photo: Kimberly Hosey. copyright 2013. www.arizona-writer.com
11:53 p.m., October 31, 2013: I am sitting at my desk surrounded by the chosen books I have pulled from my shelves for this 30-day journey. I have filled my backpack with some Thoreau, Whitman, and Emerson; accompanying them are the contemporaries Goldberg, Lamott, and King. Throw in some dictionaries, thesauri, and other word reference books, and I feel pretty confident about this leap of faith that I am about to take. Oh– and my emergency ‘chute? That would be seven books about a boy named Harry, who spent most of his childhood under the cupboard at 4 Privet Drive. I am ready to jump. I am ready to leap. I am ready to — 12:00 a.m.
I read a lot of original writing created by writers of all ages, and I have come to the conclusion that skim-the-surface stories are the result of one of the most basic obstacles we all face: the fear of taking risks.
The stories all look the same. In a fiction work, a general setting is established, and nondescript characters enter the scene. A general problem is introduced, and a rather uncomfortable deus ex machina is contrived to wrap everything up.
He entered the diner and looked around at all of the people sitting in the booths. There wasn’t a place to sit, and he was feeling impatient. he looked at his watch and figured he had about 10 minutes to wait for a seat. Fifteen minutes later, he was finally seated, but his table was still filled with dirty dishes. “Just my luck,” he thought, as he waited for his waitress.
In nonfiction, a basic and over-discussed topic is danced around with emotional statements, weak comparisons, and sweeping conclusions.
The topic of gun control is out of control! Both sides of the argument really have lost touch with reality concerning the use of guns in America. One side argues that it is our right to shoot guns. Another side says guns kill people. Both sides have it wrong! It really frustrates me when people can’t learn a little about what they are talking about and make a good argument for or against something. It seems like everybody wants to have an opinion, but what they don’t have are the facts to back it up. This really frustrates me, and it is exactly why I don’t talk about gun control with anybody.
Both examples, Flat. They lack the details that come with taking risks.
The Five Reasons Why Writers Don’t Take Risks
- They are too lazy to take risks. Too often, writers just don’t want to invest the time needed to write well. They procrastinate until they are up against a deadline to submit their work, and then they are happy that they made the deadline. Period. The focus shifts from quality of writing to crossing a finish line. The work suffers, but there’s too much elation from making the deadline to even notice.
- They don’t understand the power of process. One of the dangers of being too lazy is that writers don’t understand the magical process of crafting drafts, writing revisions, and putting the final touches on a polished manuscript. I believe that most writers, if they actually experienced the process of writing and reworking a manuscript, would take more risks with their writing.
- They don’t know how to take risks. It’s heartbreaking to even think this is true, but many writers have long forgotten how to write uninhibitedly. Writing has become an academic endeavor of grades and evaluations. Their imaginations are mined — absolutely robbed — of a creative thought, all for the sake of theses, controls, and a fixed number of paragraphs. And, in the most tragic of scenarios, all deeper writing that requires a strong, authoritative voice that understands the target audience is missing completely from any curriculum. Young writers are denied the opportunity to experience the beautiful process of unbridled and imaginative creativity free of judgment.
- They are afraid of failure. This is a biggie. The “safe” writing that writers often do is nothing more than playing to the largest population possible, without the fear of really upsetting or offending anyone. The reason why it is called a “risk” is because there is a pretty high chance that you could fail. And what are we taught in schools? Failure is unacceptable. It warrants a big red F, a call home to the parents, and remedial classes on the weekends and the summers. We play it safe. We stand in the middle of the field. Nobody wants to fail. Ever. The problem is, we have to fail to succeed, which leads us to the fifth and final reason why writers don’t take risks.
- They are afraid of success. They are afraid of what comes next if they are successful. They fear that the world will see them for the fraud they believe they are. They are fearful of accountability, responsibility, follow-ups, and getting on a train that is moving faster than they have ever imagined possible. They are scared to death of losing control. They are terrified of showing up, day after day, ready to play at this level.
Like the Praying Mantis in the picture above, we need to strike the Writer’s Pose and be ready to take that big leap, that big risk, and let go of any worries of consequence, judgment, or failure. For my fellow writers participating in NanoWriMo this November, they are doing just that: Taking risk after risk after risk. They have kicked judgment’s ass and left him on the curb, completely done with him.
Let’s try this again with a little risk-taking.
He entered the diner and looked around at all of the people sitting in the booths. He didn’t recognize a single face, but he saw in each of them the stereotypes that he never wanted to be — hometown losers stuck in a whirlwind lifestyle that went nowhere, all the time. There wasn’t a place to sit, and he was feeling impatient. He looked at his watch, tried to remember what time the train was leaving Penn Station, and figured he had about 10 minutes to wait for a seat before he would be cutting it too close. This was his last supper here in Boring Town, and he didn’t want to miss a single drop of the local grease if he didn’t have to. His father always told him it was what kept the pipes clean inside of him and everyone else in Boring Town. It didn’t matter that the old man died when he was just 42. He still believed it was true. And fifteen minutes later, when he was finally seated, he couldn’t resist sticking his fingers in the greasy fries left on the table. He picked one up, and as it drooped in his hand, he placed it in his mouth. Oversalted, overgreased, and just exactly perfect. “Just my luck,” he thought, as he waited for his waitress. “I got me some seconds before I got me my firsts!”