Today I went to my niece’s eisteddfod. She does Highland dancing, and has done for a few years now. Because her mother is away at the moment, it fell to Nana and Aunty Lisa to take her. So yes, apart from the five hours of endless droning bagpipe music, I actually had a really great time, and my niece placed second in her sword dance so she was very happy.
And something interesting struck me as I watched her dancing. For all that I’m aware she’s been doing this for a few years now, and that she’s been improving the whole time, I was still amazed at watching this kid dance. She was up there on stage doing something I didn’t have the foggiest idea about, and doing it well!
It made me think a little of writing, and of how much goes on behind the scenes that readers don’t know about. If we were dancing, I’m talking about the times we misstep, or fall over, or bruise ourselves, or sprain something—or kick the damn swords right off the stage.
There is a lot that goes into writing a novel that readers don’t see. There’s a lot that writers ourselves have probably forgotten: that first primary school story that got a gold star, that awful fanfic we wrote when we were thirteen, that wannabe epic fantasy story full of self-inserts who saved the day. Those are our stumbles and our missteps, and sometimes it takes us years to get it right.
Today on stage I saw the tiniest kids imaginable—in the tiniest kilts imaginable—and almost of them forgot what they were supposed to be doing the second they were on stage, but they kept spinning around anyway, and were clearly enjoying being up there. And those kids are the first draft of that story you wrote once, or the terrible fanfic or the god-awful fantasy epic. And then the next age group came on stage, the ones with a little more experience behind them, and they were already so much better.
To me, the best part about writing—about any creative endeavour—is that the more we do it, the better we get at it, and I think that’s pretty amazing.
I’ve had people before tell me that they wished they’d never stopped writing, and I wish they hadn’t either. I wish they could remember why they wrote in the first place, and how fun it was for them to build an entire world out of a single idea, and I wish they’d try again.
Because yes, you’re going to mess your steps up. You’re going to forget how to move. You’re not going to do a perfect job every time you get out there on the stage. But even when you make mistakes, you’re learning from them.
So if you’re one of those people who thinks that they’d like to write a novel, or learn to dance, or pick up a hobby you once had as a kid… don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t.
“Do you know what I love about the sword dance?” my mother asked me as we waited for my niece’s group to come on. “You danced it before battle, and if you didn’t kick the swords, you were going to live, so you could fight like hell without caring about dying. And if you did kick the swords, you were going to die, so you could fight like hell since you were going to die anyway.”
So get out there, and remember it’s not about whether or not you kick the swords: it’s about remembering to fight like hell.