There are two types of trades: one that requires you to learn only one discipline and another that requires you to be a multi-talented juggler of skills.
Guess what type of trade does writing fiction belong to?
A few months ago on a weekend I left the city with my friends and went on an amazing nature getaway on the forest lake’s shore. It was not only relaxing and calming, but also inspirational and surprising as I learned a few things about me and about the world I used to see and hear.
1. A writer should embrace opportunities and learn different things
Sometimes it means you have to know how to hack the logs like a lumberjack.
Though I had a leg surgery a few months ago and have been walking with a cane, I still wanted to go to the forest with my friends and my wife. We had our bit of adventures there, setting up a tent in the darkness, picking firewood in the even darker darkness while hiking through the forest, then hacking our findings into logs and building a fire.
I think I used to wield an axe when I was a kid and helped my mom with our house and the garden. At least I remember that old axe, how unreliable and rickety it looked. I remember worrying that after another hack it was going to lose its blade and send it right into my forehead. But thankfully, it holds together.
So you can guess I’m not the kind of guy who has been working with his hands a lot (apart from typing and moving a mouse). But when I decided to go ahead and help my friend with producing more logs for our fire, I surprised myself. And actually, my wife as well: she was actually going to ask our friend to teach me how to hack logs.
But with the axe in my hands, I felt like a natural lumberjack! I hacked and hacked, at first with a bit of hesitation, then after a minute with confidence. And I liked it! Every bit of it: how strong I felt breaking thick wood into pieces, being in the current moment, not losing my attention to some distractions as I always do inevitably.
In this simple work, I found not only clarity but also the truth that as a writer, I should embrace various opportunities and learn different things. When writing stories, we create worlds and characters and populate them with details. You can write a lumberjack, you can do your research on the web, but what could be better than becoming a lumberjack yourself? Holding that axe. Feeling how muscles strain with every hack. Feeling how you’re getting tired with more and more logs.
Such real-life experiences are invaluable for a writer. So whenever you’re presented with an opportunity to get into someone’s shoes and feel the real deal of it, do it. Research on the web will never give you the same rich mix of emotions and knowledge that will be forever engraved inside you as one of the memorable things you did for real, not read about.
This little axe-wielding evening also whispered to me a reminder that we are capable of more than we think. We should just try and do something and see what will come out of it. Similar to wielding an axe, we should try new styles of writing, new ideas, new books, new posts, new anything.
Everything is possible when you start taking action and see how even the smallest steps take you closer to your goal. Like hacking the wood eventually builds a heap of logs large enough to sustain the fire through the night.
2. A writer should be open to even the most bizarre experiences
Sometimes it means you should learn sword fighting. Sometimes it means you should not fear eating worms.
The next morning, when we crawled out of our tents, sleeping bags and hammocks, we soon found out that we were starving and we have almost no food, except for a few potatoes and onions. And when you have nothing to feed yourself, there’s plenty to feed your enthusiasm.
So we went into the woods to gather mushrooms for our stew. The woods, silent in the morning calm, seemed enchanted and mysterious. Lichen and moss grew everywhere. The short grass under our feet was resilient and went down a little bit with each our step, getting back up into normal when we moved our feet away. It was like walking on the very soft, springy curls of a giant green sheep.
We gathered our mushrooms and cooked the stew. But, as cautious as we were, there still were little worms in the kettle. Yes, it’s gross, but we had to eat the stew nevertheless. We didn’t have much food other than that because our plan was to make that stew. I tried to pick out the worms I could spot, but I’m sure I ate more than I managed to remove. If it wasn’t for the worms, I would say the stew was deliciously good. But I got my appetite spoiled, of course.:)
Eating this stew with worms actually taught me something. I imagined myself a vagabond or maybe a bandit in the woods, together with my partners, perhaps after we robbed someone or just found a new hideaway. (Right, we writers do pretend we live as our characters, right?) You see, this log-hacking, fire-setting, and wormy-stew-eating experience enriched my life and gave me so many details, feelings, colors, smells to use in my current and future writing. Now, better than ever, I can imagine my gardener (from the book How to Save a Princess I’m working on at the moment) camping in the forest with the princess he’s saving. Now I have so much more power to use in my story.
And that’s only one bit of that day in the nature, only one piece of tiny little experience. Truly, a person who travels and sees all of the world is the richest and happiest one.
3. We don’t know a thing about calm
I live in Saint Petersburg, one of the biggest cities in Russia. It offers the full package, you know: never-ending noise, never-ending lights, traffic jams, and crowds. It’s really exhausting to live in a city these days. If you live in one, you can understand me.
When I got into the wild, I was so surprised by the calm and quiet of the world around me. I would never believe such things exist anymore but they do.
The most astonishing thing was when my wife and her friend swam away I think about 40 meters from the shore and they were talking – like normally, not loud – I could still hear their words just fine. Can you believe it? This just blew me away! I thought about trying to hear what they shouted from a distance of 50 meters in the city. Right, I wouldn’t hear it at all! And there in the forest, on a lake shore, everything was so close, so simple, so easy to see, hear or touch. I felt like I landed on another planet, I felt alien to this forgotten simplicity and pleasure to experience things without background noise and constant distractions. At the same time, I felt sad because it seemed so nice to have and impossible to experience in my everyday city life.
Summing it up
Life is amazing and beautiful. It has so many precious moments, countless moments that we don’t value at all, we don’t even notice the majority of them. We run along, never looking around, never stopping by a tree to touch it or a songbird to listen to, never having enough time for such a ’silliness.’
For a writer, it’s so important to be able to just stop and look around. Stop in the middle of the crowded square with floods of people going to and fro and just notice the things surrounding you. Look at the smallest details, they always matter. The most brilliant talent, it seems, is being able to hear the silence in the noise and see the calm in the storm. Because it’s always there, right in the middle of it – you just have to look closer.
Value everything you have in your life, all the little moments. At the end of the day, it’s the experience that will make you a more powerful writer (I bet you already know the grammar and have some ideas for your stories). Try not to turn away from something new to participate in. You never know how this little something will help you in your writing.
Remember: experience makes you stronger, as a person and as a writer. Just about any experience is a blessing, however bad or painful it is. Be curious and positive about life and your books will become more vivid and alive, as will do you.