On my way to work, the sun is rising, I look across a snowy field, and a flock of birds scatters into the air like flakes of debris from a campfire.
I hear a navy SEAL sternly recount the horrors of war. He talks about discipline in everyday life, and I absorb his experience through my headphones.
The SEAL’s adventures are far too modern for me to write about, but this field and his words recall an older type of warfare to my mind. The rhythm of horse hooves enters me. When his podcast is over, and everything is silent, my brain is still busy.
Steel clashes and a young woman rides her horse across a snowy field, much like the one I see before me. The woman will travel an entire realm, beyond the forest and the mountains, to a place where she discovers something far more powerful than the enemy she faces.
She is not yet seventeen, yet she tries to save the world from the rise of dark magic.
I breathe in slowly. Right now, she is a twelve-year old girl, a character in my novel, that has yet to grow. She cannot even hold a sword, but someday she will set foot in a snowy field. Someday, after she has surpassed the challenges of the book I am currently writing for her, she will change.
The Lightning Storm in My Brain
When I write, one thought leads to another branching out in several unpredictable directions, like a lightning storm. I feel the same is true when I listen to music or podcasts. One person’s experience leads me to think of another’s.
Sometimes I chart story ideas, plotting possible novels based on these little moments of exploration. Other times, I sit down and draft a scene, discovering the characters within it.
Most of my ideas are forgotten when they are not written down, but there are always a few that resurface. Some even return after years of paying attention to other story ideas, other characters, other plots.
It is as if some themes and some characters have a life of their own, an insistence for their voices to be heard and their stories to be told.
The thrill of creating fiction, especially pre-writing and beginning stages is often amazing, and most writers know it.
A Secret Worth Sharing
At times, the act of writing a novel is somewhat mechanical. I found more progress in my word counts and chapter construction simply from dedicating more time towards the craft. Still, one aspect of writing fiction amazes me:
The world seems to change when I’m working on a fiction project. Hours go by while I am absorbed in a scene, and then the next day arrives.
Every detail of every aspect of my life begs to be stitched or weaved into the tapestry of the story.
Strangers in Chicago become workers in a medieval village square. An unruly beard of a friend becomes the mark of an ancient man in Brylennia. The arguments and discussions of my middle school students remind me of the energetic relentlessness of human curiosity. In the midst of growing from childhood to adulthood, the complexity of human emotion unfolds for us. The world feels – somehow – new and familiar when I write.
It is with this feeling – this thrilling mixture of happiness, introspection, and inquisitive observation, that I share with you one realization I had today. Here is one secret, or rather one truth, worth sharing.
Writing is more than just a mechanical act; it is more than just meeting a word count or completing a novel.
Writing, in many ways, is forging a sword from raw material, imagining the person who will wield it, shaping and tempering the wild steel into something crafted and refined.
It is recalling the family and friends who have loved you, and remembering the lessons within every tarnished relationship.
Writing is the act of bringing together the seen and unseen in any given circumstance.
It is living deeply, and it is a challenge worth pursuing.
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