04 Oct Take a risk with your writing
Overlooking the town of Laurieton is a mountain called ‘Big Brother’. The day after my workshops there I went to the top and there was a parasailer preparing to jump off.
I could never do that. I’m scared of heights and the thought of taking a short run down a grassy bank and leaping into mid-air terrifies me.
After checking the wind a few times and straightening his ropes this bloke nodded to the audience watching and casually strode off the incline into the void. There was no hesitation. Once in the air, he settled into his sling and the wind lifted the sail up, carrying him across the expanse of forest, the town and ocean.
Watching him I was reminded of one woman’s surprised comment in the workshop. ‘Writing takes courage.’
And she’s right. You have to take a risk when you splurge yourself on the page. The more risks you take, the better the result.
This doesn’t mean you have to spill your deepest secrets (although that might be the case) or say things you’ll regret. It means being willing to expose an aspect of who you are in order to touch the reader.
If you think that this only applies to non-fiction, you’re wrong. Writers may use fiction as a way to tell parts of their own story indirectly. Then there’s fictional memoirs which are loosely based on a person’s story but enough is changed that it isn’t ‘their’ story. All are ways to tell a deeper truth about who we are.
As a journalist, I became good at writing about other peoples lives. So when I wrote Last Seen in Lhasa I grappled with how much to say about myself. Since it was published, readers have said – ‘it’s very honest’, ‘you reveal a lot’, ‘I feel like I know you – yet I don’t know the facts about you.’
Some readers didn’t like this. A couple of online reviews complained there was too much of me in there. (You can’t please everyone though, so there’s no point in trying.)
As a reader I’m always intrigued by what some people are happy to divulge. I don’t mind talking about my feelings or my spiritual life. I’d find it hard talking about my love life (although I did mention that in passing in my Tibet memoir). I didn’t include my background because it wasn’t relevant to the story.
When I found myself shying away from what I really wanted to say, I would ask why. What frightened me? Normally it came down toother people’s judgments or criticisms.
Whatever you choose to write, take a risk. That’s true even if you are writing for yourself. Just as that parasailer showed me, when you do, you liberate something inside. You let yourself fly.