On Vision, Writing, and the Nobel Prize

I wouldn’t say I’m prone to visions really.

The Vision Of Saint Helena

This is Not Me. (The Vision of Saint Helena by Paolo Veronese. Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Can’t say that many times I’ve been struck dumb as the Lord has vouchsafed to me a drop-down movie-theatre in front of my eyes where He unravels some mysterious plan (although it did happen once…and no I wasn’t on drugs…and no, that is not what this is about).

Can’t say that, in recent years at least, I’ve been beset with the other kind of vision much either – motivation and direction for my own life, that sense of knowing exactly where I’m headed, what I’m doing, what I want out of life. Sure, I knew the answer to these things in a vague and general way, hopefully as we all do, but sometimes it’s hard to be driven and motivated when, by necessity, your day-to-day life has very little to do with your career goals. Don’t get me wrong, I love my life, and I love what I do and am grateful every day, but I’m not aiming for a career in toilet cleaning, or laundry, or driving kids to music lessons. I don’t want to be a professional Lego builder (oh okay, that one would be fun), and, here’s the rub, the vision for my life I had ten years ago I’d done.

Ten years ago, if you’d asked me, I would have said “I want to travel, and I want to write a book”. Both of those things, for various reasons, seemed wildly out of my grasp at that time. Both, now, I have done.

So. Now what?

Well, go back and travel again is one answer, and publish the book is another, but they’re still vague answers of the not-particularly helpful kind. They’re goals, but they’re not Vision. They’re not propelling me forward, encouraging me to get out of bed in these early hours of a cold morning. They’re true, but they’re not…enough.

I’ve been thinking about this recently. I’ve been planning the rewrites for said book (because it needs them), and trying to pinpoint exactly who I’m telling the story for. It’s one thing to have a goal to write a book. It’s quite another to know exactly who your target audience is and how to reach them, and what specific expectations they have in a novel, especially because I don’t write in a particular genre (thriller/mystery/romance etc).

I’ve been thinking about it a lot over the last few weeks, in between toilet cleaning and laundry and driving kids to music lessons and everything else. I’d added a new character, a new storyline to my novel, and I was excited by the things that was bringing up, and the new direction and focus – and all of a sudden I “looked” at the pictures in my mind and I noticed something strange: the new characters and storyline, when I imagined them, appeared in different colours to the rest of my story. Does that sound dumb? (It may help to explain that I have a mild form of synaesthesia, and sometimes I see words in colours). They didn’t fit, they looked as if they’d been cut out of something and pasted there…and I knew the canvas where they did belong too – another novel I’d been struggling to make all the pieces fit.

Have I lost you yet? I don’t have visions but I “saw” my book and the colours were wrong. Yeah. Stick with me a minute, okay?

I realised something else, too: every time I thought about my novel (the one I’m trying to rewrite) the same image turned up in my head, not in a loud, intrusive way, just subtly in the background like the ads on websites that we tend to ignore until we accidentally click on them. It was my grade nine English classroom.

What? I hear you say. You clicked on an ad on the internet for your grade nine English classroom?

NO!! I realised that every time I thought about my book, and who I was writing it for, and why I was writing it, I thought about that class. I thought about reading Lord Of The Flies, and how much it had inspired me at age fourteen, not only in the depth but also the simplicity of the story.

True confession: when I was fourteen I was so impressed with Lord Of The Flies that I decided that when I grew up I wanted to write a book that could win the Nobel Prize for Literature. Don’t laugh.

Oh okay. Go ahead. Laugh.

But that was my vision, and it served me well. It made me write, and research and learn the craft of writing. It made me look for stories to tell, and deeper meanings within those stories. That vision, that lofty goal, made me think, made me learn, made me the thinker I am today.

Here’s an interesting thing. Somewhere along the journey I let go of my vision to win the Nobel Prize for Literature, and settled instead for writing a book…maybe that came with realising how hard it was to write a book, let alone a good one. Maybe it came with growing up and realising the silliness of adolescent dreaming. Whatever the reason, the result was that my arrow-sharp focus blunted, widened, in something akin to mock-contentment, and it’s only now I come to realise I lost something in that. It’s like the time my daughter had a go at archery – she didn’t hit the target. She didn’t even hit the hay-bales the target was attached to. Her arrow fell a metre or two short, flat and lifeless on the grass.

If I don’t have a vision – a target – my arrow will land on the grass, and I will think that’s okay. If I don’t have a target I won’t have the determination and drive to go get my arrow again and strengthen my muscles and my pull until my arrow DOES reach the hay-bales, and, eventually, even the target.

I’m glad I’ve found my vision again. It’s helped me hone down the knowledge of exactly what I want from my story, and what I want for my readers. It’s helped me sift through the mass of story to find the questions that gnaw at me, and will hopefully gnaw at my readers, too. And so, proudly, I’ll stand before you today and say (with my tongue firmly planted in my cheek), “Hi, my name is Megan, and my goal is to win the Nobel Prize for Literature!”

Can you see my smile? I won’t be at all disappointed if I never achieve such a crazy goal, but the fact that such a goal exists is already helping me. And, with any luck, if I keep working hard towards my lofty goal, maybe one day my book will land short, on the desks of a student in my old grade nine English class, and maybe they will be inspired to a lofty vision of their own.