At sixteen I knew I wanted to be a novelist. But when I sat down to start my book, the page remained blank. Writer's block at sixteen? Hardly. My pages remained blank for another dozen years or so, but my dream stayed with me. Then one day I was able to type "The End" on a page and I knew I accomplished the first step of my dream.
Years later I realized that when I tried to write a novel at sixteen, I had not experienced enough of life to form an opinion, a viewpoint, a voice. I needed to live life more, experience all of its intricacies and continually search for my voice. Maybe, this is what they call maturity. Maturity as a person, maturity as a writer.
That revelation stayed with me and is still with me and I am always open to trying new things, going to new places, meeting new people. Don't get me wrong, you don't have to climb Mount Everest or ride in a gondola in Venice to effectively write about those experiences – there is plenty of information in books and on the Internet to allow you to virtually experience them. You just have write so your readers can experience whatever comes out of your imagination.
So when my wife suggested that we volunteer our time at the Helping Hand Mission here in Raleigh on Christmas Eve to help distribute food and toys to the less fortunate, I was thrilled. Not only because it would be a new experience, but mostly because we would really be helping people less fortunate than us. And here's another important epiphany of life…perspective. You really get a reality check on your life when you see others who have much less than you. You become very grateful for what you have and you feel lucky. (You can experience a bit of what we did by viewing my photo stream on Flickr.)
It's the same with writing. When you constantly compare your writing to luminaries like Sara Gruen (Water for Elephants) or Jodi Picoult, who writes fiction about real issues that are pertinent today, you think your work is substandard because it doesn't sell and you are not a full time writer. Well, you should never imitate any writer; you should be your own writer. Yes, always shoot for the stars, but don't be undaunted by the success of others. And when you find your true voice, you should be grateful because many writers never find it. You should feel lucky and grateful like I did on Christmas Eve when I handed boxes of food and a turkey to fellow human beings who had a lot less than most of us.