Warning: Long sentences ahead, proceed with caution.
Where have I been? Well. I’ll get to that... eventually. This is the first of a two part post about writers, our superpowers and how I'm learning to master mine.
First, let me tell you about the superpower writers have. Think of it as teleporting meets The Sims. You can literally think yourself away and create a whole new world. This makes us lucky as heck, no matter how ‘boring’ something is, we can secretly be elsewhere. When your mother discusses the dishwasher’s latest antics, or when a friend tells you how hard her life is because the hairdresser got her hairstyle wrong. Yep, imagine a talking Llama and ride off into the sunset to wherever you please.
Now, the catch. There’s always a catch.
Possessing the ability and intention to write is indeed a weapon, its a force to be reckoned with. The old ‘the sword is mightier than the pen-’ No, wait... ‘The pen is mightier than the sword’ that’s right.
So now what? You want to write. You love the sight of blank pages. Writing grabs you by your heart and guides you by your imagination through a wonderful abyss of possibilities, at the end of which you hope to have concocted a semi-decent story. You know this, but...seriously, what do you do next?
I think of this moment as the introductory events in a Superhero’s story. This is where Bruce falls down the well and is afraid of bats. This is where Peter Parker enters the facility, unawares of the spider at this point.
This is how it begins...
A writer and their writing, is no different to a superhero and their superpower.
When I was a child, I was a somewhat haunted soul, constantly having nightmares and being adamant there were monsters under the bed-well, in my case, it was killer puppets. I made the mistake of watching The Puppet Master very young. Yes. YES. I KNOW NOW IT WAS A BAD IDEA. I then went on to watch A Nightmare on Elm Street... (Mom, if you’re reading this. You were right. I should’ve gone to bed.)
Anyhow, despite having nightmares I was an annoyingly upbeat child and very quickly I started to see the fun side of having an imagination. The adventures Sinbad was having in a vast ocean against the crazy juggernaut monster never failed to entertain me...which in reality was my bathroom sink filled with water, a floating empty matchbox that had been converted into a boat and an action figure in the sink trying to make it back to said boat.
I adored it. I marvelled at it. And I truly loved it, with all the affection and joy a gleeful child could muster (and I still do). My imagination was my kingdom, it was my strength. Better than that, it was my secret.
Being writers, I’m sure you’ve all had similar moment. It’s like Spiderman discovering his abilities after being bitten, or Superman learning he’s impenetrable to bullets and that’s why he’ll never quite fit in (oh, and he’s an alien, yeah...).
Then came the teens, here I did some cringeworthy stuff. I’m talking obsessing over Charmed, I’m talking music videos, I’m talking song writing, and yes... I’m talking poetry. I was learning. I was picking, choosing and experimenting with all forms of writing. Again, not dissimilar to a superhero who tries to harness his ability: Spiderman falling off walls, not quite making his leaps, or Superman throwing that football a bit too far, or losing his temper and tying a lamppost into the shape of a ribbon...I tied my fair share of imaginary lamp posts into ribbons, I still do.
For me, writing was something that simply was not allowed as a career. It shouldn’t have been an option. It wasn’t ‘sensible’ as the grownups around me put it when I was a teen. Being the wallflower rebel I was, I continued to write in secret. I created aliases online under which I wrote. No matter what I was studying at school, then college, I was writing in secret. By day I was your fast-talking, mild-mannered student, by night I was a writer. No one knew about it. Not even my friends. Writing became my self-soother. It was my go-to activity.
Whatever the situation, I could simply escape by creating magic with elements derived from conflicts I was having in reality, or the world around me. I could take the bad, the good and the confusing and shove it onto paper and BHAM. Magic. And I still got a kick out of it.
During my late teens and very early twenties, it was becoming apparent that I couldn’t continue to have these two identities. The person who was sensible, going into a career with stable income and being passionate about their studies etc, jarred against the person I was. The writer-in-secret.
It doesn’t sound too dramatic when I put it on paper, but let me put it like this. During my childhood we were living in poverty, and it was through relentless hardwork my mother pulled us up and out of hell and into a better place. Coming from a background like that, it’s almost unheard of for someone to turn around and say ‘who needs money, I wanna write.’ If my child said this to me, I’d be certain there was something wrong with them, I mean, hello, had they not seen the life they had as a child? What they need is a stable income so they can hope to lead a comfortable life, because poverty ruins things.
Somehow, I had seen bad times and still saw the grace and beauty in the world. Something I conveyed within writing. Ricocheting from the conflict of being two different people, I regressed further into my ‘secret identity’ per se. It’s safe to say, I found myself addicted to writing fiction. So much so, that being a writer had become the very heart of me. Think, Spiderman becomes Venom, Superman becomes Bizzarro. I was at my worst, I had pushed everyone away and I wrote. Obsessively. One day, the chasm between who I was and who I was pretending to be grew so large that it was time to pick a side. Give in to society or step the hell up. I opted for the writing route. This caused sensational wars within the house. You’d think I announced I was going to be a mango farmer in Antarctica.
This was the beginning of my redemption phase. This was the moment Superman mastered the art of flying.
The idea was great, the freedom of not having to deny myself the right to write, it was fantastic... What came next was a letdown to me and my family, who had no choice but to become reluctant supporters. I made the grave mistake of focusing my superpower at the wrong thing. I focused my writing prowess on writing fanfiction, my justification was crap: I was studying fulltime and working two jobs, this was the easiest way to write and feel the reward. I may have gotten thousands of hits, I may have really enjoyed it, but the truth was I had chickened out at the idea of being me. I liked the idea, but I didn’t want to make the sacrifices it would take. Seeing I was stuck per se, friends and family began helping me in their own way by talking me into the idea of working in a Psychology based job. Perhaps Clinical Psychology, or research. I stupidly agreed to consider it. The writing was on pause, while I dealt with the minor problem of reality.
And once again, I found myself growing miserable, dissatisfied, more antisocial (than usual) and frustrated. Perhaps it was this inability to feel sad, or ungrateful about life that pushed me to begin pulling my socks up.
I deleted all my online writing, deleted all my music videos and found myself staring at a blank word document for the first time, facing my canvass which no longer had the cover of existing television shows to hide behind. I now lurked on the horizon of my very own Gotham or Metropolis. It was time to discover my voice...
Part Two will be up later this week, in which I discuss voice, self-doubt, bizarre twists of fate, taking responsibility for your talent as a writer, and where the hell I've actually been...