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Same Walk, Different Shoes
Introducing a Community Writing Project
Writing is thinking very slowly.
You have time to notice the landscape of your thoughts, to see the sharp outline of a belief you hold that you never realized was there before. It was always just a blur among other shapes that line the road you travel at speed in your daily life, rushing to the next thing.
I write out of a compulsive instinct to understand something. Often, I have no idea what it is I’m really trying to understand until the words are on the page, and even then, their true meaning may be elusive until months or even years later.
I’ve heard it said, and I believe it’s true that writers, particularly good ones are extremely critical people, full of judgment. In a world of chaos, brutality, and bad taste, it’s the sharp pen of the writer that seeks to draw tidy boundaries and rewrite the world better, or at least their version of better. I know I’m guilty of this. For all my desire to be a generous, kind, and empathetic human and all my posturing to appear that way, I’m not. In my mind, I’m judging even before I’m observing most of the time. Judging faster than the speed of light, I guess you could say.
When I began to write fiction about fifteen years ago, I found a way to rewire myself or, perhaps more accurately, to dilute some of that poison that leaches the color out of the world around me. That’s not what I set out to do, but looking back, it’s what happened. Writing fiction has allowed me to access empathy in a way that nothing else ever has.
To write a novel you must create characters. To create characters, you must know people. To know people, you must let them in. Once they’re in, they teach you things. They challenge your prejudices, your preferences, and ideas. But unlike living, breathing people, these make-believe humans are entwined with you, grafted onto you. Every single character I’ve written, regardless of their race, gender, sexuality, intelligence, or belief is infused with some aspect of me and my experience. We are bound together. I cannot make them believable in the world, I cannot create the illusion of reality without giving up my judgment of them. Giving up that judgment is the first step toward empathy.
A Community Writing Experiment
In the past year, as I’ve been publishing work on the Substack platform, I’ve found a community of incredible writers with gifts that far surpass mine. It occurred to me that it would be wonderful to collaborate on a project which got me thinking about what that project might be and how it might work.
How cool would it be to test my empathy theory with other writers? I floated the idea for this in my last “In the Works” post. I’m calling this project “Same Walk, Different Shoes” and I’m really excited about the kind of writing it can produce. Here’s what I’m proposing.
1. Share A Personal Transformative Experience Anonymously
Writers who want to participate will write a prompt of less than 300 words about some specific, formative experience or event in their lives that changed them forever. The more vulnerable and personal, the better. Writers will strip the prompt of any personal details that might identify them but infuse it with enough “furniture” and rich information to create the potent seed of a story. Ideally, the prompt should plainly recount the experience and provide some specific details, sensory elements, and most importantly how it changed them.
2. Drop The Prompt into the Hat, Get a Prompt to Write
Participants will then submit their prompts via an online form I’ve created that will mask their email addresses so I can’t read them. When all the submissions are in, each participant will receive an email with a prompt that someone else wrote.
3. Write a Story From the Prompt
Taking the prompt they receive, each writer will grow that seed into a fictional story that is 3,000 words or less. The story can be in any style and the writer is encouraged to use the full power of their unique voice but it must be written in the first person and it must encapsulate the essence of the experience and convey how that experience transformed the anonymous author.
4. Publish the Story
On the same date, all participating writers will publish their stories on their Substacks with a subtitle of “Same Walk, Different Shoes” and provide a link back to a post here on Catch & Release where the collection of stories will be listed and linked.
If you want to participate, you must first sign-up so I can get an accurate count of how many people will be writing. Sign up by clicking the button below. The cut-off date to sign up is Friday, November 24, 2023 so don’t dilly dally.
UPDATE: We’ve already reached our limit of 50 participants, but you’re welcome to sign-up as an alternate in case someone decides to drop out before prompts are due.
You will have 1 week to come up with the prompt you want to anonymously submit. That deadline is Friday, December 1, 2023. I will privately send you a link to the submission form well before then.
You will have 1 month to complete the story from the prompt you receive. We will all be publishing our stories on Friday, December 29, 2023.
Why would I want to do this?
There are several reasons but the most important one is to be a part of the community of writers aiming to be better writers but also better humans. Secondarily, it’s a great way to potentially attract new readers for your work.
Do I have to have an established Substack to participate?
Yes. But you can be brand new to the platform or someone who only posts occasionally. All writers are welcome.
I don’t write fiction. Can I still participate?
Yes! I can think of no better way for you to dip your toe into the world of fiction than through this kind of a prompt. There’s already a real story baked into the prompt you’ll receive - you just have to add your imagination.
What kind of prompt can I write? Are there boundaries?
It’s entirely up to you but it’s your first exercise in empathy to imagine the writer who will be charged with writing your story. Give them something meaningful to work with. The more personal and specific without identifying who you are, the better. Any prompts that promote hate speech, glorify violence or promote intential harm of another person will be removed from the collection and that person will not be allowed to participate.
Will I be able to find out who wrote my story?
Yes, if you read stories from everyone who participates, you should be able to easily spot your story, assuming the writer did their job. This Easter egg hunt is part of what will make this project so transformative. You will discover so many voices along the way.
Is there a limit to how many writers can participate?
Yes. I will cap it at 50 participants. More than that and I think it could get unweildy.
Other questions? Ask them in the comments!
My Wishlist of Writers
There are so many fantastic writers on this platform, by listing a few, I inevitably risk forgetting to mention someone amazing. Think of this as a starter to get the ball rolling.
Thank you for entertaining this idea. I hope you will decide to participate and pass this on to another writer you admire.
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