Cool story, needs more swamp beasts

Over the weekend The Artist had some homework to do. “Nothing huge, don’t worry” he informed me. “It’s just an outline for a story I’m working on for English class.” Fast forward to Monday night and he’s in tears. “Why do I have to put so much detail in my stories? Why do I make them so awesome? This is going to take forever and it’s DUE TOMORROW!” So, that whole “nothing huge, don’t worry” scenario? Yeah, I probably should have known.

I decided that I would help him out. I figured that if he completed the rough copy and started typing out the good copy while I was at karate, once bedtime came along and if he still wasn’t finished, I would finish the good copy for him. I am a much better typist/keyboarder, whatever you want to call it. It can be painful watching him pick away at the keys, getting himself all stressed out because he types at approximately -2 words per minute. I didn’t tell him of my plan to help him, but when I arrived home and saw him slowly poking at keys while listening to some music that he claimed helped calm him down (seriously) I offered my assistance.

“So hey, buddy. How about you let ol’ lightning fingers take over for you?”

“Seriously? You would do that? For me?” (tears welling up in his eyes)

“Of course! You’ve worked away for over an hour, let me type up the rest. There’s only a page or so left, right? Won’t take any time at all.”

“Oh mummy, THANK YOU! You’re the best! Wait…this is legal, right?”

Honestly, this kid blows my mind sometimes. I assured him it was legal, that I was merely helping, I didn’t write any of the story or even offer any advice. It was all him, all the time. It took me about 15 minutes to type the final paragraphs, then I went back and read the entire story to do a little proofreading. Nothing big, I promise! Just a couple of missed caps locks, etc. It’s still his story 100%. And what a story.

Entitled “The Thief and the Maiden” it’s the story of a thief and plunderer who, after an attack on the castle, becomes imprisoned but falls in love with the king’s daughter, who also loves him. They can’t be together – a princess and a prisoner – so they disguise themselves and run off. Meanwhile the king offers a reward to whoever can kill the prisoner and bring back the princess. On the run, the princess and the prisoner meet a swamp beast who injures the princess. The prisoner ensures she gets the medical attention she needs, and just when she’s healed the king’s henchman shows up. He and the prisoner fight! It’s touch and go but the prisoner prevails, he and the princess return to the kingdom, the thief explains how he has changed. And? Of course they live happily ever after.

Cool story, right? My little synopsis doesn’t really do it justice. His stories are always very good, lots of detail, great use of language and excellent scene building. Often they are extremely dramatic, and sometimes quite gory, but they are never, ever boring.

And as I was reading I started to think “why can’t I write like that?” Not so much with the gore and the swordfights and the fantastical beasts, mind you – but why can’t I just put things down on paper, let them flow and see what happens? Why? I’ll tell you why. Self-doubt! The inner critic! The voice that says “Who the hell do you think you are, you’re not a writer, no one wants to read that, it’s stupid!” The 11-year old doesn’t have that voice.

I never used to have that voice either. I could write stories, letters, poems, everything. I loved everything I wrote at that age, whether it was for school assignments or just for fun. I wrote about experiences and things I made up. I took ideas from other books and expanded on them. I wrote a lot about a lot of different topics. But then at some point I stopped this type of writing. I have no real idea as to when that would have been, but if I had to guess I would say high school. More school work, more assignments, more involvement in band and sports and less time to sit in my room and write stuff down. And, doesn’t self-doubt start to creep in around that time too? Oh yes, what with the puberty and the drama and the heightened emotions – which would seem to be the perfect storm for writing shit down – comes the voice that says you’re not good enough at ______ (insert favourite thing to do here).

I was going to say that it happens to all of us, but I’m not sure it really does. Clearly there are lots of people writing books, blogs, essays, short stories… Do they all have the same inner voice that tries to shut them down? Do they have it and just not listen to it? Do I give that voice too much credit? Possibly. There is a flip side to this too, though. Often there is an outer voice that also tries to shut you down. Take, for example, The Artist’s brother who had some pointed questions about the story: Why did you write it like that? How did he escape, did he just walk out, come on, that can’t happen!” …etc. And then I remembered, aha! I had those voices too. The ones that maybe don’t quit get what you’re trying to write about or those who just full on want to hate on your creation, no matter how proud you are of it. The accusing voices that make you wonder if what you’ve written really is good, maybe you’re not seeing it clearly, maybe – and this is the hardest – maybe they’re right, it’s not very good. Maybe you should just give it all up altogether. Did those voices become my inner voice? I honestly think that’s exactly what’s happened. All my past critics have morphed to become one Creativity Killing Voice of Doom, and I’ve been listening to this CKVOD for decades, struggling with the confidence to do what I want to do. It’s weird, isn’t it? I am 45 years old. If, say I’ve been stifling creativity because of the VOD since I was around 15 maybe? That is 30 damn years of worrying that what I do won’t be good or good enough. I think that’s long enough, don’t you?

When The Musician started in on his critique of his brother’s story last night, I really jumped down his throat. Probably a little too much, but it was something that obviously hit very close to home. The Artist has a gift for storytelling, and the last thing I want is for him to hear those other voices, the ones that may cause him to doubt himself and his talents. I want him to write whatever he wants, without that self-consciousness that starts to play in during the adolescent years. I want him to keep a journal, to draw his comics, to write his stories – all with full encouragement, and no negativity. At least for now when he is at his most vulnerable. Obviously you can’t go through life without some type of (hopefully constructive) criticism, but as we told The Musician, there are ways to ask questions and critique something without crushing the person’s spirit. Because see, I want him to share. What I stopped doing when the VOD took over was to stop sharing. And when I stopped sharing, I stopped creating, because part of the thrill of creating is sharing, isn’t it?

I guess you could say that the blog I now have is my attempt to get back into the sharing portion of creating. Baby steps, and of course I still do have that voice that says no one wants to read what I have to say. But I think, thanks to my husband and a very, very good friend who reads this blog (you know who you are) the Voice of Doom is giving way to the Voices of Support and Awesomeness Who Are Kicking My Ass in Gear. So thank you Team VOSAWAKMAG. Looking forward to the ride.

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