“[Writing is] like driving a car at night: you never see further than your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.”
– E.L. Doctorow
A few summers ago, I sat in a writing workshop with the inimitable Kelly Easton that unexpectedly turned into a therapy session – perhaps most unexpectedly for her.
We’d been given an exercise to write a scene from our work in progress from the point of view of a secondary character rather than our protagonist. I love Ant. He’s so fun to write. His humorous and outrageous comments flow from a place that’s cheesy and cathartic at the same time. So he was my target voice.
When I read back my piece to Kelly and the others for feedback, she said she loved the energy and spontaneity of the beginning, but that lessened as it went on. It was, she said, as if I didn’t trust his voice, myself; that rather than letting the story go where it would, I clicked on that control switch, molding the plot to the overall plan I had in mind. That I was afraid to relinquish control.
The critique hit me like a ton of bricks. Not because she was wrong. Not because I can’t take criticism (at least from a trusted source 😉 ). But because Kelly’s critique applied to my entire life – not just my work in progress.
How often do we follow some preordained plan rather than functioning within and through the essence of our being? How often do we tick off the to-dos to achieve a goal rather than burning and glowing with the initial desire for it? How often do we rein ourselves in rather than galloping exuberantly forward?
Unless we’re acting recklessly, we will not crash. There’s a fair distance between joy and mania. Why are we so afraid to inhabit our joy? Are we afraid to feel it in advance of our perceived loss of it?
What’s the worst that could have happened in my story? Anthony would’ve surprised me? Would’ve taken the plot in a new and exciting direction? The writer me could’ve certainly looped him back around to my original story – or marvelled at an even-better blossoming of the plot.
The same applies to life. Long ago, a wise friend reminded me that when your dreams haven’t come true or prayers answered, perhaps it is because God has something even better in store for you. We need not see further than our headlights illuminate. Stubborn human nature makes us want to, but it’s not necessary to survival and success – and certainly not to our happiness.