So, here we are, you and me, standing still in place and wondering what we’re doing with our lives. I look at you and tell you the dead truth: I don’t really know.
Right now, I’m in the subway under downtown Los Angeles on my way home, hoping to catch the early train so I can cut a little bit more out of my night than I usually do. I live in a small place, by anyone’s standard, and go about my life with a determined, one-foot-after-the-other, militaristic, kind of approach. I have a day job, as I’m sure most of us writers do, to pay the growing number of bills that read my name on their front breast. And at the end of it all, I have a dream of being an author.
Or maybe, I am one already?
Just what in the hell does that mean?
Well, it most likely means different things to different writers. To me, being an author is not about money, or followers, or taking “nonchalant” pictures to post on Instagram so that people will recognize me at Disneyland. No. To me, being an author means one thing and one thing only: story. I want to create great stories that people can enjoy.
We all crave magnificent and original content but Hollywood has become barren in this regard. How many times have we seen the same crap roll in and out of our local movie theater? Saw 17? Give me a break. The traditional gatekeepers of story pump this stuff into our brains because they know it will sell (and rightfully so, they need to put bacon on the table too). Seemingly by chance, some of the stories are better than others but most of the time we still end up feeling empty except on those truly special occasions. You see, true story has the power to entertain, to give us emotional freedom, to unleash our minds onto the most wicked adventures and slay the biggest and darkest of demons that reside in our fears. Story has the power to shape and transform our lives in a meaningful way. Think of your favorite story now (movie, novel, play… whatever floats your big boat), what about it makes your heart and mind tick together and beat as one? I bet there is a small answer brewing in those thoughts of yours. Is it the first kiss between ill-fated lovers? The emotionally-damaged main character finally gaining enough courage to fight off that which has plagued them since childhood? Is it the constant action and well-paced plot of a spy novel? Or maybe, it’s the political intrigue and the heroine’s quest to build a better world? Whatever it is, though, there is some reason why you call a story your favorite. And there should be. The characters shine a light on our own lives and put us in situations that we might never live through. We laugh and cry along with them, we hurt when they hurt, and we treat them as if they were an extension of us.
This is the power of story.
A master of the craft can wield that power over us all, plunging us into life-changing experiences where we can gain insight into the world around us and grow within ourselves. True story is magic. True story can’t be read or watched, it can only be experienced.
In some ways, to paraphrase Stephen King, reading and writing is a form of telepathy and time-travel. As you read this right now, you are reading my current thoughts in the future (relative to my time). I don’t know who you are but I do know that you are here, with me, locked away in this cell of writing separated only by time and distance. I wonder if you are a writer too? If you face the same choices in your life, as I do? Do you quest to become an author? Is that desire in yourself like it is in me? Perhaps, there is something innate that resides within us all, that helps the inner us communicate with the outer world. Story is a back and forth, a give and take.
Us writers have a constant battle, we work our asses off at day jobs and then try to squeeze writing a single page between burping babies and having the second beer with our friends, maybe a third if we’re lucky.
We write between life.
Writing takes sacrifice, sometimes it means spending more time with those characters than with our real friends. Sometimes it means developing that plot when you could be throwing the ball around at the beach or maybe writing an article on a Thursday night instead of diving into some video game and falling asleep early (like tonight … yawn). And for what? Why do we subject ourselves to this? Why? Is this really what you want to do with your life? Are you sure? A fourth cold one sounds nice, doesn’t it? I mean, the bottle opener is right there? Why not just kick back, relax, and forget this whole writing thing ever happened? But no, we keep on going, we keep grinding away at the word processor. And the answer to why, is because story means something. It connects us all together like nothing else can.
The bottom line is this: writing is difficult. It is filled with self-doubt and rejection, hope and desire. The odds of success are against us… but it doesn’t matter. We slave away at our day jobs and write in-between the cracks with the hope that we can change our lives… and that is something worth striving for: to live a life the way that we want to live it. We hope one day to create that piece of writing that will inspire a reader or entertain the hell out of them or make them cry into their bucket of slow-melting popcorn.
This is the power of story.
Or maybe, I’ll just watch Saw 18 again.
Illustration by Jericho Vilar
T.S.Smith was educated as a historian, has worked as a coffee server, is a professional mechanical engineer, and happens to be an ideally-suited, nerdy, self-published author. A lover of all things fantasy, science fiction, and modern literature embodied with dark humor and plot twists.