I am continually amazed I survived childhood. Growing up, my brother, sister and I did things that would make any adult today cringe in both fear and disgust.
For instance, we jumped off roofs training to become ninjas. (Hit and roll! Hit and roll!).
We lit firecrackers and held them as long as we could before quickly tossing them aside to explode, trying to be the so-called “winner” by holding the Class C explosive the longest. (The resulting blast wave and heat blistered more than one finger!)
We made mud pies and ate them. (Surprisingly, not bad tasting unless, of course, your pie had a worm in it.)
We drank water from the dirty garden hose when we were thirsty. (Ever try to remove sandy grit from between your teeth?)
And we even rode our bicycles through clouds of pesticide billowing from the rear of the town exterminator’s truck in the summer, pretending we were fighter pilots flying through cumulonimbus clouds. (Hmmm. Did it ever occur to any of the adults watching our antics with a smile and a chuckle that if pesticides killed bugs they could also harm small children?)
Yes, we admittedly did dangerous and stupid things. But you know what? It was FUN! I cherish those memories, and many others, to this day. When I look back, I realize my siblings, friends and I lived life to its fullest every day, and we had the scrapes, cuts and bruises to prove it. At some point over the ensuing years, however, that changed. Risk was eventually replaced by “Safety, Security and the Sure Thing.” After all, bills had to be paid. Food needed to be in hungry tummies. And seat belts had to be worn.
In essence, the world of firecrackers, stunts and games was sanitized for our protection.
This phenomenon is not unique to myself. I see evidence of it everywhere and in every profession, even in the literary realm. It’s not unusual for writers to become progressively stale as their world grows more and more sanitized.
They are afraid to speak their minds. They are cautious about angering an editor or, god forbid, a critic. They constantly worry about selling their next work, trying to coattail and capitalize on today’s hot trends. They are anxious about maintaining their image, public exposure and fan base. They avoid pursuing artistic projects out of concern they may be rejected or, worse, a financial embarrassment. And they fear being dropped by publishers (or literary agents) and being replaced by the next rising star, thereby becoming the proverbial “has been.”
These worries often result in writers allowing others to define who they are and what they must become. They do not take calculated risks. They do not follow their passions. And they are not true to themselves.
What I propose is that writers metaphorically drink from the garden hose from time-to-time. Get out of your comfort zone. Try new things, even if they’re uncomfortable and unfamiliar to you. Personal growth requires risk. Unless you go beyond what you have already mastered, you will never grow. You will never know what you’re capable of doing. And you will never become what are intended to become.
So explore. Write poetry. Try scriptwiting. Sketch out a short story. Jot down a jingle.
Yes, you will certainly struggle with many of the genres you delve into. But you will likely also surprise yourself by doing well in others. In the end, you GROW. You blossom. You force yourself to expand your horizon. You learn more about yourself and your abilities. And you hone your literary skills.
My grandfather once taught me that when you point a finger at someone, three of your fingers point back at you. (Take a peek. It’s true!) So lest you think me a hypocrite, here are results from some of my own hose-drinking days…
- When I was young and cocky, I went out on a limb and submitted article queries to National Geographic, a magazine that was way above my publishing ability at the time. Not surprisingly, the queries were rejected outright. However, within five years the magazine actually published articles on both topics I had proposed (but not written). From that experience I learned I had good instincts to discern viable article ideas. I also learned that timing is everything.
- I wrote a screenplay (to date, my one and only) about two runaway children. Learning the formatting actually helped me years later when I wrote scripts for advertising and public service campaigns.
- As an exercise, I wrote a romance novel using a male protagonist instead of the usual female. People who read the manuscript thought the approach was fresh. After all, few love stories on the market deal with a man’s thoughts and feelings. (For that same reason, the book never left my files and was never submitted for publication.)
- I forced myself to write a children’s story two different ways: the first using the traditional narrative voice; the second, lyrical verse. I didn’t think the latter was possible, but I proved myself wrong. (And I have the gray hair to prove it!)
In the end, drinking from the hose increases your potential as a writer. It gives you direction. It helps you prioritize. And it adds value to your work. So go ahead, be daring and give it a try some time. When you do, enjoy the grit. It’s part of the fun. §