How far can you go?

My grandfather walked 156km from his farming village to the city, when he was just a small boy, so that he could attend middle school. A journey like that would’ve taken him days, but he did it alone, all by himself, with nothing but the road signs to guide him.

I learnt about this story on my last visit to see him, when he was lying in hospital, in a vegetative state.

When I asked my mum why he had done that, she said: “He had a vision.”

What she meant was that he was the first of his family to get an education, when nobody else thought to do so. And in doing that, he led our family out of a life of poverty.

My grandfather had such strong blood in him. I didn’t see it then, because he was just a tiny, fragile old man. But I see it now.

He fights and claws at the caretakers when they stick tubes down his throat. He stares them down if they cover his hands with mittens because he likes to take the tubes out of his nose.

He is very much a leader trapped inside a dying body.

But he was strong enough to wait for us to come back so that we could say goodbye.

He was strong enough to walk 156km for an education that would otherwise never have been given to him.

I am not strong like him, but on the day of his passing, I realised he had left a legacy.

So I asked myself, what would I walk 156km for?

What’s in a story?

Tamora Pierce once said that writing is like training for a marathon.

“Don’t worry if you never finish all the stories you start. You wouldn’t expect yourself to run a marathon straight away. You train yourself by running short distances. So keep practising, keep writing, and you’ll build up the muscles you need for the full novel.”

This takes me back to my first few attempts at storytelling. I always wondered why I could never get past the beginning:

In primary school, I set up a beautiful description of a haunted house and then nothing happened. The story just fizzled out.

In intermediate, I was so fixated with perfecting every word, that I never got past the first sentence.

And then somewhere in adulthood, I decided to get one word past the beginning, then one line past the beginning, and then, one sentence!

I can now write two chapters in one sitting. Kind of ok, right?

So, this is what it looks like when you start training yourself for that novel:

When you write often, you begin to see the kinds of stories you care about.

When you write long enough, you begin to use your own words.

When you write everyday, you begin to develop the ability to sit still for hours.

When you write even when you hate your writing, you develop patience and endurance.

And when you write each and every day, you’ll realise how powerful words with direction can be.

That’s what a story is. Not how perfect the words are, but the direction they’re taking you; towards that sentence, towards that paragraph, towards that chapter and finally, towards that last word in your novel.

How great would that feel?