Dani Shapiro
September 30, 2009

On Taking Risks

It’s all a high-wire act, isn’t it? The writing? The sitting down to write? The thinking that we have anything worth saying? Every bit of good writing emerges from a wild place. Whether you are a person of faith or not, still, setting words down on the page is an act of faith. Whether you think you are a courageous person or not, trying to craft a narrative — in other words, trying to create something out of nothing — is an act of courage. Now, of course we writers aren’t necessarily faithful or courageous people. Not most of us. Not in our real lives. Not when we climb out of bed in the morning and meet our own faces in the mirror. Coward! The mirror might reflect back at us. Faithless one! You, there–brushing your teeth. Yeah, you. Why do you think you have anything inside you worth saying? Why do you think anyone will care?

Recently I was going through a list of small pieces, short fiction and essays that I’ve written over the past few years. The list is pretty long, actually. And I had a moment, looking through that list, of realizing that every single one of those pieces had begun with the same process of resistance, wildness, faith, doubt, and ultimately just enough courage. Here goes nothing, the little voice in my head whispered again and again. Here goes nothing. But still–in the faith of that potential nothingness–I plunged forward anyway. Doggedly, determinedly, forward. That small kernel of wildness aglow inside me.

Here goes nothing?
So what.
Maybe it will turn into something.
Maybe not.

Almost all of those pieces worked out. They were published here and here and here. I have to remind myself every day that it’s a risk–all of it. Every day brings small satisfactions, small disappointments. Because my husband and I are both writers, our household is full of those ups and downs. The phone rings at dinner time with some crisis or another (the life of a Hollywood screenwriter). An email brings news that something I had hoped for is happening–or isn’t. That roller coaster that is the life of two people who create. Sometimes, when I’m aware that our young son is watching us, I wonder what he sees — and whether it looks good to him, or whether some day he’ll opt for a more stable life with fewer ups and downs. A life with clear parameters, predictable days, concrete results.

Or maybe, just maybe–I’d like to think that he sees two people who are wrestling with their fears and insecurities, who hear their own internal censors, whispering Here goes nothing…but plunge forward despite our cowardice and faithlessness and uncertainty. Taking that daily risk despite ourselves.