“Writing is both mask and unveiling.” ~ E. B. White
That quote seems to sum up one of the most rewarding byproducts of writing for me: the paradoxical duality of simultaneously concealing and revealing oneself. On one hand, I’ve spent a lifetime trying to be invisible. On the other hand, I’ve spent many of those exact same moments trying to find a way to be heard (by myself first, by others second).
When I was about seven or eight-years-old, I revealed to my mom my dream (my grand life’s plan was all laid out in my mind and it seemed so simple back then to just know in your heart that you were going to do a thing and not question it at all). I was going “to make $100,000 a year,” I told her. And I was going to buy her a huge house and give her and my dad a whole heap of money (as an aside, I was reminded last year by my aunt who is now in her eighties that I had apparently promised great sums of money to other members of my family as well . . . oops).
How, my mom wondered, was I going to manage this.
It should be noted that back when I was eight-years-old settlers were still bartering with glass beads and animal pelts, so that annual salary was quite a lofty goal.
“I’m going to be an actor,” I said.
I loved movies, after all, so it seemed like a logical pursuit. Except for one small detail. I was terrified of being in front of other people and being the center of attention. Hey, I didn’t say I’d thought it all the way through. I was eight, remember, which is a time when dreams are made of the stuff that they should always be made of – pure passion for a thing that starts somewhere deep in your bones if not on a cellular level, genuine wholehearted interest, and a wide-open no-holding-back sense of hope.
Sometimes logic gets in the way of some really awesome dreams.
I eventually gave up on my vision of being an actor. And yet, in a way, without ever intending to, I’ve sort of rediscovered the very same spark that started it all.
One of my other favorite elements of writing (in addition to voice and theme) is character. I love pretending to be someone else. In essence, that’s what actors do. They embody another persona. That’s what I do, too, only I do it quietly and in solitude which is perfect when it comes to maintaining the invisibility factor (and working around stage fright). In my head (i.e. when I’m fully immersed at the page), I can be as loud or as crazy or as far-out (okay, as dorky and as odd and as abnormal), as I want to be and no one ever knows unless I tell them.
Can’t even explain how exciting that is. To be able to spend the next twenty minutes or maybe even the next hour being a pirate or a bounty hunter or an escaped slave, to get to the edge of an idea and just leap without holding back.
It’s such a freeing, rejuvenating, fulfilling experience.
You get to live some other life for a bit, to explore the wonder and the pain, the challenges and the triumphs, but with the luxury of being able to step back out.
Maybe that’s why I end up visiting some pretty tough lives. Because I wonder what it’s like to be in such a situation and to find the strength, somehow, regardless of the odds, to survive. To think about how living a life like that would change me and, just in spending some time at the page, pretending that way, mind-acting if you will, I end up changed.
But the other appealing part of the duality that I mentioned before is this: every time I step into someone else’s imaginary shoes, every time I explore some made-up life, I end up looking at my own very real life from a whole other point of view.
I end up learning more about myself without consciously setting out to do so.
Not only is writing a lot of fun, it’s also one of the best ways to figure yourself out. Not that you always want to do that, trust me. Sometimes you want to stay as far away from yourself as possible.
That’s why a lot of writers end up getting blocked sometimes or end up not writing at all. They know they need to set off for the end of the world (i.e. they need to take a trip into the often murky depths of their memories) and they’ve often spent a lot of time making sure they never get close to some of the monsters they might find down there. Or some of the hidden treasures as well.
Of course, if you don’t think about what you might find and you go on your journey, if you’re able to get out of your own way and just let go, you often find the very things you need.
Some Activities That Can Help You Get Out of Your Own Way and Just Write:
Another form of creative expression (many writers sketch, paint, draw, sing, dance, garden, sew)
Writing something else (my favorite choice of all)
Not giving up on your dream is one of the hardest things to do. We’re sort of rewarded for putting aside those “crazy ideas” by the time we become adults.
Of course, sometimes the dreams we start with are really just that, starting points, and if we keep our minds open and we listen to ourselves we might realize that, over time, our dreams have evolved. Many times, they aren’t as far fetched as we might think. Sometimes they actually allow us to do the things we need to do most.
Writing, for example, allows me to move behind the mask of different characters, to slip inside some imaginary life and explore, without consciously setting out to examine my own life, or myself. But the more time I spend with that character, the more I tend to learn about me.
Like the fact that I still might not be cut out for acting, but I can experience many similar things at the page. Like the fact that I owe my aunt (and my mom, and who knows how many other people) a whole lot of money.
So, I guess I’d better get busy writing a novel that can be made into a movie that can have lots of cool merchandize like lunch boxes and T-shirts and . . .
Or maybe I just need to write the story that’s being whispered to me right now, the one about a boy who just doesn’t quite fit in. A boy with a long way to go.