Sunday, April 20, 2014

Maybe Life Is Less Like a Novel, More Like an Ongoing Revision of One

I've been inspired lately by Big Changes in people's lives. Like KJ who recently left a life in New York for an adventure on a farm in Maine, which you can read about here. Or my sister-in-law who is getting married next weekend. These are the big moments. Decisions. Landmarks.


I always want life to be like a novel‐more specifically: a fantasy novel. Novels with journeys and quests. Novels where you can see progress not only with every turn of the page, but at every way station the characters reach. (Perhaps this is why I tend to avoid the super literary literary novels, because I'm afraid they'll be stagnant. Too much like real life.)

In my favorite novels, there is progress both physical and emotional. There is character growth. People move through the story as you move the pages.

In real life, we have no such guarantees. You could reread the same chapter over and over for years without any conflict resolution or meaningful dialogue. A person could easily make the same mistakes over and over again, hurting the same people throughout their entire lives without ever reaching a climactic moment of clarity. A truly remarkable story could end in the middle of a sentence, with no possibility of a sequel.

Novels are so much more reliable than real life.

I wish I was approaching a Big Life Change: switching careers or moving across country or falling in love. But I am at a stage in my life where I'm planting roots. Staying put. Happily married and settling into a house.

But I feel so restless. Because, if I'm being honest, I'm not satisfied yet. Maybe I'm a selfish protagonist but I want people to read my stories. I want to plan book events (I do so love parties). I want to be on panels and in meetings. I want to be a writer. A working writer. I even want deadlines. The thing is, there's no physical journey I can take that will guarantee I reach this goal: no magical path through a dark wood and over a snowy mountain. There's only hope and grit and talent and a lot of luck.

When I was at Bread Loaf I was in a workshop led by Margot Livesey (who is a lovely person). One of the things she said that resonated with me regarding writing was that (and I'm paraphrasing here) you must be mindful of how you interpret feedback from a reader. Revisions are cumulative. One seemingly large plot hole may be fixed with one or two sentences, if placed correctly. Sometimes small changes have a big impact.

Maybe life is like that too. Maybe all my angst and my desire for Big Change really amounts to a desire for a few small ones. Some tweaking of my sentences. Moving a paragraph here and some dialogue there.

So I will try. And in the meantime I'll keep moving, keep writing, keep turning the pages of both the stories I tell and the Story of my life.*

*I definitely did not intend to end on a boy band reference, but there it is.I'm not taking it back. It was MEANT to BE.   

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