The reality of the world I live in often disappoints me. When I was a child I never imagined that adulthood would be so mundane and unsatisfying. I believed in the possibility of once-upon-a-time and happily-ever-after, and I thought that adulthood would be a glorious and magical state of being. I was wrong. Therefore, I believe in fiction. As far back as I can remember, I have loved stories, whether they were fables, fairy tales, or campfire ghost stories. But my rock-solid belief in fiction is more than the love of a good story.
Having been a lover of fiction for roughly twenty years, I decided to try my own hand at it last summer. In the process of learning to tell a story, I discovered things in myself that surprised me. I found a deep well of conservatism, a liberating desire to create conflict, and also a gleeful and almost guilty feeling of voyeurism. After all, no one else has ever looked into the minds of my characters, no one else has ever seen through their eyes as I do.
Writing stories, like reading them, has become for me an antidote from the drab world of dust bunnies and grocery shopping, to-do lists and bills and low back pain. I’ve written a novel and six or seven short stories. I’m working on my second novel now. In the process of writing, I’ve discovered that fiction has done what no amount of counseling and medication has ever been able to do for me. It has given me lasting relief from a sometimes overwhelming anxiety and depression.
Another truth I have discovered in fiction is that it takes courage. When I let someone read my stories, I am opening my most vulnerable self to criticism. A large part of me wants to hide that vulnerability, to protect my soft spots even if it means I am the only person who ever gets to enjoy my stories. After all, the stories I create are an expression of my own inner self, and opening that part of me to the possibility of rejection is a scary prospect. Last week I sent off one of my short stories to a magazine for the very first time, and now I’m waiting to see if it really is as good as I thought it was. I’m terrified that it isn’t, that it will be returned to me in the postage-paid envelope I sent along with my manuscript. But what if it isn’t? The suspense is fantastic.
I started out writing my stories because I wanted to, but now I do it because I have to. I believe in fiction because its unreality has become a necessary part of my reality. My life is so much richer now, less disappointing, for having been touched by the breath of imaginary worlds.
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