Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Living (and Writing) Dangerously in the New Year

I’ve just read a wonderful essay by Tom Spanbauer titled “Dangerous Writing” in Poets & Writers. It’s a fitting piece to contemplate as I sit here on this early January morning, the kids packed off to school after a long break, the Christmas tree looking sad in the corner in its nest of fallen needles.

When Spanbauer talks about dangerous writing, he doesn’t mean scenes of murder and mayhem, but rather, being the kind of writer who goes to the dangerous places in his or her own mind. He’s talking about digging really deep, writing with passion, writing what scares you. It’s not easy. It’s not supposed to be. But this is the kind of writing that gets to some real truths and sticks in readers’ minds long after they finish.

Personally, I’ve been doing more and more of this. I used to be very tentative, worrying about what people might think of my work, and, consequently, my writing at that time was fine…but nothing more. It skimmed the surface. I don’t write like that anymore. Maybe I’ve just gotten too old to care what people think, but I know I’ve also gotten too old to want to waste any time writing something I’m not passionate about.

A few weeks ago, I took an impromptu trip to Mexico where I met up with some girlfriends. This is very unlike me, very outside my comfort zone, traveling alone to an unfamiliar place where I don’t even speak the language outside of : "¿Donde está el baño?" The vacation was wonderful, but the traveling part, both ends of it, were full of anxious moments.

At one point, waiting for the agents to search my luggage, I watched all the other travelers speed on by, and envied them for their sure-footedness. They seemed to be taking everything in stride. They didn’t look stressed out at all. I had a little pity-party in my head, lamenting how I couldn't be all zen, like I was at the yoga class my friends and I took on the beach.

But then I had a sudden realization. The people who are stressed by this type of thing? They aren’t here. They’re not at this airport. I’m not seeing all the people who are anxious like me, because they all stayed home.

And so, too, with writing. Oh, if I had a dollar for every time someone told me, “I’d like to write a book, too.” But they didn’t. They aren’t. I traveled in 2015. I wrote a novel (and a picture book and several essays and put my collection of short fiction together), all of which required some mental traveling to dangerous places. I’d do it all again. I’m passionate about my work, and plan to stay that way, in 2016, and always.


  1. I have gone to some places that, quite frankly, creep me out (and worried my wife, too, I think). It's a good way to write. And congrats on doing something out of character for you, sounds like you had a good time!

    1. Yes, getting outside our comfort zones, in writing and all things, is pretty good once in awhile!