Last week I wrote about how great writing is that which takes risks, and I invited people to share their thoughts. Mara Hansen took me up on my offer, and wrote this intriguing post on taking risks. (And, hey, Mara, I want to know what happened when you finally turned that story in when you were in fifth grade!)
Ever since I was a child, I liked to write things down. Anything really -- shopping lists, song lyrics I liked, fake fortunes for friends, lists of boys I hated, poems, short stories, random things I overheard, my name, etc. It wasn't until the fifth grade I was asked to write a short story to submit. It was a special project where not all of the kids were submitting something written, but maybe something they had painted or put together. I was the only one to have written a story. I can still recall the story: a whodunit involving a clever dry-ice hauler and his hatred for his family. While I cannot remember more details than that, I do remember the excitement I felt while writing it, being antsy to get home and write more every day. I also remember dreading showing it to my teacher and having it submitted to the rest of the class.
Years passed and I continued writing on my own: keeping a diary, still making lists, writing clichéd teen-aged poetry, doodling constantly. For the most part, I did not share any of these with anyone. I always thought that "writing is for writers" and didn’t consider myself one. Yes, I wrote things and I enjoyed them, but I equated it to, "Well, I can cook, but I'm certainly not going to call myself a 'chef.'" Who would care to dine on my food for thought when I'm making hot dogs and frozen french fries when there are authors out there serving up filet mignon with sautéed mushrooms? But I, as an aspiring writer, had one fear in common with chefs: critics.
Nothing I've created - written, drawn, painted or played - had risk until I had an audience. Writing is not risky; it's putting whatever I write out there that has risk. Will I get rave, scathing or worse: no reviews whatsoever? I’ve seen some reviews that weren't just scathing, they were cruel. I didn't want anything to do with that. I've got enough coldness and cruelty in my life; do I really want to invite more? Even the 10-year-old girl runs no risk of writing, "Do you like me - check yes or no." That is, until she passes it to the cute blonde Bobby/Johnny/Ronny sitting two seats over, waiting to see if he smiles and checks "Yes," or crumples it up or worse; saves it for his friends to have a good laugh about later.
The Internet however, put the kibosh on most of my fear of critics. I've seen more opinion on the Internet in the last 10+ years than I care to admit. But it certainly gave me some perspective. Then my sense of humor really kicked in and that helped immensely. Seeing someone comment, "You write like my ex-wife screws: Sloppy and without passion," no longer would make me want to weep and hide under covers, but laugh out loud. Not everyone is going to like most of what I write about. No matter the topic. So, I'll write whatever I feel like, and I'll hope for the best, I'll hope I've entertained, encouraged, inspired or infuriated. And if someone instead wishes to say, "I want the last three minutes of my life back after reading that," or call me a moron or much, much worse, that's now my cross to bear. And once I realized that fact, it was no longer a risk. And because of that, I can write about things that range from stupid and superficial to deep and meaningful to me with very little regard to the opinion of others. Because I already know there will be fans and critics.
Still, I don't like being dismissed. That's still a risk for me, no matter what I write. If I haven't made someone laugh or at least pissed them off, I have neglected to move someone one way or another. But, in the end I just like to write – about anything. Things that strike my fancy, make me laugh or cry or think. I never believe much of it to be good, myself. I still don’t consider myself a "writer," but I'd like to think I've moved from hot dogs and french fries to a nice casserole. Maybe one day I'll make a nice soufflé. I guess the biggest risk is continuing forward, knowing it's possible I never will.
Mara wanted me to share with you all that she likes mittens and lives in Seattle.