I have never had cancer. I cannot, technically, write or speak about cancer from the point of view of someone who has it or had it previously.
Or can I?
I do not believe we are ever able to reach our full potentials as writers if we settle for only writing about things we have experienced firsthand. The phrase write what you know is not an excuse to only write what makes us comfortable.
Which is exactly why I made a promise, to myself and to 12 currently non-disclosed charity organizations, to write and publish 12 novellas this year, and donate all proceeds to said charities, because I am so tired of being comfortable.
Do you know what happens when you stop being comfortable?
I didn’t intend for my first novella of the year to be about cancer. It’s a topic I’ve generally avoided writing about pretty much my whole life. Not because I haven’t studied it in school, not because people I have known and loved have battled it, but because to me, to try and pick apart something so devastating that there may only ever be improved treatment, never a cure for, terrifies me.
I’ve never been interested in writing about how cancer affects families. I’ve seen enough of that in real life. I’ve never wanted to explore more deeply the way a cancer diagnosis shifts the dynamics of relationships and strengthens and breaks bonds between people.
Over the past few weeks I have been trying very hard to figure out what brought me to my own shift in thought, my own altered outlook, to a point where I could sit down and narrate the lives of imaginary people who have to face the realities of cancer daily.
Maybe it was all those hours I spent watching Chasing Life, maybe it’s my graduate program. Maybe it’s my grandpa or my close encounter with a possible diagnosis of my own in college.
Or maybe, just maybe, I’ve finally figured out what I hope and pray many other aspiring writers will learn, if they have not already.
Even when something does not touch you directly, even when you cannot see something through your own eyes, it still happens around you, and you can never fully turn away from it. It burrows itself deep inside you. It makes a home for itself in the cavities of your existence, and if you are going to make a difference in the world, you need to use what you have at your disposal – your words, your understanding of how humans interact with one another, your passion, your heart – to take that buried emotion and change someone else’s life with it.
The following is a portion of what will appear on the back cover of this month’s novella, Ribbons, when it goes online for sale on Amazon.
Cancer. In one way or another, it touches all of our lives. And when it does, it burns. It leaves behind wounds, physical and emotional scars that can never fully disappear.
This isn’t a story about cancer. It’s a story of forgiveness, of acceptance. It’s the story of how hardship and heartbreak sweeps through our lives and tries to drag us along with it. But it doesn’t. Not if we cling to the people we love, and believe we all have something to give.
I won’t tell you anything else about the story. Except for one confession: that I am only halfway through writing the actual story, that I find myself far too deeply invested in these characters I never knew I wanted to know, but my life is forever changed.
I have been writing stories since I was six years old. And I had no idea, until now, a story could do this to a person. I had no idea a story could literally wreck you, tear you apart and put you back together again better than you were before.
Sharing this experience with you, being able to show you what has come of it, I cannot wait to be able to do that. It’s not far away.
It’s only January. But I can already tell this is going to be an awesome year for us all.
Image courtesy of thinglink.
Meg is the managing editor at College Lifestyles magazine, a guest contributor with Lifehack and a guest blogger for Food & Nutrition Magazine. She is an eight-time NaNoWriMo winner and has also written for Teen Ink and USA TODAY College. Follow Meg on Twitter.