Thursday, August 4, 2011

Lost in Excuseville by DeAnna Knippling

The human brain is pretty cool:  we can learn new things, adapt to almost any situation, and even change our minds.  However, the things that make us so good at living with other humans can also make us really good at...not writing.

What human beings excel at is both being tribal and individual creatures.   Most of the time, we live so that we get along with the people around us.  We have families, groups of friends, coworkers.  We define ourselves by our places in society:  we are parents, friends, chefs, doctors, data entry clerks--job descriptions.

And most of the time, that’s okay. 

However, sometimes we are extremely individual.  As far as society is concerned, people who act on their own are both good and bad.  Bad, because they rock the boat.  Good, because sometimes the boat has to be rocked in order to adapt to changing conditions.

If you look at Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey in some form or another, that’s how his type of stories are built:  someone split off from the tribe in one way or another, rocked the boat, and brought back something that helped out their society, whether on a large or small scale--then assumed a place in society.

If you’re familiar with the Hero’s Journey, you know that initially, the hero refuses the call to adventure.


Wouldn’t it be better if the hero split off from society as they know it, do the job, and come back with the prize that betters the situation of everyone around them?

The hero is lost in Excuseville, that’s all.  As a human being, the hero has a strong urge to stay within the tribe, not to shake things up, to make sure things move as smoothly as they possibly can.  Rocking the boat takes energy that can be better used in making sure your kids have shoes on their feet--most of the time.  Most of the time, Excuseville is a fairly reasonable place to be.

Being a hero is an investment that your society has to support--not just the hero.  When anyone, for any reason, goes apart from the tribe, it costs the tribe.  And we all want to make sure we’re getting our money’s worth.

So what does that mean to you as a writer?

Writing is an essentially individual act, especially when you’re first starting out, and you’re costing the people around you more than you can give back to them, either in time or money.  It’s easy to think, “I have better things to do.”  Because you do, really, as far as the tribes around you are concerned.

  • The laundry.
  • Your day job.
  • Graduating from high school.
  • Doing your taxes.
  • Staying connected with your current circles, providing them support.
  • Fixing a busted heater.
  • Raking the yard.
These are important things.  When you sit down and write, you’re not wiping noses or sautéing onions.  You’re not working overtime or a second job.  You’re not changing the oil. But these things are still excuses, if you are a writer.

Most of us start out wanting to be writers because we have an aptitude for it and we like to read books.  Fair enough.  But if you’re going to escape from Excuseville, you have to have a reason that’s more important, in the long run, than doing those other things.  It better be something good, something that’s worth all the investment that others are putting into you and your writing.

Because being a writer never comes from just yourself.  It comes from a million sacrifices by other people, too.

When you find the reason that you write, the reason that makes the sacrifices that other people make for you worthwhile, hang onto it.  It’s different for every writer, yet made up of universal parts. 

Some of the reasons you might write are:

  • To entertain.
  • To help people learn to find out what’s really important.
  • To help people understand their place in society (e.g., a story about a supposed outcast finding a way to belong rather than lashing out at the people around them).
  • To ease pain, help mourning, aid healing.
  • To make people more alert to the world around them.
  • To change the way people view a situation (e.g., pointing out injustice in what we think of as acceptable).
There are a hundred others.

When you know writing is important to the world around you,  it becomes a lot easier to walk out of Excuseville.

Is making up stories and passing along knowledge and points of view that important to society?  Important enough to make sacrifices?  It must be, because we have been since earliest recorded history, which, of course, is another kind of story.

DeAnna Knippling started freelancing in May 2011 and wouldn’t be able to do it without her wonderful family and friends, especially her husband.  In fact, she owes a lot to Pikes Peak Writers for helping her be a better writer, especially through the Write Brains, both in the lectures and in meeting lots of other writers.
Her reason for writing is to entertain by celebrating her family’s tradition of dry yet merry wit, and to help ease the suffering of lack of self-confidence, having suffered it many years herself.  She also likes to poke around and ask difficult questions, because she hates it when people assume something must be so.
For more kicks in the writerly pants, see her blog at or her ebook How to Fail & Keep on Writing, at Smashwords, B&N, Amazon, and OmniLit.

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