The following story is true (and sort of funny, but only because it ended well)…
My low-fuel indicator lit up its orange warning signal a few days ago, and I ignored it. I drove my son to school, ran my errands, and convinced myself that there would be enough gas to get me through the next day or so. After all, that light is just a suggestion, correct? There was enough fuel in the tank, and the next day I followed the same routine. However, I received a call later that evening that required me to go back into town (this is where I tell you that I live in the sticks). As I was returning home, I passed a gas station. It was open, it was clean, well-lit, friendly. In fact, this is where I usually fill up my tank. However, because I only had ten dollars in my pocket and dreaded the idea of going home with no money, I passed it by. I figured that I’d get up fifteen minutes early in the morning and fill up.
Fast forward two minutes. I’m on the side of the road deciding if AAA or my dad would get to me faster because it’s dark and rural and my car would not move another inch. The issue was quickly resolved, but I learned a lesson that applied to my overall life, as well as my livelihood as a practical working writer.
We writers ignore our warning signals, mostly because our fuel looks like play to anyone living outside of art. We know that we’re running out of ideas, our prose is redundant, our poetry lacks character and spunk, yet we putter on because we are convinced that only by banging the keys will we produce worthy content. It’s not true. Sometimes we have to close our laptops, step away from our writing desks, and live. Our fuel is experience. Whether it’s the millisecond before we descend down a sliding board at the neighborhood park, or the painting at a downtown gallery that awakens a long-buried memory, we have to remember to fuel ourselves with new experiences. We have to be unafraid to meet new people, especially the strange ones, the wingnuts and weirdos. Start a conversation, or observe them over coffee. Check out the idiosyncrasies of the seemingly normal humans, the ones that on first glance have their lives together.
Do something that makes you sweat. Do something that makes you cry. Do something that makes you simultaneously makes you question God and kneel in repentance, thanksgiving, and awe. Remember to live as you write to make a living. Do not make your words a prison in an attempt to make them an escape. This writing gift is not given to confine us; it is given to help us document, through fiction and non-fiction, who we are when we take the time to truly live.