Sometimes in life we find ourselves standing in a mental eye of the storm. Eventually, all things converge, and pathways either become clear or are destroyed entirely. I know; I’m currently in one.
It started when I drove to my buddy’s wedding in Salmon Arm, B.C., about 12-13 hours’ drive from where I live. I was going alone—a rarity for me, as the few road trips I take these days almost always include either co-workers or my wife and two boys. Knowing how I tend to get tired driving when listening to either music or audiobooks, I finally took the plunge and dove into the world of podcasts.
A co-worker of mine told me about a particular podcast she enjoyed called “The Nerdist.” It has interviews that are more like conversations: shooting the shit about nerd culture with celebrities both great and small. Perfect; I’m not big into celebrities, but I love funny people, and nerd culture, so it fit.
Eleven hours into my drive, as I wound my way through mountain passes, I heard, for the first time, the cultured tones of Neil Gaiman, an author that I’ve long adored. He was speaking about the craft of writing, and I listened in fascination to some of the best advice I’ve heard since my university creative writing classes with the wonderful Gail Bowen (a brilliant, successful writer in her own right, who also proved to be a brilliant, successful teacher): write like the words don’t matter. In a flash of insight and estranged kinship, I realized that I had the same problem Neil Gaiman had once suffered from: I was constantly trying to write polished drafts, and failing to put any words on the page because they weren’t perfect.
So began a weekend that re-connected me with a creative side that has lain largely dormant for months, if not years. One of the other groomsman in my friend’s wedding party is a budding writer himself, someone who understands the new world of self-publishing far better than I; our conversations sparked hope that I too can publish and see a measure of success, even if I don’t have an agent or a formal book deal. As coincidence and luck would have it, the hotel I was staying at was also hosting the Shushwap Writers’ Conference…and who was in the room next to my friend (and sharing an outdoor space with the wedding party) but Gail Bowen herself, whom I have not seen since my university days.
The way home continued the train of inspiration, as I listened to a Nerdist podcast with Joss Whedon, who spoke of his habits as a young writer, mapping out story arcs, plotlines, and even what each character knew about various events in the larger story. I realized that, while I wouldn’t have dreamed of writing an essay without a strong skeleton in place, I was approaching my stories and other writing sentence by sentence, word by word, searching for a perfect path forward while having no idea where I was going, or what the landmarks might look like on the way. It was like trying to find my way out of a forest while picking a new direction to head every few steps: futile.
Since my return home, I’ve started looking at old projects that have sat on a virtual shelf for ages, with new eyes. I’ve finished one of them, polished another, and built the skeleton for a third. I’ve set the goal of having at least one publishable story collection by the end of the year, and already have a solid idea for my second publishable piece. Hell, I’m even posting again to this blog which, despite my resolve to write more, has languished more often than not in the last 18 months.
I’m not sure what kind of world I’ll be looking at when I step back out through the maelstrom, or what will be left of me to see it, but I’m optimistic. I feel like I’ve been handed some of the tools I need to do something I know, at heart, that I’m able to do. Writing is part of how I interpret the world, and how I interact with it.
It isn’t something I do; it’s part of who I am. Thanks for throwing me the compass, and enjoy your burrito.