Writing With One-Arm Tied Behind Your Back

This weekend, I’m headed up to Portland for the Wordstock Writer’s Festival!  I’ll be doing signings, reading, a few panels about writing for young readers (with a whole host of awesome authors).  What’s more, I’m also teaching a workshop this Sunday:

“Harnessing the Hurdles Unique to Your Work-in-Progress”

This topic was borne out of a recent observation made by Mary.  It came during the heat of final revisions for Peter Nimble.  I was cursing how much extra work it was to tell a visually rich story from the perspective of a blind child — going through every line to make sure I wasn’t taking my own sight for granted.  Mary heard my grumbling and responded with typical perspicacity:  “But isn’t that what you always do? You only pick the stories that force you to write with one arm tied behind your back.”

Of course, she was right.  I have never had a shortage of story ideas, but the projects I actually finish all contain some ridiculous formal hurdle that makes them insanely difficult.  Why write a feature film when I can write a silent feature film?  Why tell a horror story when I can tell a horror story for children?   Why inhabit the real world when I can build an entirely different world from scratch?

Readers love stories that tackle hurdles, but writing them is a serious pain!  Now, however, I’m starting to believe that the formal challenge is the very thing that gets me through a draft — long after I have grown bored with my plot and characters, I have this “Pet Hurdle” to keep me involved.  Since then, I’ve started doodling pictures of my Pet Hurdle:


Isn’t he cute?  The workshop on Sunday will walk writers through the process of identifying the Pet Hurdle in their own work-in-progress and give them some tools for turning that challenge into an asset.

It makes me wonder:  if Peter Nimble hadn’t been blind … would I even have finished telling his story?

5 Comments Leave a Comment

  • Roboseyo says:

    The favorite role-play character I ever played in my history of role-playing, was a deaf-dumb-blind quadriplegic who had to do everything, only with magical powers. The rest of the players in the game also really enjoyed having him on the team – not always because he kicked butt, but because it was something they hadn’t done before, which made it more interesting than having another stealthy elf or axe-wielding dwarven metalsmith or half-giant berzerker.

  • brad says:

    Jonathan, I think you’ve put your finger on something very important, and something that I’ve never heard articulated quite that way before.

    The challenge of the other is what drives us to create our best: to reach way out, as far as we dare, and begin to embrace it as a new normal.

    Finding that balance is really tricky. If we don’t reach far enough, there won’t be enough challenge to finish, not enough reward to merit the hard work. And reaching out too far is, well, reaching out to far.

    If you’re ever back in Langley, I’d love to chat with you about some of this.

  • Kate says:

    Things were a bit rushed after your Wordstock workshop, so I didn’t get a chance to thank you for your lively and thought-provoking presentation on a topic I haven’t seen addressed before. Wordstock rocks, and your presentation was one of the best parts of the entire festival. Best of luck with your new book!

    Salt Lake City, UT

  • Kate,
    How kind of you to say that! I really enjoyed the workshop, and I’m heartened to hear that the message was one that resonated with other writers!


  • Maggie says:

    Dear Mr. Jonathan Auxier,
    I enjoyed your book immensely! It may have been the best book I’ve ever read, and though I’m only 12 I’ve read quite a few. I my self hope to be a writer some day, among other things, and your story has shown me how truly amazing it is to come up with such ideas. I eagerly await your next book.

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