I’m a weather wimp. Growing up in sunny California, then spending most of my adult life in the heat of Nevada, I whimper like a pup when the seasons change and the cold settles in. This week I decided to butch up this former beach bunny and commit to my morning hikes, regardless of the temperature (which I check obsessively on my phone). I like to keep promises I make to myself. If I can’t keep those promises, how can I keep the promise I make to readers?
This is where I and the dogs go on weekdays, now that I’m no longer a wimp.
This year the city has added paved walking paths and hacked a trail through the woods around the lake. It looks fairly tame, but don’t be fooled (as I have been). There are rugged spots that challenge the heart, lungs, and every muscle of the butt, back, and legs. Little inclines like this one.
Going up and down these hills a few times leaves me bent over, hands on knees, gasping for breath, and unable to do much more than watch my tough little dogs at play. Like any creative, artists, or writer, all senses are alert and instruction on how things are done is found in every place we look, everything we do, and any sense that’s engaged.
As I watched my dogs, new lessons about writing emerged.
The first thing I noticed was their love of adventure. Toby is more of an auditory adventurer, while Molly is more a victim of her nose. Both of them check the turns of the car and the smells coming in the windows to determine if they’re going to the groomer, the lake, the creek, or on a senseless drive to the Fort for that yummy smelling coffee we won’t let them drink. Once they know where they’re going, once they’re assured they’re somewhere familiar and safe, they always fine something new to explore in the same old place.
Toby perks his ears and takes off at full thrust into thickets, flying over ditches and puddles like a gazelle, chasing down his curiosity about the distant sounds he hears. Nothing stops him, and new feats of body are expressed that often lead him exhausted for the rest of the day. He’s not thinking of the rest of the day when he’s on an adventure of discovery. He just goes.
What about you? What about me and my writing? Once I’m in the groove of a project and know what it’s about and have a fair map of the story’s terrain, am I failing to abandon myself to the adventure, follow the sounds and run? What am I afraid of if I’m following the rigid path of an outline and not exploring? I’ve got a great big delete key and a garbage can if the exploration turns out to be a dud, and the outline is always as a safe place of return.
What holds us back from finding adventure in the daily grind writing can often be? Sometimes I get stuck in the rules I’ve created for myself, the rules I’ve read from too many books and too many blogs, rules I’ve misunderstood or taken as gospel without testing them for myself.
Writing is who we are, not what we do. It’s the adventure of our life. It’s our point of safety we can always return to if we get tangled in the brambles of an adventure or lost in the woods of our own words. We need to exercise our imagination as often as if we can, build its muscle. The more muscle we give our imagination, the more imagination we’ll have to get ourselves out of whatever mess our adventures may end in, if a mess is where we’re headed. But we won’t know until we get there. And we won’t get there if we play it safe, stay on the paved and predictable road going around and around the same old path. Is that what you want to give your readers, a good spin while standing in place?
Didn’t think so.
Writing is who you are, not what you do, and who you are belongs to you and nobody else. Explore who you are on this adventure, test your limits, run after whatever voice or scent or sound you detect in the distance. Surprise yourself, define the surprises, refine them. Go.
Write like a dog following their instincts and curiosity. Write like a dog given over to the moment. Write like a dog with determination and loyalty to your purpose and destination. Write like a dog and scratch whatever itches. Why not? You’re alone in your private place. Run.
The leash and harness will come out soon enough when you edit, deal with critique, grow dissatisfied with the junk of the first draft, or face constructing a new project, which you will do because writing is who you are not what you do and you will always be writing again and again and again.
Go. Run. Play. Explore.
Write to the outer limits of your thoughts, your imagination. Write without boundaries. There are readers waiting for what only you can give them.