We’ve all heard the phrase, “Writing requires risks.” Writing is something bold and courageous and you’re a hero for getting started. You’re risking rejection, you’re risking your words and your stories, and some may say you’re risking your very dreams. This is why you wake up at two in the morning in a cold sweat about your blog on the internet with a feeling that can only be described as oh no while desperately attempting to avoid the inevitable conclusion that this is your life now.
At least, that’s the familiar story. It’s romantic, dramatic, and somewhat accurate. And, as a writer, it’s kind of your job to make it ten times worse. It is enough to write, but it is much more to write dangerously.
I do not mean to write dangling above a shark tank like a Bond villain captured you mid sentence and you could not bear to let the thought die. While that would probably make a great (and oddly relatable) story, it almost hilariously misses the point.
The actual point: don’t be afraid to show up.
To be very clear, the writing dangling about the shark tank can’t find a fuck to give. You want to tie me up, threaten my life? You need me to escape and safe the world? Eat me. I’m on a roll. This writer is likely jaded, drunk, and puts no value on their actual life. But damn it did they show up today.
Many people start writing as an act of defiance. Many of us went through the poorly written emotional poetry phase, the shaky prose layered in the worst cliches attempting to challenge the very essence of society in 250 words or less, the useless characters and overdone plot points that took themselves way too seriously. We can make fun of these phases, hide them away and hope to god that when we die no one stumbles upon those horrible notebooks we absolutely refuse to get rid of. But, really, for many people the earliest writings are some of the most honest pieces they’ll ever write. When you first start out, you’re writing the words that you can’t find in your favorite stories. Direct lines to you and what you want to read and what you want to feel and how you see the world. When you first start out, it’s as if you’ve laid yourself naked on the page. The pose isn’t elegant, you haven’t showered in awhile, and you’re likely pissing yourself with anxiety. But you showed up. And as the writing gets better, sometimes the writer forgets to show up.
So, therein lies the question. How do writers remember to show up?
The first step, put simply, is to refuse to give a shit. My favorite example in recent history comes from the world of gaming. BioWare, this lovely company in Canada known for their big, progressive story lines, refused to give a single fuck. At the release of their fantasy game Dragon Age 2, a small minority of gamers felt alienated at the presence of four bisexual characters existing in the game. For the next game, they included what initially appeared to be a character to pacify these protesters – The Iron Bull. A huge masculine, axe-wielding, hilarious mercenary who is most certainly too cool for you. Turns out, The Iron Bull was a monument to progressiveness; his best friend is a transman, he himself is pansexual, and *slight spoiler* he canonically ends up with the Freddy Mercury look alike mage, Dorian. The genius to this move is that they weren’t trying to piss off entitled gamers. They just happened to, because they showed up and weren’t afraid to tell the story they wanted to tell.
The second step is to care deeply. You know when you force yourself to write when you don’t want to and, regardless of the great work you may have done towards a story or an article, the writing is bad? That’s what happens when you can’t bring yourself to care about what you’re writing. What’s worse is when you can’t bring yourself to care about your audience. Consider the TV show How I Met Your Mother. A beloved show with a universally hated ended. The writers at HIMYM clearly were not afraid to tell the story they set out to tell. Their mistake came when after nine seasons it became clear that they didn’t care enough about the fans or the story to change their mind about the ending. See, that not giving a shit thing that BioWare did only worked because they care so deeply about their fans and their story alike that they go out of their way to tell progressive stories and touch on important issues and, perhaps most importantly, admit when they’ve made a mistake. And here is the crossroads.
You’ve got to be unafraid to tell the story you want, but if you’re not careful you can become so stubbornly committed to an ending or even that you forget to care. And that’s what’s dangerous: giving zero shits and all the shits all at once.
So write dangerously. Be defiant enough to say what you mean, and care enough to let yourself grow. Become a hero. Punch a shark in the face. And for god’s sake, show up.
Related: 7 Tips for Staying Motivated