Benjamin Sisko: I'm no writer, but if I were it seems to me I'd wanna poke my head up every once in a while and take a look around - see what's going on. It's life, Jake! You can miss it if you don't open your eyes!
-- "The Visitor," Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
Aside from outting myself as not only a fan of Star Trek, but of a huge fan of DS9, I share this quote with you in hopes that it might punch some of you in the face like it punches me in the face every time I come across it.
Here's the context. I'll even remove all Star Trek and sci fi from the setup, so those of you with a negative reaction can move on and get to the meat of the matter:
A young man, in his late teens, has found his passion for writing. Everywhere he goes, he says potential plots. Everyone he interacts with, he regards as potential characters. He spends every waking moment thinking about his writing or with his nose buried in his writing. Sure, there are other responsibilities and he takes care of those, but as soon as they're done it's back to writing. He's not a slacker because of writing; he's just obsessed with his craft.
One day, his dad is taking him on a trip to see something that's once-in-a-lifetime. The young man spends his time on the trip holed up and working on his story.
That's when his dad utters the magic words: "I'm no writer, but if I were it seems to me I'd wanna poke my head up every once in a while and take a look around - see what's going on. It's life, Jake! You can miss it if you don't open your eyes!"
This really hits home with me now, as it did when the episode first aired. When I was a younger man, I spent every spare moment with my writing. (Check yesterday's post if you don't believe me!) In college, when I wasn't doing homework, I was either working on photography or writing. For a while it was songs, not fiction, but it boils down to the same thing. When I gave up writing (more on that another day) I spent most of my time looking for something to fill the void. When I came back to writing, I was pretty much back to the old ways.
And I often still am.
There's work, there's my wife, there are things I have to do. But when not otherwise obligated, I'm writing, or blogging about writing, or talking to writers, or thinking about writing.
Here's the thing. Unless you want to write about writing, or about someone who spends his or her life trapped by obligations, you need to experience more than those two things in order to write. You need to do other things. You need to interact without it being about writing. You need to stick your head out of the rabbit hole and check out what's going on.
I've recently started volunteering for my local EMS as one way of doing this. It's not work, church, marriage, chores, or writing. It's something different. Just one avenue to just plain experience life. I may learn nothing from it to incorporate into my writing. But I will learn more about what it is to be a person in this world, and that will make me a better writer.
So, to all of you, I give the same directive as Ben Sisko gave to his son Jake, and that an elderly Jake then passed onto a young writer who idolized him:
Poke your head up every once in a while and take a look around - see what's going on. It's life! You can miss it if you don't open your eyes