Human relationships are instructive. Our ability to get along with one another, and the wealth of knowledge and self-shaping those relationships bring, begins with a healthy respect for oneself. As we learned long ago from Aristotle, man is by nature a social animal. We take best advantage of that sociability, that social-ness, when we enjoy our own company. Combine ourselves with those around us, and all this mess we are in begins to mean something.
In the realm of fiction, what makes us care enough to keep reading, is relationships. The landscape may be beautiful, the setting so real it becomes a character itself, but only the people inside keep us turning the pages. Here enters an irony, one that plays out day after day in my own experience as a writer, and goes to the central issue of a writer’s relationship with him- or herself; writers thrive on relationships, but writing itself is an entirely solitary endeavor.
I have always been grateful to be as outgoing a person as I am. We all know there is a stereotype of a writer—drawn, self-critical, shy. I am none of those things. I have been in business a very long time—which is how I make the living that allows me to sit, alone, at my desk at night. In the daytime I am a flesh pressing, back slapping jokester. Which, might I add, makes others a lot more willing to talk to me than had I been a shy, shrinking violet, and provides me with a lot more stories to tell. Still, that’s the daytime. At night, please leave me alone. Let me sit at my desk, fidget, and talk to myself.
A popular self-help book from the 80s was entitled “Love is Letting Go of Fear.” I read it a long time ago. I can’t remember the name of the author, or a single word of the book. But I can guess what it was about. To relate to others, to get to know them, we begin by relating to ourselves. We have to be willing to do so. We have to be present. Much as a protagonist is thwarted from attaining goals, fear holds us back from our own. To write convincingly about people, even imaginary ones, about the conflicts they face, the antagonists that run about, we must be able to go inside. We have to sympathize. We have to get it. We have to care.
All this requires us to put aside our fears. To write, much as to relate to others, we have to let go of our expectations. We have to be willing to go to a place where we don’t know what will happen. We must not fear the mystery. We must trust that it will all be worked out; and in the working-out, we as friends, and as writers, will become greater than we were when we started.
This willingness to go deep extends to many areas of life. Sure, there are times when we’re best to be conservative. A wise writer, friend, or person knows when to pick battles. At times, we behave in ways we know will allow us to succeed. If we’re smart, we plan ahead. In general, I’m a rational person. I save my money, bring lunch to work, make sure the bills are all paid. I really like to sleep at night, every night. In other arenas, such as fiction and relationships, there are times we must take risks. We must be willing to go deep. Once you’ve seen the rewards that come from putting aside fears, you can’t go back. Writing, like a willingness to be vulnerable, to relate to other humans, makes us better people. Makes all this mess worthwhile.