Courage, Passion, and Determination

(Originally posted at The League of Extraordinary Writers)

This weekend was a trifecta of writerly inspiration. On Friday night my wife, Margaret, and I went to a dinner sponsored by the Indiana Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. I sat next to Alina Klein, whose debut young adult novel, Rape Girl, came out last year. So of course I dragged my copy along and bugged Alina for her autograph.

Rape Girl is an amazing book, one that belongs on your shelves alongside books like Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson and Scars by Cheryl Rainfield. But what I find most inspiring about Rape Girl is the fact that it exists. You see, it’s loosely based on Alina’s own experience as a teenage rape survivor. (A fact she discusses in the author’s note at the back of the book.) I can’t even imagine the courage it took to write this book.

I’ve been kicking a blog post around in the back of my brain for more than a year–one that would deal with my middle school experience with child molesters–but I can’t summon the courage to write it. Yes, I break concrete blocks with my bare hands, but I’m a wimp compared to Alina. It takes real courage to write.

Saturday night Margaret and I went to see Big Bad Voodoo Daddy at Conner Prairie. I guess you’d call them a swing/jazz band.

What amazed me about BBVD was their passion–they’re totally committed to their music and their audience. They break the conventions of their genre: electric guitar in a swing band? Banjo? Sure–they make it work! They play with an infectious abandon–if the Greek god Dionysus returned to earth, these guys would play for his procession.

As I enjoyed the music, I thought: this is how I want to write, with a wild disregard for everything but the words and my audience. I want to write words that unleash an irresistible flood of emotion, words that inspire laughter, dancing, or tears. It takes passion to be a writer.

Sunday was a day for yard work at the Mullin home. I bought two cubic yards of hardwood mulch to spread across the flower beds in our front yard. As the attendant at the garden center cut into the pile of mulch with his front-end loader, I noticed it was smoking. Even an hour later, the mulch in the back of my pickup truck was hot to the touch.

Unloading that much mulch from the truck to the wheelbarrow to the flower beds is a lot of work. My score? Five blisters formed, one popped. As I turned up yet another spadeful of black mulch, a spot of green rose to the top. It was an acorn, still a beautiful light green color despite its sojourn in the smoking mulch pile. I have no idea how long it had been buried there or how it escaped being ground to mulch, holding onto its life while all the neighboring twigs and leaves turned a uniform dark brown.

I felt I had a metaphor rather than an acorn on the end of my spade. All writers spend time buried among the thousands of others querying literary agents or struggling to find their readership via self-publishing. A few of us, like that acorn, hang on long enough to be unearthed. It takes determination to be a writer.

My weekend reminded me of the traits I aspire to as an author: courage, passion, and determination. How was your weekend? Let me know in the comments, please.

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