The Right Way to Change (in Literature and in Life)

Pots - Water Pots

Pots – Water Pots (Photo credit: NisargPhotography)

As a writer, I struggle to create the pieces of a story that can’t be revealed through dialogue and plot. Part of the reason I struggle with this in writing is because I struggle with it in life. In everyday interactions, I rely almost entirely on what people tell me and what happens. Partly, I’m this way because as a teenager, I decided that it’s incredibly unfair to hypothesize or make assumptions about another person, and thus made it my mission to maintain a perception that matched up as completely as possible to the observable, real-world person in front of me as I could. However well-intentioned I may have been in trying to avoid unfair judgment of another person, though, I inadvertently led myself away from looking beneath the surface, which is quite the tragedy, because most of who we are is beneath the surface. For example, a character or person’s shifts of identity and heart might slowly manifest themselves in his or her behavior and speech, but the change occurs long before it becomes observable.

But how do I write that?

Also, how do people actually change?

Several years ago, there was someone who started attending my church, and almost immediately set out to change some of our stances on issues and certain doctrines we held to. When Dave (Pastor) and I were talking about the situation, I was overwhelmingly sympathetic to the new person. I expressed my beliefs that she wasn’t ill-intentioned and that she needed grace, as well as my broken-heartedness for her; I viewed the church’s response to her as a little mean. 😦

Then Dave said something. He said that God is the one who changes us; she doesn’t get to direct that change.

As a writer, I’m ridiculously well-planned. I don’t like starting without an outline for each and every chapter, along with any number of other “plotter” tactics in place. I write character sketches; I create soundtracks for each scene; I draw maps, and I even create Sims characters or draw really bad sketches to ensure that nothing is left to chance… I have to know everything about every aspect of the story before I write. Then, I force my characters to do what I want them to do, and get frustrated when the plan has to change. And, instead of changing the plan, I just throw all of my work out and start all over at the beginning.

But what if there’s something to just sitting down and writing. I don’t subscribe to all the hippie, “pantser” mumbo-jumbo about letting the characters show me the story, but I also probably shouldn’t outline myself into a corner, eh?

In life, I’ve been trying pretty hard for the past couple of years to just see what happens. I usually stick myself into certain, highly-arbitrary routines, and force myself to keep them, but it seemed like God was ruining all of my routines for awhile there, so I thought that might have been His way of telling me to knock it off.

So I stopped.

I stopped planning every moment of every day; I stopped keeping routines that I didn’t feel like keeping; I stopped attending events that I didn’t have a good reason for attending… I just stopped.

And it’s really difficult to just exist and wait, but that’s what I’ve been doing. I know it probably doesn’t seem like that from the outside, because what others see is that I bought a house, signed up to go to Asia next year, shifted my teaching focus from ELLs to gen. ed., etc…. But, believe it or not, I haven’t been trying to do anything at all. I’ve just let things come my way. or not. and I’ve been patient.

Because changes happen mysteriously and invisibly, and it’s not for me to direct them.

Going off of what’s observable, it seems as if I’m changing in a few specific ways… but those changes are imaginary. Instead, God is changing me how He wills, in ways that haven’t yet manifested  themselves in words or actions.

Still, in the two years that I’ve been trying to be patient and malleable, a few people have said and done things that seem an awful lot like creating a Sim character of me and then trying to make me into that character.

And each time, I’ve felt myself struggling that same internal conflict that came with the new girl who wanted to change a church’s doctrines: Am I being mean by ignoring other people’s aims for me? Sometimes it feels mean, because I know what it feels like to look at another and think I know what he should do and be. I know what it feels like to believe I see his primary flaw and the one change that he should make in his life because it would fix everything.

And that’s why I’m still writing Weston’s story – because I’ve fixed him rather than letting him change slowly, invisibly, in a way that I can’t contrive.

So, while I know (all-too-well) the urge to just fix the problem, I’m trying to do a better job of reserving myself for the changes God has in mind for me (and for Weston too). It’s entirely possible that the flaws people see in me and the ones I see in Weston are terrible and need fixing… but those flaws aren’t for human hands to reshape, because only God’s hands are strong enough to change earthen vessels. 🙂


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