One of my favorite quotes in my writing life and in my non-writing life is from Thomas Jefferson:
If you want something you’ve never had, you must be willing to do something you’ve never done.
Over the weekend I rode my motorcycle for the first time. Mike bought a 1976 KZ400 for me last year. The previous owner had it sitting untouched in their backyard completely exposed to the elements since 1998. We are not sure how long it was off the road before then.
The seat was torn. The carburetors needed to be rebuilt. The gas tank was filled with rust, old gas, and had a hole. Mike replaced the seat cover, rebuilt the carbs, welded the gas tank, cleaned it out, and painted it. (He’s taught me a few moto repair tips too!)
It’s been running since last summer, but became street-ready on January 1st. The weather was nice enough yesterday for a ride, so we took it to a big parking lot for me to practice. I have not ridden a motorcycle since just after I got my motorcycle license over a year ago.
I was nervous. Not only because I was worried I’d forgotten everything I learned, but worried that I would drop the bike and damage all the hard work Mike’s invested in it. However, once his patience and encouragement got me moving, I didn’t want to stop.
Riding the bike made me think about risks we may take as writers. Over the years I’ve stopped myself from writing personal non-fiction pieces, hesitated from including an offensive joke I wrote for stand-up comedy, and even when I had my letter of resignation written, printed, and in my hands – I still was unsure about handing it to my employer.
Motorcycle riding is risky, but how the risks are managed plays a big part. Here are a few risks writers may face and how to manage them:
Writing your life story. I’ve witnessed writers in critique groups risking the confidence of friends and family to tell their own life story. I’ve seen a middle-aged man break down crying at an open mic while reading a painful excerpt of his memoir. I know a local poet who writes powerful poems about his relatives’ flaws and idiosyncrasies, but he does not want to publish them or share with family for fear of hurting their feelings. As writers, we need to honor our voices, but the risk of hurting a loved one delays many memoirs and personal essays from being printed. Solution? Use a pseudonym.
Creating an offensive book. I can personally attest to writing creative work that has offended other writers in workshops. At the same time, I took the risk in sharing my work and got a giggle out of a few readers. Some authors use an edge as their unique style, and although they offend people along the way, they also win over substantial readers. Take 50 Shades of Grey as a contemporary example. In 2012 it was one of over 460 books reported as offensive by the Office of Intellectual Freedom. The author enjoys significant profits off of book sales (debuted at #1 on Forbes list of the world’s top-earning authors) and there’s more money ahead in the forthcoming film adaptation.
Quitting the day job. Breaking free of cubicle life is not just a financial risk. Our identities are affected by our jobs. If you’ve worked for someone else and received a regular paycheck your entire life, the switch to freelancing may affect you psychologically. Self-discipline, new routines, not knowing how much you will earn this year…think it’s easy to focus on writing when you’re juggling these things? Maybe you won’t be able to make a living as a writer, but if you don’t take the risk you are guaranteed never to find out.
If you are a risk-averse person, are you aware of what you’re missing out on?