People write for different reasons. I don’t pretend to know them all, but three reasons stand out to me, why people write.
They have a story to tell, they want to express themselves, or they want to offer a creative opinion on something. (Or, maybe these are just the several reasons that combine for my latest project…)
In the past, I’ve written because I have a story to tell. I’m excited, I have an idea, and I can’t wait to get it down on paper. In the last year or so, my writing has dropped off some, and I’ve been writing more because I want to find a way to express how I feel. If I was ever brave enough to show it, I want people to read it and say, “I know what that feels like.” Maybe not everyone will get it, but some will. It’s not often (maybe ever) that I’ve sat down to write a story specifically with a critique in mind. Yet, that seems to be a big part of my latest project. The problem is, I’m not quite sure what it is I’m trying to say.
I’ve got several ideas bouncing around, and the problem with only having partially outlined my story is that I’m still in the dark about some of it. Which leaves me asking myself, what are the important points I’m wanting to make?
When I first had the idea, it was clear, I wanted to write a story that promoted a middle ground with technology. I recognize that many people, and especially kids and teens, are glued too much to technology, social media, etc, and are living almost in a virtual reality because of it. But I’m equally as tired of the people who swing to the opposite end and say all technology is bad and it’s destroying relationships and all that. Some of my best friends I hardly ever see, we communicate through text or messenger apps. And our friendships are just as strong. Technology and social media allows me to be involved in the lives of my nieces and nephews, who I see only a couple times each year. So, there’s obviously good and bad here, just as there is with pretty much anything. The story idea I had was going to have the heroine take the middle ground, to show that mindfulness and moderation are the keys to navigating this changing society.
In the last month or so, as I’ve gotten down to writing, I started seeing another trend popping up in my character. She loves books, and that’s part of what makes her an outcast in her own society. Books are the gateway drug to the virtual reality so many people are living in. And I started to see that my character was using books as an escape (much like I am in real life). She was dissatisfied with her current situation, felt powerless to change it, and lost herself in books instead. I’m still not completely certain how that factors in to the story, if it’s a prominent theme that gets addressed, or just an underlying habit that leads to other things. I guess I’ll find out when I get an answer in real life.
In the last couple weeks I had a couple good ideas for scenes in my book that I jotted down. One I was able to use immediately, but the other I knew was going to be later on in the book, toward the middle, when everything seems to be going wrong. And this scene stepped away from my initial desire to make a statement, and I got a little obsessed with writing this scene because it so closely mirrored my own feelings lately.
I’m usually a chronological writer. If there’s a part of the story I really want to tell, well that’s just motivation for me to write the rest of it to get there. It’s how I keep myself going sometimes. But this week, it was just time to write it.
Aliyah, my main character, has been thrown out of her community. They found out she was becoming friends with a girl from the city and planning a demonstration. So they gave her a beating, burned down her secret library, and left her to die or find another group of people to live with. (Surprise, she finds another group to live with.) Without giving too much away, Aliyah finds herself depressed and burned out. She remembers a childhood where she was encouraged to dream about what and who she wanted to be. But that was all taken away by the time she reached adulthood. She was given a job that her society deemed was appropriate to her skill set and that was the end of it. She wanted more but couldn’t say it. Books were her refuge, but those were taken away too. Now, she’s hopeless. I’ll let this little excerpt speak for itself:
“I don’t dream,” Aliyah said. “Not anymore.”
“It’s not the dream that hurts, it’s the let down,” Kia said, ignoring Aliyah’s denial and reaching to the root of the issue. “A dream that doesn’t reach fruition is hard. But we don’t stop dreaming. Even those who live in your settlement, they still dream. But they bury some, never speaking it. Others they can parade as goals, projects, community building. It’s incredible, really, how well we are at ignoring ourselves. We all have dreams, but if we never confess it to ourselves, we can truly say we never knew. And yet, when it comes up, we find we’ve always known. It’s always been there inside of us.”
“You must keep dreaming, Aliyah. The future belongs to those who dream. If you give that up, you’ll simply fade away, like everything else.”
Aliyah found herself tearing up. “Maybe fading away isn’t so bad.”
Kia stood and took the two steps to stand before Aliyah, taking her face in her hands to wipe the tears away.
“It’s no way to live,” she said gently. “I know. The choice lies before you, and only you can make it. You can die a little every day with buried dreams chipping away at your soul, wanting to get out. Or you can open yourself up to them. To all the pain and all the joy.”
“But what if there is no joy?” Aliyah asked quietly, giving voice to the question that seemed like a betrayal somehow. “What if, after everything, there’s only the pain? What if none of your dreams ever come to fruition?”
“Do you really believe that’s possible?” Kia asked incredulously.
Aliyah thought for a moment. “I don’t believe it’s impossible.”
She could tell Kia wasn’t prepared for that. “Well, then you’ve got more wrestling to do than I thought,” she said. “I’ll leave you with this to ponder: think of the people you know who have dreamed. Can you think of one of them you could honestly say lived without a single dream coming to fruition?”
Aliyah frowned and nodded her head to the side, acknowledging that Kia had successfully made her point.
“And if that’s too much work, ask yourself this: you’re miserable now. You’ll be miserable if you gamble and lose. But what if you gamble and win?”
So, there it is. The bit of the story that I’ve been dying to write, because it’s the very essence of everything I’ve been wrestling with for the last year or two. Play it safe and deal with the discontent, or gamble and see if things improve? And, if they don’t, how to deal with that.
As I sat down last week to write this scene, I was secretly expecting some incredible, powerful words come to mind, something that would resonate with people. I’m not sure I got that. This will definitely need some reworking (and I need to revisit the names. Right not it sounds like she’s talking to a car, but it was the name that came to mind, and I’ll spend all day quibbling with myself about names if I don’t simply pick something and move on). But as I read it over again just now, I like it more than when I wrote it. It’s honest. It’s me. My heart and my mind, in conversation (don’t ask me which is which, at this point I don’t know which is afraid of dreaming, my heart or my mind). But it’s also the recognition that no one can provide some all-powerful miracle answer. The only person who can decide if recognizing and chasing a dream is worth it, is me. Only you can make that choice for you. You can seek wisdom and advice, and you can get the two cents from everyone, whether you want it or not. But in the end, only you, only I, can wrestle with it and make a choice about it. Believe me, I know how scary and hard it is.
But what if you gamble and win?