When I was in sixth grade, my first year in a new school, and also my first year in middle school, I went from being a pretty average kid who did very well in school and had a number of friends to becoming very introverted.
I left all those friends hundreds of miles behind. It was the year I experienced my first (and only, thank goodness) in bullying, perpetrated by an eighth-grade boy who would fit perfectly as a cast member named “Obnoxious Cruel Jackass Number 2” in any number of 80s movies.
That school year also began just a few months after the first really impactful death in my life, that of my maternal grandmother, who I was very close to and at whose home my little brother and I spent countless sleepovers.
Everything, all at once, seemed to pile on and suffocate me. It was the first time I told myself “I want to die”.
I don’t write this to make you feel bad for me. Please don’t. There are many people who had and have it far worse than I. Indeed, thirty-plus years later, I’m doing fine. This is just to set the stage.
If this perfect storm hadn’t all come together then, I might not be able to consider myself a writer now. It was because of these factors that I “retreated” into a fantasy world of my own creation. I wrote and drew the first page, of what would become thousands, of a sci-fi/fantasy/adventure comic strip I called “Protector”.
It brought together influences from comic books and movies I had seen and told the story of the last of a race of people who became a knight covered in a liquid metal armour that traversed space in search of people to help in a never-ending quest against various and sundry evil forces.
I continually added to this story for the next seven years, charting the course of the Protector’s life and battles. He saved millions, got married, and eventually had a son who took his father’s place as the Protector of the next generation.
I didn’t start that story with any idea on how it would end, or even an outline for how events would play out over the years. It just happened. And the more I did, the more it healed me and helped me come out of whatever cocoon I was in. By the time I reached high school, I felt normal again…
Whatever I Did, it Healed Me
A few years ago, I had an idea for a novel that I knew would be tough. I knew it would mean a lot of hours of research, let alone actual writing and rewriting. To make it good, really good, I would need to essentially learn all I could about the world history of the past millennium, gothic and horror literature since the 18th century and a dozen exotic foreign locales.
I was accustomed to writing screenplays, short stories and poetry — generally, things involving processes measuring from one day to possibly four months at most. Now, I was preparing to jump into a novel that could take a year, maybe two.
It’s been three years now, and I’m almost done with the first draft.
The forward momentum and challenge of taking on something, to me, that is fairly grand in scope, propelled my creativity to new heights. I started and completed another new novel in 2016. I’ve also outlined and made serious headway on a new novel series.
All while in the midst of working on the mega-project.
I’ve argued with myself about doing this. Of course, I’ve used up precious time that I could have dedicated to the “big” book. Surely, I would have finished that one had I never zipped away on these other tangents!
But, throughout it all, my brain was in overdrive. I’ve probably had more ideas in the past 3 years than in the whole previous 40.
And I think I’ve figured it out:
The more we challenge ourselves as writers, the more our minds adapt to the challenge.
This has some scientific backing. We know that continued education throughout life, as well as continued reading and playing puzzle or “thinking” games in later life, tends to keep the mind nimble and promotes overall health.
And it makes sense, just like hitting the gym or going for a run. If you desire “gains”, you need to do a lot of reps or push yourself to greater distances.
So, don’t just accept the short, small, easy tasks. Don’t aim for the minimum level you can strive for.
And don’t just come up with a dream project to simply have one. Come up with that dream project with the full intent to finish it, even if you know could take years.