A Writer's Life for Me

In the first “Pirates of the Caribbean” movie, pirate captain Jack Sparrow (played by Johnny Depp) duels it out with young blade Will Turner (Orlando Bloom). Suddenly robbed of his sword and with his back against the wall, Jack unsheathes a hidden pistol and aims it at Will, effectively winning the round. (Gun beating sword in the age-old game of rock, paper, scissors.)

“You cheated!” Will cries in surprise.OC Lit Graphic

Jack shrugs: “Pirate.” Of course.

Take two: my imagination. Same scene, only it’s me instead of Captain Jack with my back against the wall, facing a crowd of friends and family all brandishing not swords but rolled-up manuscripts in their hands. They step closer, they cry as one: “You wrote about me! How could you?”

I shrug: “Writer.”

Of course.

It’s true. As writers we often pillage our material from the bountiful lives of our friends, our families—even strangers on the street who entertain us so during people-watching parades. Office drams, freeway battles, long phone calls from loved ones in the midst of trials or triumphs; all show up at the end of my pen, my subjects rarely knowing that as I cherish the interaction, I am keeping track, laying the foundation for a new story or adding spice to a current one. In their lives—in my life—I find my stories, the very fabric of credibility and truth that is so important to weave into fiction, nonfiction or even the latest science fiction or fantasy. Even children’s literature is best embellished with real-life lessons: the celebrated happy endings, the sad times that happen too soon (think “Charlotte’s Web”), the glorious tales of wonder and redemption that every wide-eyed child can tell to his band of friends.

Reality is just too good to resist, like pirates we steal the gems and stow them away for safekeeping and preservation on the page. We yearn for that gut-wrenching, heart-pounding, soul-inspiring truth to keep our craft credible, to stay true to the reflections we hope to capture of this world’s intricate design.

But do we tell those who inspire us? Do we pause them in mid-sentence and say, “Hold on, my pen just ran out of ink”? Aye, there’s the rub. Like artwork that conveys an image so life-like it fairly jumps off the page, so, too, must our writing mirror the living landscapes we see. My friends and family know they inspire me beyond all else, they know some of my characters walk and talk like they do and generally resemble the people who journey this life with me. They know I know I am blessed and I carry those blessings into my writing.

Like pirates, writers look for the buried gems in everyday living: the hitchhiker, the bum, the soccer mom walking her soccer family, her soccer dog (yellow Lab) in tow. How can we not be dazzled by the moving motion picture in front of us? How can we not enjoy the spoils of a well-lived life?

So we listen, we watch, we take furtive notes on the backs of napkins, watching the action unfold before us on the world’s stage of infinite beauty and design. Right now I’m driving down famed Hollywood Boulevard. It’s raining, it’s pouring—hey, look! There’s Spider-Man standing outside Grauman’s Chinese Theatre. He runs for cover from the storm. Should a superhero do that? I think not. I jot it down. It’s truth-stranger-than fiction; it’s what we see, what we hear, what we breathe. Aye, we are writers, we are pirates and the world is rich with hidden treasure.

Favorite Quotes:

Writing is telepathy.”
– Stephen King

Serious art is born from serious play.”
– Julia Cameron

Barbara Neal Varma is my favorite author.”
– Mom


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