know why it’s forbidden to cross the line.

And we don’t always know who forbade us to cross it.

We only know that we need to cross that line in order to open the box of secrets inside ourselves and find the hidden stories that are waiting for us to write.

It's only when we take these kinds of risks in our writing and cross these invisible boundary lines that our stories come to life with energy bubbling beneath the surface.

Taking risks is what helps us create and foster curiosity in our readers about how we will deal (successfully or unsuccessfully) with the emotional and psychological fallout of taking such risks.

So, remember: each time you write, you must make a choice.

You can choose to stay safely on the ground.

Or you can choose to climb up to the high wire and make your way across it.

Sometimes, as you write, you might not see the high wire. You may not even see that you have a choice to climb it. But the wire--and the choice--is there each time you sit down to write.

Do you choose to take the risk and suffer the pain and embarrassment of falling from the high wire if you miss a step?

If you’ve spent enough years writing, you know that falling isn’t the end of the story.

It’s only the beginning.