I spent the weekend at the National Writers Forum, where I had opportunities to meet lots of other writers and attend sessions on many aspects of the craft and business of putting words on paper to be read by others.
One of the highlights for me was a keynote address by John Marsden, author of Tomorrow When the World Began and many other popular young adult books.
Marsden had many words of wisdom for writers, but two things in particular I thought were actually great advice for life in general, not just for writing.
Marsden encouraged us to take risks, to not write the mundane, the predictable.
Should we not also take risks in life in general? Not the stupid kind like robbing banks or snorting cocaine, but risks that force us to grow. I think about some of the risks I’ve taken in life—serving in the Peace Corps, moving to New Zealand, starting my own business, closing my business in order to write. Every one of those risks taken has caused me grief—emotional, financial, physical—and every one of those experiences has forced me to grow and learn and improve myself.
Even small risks are important to take. For me, going to an event like the writers forum is a terrifying proposition. As an introvert, I have to force myself to attend. I have to plan what I will say to people, come up with a list of questions I can ask well in advance of the event. It takes enormous energy for me to mix and mingle with strangers, and I have to take time out sometimes—take a walk, sit in a quiet corner, or retreat to a toilet stall. This past weekend, the effort took its toll—I slept poorly and have returned emotionally shattered and with a head cold. But I learned a lot and made contacts with other writers. Once I catch up on sleep and the head cold clears, I’ll be a better writer for having gone.
So, where should risk taking be leading us?
Marsden touched on this, too. He said great writing chases the truth but doesn’t reach it.
And a great life chases the truth, recognising we will never reach it, and will always be learning and growing.
Take risks. Chase the truth. Repeat.