Relearning How to Fly: What Revisiting My Awkward First Work of Fiction Taught Me About Letting Go

Kiki's Delivery Service flying over the sea
'Without even thinking about it, I used to be able to fly. Now I'm trying to look inside myself and find out
how I did it.'  - Kiki, Kiki's Delivery Service

After my fellow blogger Lynette shared a climactic passage from one of her first stories, in the interest of fairness, I dug around in my own under-the-bed reserves of shame (the writer's equivalent of the dirty magazine collection, if you will). I present to you an extract from one of my earliest longer story attempts, The Lightbearers:

'Ha!' The white-haired girl descended on Nenthor, her dual daggers glinting in her hands, as menacing as fangs.
Nenthor raised his blue eyes slowly, like icy rising suns. They flashed.
The girl froze. The daggers fell from her limp hands. Those eyes... burning into her... blazing as blue as a roaring flame... it felt like something had gripped her - something terrible - and was consuming her strength and will...
'Ugh...' She gasped for air.
The others shivered. 'Somebody stop them!' Phia cried.
The white-haired girl collapsed to her knees, trembling.
Phia was screaming now. 'Stop it, Nenthor!'
The now black flames flaring from behind his pupils suddenly dimmed. It was as though nothing had changed at all.
He blinked, his dark hair falling over his face as he stumbled to the ground.

I must have been a proponent of the Harry Potter school of fiction writing, because my characters passed out and lost their memories a lot (I say this with nothing but love for the Harry Potter series). I dropped overambitious, winding plot threads as often as I started them, like a string of impractical, short-lived hobbies. And I launched into long, rambling descriptions of characters and settings that reigning Romantic rambler Ann Radcliffe would be hard-pressed to rival.

Nevertheless, I wasn't completely horrified by the writing endeavours of my eleven-year-old self. In fact, I was pleasantly surprised. My vision of a fantasy world in which gifted youths who, upon coming of age, are assigned 'lightbearers' - mysterious fairy-like souls who impart special powers and knowledge - was not ground-breaking. But it was my own. While the scenarios I cooked up were melodramatic and derivative (something about a chosen one, an ancient prophecy and the end of the world, naturally), there are signs of authorial voice there. And, while moody manga/video game protagonists with hair in their eyes were my template for complex, fully formed characters, my preoccupation with character development is something that has carried over into my later writing.

Squall Final Fantasy VIII head-on shot

More than anything, reading my old writing reminded me of how excited I was by ideas and the simple act of creating something all of my own. My stories spanned hundreds of Microsoft Works pages on an antique hand-me-down Olivetti PC - I would write on pure instinct, with little regard for what would come next, breathlessly dashing from one tree to the next in a forest filled with unknown adventures and perils.

They mustn't have been completely disagreeable, either, because, while my brother was reserved in his praise ('they're OK'), he used to sneak onto my files and binge-read them regularly. (We had separate password-protected user accounts, but this was in the days when every file on the computer was stored in an easily accessible shared folder. Handy, that. I used to change the colour of my text to white before logging off and think I was like a spy or something.)

My approach to writing has differed considerably since those days. Now, life and its hundred thousand distractions and impracticalities - lack of inspiration, motivation and time - often stifle whatever feeble creative stirrings I might have. These days, Writer's Block is just one stop on the road to inspiration, across Rat Race Road and on the second right after Procrastination Promenade.

I've also gradually transitioned from a 'pantser' (one who writes by the seat of their pants) to more of a 'plotter' (one who maps out the structure of their entire story). And, in case you were wondering, yes, those are the technical terminologies. The process is still relatively organic, and my stories are much less likely to veer into unmarked dead-ends as a result, but overplotting to the point of inaction is a perilous eventuality.

But perhaps most importantly, in more recent years I've been short on faith in my abilities and my work. Creative confidence has given way to creative anxiety - the ultimate productivity killer. When did writing stories become about having to craft something perfect right away? And when did one of my most enjoyable forms of escapism become something I felt the need to escape from?

Rereading my first shaky attempts at writing reminded me of how far I've come, but also of the importance of retaining an element of instinctive, childlike carelessness and spontaneity in writing. Of allowing yourself to write anything, anything at all, without full awareness of what comes after the next few trees, regard for the approval of others or the roughness of that first draft. I doubt I'll go back to my 'pantsing' ways entirely, but there's something to be said for writing 'badly'. Because to launch headlong into the air, you can't stop to think about the possibility of falling.

Whisper of the Heart Shizuku looking at gems
'No one should expect perfection when they are first starting out. When you become an artist, you
are like that rock. You are in a raw, natural state with hidden gems inside. You have to dig down
deep and find the emerald studs way inside you.' - Shiro Nishi, Whisper of Heart


  1. I love the quotes you've captioned the pictures with. Poignant.


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