Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Twenty Years to Learn This

As a writer, I'm always interested in watching people and observing human behaviour. Which makes sense, because that's essentially what writers do. We observe and comment on what we see. But this is difficult to do that when you know everyone around you. Sure, you can observe some things, but intimacy erases separation, and separation is necessary for art.

As a result, when I'm feeling a bit burnt out, I stay away from my favourite cafes or bookstores where I'm known and go to a mall or a big bookstore where know one knows me. A place I can hide in plain sight. This form of "hiding" is necessary for my work. Here I can observe human behaviour and maintain proper distance. It also helps me think about my latest story without being intruded upon to make small talk. (I enjoy interacting with people, but not during these times. This is actually a "work time" for me.) Somewhere in this balance of observing strangers and thinking about my story, I discover who my characters are and what I'm trying to say. In this, hiding is not only helpful, it's necessary.

However, once I'm sitting in front of the blank screen, getting set to write the next chapter or the next paragraph, I must do all I can to move from "hiding" to the "spotlight." Here, they can be no running away. No part of me can be shielded or protected or exonerated. Here, I must be completely transparent and own everything that light reveals.


If you think that this sounds faintly religious, well, you're right. Most faiths encourage us to do the same thing. They encourage us to acknowledge the worst of ourselves so we can change. And that is the tie between art and religion, because all artists act as "prophets," whether they're religious or not.

Society has always looked to their storytellers to explain who we are and how we should relate to the world. This is why all religions are built on story. (Myth is story. And no, I'm not suggesting a particular religion is true or untrue, only that all religion is myth-based. Jesus may or may not be the Son of God (I believe that he is), but it is still a story. the same is true of Buddha and Mohammed and Moses)

Whether it is life or art, the message is the same. We cannot produce good work (or a good life) if we do not understand this simple premise. Look, it took me twenty years of writing story after story before I finally figured out that I had to stop trying to please people in my writing. That I had to stop hiding in plain sight by trying to be someone else. I had to write what I saw in the mirror, and comment on THAT. I had to stop worrying about my parents or my church or my heroes. I had to be me.

Yes, I know that sounds cliche. Trite, even. But it was exceedingly difficult for me to understand what the blank page meant. If i was ever going to have any success as an artist. I had to stay in front of the mirror and record what I saw there, just as I did when I went to big bookstores.

I had to learn and accept that good art only happened when the artist (in this case, me) was willing to expose to put themselves on display

As in art, so it is true in life. When we are willing to expose who we are, we instantly disarm people. Vulnerability is a weapon against all kinds of things, not the least of which is cynicism. Think about the people you know who are vulnerable. Pretty hard to dislike them, isn't it? Now think of some artists that you admire? Do you know why? I bet I do.


For nearly two decades of writing, I struggled with this. I was embarrassed about who I was and the kind of story I wanted to tell, though i wasn't fully conscious of this. I was intimidated by writers who were so much better than I'd ever be. Who was I to impose myself? To expose myself. And what if I offended people? People I cared about?

A couple of years ago, I finally let go. I stopped worrying about what people might think, and stood in the mirror for a long time before sitting in front of the blank screen one more time.

The result? In the past eighteen months, and I've written four novels. THE LAST ANGEL will be published on December 21, 2015. I don't know what people will think. I don't know how successful it will be or if anyone will even be interested in my work.

But I know this: after so many years of being afraid. So many years of worrying about what I was doing, even while i was putting the time, I finally stepped from the shadows and took a good long look in the mirror.

No more hiding.

Not now. Not ever.

The result? Everything has changed.


Whether it's in your art or in your life, be free.

Now go get 'em.