And how that helped me start writing
For most of my life, I’ve been that annoying writer friend. You know, the one that always says he’s going to be a writer, who talks about how much he loves writing, who tells you all his ideas for all the books he’s going to write. And then never writes a damn thing.
Actually, I would write some damn things from time to time. A scrap of a story here, a bit of dialogue there, a character sketch on a napkin during a coffee break. But never a full story.
Many different obstacles – most located inside my skull – held me back from dedicating myself to my craft. Among the largest of these hurdles was my insistence that straight-up literary fiction was the only genre worthy of a true artist and intellectual like myself.
That stupid idea finally died three years ago, when my wife and I watched the movie version of David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas. The movie grabbed me in a way few films do, engaging me intellectually, emotionally, and viscerally. The action propelled the plot, the humanity gave the action meaning, and the movie’s confrontation of big ideas kept my brain churning long after we’d shipped the DVD back in its little red envelope.
After watching that movie, I realized that most of my favorite movies were sci-fi, from the Star Wars trilogy up to more recent films like District 9 and Moon. The appeal of these films for me was how they tackled the strangeness of the universe in a way that’s not possible in genres restricted by current reality.
That embrace of the hypothetical and fantastic was the missing propulsion without which none of my attempts at storytelling could ever take flight. My subconscious had always wanted to skirt the boundaries of reality, to suffuse my narratives with the spooky, the mysterious, and the ridiculous. But some voice inside me always rapped my knuckles, telling me those devices weren’t the tools of serious writers. That’s why I’d always gotten too bored with my work to ever finish a story. And it’s partly why I stopped even starting stories.
After Cloud Atlas, I tried my hand at a sci-fi short, Beyond the Pillars. It was the first story that I couldn’t wait to return to writing every day, the first one I found myself daydreaming about away from the keyboard. Most importantly, it was the first one I finished.
Now that I’ve found my natural genre and am writing regularly, I’m no longer the annoying wannabe writer guy. I rarely discuss my work around my friends, and I never talk about stories in progress.
I don’t need to waste my breath convincing myself how much I love writing or showing others how writerly I am. I’m having too much fun actually writing.