Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Wisdom

We’re all familiar with the Serenity prayer, right? Asking for the serenity to accept what can’t be changed, the courage to change what can be changed and the wisdom to know the difference.
Well, I’ll give you a hint—the only thing you can really change is you—your reaction to a situation, your behavior. Try to change anyone else or change the situation without changing your behavior, and they call that insanity in another commonly used idiom. Seems simple enough, yes?

I’ve been working to get on board with the idea that I am only responsible for my own reaction and I can’t control others … that’s an interesting exercise in a world of deadlines, but it’s a good exercise, because that’s a great environment where, while there’s nothing more that I’d like to control, there’s nothing more out of my personal control. I've learned patience and understanding, usually not under the best of circumstances, while working with deadlines (some imposed by me, some imposed on me),
As writers, fiction is one area where we do have control over the outcome, where we get to create a world seemingly out of thin air, spinning a reality out of an idea and pen and ink (or, yes, keyboard and word processor, but that’s so not romantic). Where else is this possible? In real life, normal people generally don’t play the puppetmaster (not to any positive end, anyway). We don’t get to determine the outcome. But in our fiction, we get to call the shots. We hold the power. It’s heady stuff.
Until we meet that one particular character who tells us how it’s going to be. One year, I decided to try the ‘write a novel in a month’ project, and I had a general idea of what I wanted to write, so I got to writing. And the character decided that she really didn’t like the direction my story was going and she kept demanding her own path. I kept trying to write what I wanted, but it was stilted and forced; she did not want to go where I was writing her and I did not want to go where I was led. I spitefully killed off other characters to try to bend her to my will. Ultimately, my story became a dream sequence of her, walking alone down a city street. We were at an impasse, she and I. Needless to say, I didn’t make it very far into the month that year.
But I did learn a lesson; the wisdom to know the difference is not as simple as it would seem. We have to have the wisdom to know when we are pulling our characters out of their narrative to serve a purpose that is not their own. Sometimes we need to be quiet and to listen. Listen to your characters, so you know the surprises in their stories. Sometimes the story you are meant to tell isn't the one you think you're writing. Sometimes there's something more there, in your subconscious, that needs to come out but needs a vehicle—your character, your setting, something that seems to be off your path—in order to do it. Listen to yourself, so you know when you need some space to let the ideas flow in—or when you need to buckle down and power through a sticky bit of writing.
Wisdom is a tricky thing. It’s elusive and you can generally be assured that when you think you’ve got it, there is still much to learn.

1 comment:

  1. I think you can feel the difference when the character is speaking for themselves as opposed to your pulling them out of the narrative for some task that doesn't quite fit. You're right, in writing as in life, listening is key.

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