Four things breaking my leg taught me about writing
This past summer, I broke my leg learning how to ride a motorcycle. My first ride, led to my first bone-break, and my first trip to the ER. The doctors said I was lucky; it was a clean break—no surgery, rods or screws required, just months of healing time.
That's me... a week after the accident with a bottle of tasty A Sunday in August wine. Only this was in July and probably on a Thursday.
The experience tested my patience and resilience. The rest of my summer plans were scrapped. I couldn’t walk. I couldn’t swim. The most extreme activity I could do was take an Uber to have a drink on a patio. Mainly, I was stuck at home while the world continued around me. So, I wrote a lot, and I thought a lot. Here’s what I’ve learned:
Trying and failing is better than wishing and dreaming. I don’t regret trying to fulfill my lifelong dream of riding a motorcycle. Sure, if I could do it all again, I’d make a few tweaks to my approach, but I’d still get on and try to ride.
Writing is the same. Writing something—anything—is better than thinking about writing. The first draft will undoubtably be shitty, but at least there will be something tangible to improve.
When I talk about writing a novel to people I meet, they often tell me about an amazing idea they have for a novel. I always tell them to start writing that first shitty draft. But when I run into those same people a year or two later, their amazing ideas are still locked in their heads.
Wouldn’t you rather have a shitty draft done than still be talking about writing a book one day?
Doctors, surgeons, nurses, physiotherapists. My family and my friends. I’ve always been somewhat of a lone wolf and didn’t realize how many people I’d need to rely on during my recovery. I'm thankful for everyone who was there for me, because everything is difficult to do when balancing on one leg. Humans aren’t flamingos!
A look at the acknowledgements section of any bestseller will show how many people came together to help with the birth of that book. While you can write in a silo, you don’t have to. Accepting help can improve your story and odds of being published.
On the second day after my injury, I discovered that I could be mobile if I rolled around my apartment using my office chair. Thanks to that chair, I regained the use of my hands. I could brush my teeth, make a simple meal, even transport a cup of coffee from the kitchen to the bedroom—something that was near impossible to do on crutches. I adjusted.
Writing requires continual adjustments, in craft and process. I’ve cut whole chapters that I loved, after realizing that they don’t progress the story. I’ve deleted and amalgamated characters and made countless edits to the same pages, over and over again.
Finding time to write when you have a full-time job or family responsibilities, or both is a constant battle. Late nights. Early mornings. A little bit every day or binge writing on weekends. There's no magic schedule that'll work for everyone. Do what you can, and if something isn’t working, adjust.
Do the work, then trust the journey.
Bones fuse back together given time and rest. But months of rest result in muscle atrophy and loss of joint movement. Building back muscle and flexibility is an arduous process without short-cuts. I’ve always been physically active but lacked the discipline of a daily exercise routine. It’s still a struggle, but I know that if I don’t do my exercises, I won’t improve and I won't be able to go on my long contemplative forest walks. So, I do the physiotherapy, one day at a time. I’m not fully recovered yet, but I’m walking without crutches, and that’s not something I wasn’t able to do even a few weeks ago.
Improvement comes to through consistent effort. That’s how you’ll finish a novel, consistent effort over time. A novel isn’t an essay that can be churned out overnight. Do the work, and eventually you’ll be starting at 80,000 words. And then, the edits and re-writes can begin; and then, you’re really getting somewhere. The real fun part of writing, at least for me, is in those re-writes.
Somehow it all comes together in the end. Incremental improvements add up. Standing, walking, balance. Like clumsy sentence structures, my movements are slowly smoothing out and becoming natural again. The body is a marvellous healing machine, and the mind is resilient.
Next summer, I plan to look into getting a Vespa. But if I hadn’t tried riding and failed so spectacularly, I’d always wish it was a sport bike.