I've fallen in love with hundreds of fictional characters, but I found it challenging to connect with people in real life. I related more to people in books and admired those who created them. One of my first crushes was Alaska from John Greens' "Looking for Alaska." Hassan from Khaled Hosseini's "The Kite Runner" exemplified a good friend.
"I dream that someday you will return to Kabul and revisit the land of our childhood. If you do, you will find an old faithful friend waiting for you."
-Hassan (The Kite Runner)
I have memories in my mind so vivid of being in 11th grade and reading "The Great Gatsby." I had never known prose like F. Scott Fitzgerald could spin, and I devoured the book in a matter of days. It was the first book I read that was engrossing simply because it was so beautifully written.
I say this to illustrate a writer's role. Born with the uncanny ability to observe, their responsibility is to deliver an emotion or idea in a way that penetrates the attention. Like clothes fresh out the dryer or cold liquid traveling across your ribs after finally getting a drink.
Sometime in the future, it will be writers that unravel all the emotions and trauma of this global pandemic. We'll all read along excitedly because we were there! We experienced the story they're telling.
Creative Work as a Service
Reading planted the seed for me to become a writer. When I was forced into patrolling the halls or be spotted sitting alone, the library was my safe haven. Reading made it easy to slip away into a different world and leave behind the loneliness and embarrassment of grade school.
There are a few lines from select books that changed me forever. It's almost as if my life before reading those lines and after are distinct parts. The chance to create that feeling for someone else is a big driving factor for me.
Seth Godin, an author and business advisor, claims talent is worthless, and it's showing up every day that matters. Godin believes that no matter what you create, there are people who need your work.
In one of his books, Godin tells the story of an ancient tradition in Turkey that goes as follows. When the locals buy a loaf at the bakery, they can pay for an extra loaf. If they decide to, the owner will hang it on a hook on the wall. Afterward, if someone hungry comes by, they can ask if there is anything on the hook and if so, the bread is shared and their hunger relieved.
"To Be of Service. Isn't that what we're here to do? To do work, we're proud of. To put ourselves on the hook. To find the contribution we're capable of."
Subjectivity vs. Objectivity
For a long time, I related writing to sports. As a lifelong athlete, I got accustomed to the objectivity of it all. If I trained the hardest, I would be the best. Repetition was a sure-fire way to success. I could apply my workhorse outlook, run the extra miles, spend more time on weights, and practice until I improved.
When I took up writing professionally, I tried to apply a training program to it. I didn't know it, but I was trying to become the best. In sports, you can replicate others, and it works out for you. In writing, if you copy others, you're... "plagiarizing." There is no "best writer." But you can make someone's list of best writers.
So now I find comfort in leaning into my individuality, and I'm thankful to offload that winning mentality that competition instilled in me. Because in reality, subjectivity is one of my favorite parts of the job. I like that my work isn't for everyone, and I love that it is precisely right for others.
Being Cool to the Most Fundamental Version of Myself
I've always loved making people laugh, but I'd settle for making them feel anything. So as a kid, I wrote stories and told my family and friends I wanted to be a cartoonist, and then it was a director, and then I tried to act, and so on. I love that if I could tell my childhood self what I am doing now, she would be so excited. I'm doing something I think is cool and important to the fabric of society.
Stories are universal; every culture tells stories. They link us to our past and keep traditions that would have been forgotten alive. We learn to care for our fellow humans by empathizing with fictional characters. Storytelling was once the only way to preserve history and pass on knowledge. They challenge us to confront the past honestly, remember details, and experience sometimes tough emotions.
This is Your Brain on Stories
Stories engage all areas of our brain, but possibly the most important is the Oxytocin hormone. Oxytocin plays a crucial role in our ability to be empathic and interact socially. It also helps us distinguish between the good characters and the bad.
A crime thriller with a satisfying twist at the end triggers a dopamine response. In comparison, a story about a rollercoaster that goes 90 miles an hour will engage our motor cortex. As if we were there and felt the vibration as the ride ticked to the top.
A stressful story filled with suspense causes the release of cortisol, which heightens our senses and leads to increased focus, this may explain why you can lose time in a dramatic show, book, or even listening to a friend.
Finally, stories interact with our language processing functions by following the cause and effect pattern of our thinking. Because we see ourselves in stories and can relate them to our own lives, lesser-used parts of our brain are engaged.
“Ink, a Drug.”
― Vladimir Nabokov, Bend Sinister
I'm thankful to be in a profession with such a complex link to human biology and tradition. Not every career has room for creativity and the chance to contribute something meaningful. If a writer loves you, you live forever. As they progress through life, each version of a writer is frozen in time: their young, brash ideas and the jaded ones of their later years.
More than material or social benefits, I'm so grateful to be doing what I was put on this earth to do, beyond making money or creating a legacy. Nothing makes me come alive like writing. Nothing opens me up and forces me to expose the parts of myself I'm not proud of. Yet at the same time builds me up and rewards me for that vulnerability.
Not everyone finds their passion in life, so simply knowing that I'm a storyteller at heart is enough for me. I'm excited to figure out the rest along the way.
"Mostly, we authors must repeat ourselves - that's the truth. We have two or three great and moving experiences in our lives
- experiences so great and moving that it doesn't seem at the time anyone else has been so caught up and so pounded and dazzled and astonished and beaten and broken and rescued and illuminated and rewarded and humbled in just that way ever before.
Then we learn our trade, well or less well, and we tell our two or three stories - each time in a new disguise - maybe ten times, maybe a hundred, as long as people will listen."
― F. Scott Fitzgerald
There are no comments for this story
Be the first to respond and start the conversation.