Train Wrecks and Letting Go

Writers are observers.

I tend to be less quick to react in situations because I find myself wanting to watch how it will turn out without getting involved, something I knew would keep me from ever becoming a first responder.

Writers constantly narrate our days in our head as things are happening.

That’s what I consider the difference between a writer and a wannabe. It’s in your blood or it’s not. That’s not to say you’re born with the skills to be a writer. None of us are. We need to learn the language first.

But you are born with a natural capability and inclination to observe and you hear the words in your head as you go about your day. (That being different from hearing voices, of course.) And you care about word choice and you critique TV shows for plot lines and unrealistic dialogue. Language is an obsession for most writers.

And we have other weird quirks.

I read everything allowed as if the words are beats. I break grammar rules so that it “sounds” right using unnecessary fillers like “just” and “some” if I need a longer sentence and pattern. I use commas, not where they are appropriate or dictated by Chicago Manual of Style or Oxford, but where I want the reader to slow down and taste the sentence.

Writers are also ruined.

They have significant impressions on their psyche that they dwell on. Some are small things they like to incorporate into their writing often, like a setting or a particular kind of animal. While other impressions are longer lasting like a question they are trying to answer. For me, I often turn to trains, mechanical failings of things thought to be indestructible, and unrequited love.

And when I write that authors are ruined, that doesn’t mean we all grew up in abject poverty and abuse. It means that somewhere along the way something bothered us enough that we return to it over and over.

In West of You, I told a story of someone who died in a train “accident.” This was plucked straight out of a story I could not process as a child. A well-known painter drove into a railroad crossing and was killed with his name-sake/grandchild in my hometown. I knew the spot well and when I was told about it as a ten-year-old I could not understand how an accident like that could happen with such good visibility to an oncoming train. He had to have seen it. Did he simply freeze or was there a darker intention?

I still think about it nearly 40 years later.

But I suppose it’s not just writers who get caught up on things we can’t let go. All of us do. We repeat the same stories to our friends. And we do this because these stories had such a profound impact on us that we can’t shake the truth behind them.

For some people, these impressions ruin their lives by leading to a series of bad decisions. For others, they become fuel that fires their worldview. For writers, it hopefully becomes our bread and butter and possibly fuel for some bad decisions along the way and more stories.

What are the themes or objects you keep coming back to in your life? Knowing what they are can help you clear out some of the unnecessary clutter in your mind or better yet…

help you dive deeper into the abyss.

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