Monday Motivation: Writing hones a key life skill
One of the little-regarded spin-off advantages that writers enjoy, is that, through their writing, and through the stories they fabulate, they exercise a skill essential to us all, writers and non-writers alike.
The core of this insight was driven home for me by a little quote I read recently from Ursula K. Le Guin’s book, The Wave in the Mind. It goes like this:
‘All of us have to learn how to invent our lives, make them up, imagine them. We need to be taught these skills; we need guides to show us how. If we don’t, our lives get made up for us by other people.’
Think about it. If we don’t take charge of our lives, other people (or blind, bureaucratic forces) will step into the breach and take charge of us. Bureaucracy, after all, abhors a vacuum.
Writers invent stories that are, more often than not, about people who learn that their fate is in their hands. But of course not all these stories are invented.
Take Tracy Todd’s* story, Brave Lotus Flower Rides the Dragon. It concerns the journey that began one day when the car being driven by her husband overturned and she broke her neck.
Fate determined that she would have to live out her life, and bring up her son, as a tetraplegic. Now, things don’t get much worse than that. She had apparently lost control of her life. It seems obvious that she would have to resign herself to the fact that other people would from then on take charge of her life.
But her story demonstrates that that obvious assumption can be utterly wrong – if the person in question refuses to relinquish her power.
Her story happens to be a true one, her book a memoir of her struggle to emerge as a willful and independent person.
But what about stories that are the product simply of their authors’ imaginations? They for the most part are also about characters meeting challenges, being beaten down, and emerging, at length triumphant, holding aloft a standard that declares that they have managed to beat life at its own game.
Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey is the deeply researched confirmation of the human need to tell stories that rehearse and celebrate the various journeys of which life consists: the passage from adolescence to adulthood; from bachelorhood to marriage; in short, from innocence to experience.
And so when we write these accounts of characters surmounting obstacles, fighting dragons (or learning to fly them), or of winning the hand of their darlings, we are rehearsing a journey that life calls on us to make all the time.
It prepares us for those journeys more thoroughly than simply reading these stories does. It hones our skill at identifying a challenge and working out strategies to meet that challenge. Imagination, in brief, is a formidable weapon developed by evolution to help us meet head-on the problems of existence.
It’s a little advantage that writers enjoy over non-writers.
P.S. I note that the Zambian writer I met at the Cambridge Short Story Festival, Mbozi Haimbe, who was short-listed for her story, Madam’s Sister, for the Africa region, has been declared the winning entry.
* Tracy Todd took part in our popular mentorship programme.