I’ve wanted to be a writer for most of my life. Some would argue that I’ve been a writer for most of my life. When I was two, I ran around making up stories. By the time I was four, I’d worked out a hierarchy of monsters that infested my home and magical tools that could subdue them.
Fears and desires motivated the stories I made up. When you’re a child, the world is full of people and occurrences that you can’t understand. Small wonder if you imagine some of them to be otherworldly.
As I got older, I became wiser to the ways people saw me. I did well in school, and came to recognize that others expected me to continue in this vein. I came to expect the same of myself. I did worse with physical activity than others, so academics became a form of compensation. When I struggled with something in school, I pushed on to work harder. I couldn’t fail.
Some things came more easily to me than to other people. Writing didn’t feel like one of them. Even though teachers praised my assignments, my favorite stories were the ones I wasn’t brave or capable enough to write down. Was it because they were private, or because I wasn’t good enough to tell them?
When I wrote my first novel, Chasing Harmony, I decided to focus on a musical prodigy as the main character. Little did I know how much personal shadow material this choice would unearth.
My protagonist, Anna, is drawn to music as a child, and she happens to be phenomenally good at it. Unfortunately for her, her mother has abandoned musical dreams that she expects Anna to live up to. And Anna herself is sensitive to others’ expectations, imagining a version of herself that she should be. But that image doesn’t leave room for the challenges of growing up and being human.
Here’s one thing that can happen when making art: you start out intending to tell a fun story, and out spring your fears and desires. With every word you write, you confront pieces of your shadow.
Fear of failure is one of the monsters lurking around my grown-up home. Who are we, my book asks, if we fail at being what others expect us to become?
Maybe who we can be when we step outside the stories that are told about us is more interesting than we ever imagined. Sometimes we have to abandon those stories. Sometimes we only think we do, but what we really need is to reclaim agency over them.
Chasing Harmony is my third published book, and my most personal one. I keep on writing. It keeps on not being easy. But I intend to continue facing the shadow, magical tools in hand.
Because there are rewards at the end of a battle, even an imaginary battle through art, and every journey leads to another. And we are all more than that dangerous word, our “potential”.
I think my childhood self would be proud.
Melanie Bell is a Canadian multi-genre writer living in the UK. Her books include a YA novel, Chasing Harmony, a short story collection, Dream Signs, and a nonfiction title, The Modern Enneagram. She has written for several publications including Contrary, Cicada, The Fiddlehead, and Huffington Post. She loves music, art, and nature, and aspires to see as much of the world as she can.