Five Things I Learned From A Traveling Writer: One Year Later

A year ago today, I was introduced to one of the most inspiring writers I’ve ever had the pleasure to meet. Berry Lopez, a traveling writer of both award winning fiction and non-fiction, gave me the encouragement I needed my freshman year to rekindle my love for words. That night when I sat down in the lecture hall, I didn’t know I would walk away with words of wisdom that have effected my life on a daily basis. Since Lopez fanned my small spark of passion into a flame, I decided that I wanted to look back on a post (here) I wrote in the immediate shadow of his lecture and talk about how his words have continued to encourage my literary and academic dreams.

Stuff 1

1. “It’s the story and the reader, not the storyteller. The storyteller has an obligation to write an engaging story that allows the readers to ask their own questions. It’s an ethical relationship with the reader. As a storyteller, you cannot assume the right to tell someone what to think. You have the moral responsibility to paint a picture that encourages them to think.”

When I first heard this, my main focus was fiction. It was a wonderful thing to hear, and these words prompted a revaluation of a novel draft, which is now simmering on the back burner while I focus on my sophomore year of college. Meanwhile, blogging and academic work are a little harder to figure out… How do you paint a picture while blogging? Isn’t a research paper supposed to tell you what to think?

Answer one: A blog is a story. Don’t simply throw facts on the table. Weave them together in a way that makes your readers think, and evolve them in the rise and fall of the post. Pull them into a scene of words, and allow them to venture down the path at their own pace. Leave behind mile markers and iconic stops.

Answer two: An academic research paper is a conversation between yourself and your audience. It’s one of the many reasons I sometimes don’t like writing papers. Knowing that people will read and critique them is terrifying; however, it’s important to share your voice, especially as a young academic.

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2. “Writers have to put themselves at risk. If you’re writing in a comfortable situation, then it’s easy to assume the most obvious connections and fall into arrogance. As a writer, you must take every effort to remain humble and accept a level of ignorance, because assuming knowledge deteriorates your ability and willingness to learn. That’s why a writer has to take risks: when you allow yourself to venture into the unknown and engage in a situation that is over your head, then you will make connections from a learner’s vantage point. You will gain more knowledge and understand how to offer that gift with humility.”

It isn’t in my nature to take risks, but my college career has been full of them. Over the past three semesters, my comfort zone has evolved from my library of a room to the great expanses of a strong intellect. As I’ve pushed beyond the confines of my personal perceived safety, my writing has grown and matured. My desk has expanded from a dark corner in the library to the shadows of volcanoes and Greyhound buses. Sometimes it’s terrifying to hit post, because I know I don’t know everything, but that’s okay. Life is one huge lesson, so it’s important to never stop learning.

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3. “Cultivate an attitude of reverence. If you respect the world and the people around you, then your writing will gain a credibility from its readers. This includes respect for other lifestyles, other beliefs, and other cultures. You have to be willing to look at the world in different perspectives. Moments of silence should remain, because an interruption disrupts the divinity woven into and among lives. Words should be used carefully and precisely, because they are describing the miracles of time. A misplaced word can remove the miracle from that divinity.”

Sometimes words are incapable of fully describing the essence of a moment, and that’s something writers sometimes have a hard time accepting. When you first start to explore your voice, it’s easy  to throw  your words into every nook and cranny. It’s an intoxicating feeling. However, once you learn when to stay silent and when to speak, your writing gains depth and maturity. Words have power but so does silence, and learning to respect them both is essential.

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4. “Writing isn’t a career, it is a lifestyle. A career is conventional; it can be detached from self. On the other hand, writing is everything. It isn’t a separate being but your innermost core, a piece of your soul. A career can be about the paycheck. Writing is about connecting words and ideas in a pattern of unique magnificence; it can never be about the money, because then it loses its initial heart and worth. Words aren’t about making sales, they’re about creating a new frame for the readers to view the world in. Thus, a writer must allow their writing to become everything that they are.”

As a blogger, my lifestyle is quite different than my peers. It’s also different than my fellow bloggers. Yes, I could develop and market a money-making blog; however, this is a place where I want to explore the world with words. In many ways, that means my blog isn’t as profitable as others. I’m okay with that.

It’s always tempting to mimic my blog after one that is more successful or popular, but that isn’t who I am. Words are at the center of my soul and heart. Strange words. Old words. My words. While it’s easy to blend into the sea of other voices, it’s important that you stand out, that you allow your very heart and soul to pour into each stroke of the pen. Live and breathe the words you write and the words you read.

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5. “Gain a foundation of surface issues before tackling deep subjects. If a writer tries to tackle deep subjects before understanding the simple mechanics of the surrounding world, then the words will be lost in the depth itself. You have to learn to write about hard things in a simple way—that way people can understand. Allow the deeper meanings and topics to rest beneath the surface. Conceal the true treasure to preserve its absolute worth.”

This reminds me of ellipses within stories. Not the actual ellipses themselves but the places where the story trails off before giving you an important piece of information. The deeper meaning is woven throughout the story, and the gaps allow the reader to peer into the unseen.

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Over the past year, my writing has evolved into something I never imagined thanks to Lopez’s invaluable lessons. I had become complacent in my writing, and his words encouraged me to seek new perspectives about the world. While my dreams of authoring and publishing a novel before graduating college fell to the wayside, the risks I took in focusing on academic writing were portals to another world. It has been quite the adventure to say the least, and I look forward to where the new paths lead me as a writer.

What is the best advice you’ve received as a writer?

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6 thoughts on “Five Things I Learned From A Traveling Writer: One Year Later

  1. I really enjoyed reading this entire post, thank you. The first quote you cited from Mr. Lopez reminded me of something I read in an essay about the music of Bob Dylan. The essayist mentioned that Dylan’s art was democratic in contrast to a totalitarian variety of art because it allowed space for the listener to interject their own thoughts, imaginings, and meanings upon the work. I have never read any of Barry Lopez’s work, but I love non-fiction and after reading your post feel compelled to check and see what he’s done. Thanks again for sharing, those do seem like great bits of advice.

    Liked by 1 person

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