When Not to be the Hero

By necessity, a writer must always keep an active imagination. It is after all (for the professional) his livelihood and (for the amateur) his means of personal satisfaction.

A writer is naturally a creative person. After all, dragons, aliens, and ogres are not commonplace participants in everyday life.

(Unless you commute on the subway, of course.)

I regularly exercise my imagination through numerous flights of fancy, from life as a fighter pilot to life as a squid. Like any writer, I trot up and down the same of my favorite imaginary streets. I prefer the frontier life on the edge of the galaxy to a Edwardian tea party. So much is natural. But my recent reading has revealed a habit of mine that is not healthy for myself nor for my writing.

My unhealthy imaginary habit is not restricted to only me and me alone: I believe that it is more or less the sad fate of every writer unless he or she can erect defenses against it.

Flights of imaginary fancy can be divided into two simple categories: Imaginary stories that have more or less no ground in our present reality (for example, a wild and rambling saga about a small mouse fighting an evil empire), and stories that would be darn nice if they happened to us (for example, a story where my favorite actress falls in love with me when I step out of my Ferrari while on my way to accept the Oscar for best actor).

However fanciful imaginings of the second category may become, our own subjective desires prevent them from taking the form of stories of the first category. Rarely will you find good story material in a personal brown study.

We simply take them too personally. Although a writer’s best work is often strongly personal and idiosyncratic (my new favorite word. How do you like it?), it had best not include or involve the writer as a character. When we do, our compulsion to make our lives flow and function in the way we want will affect how the story develops, which is something we should never do.

Let the story develop naturally on its own. It is always for the better that we separate ourselves from our creations.

In addition, this tendency to insert ourselves as the hero of our own stories, can be harmful to our very creative ability as writers. When we create tales of imagination, we train ourselves to be creators. When we create tales of our own successes, we train ourselves to be fools.

I cannot tell you how many times I have played the same scene in my head: I’m walking down the street and strike up with a conversation with a classmate from high school. They’re doing semi well, and are impressed to learn that I’m a published author. We smile, say goodbye, and part our separate ways. The end.

I’m afraid my writing has suffered from imaginary moments such as these.

No one was hurt by my simple imagining, right?

No one could possibly be hurt but me.

As writers, we need to focus on lives other than our own. It is imperative that we live in a world of reality as we build a world of fiction.

I hope I can drop this habit soon. It would be nice if it just came true, right? Anyone want to give me money? -BW

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