I wrote my first published story on a ranch in South Dakota. I'd had a bad year, had moved west, probably in part to escape myself. At the suggestion of a friend, I was writing in order to address the shame and vulnerability I was feeling regarding a difficult real-life event. Shame lives in dark corners. When you talk about it, it's like shining a light on a pile of shadows—they scatter, they abdicate. Vulnerability is complicated. Responding to and accepting it takes time and practice and an understanding of human frailty. We're not all coming out of the cradle with the same skill sets or the same wounds. Human connection and empathy are necessary for successful writing, yet sometimes we shy away from them, because unprepared, we find them immobilizing.
To feel joy, we must take risks, whether it's admitting our feelings, confessing our love, conversing with strangers, or facing conflict head-on. It's saying yes to scenarios that are easier to say no to. It's the electricity of passing a new conversation back and forth, or discovering a new species of dialogue, a new vision or understanding of people with whom you form connections. The same holds true for our stories. We are, at our core, social creatures, born to empathize and connect. Our brains, wired with mirror neurons, allow us to understand others by firing when we act/feel/do, and also when those around us act/feel/do, as though we were undergoing these exact experiences. We emulate the facial expressions of those with whom we interact without knowing it. We are already connected, whether we acknowledge it or not.
I've always been curious about people: how they act, what makes them feel overjoyed, ashamed, excited, alarmed, devious. I want to know the origins of their behaviors. Interesting people, and therefore interesting characters, are complicated. They arise from contradictions and flaws and desires and past experiences. I'm still working on issues of vulnerability in my own life. I'm trying to stop apologizing for my feelings or past mistakes, instead embracing and celebrating that we are such dynamic, resilient creatures. In some sense, creating characters allows me to evaluate myself, and how I perceive and understand others. It's the first step to being honest and emotionally free. Periods of intellectual and emotional growth are difficult, but they are worth it when you come out the other end wiser, more skilled, able to look at someone else and truthfully say, "I get it." In the meantime, you might make good art.