A few years ago I went on a run of interviewing authors on my podcast who had had near death experiences – or NDEs, as they’re frequently known. Though the stories of what these authors experienced beyond the veil of death varied, the impact that experience had on their lives was consistent. First, they were all less afraid of death. In fact, they were largely unafraid of death, as the NDEs were always overwhelmingly positive. Second, when they told their stories, people usually didn’t believe them. The authors were seen as delusional, as if they had somehow mistaken a kind of dream for reality.

This was always very upsetting to the people who had had the NDEs. They weren’t mystics or prophets. They were often nurses and students and firefighters and golfers who’d had what they considered a life-changing experience. And yet because they could not prove to anyone what had happened, that experience remained a fish tale to many of their friends and family. I learned there are conferences for people who’ve had NDEs where they can share their stories and talk freely to people who’ll understand them. At these conferences, the attendees refer to themselves as Death Travelers.

I have a lot of compassion for the Death Travelers. They remind me of the writers I know. When a writer starts talking about writing they’ll say things like, “My characters wouldn’t do what I wanted them to do.” Or, “I learned that I didn’t actually know who the killer was.” Or, “It didn’t feel like writing today; it felt like I was taking dictation.” Say these sorts of things to a group of writers and heads will begin to nod. It doesn’t matter that you are physically alone in the room where you write; when it’s going well, writing feels like collaboration.

However, tell someone who’s never written that your characters started talking to you and you might get a very different reaction. It’s happened to me. I spend so much time talking to writers that I forget there are people who don’t sit down every morning and ask themselves what they’d like to see on a blank page. Usually, these non-writers’ heads do not start nodding when I describe what it’s like to write. Instead, their faces go blank, or worse, their eyes narrow with suspicion. What pretentious nonsense is this?

Like the Death Travelers, this is always a little unnerving because writing has been such an important experience in my life. It’s taught me how to make choices, and how to face the unknown fearlessly. But I can’t get too mad if people don’t believe me. Experience remains my greatest and most trusted teacher. This is true for these skeptics as well. No matter. When The Muse joins me at the desk, and we tell a good story, writer and non-writer alike can travel where that story is headed, and everything experienced on that journey will be real in the reader’s heart.

If you like the ideas and perspectives expressed here, feel free to contact me about individual and group conferencing.

Fearless Writing: How to Create Boldly and Write With Confidence.
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