Why is it that almost everyone longs, in the depths of their soul, to be a writer?
Writing is about the worst-paid, loneliest and most uncertain profession that anyone can choose. And yet there seems to be a nascent author, just waiting to unfurl, inside nearly every human being on this earth.
I can’t tell you how many strangers have come up to me at signings or parties and said with heart-breaking sincerity, “You should write my story!”
Of all the animals, we are the only ones capable of telling our stories. Each of us has our own treasure-chest full of memories and impressions, gleanings of wisdom, maps of roads we never took and unhealed wounds that together comprise the ingredients of literature.
I think I know why so many people dream of becoming a writer, despite the poor odds and rotten pay. It’s because launching those stories into the world, giving them shape and form—giving them meaning—eases our anguish about the idea of just passing through, leaving nothing behind that can really explain the essence of who we are.
To those people who say to me, “You should write my story,” I say, Unless I could put a spigot on you and turn it, like someone tapping a maple tree, I can’t. Writing your story is up to you.
Don’t know how to start? Here’s the secret: Buy a notebook, grab a pen. Get quiet. Imagine that you’re telling your story—the unique story that only you can tell—to someone you really love who doesn’t know a thing about you.
That person lives in a dark room with no frame of reference at all about what the world looks like, smells like, sounds like, feels like. You are bringing the whole world—your world—to that person sitting alone in the dark.
It’s a sacred trust. You have to find the words and images that will allow that person sitting alone in the dark to see what you see and feel what you feel.
Approaching your story in this way—and dedicating a certain amount of your time and energy to telling it—is good medicine, no matter what the outcome. You may not end up with a published book. Or you might end up with a book you publish yourself (it’s easy, these days!).
But, without doubt—no matter what happens to the words you write—you’ll have given yourself a gift. You will have honored who you are and what you’ve learned so far in this lifetime. You’ll tell your story as no one else could possibly tell it.
Barbara Quick will be teaching a class on "Writing Historical Fiction" at Book Passage in Corte Madera on April 30, 10:00-4:00 pm. For more information, or to sign up, please click this link
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