“If you don’t know where you’re going, any road’ll take you there.”
– George Harrison, Cloud Nine
When I was looking for a quote to start off this post on risk taking, writing, and an author’s choices, this quote most affected my natural reflective and introspective self. At first, I wondered whether it had anything to do with my recent Beatles music immersion with the Cirque du Soleil’s presentation of Love. Maybe it did. Who knows? The point is that it struck a chord in me that I have never considered before, especially with respect to my writing. You see, I’m an organic writer who more often than not starts off a chapter with images (and ideas) then just lets it evolve according to its natural flow. Often in this early stage of my writing, development is more driven by characters and situations than by me. Strange though that may sound, at this stage I would describe myself more akin to a back stage technician critical to the play’s success out front. To me, George Harrison’s quote tells me that it’s okay not to always know where I’m going with a particular chapter or plot because each ‘thought-thread’— different in texture and creative bent—will eventually take me to a location where I should and must be in that particular piece of writing.
Challenging Norms, Alternative Realities and Consequences: Risk Taking Choices for a Writer
My responsibility as an author is to choose the best ‘thought-thread’ that retains the integrity of the overall story. Fraught with risk, it goes to the very heart of what I believe a writer must be: namely, a bold and creative vision seeker who is willingly compelled to be a risk-taker in his or her work. What does this mean?
Let me try to answer what risk-taking is not. Risk-taking is not about aversion to gamble when the right word or phrase must be chosen to convey the intended meaning; it is not about staying in comfort and safety when telling your story; it’s not about refusing to listen to feedback — positive or negative; it’s not about rejecting your dreams; it’s not about surrendering to ‘brain-teasers’ (what I called failures in an earlier post); it’s not about ignoring the snippets of wisdom that come from ‘brain-teasers’; it’s not about giving up.
According to Larry Brooks: “Risk comes when we challenge norms, speculate on alternative realities and show consequences, and do so in the full knowledge that it very likely will piss off a certain percentage of the market.” Let me give you one example I went through in writing “Betrayal of Trust.” Sex subtly winds its way throughout the story until one vividly, descriptive scene. It wasn’t a frivolous inclusion; the reader, in my opinion, needed to see what I and the characters in my book were seeing. But, nevertheless, I struggled with its inclusion because my market aimed not only at the adult market in both genders but also at teens. The other part I struggled with was me. This was the very first vivid sex scene that I have ever written for public consumption (and that included family and friends). My decision was to leave it in. I smile to myself as I look back now because there really never was any other choice — at least for me.
As a writer you risk the success of your story right from the opening line. One opening line that immediately came to my mind is: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness,…” from A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens.
A quote from an article by Susan Tepper puts it in perspective: “…a guest editor from The New Yorker made the following statement. She said: ‘I read the first line. If I like it, I read the second line. And, so on.’ Her statement shook my world.”
It sure shook mine!
Jessica Morrell advices: “Just risk it. Go towards the hard truths, the pain, the sad, sore secrets, the heartbreak. Fortune sides with those who dare…Writing is an act of hope, of bravery, of necessity…”
Wishing you all success!