Fear of the Unknown


One of the things I’ve discovered about myself as I graduated college and moved on with my life and came to Chicago to start doctoral studies is that I hate change. I really do. I try to fend it off as long as I can and when it comes, I deal with it the best I can, but I gripe and feel anxious because I don’t like change.

I’m a creature of habit, and I like to feel in control. I value security. When change comes, it’s usually a reminder of the lack of control we all have over our lives, and it unsettles and frustrates me.

Well, I’m going through a lot of change right now. (And I’ll bring this around to writing, I promise.) I’m leaving my program without the Ph.D. because I’m just can’t bring myself to continue on. I thought the life of an academic was for me, and it turns out, it isn’t. Just because you have the skills, it doesn’t mean you have the personality to make it work and pull it out. I’m meant to do other things. My studies and my interest in learning will always be a part of me; the “academic” me that always excelled in school doesn’t have to stay in school to thrive. So I’m looking for a job back home, to be happier, warmer, and closer to my family.

CHANGE. It all comes down to change.

No, not that kind. That's the fun kind.

No, not that kind. That’s the fun kind.

I resisted change for far too long. I was miserable in Chicago for years–YEARS–before I found the courage to cut my losses. I was scared about finding employment (or rather, not finding it.) I was scared of discarding a large part of who I thought I was, and scared to admit I didn’t know myself as well as I imagined when I chose to come up to this cold, dark, windy place that is just not for me.


What’s interesting is that through the years, I’ve learned to be fluid and flexible in the way I approach my fiction. I wander more blindly when I sit down to write than I ever do in other aspects of my life. As a person I am cautious, and quiet, and a planner. I like trips and outings organized, and I don’t like to leave much to chance. And yet, when I write….

(I told you I’d get there.)

When I write, I understand that I am not in control, and I don’t fight that. I throw the reins to the characters and let them go where they will. It works, because I feel tense and nervous when I’m in charge of other people, and characters, well…. They’re other people. They’ve got pieces of me in them, all my characters do, but they’re not me, and they have their own desires and personalities. They act upon those. I let them make their decisions, and the system just works.

It just so happens that a writer needs to be open to deviating from the course she’s set, if the characters want to do something different. A writer needs to be okay with only seeing a scene or two, or a moment or two ahead. It turns out the characters are the drivers and the guides. They know the final destination, so you, the writer, don’t have to fret if they take a turn you didn’t quite anticipate and end up in a different place than you expected to be going.

I can’t tell you the number of times my characters brought me to a fork in the road. I could see the fork coming, and approaching it, I thought I knew which direction they’d take, which choice would feel right for them. Then we’d reach the juncture, and I’d see I was, well, flat-out wrong. I mean all kinds of wrong.

Somehow, I’m cool with that kind of change. That kind of shakeup. I’ve seen wonderful plot twists and exciting adventures spawn from those changes, and I’d do well to remember that when approaching all the current changes in my real life. Yes, job hunting is painful and horrible and anxiety-inducing. Yes, moving will be miserable, as will furnishing an empty apartment when I don’t own any furniture at all. But I’ll be happier for it, and a stronger, more confident person when it’s done. Just like changes to my planned novels have made them fifty times better than they otherwise would have been, this change will shape my life in positive ways I can’t even anticipate right now.


12 responses to “Fear of the Unknown

  1. Thanks for the little tidbit about your struggle with your studies. I pursued some educational goals early in life, but found I was too young and restless to continue on.
    I couldn’t settle into that early path and I never would have guessed the many roads would lead to where I am now.

    I have always retained the ‘interest in learning’ that you spoke about. The hunger to learn more adds to what I can draw from as a writer. I am new as a committed writer and I was recently thinking about how the diverse interests and studies I have pursued can provide depth and variety to characters and topics for future writing efforts.

    • thanks so much for your comment and your support. You are so, so right: I have found my studies influencing my writing and my fantasy world in very real ways. It’s one of the major reasons I don’t consider my time up in Chicago a wash…. that, the people I’ve met, and the things the experience has taught me about myself.

      • Yes, it kind of fascinated me a bit when I was recently realizing the roads I went down in the past will come up again in my writing.
        I think I made a mistake in my first book. I made up characters but modeled them like people I knew, but used their first names a few times. I’ll have to give them some of the millions I am making now. Ha-ha. The millions haven’t happened yet. I guess that will be next week.

  2. The exciting thing about change is that it does something to your writing as well. When you cut your losses, take up a challenge, somehow it surprises you when you write and new material opens up to you. I wish you smooth travels in your transition and new adventures in your writing.

  3. I don’t like change either. I have learned, however, why the characters I wrote about insisted that I change and keep changing.

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