Tuesday, September 15, 2009

As In Life
by Patti Callahan Henry

There are so many beautiful things about the writing life – story and solitude and wearing whatever I want in my office, working with words, playing with plot…etc… yet there is at least one deeper reason I love writing: excavating my soul while learning some life lessons along the way. I call them my “as in life” lessons.

For me, writing a story is very much like falling in love. Stepping into the process slowly, wanting to feel the feeling, only knowing that I enjoy whatever emotion is being generated by this story or by the person I fell in love with. In both experiences there is no guarantee that things will work out, is there? But does that mean we don’t do it at all? That we don’t write the story or fall in love? And what do we do to our souls when we deny the story or the love?

First comes this desire, this bubbly thing that rises from a place no one can pinpoint, and then I follow the passion to wherever it leads. Here, right now, is where so much can go awry -- following the feeling is the part where everything can go wrong, where it can all unravel and the love is lost, or the story goes nowhere, and despair sets in where it had once started with so much hope. OR this is where the beautiful journey begins and the story unfolds, the love blossoms and life changes for the better. But how are we to know which one will happen? How can we know that the novel will be published and adored, or that love will have a happily-ever-after? (as Brad Paisley so philosophically sings, “if love were a plane, no one would get on’ what with the 60 percent chance of crashing and all).

So halfway into the love affair, halfway through the writing of a story, this happens: panic. What if this doesn’t turn out the way I want it to turn out? What if this has a bad ending? What if I’ve put in all this time into this love affair/into this novel and it stinks? What if he decides he really doesn’t love me? What if the editor hates it? What if the old girlfriend comes back and wants him? What if the Hero’s Journey isn’t adequately reflected in the thematic structure? Blah, blah, blah, blah.

And there I go, as a storyteller and in life, spinning waaaayyytoooo far forward. Imagining the best and the worst, setting up scenes and tragedies that might or might not occur. Ibegin to worry – all this pining, angst and yearning about just this: “How is it going to turn out?”
The more I try to force a novel to work, the more I care in an obsessive, overly-needy way, angst-ridden manner, the worse the story becomes. (Surely I don’t have to state the obvious – as in love, right?). The more I fixate on “how it turns out” the more I lose the fun, the joy and the adventure that is a novel, that is love.

I was talking to a writer friend about this, and that writer said this about writing, “The more pure fun I’m having, the better it turns out to be.”
Just like love.
And no, it’s not all fun (the writing or love). There is the pain and the heartache and the lost hope and the dark nights. There is the wondering and the crossroads and the choices about “where to go next”. Here is the part I want to remove in both life and writing: the worry and obsession about “How it turns out”. I want to walk through the fun parts, and the painful parts and the choices; I want to walk through the story and ask this, and only this, “What is next? What is the next best thing to do right here, right now?” I don’t want to force anything to become what it isn’t. I want to trust the story; trust the Love (both of which are greater than I am).

Maybe if I did that in both life and writing I wouldn’t have to worry about how it all turns out.
And the reason I say that for me writing a story is like, exactly like, falling in love.
Sometimes it works; sometimes it doesn’t.

Patti Callahan Henry is the NYT Bestseller of six novels. http://www.patticallahanhenry.com/


karen said...

A good editor once said to me: Trust yourself as the storyteller.
So we have to remember that -- to trust the story and to trust ourselves as the storyteller.

Shelby said...

"For me, writing a story is very much like falling in love."

Yes, I agree. It was totally like that for me yesterday as I went hunting for story ideas. One fell in my lap, literally. I was in love!

sherry ♥ lee said...

I love this analogy!