CH-CH-CH-CH-CHANGES (TURN AND FACE THE STRAIN)
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.
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.