If you’ve ever spent any significant time in the company of a fiction writer, you’re probably familiar with the popular refrain that ponders and pokes fun at the way in which characters often “take on a life of their own,” and have a bad habit of “running away with the story.” I’ve often sat in wonderment at such a thought. What does that mean exactly? Either you’re the author or you’re not, am I right? Not being a fiction writer myself, I more or less resigned that I would likely never really know the answer to this question. However, in due course, as I’ve begun to undertake the painstaking process of drafting my own book, I’ve been amazed to consider all the ways in which this concept is strikingly on point. Sure, I write non-fiction, but this doesn’t negate that I’m still participating in the art of storytelling; painting a picture, peeling back layers, breaking down an experience or story in order that I might begin building it back up upon a foundation which will illuminate it in a new light. That is the overarching telos, if-you-will, or ultimate goal. And to achieve this end, a distinctly creative process is inevitably involved.
I was journaling the other night my reflections on this concept. I had spent the day constructing my Introductory chapter, and had previously drafted my working “Elevator Pitch” for the book, and was struck by just how much the project has already evolved in such a short amount of time. Here’s my entry:
It’s so peculiar to watch something you’ve set in motion take on a life form all its own. I wonder if it must feel a similar kind of foreign to watch your child grow into a being, separate and independent from yourself; watching him or her evolve and morph into something wholly other than you could have ever initially wrapped your mind around.
When I set out to write this book, my ideas were more of a birds-eye-view kind of thing. But as the process has forced me to begin really articulating the project with more precision, I’ve watched my vague, overarching idea come into much sharper focus. I imagine it must be [roughly] akin to getting an ultrasound and hearing your baby’s heartbeat for the first time. Suddenly, I can hear the heartbeat of the book and it’s a jarring sound. I didn’t even know this is what I wanted the project to be, and yet, look there, on the page, that is in fact what I wrote, those are the very words I used. Looking at where the story landed, I’m stunned at how vaguely it resembles the original idea I set out to craft. Sure, the stories are mine, and yet, they stand alone to tell their own story at the same time. It’s this bizarre blend of terrifying and beautiful.
God help me. Suddenly I understand why it is women say the day they found out they would be mothers was the day a floodgate of prayers was unleashed unlike anything they’ve ever known.
So you can see, even as a non-fiction writer, I’m left amazed watching the stories I’m telling unfold in their own unique ways, telling the stories from their own perspectives. It’s really weird, and really cool. But mostly really weird.
My mom is always telling me how much she learns from me, but not until recently have I actually considered how much weight this carries. To have something you created and set in motion turn around and teach you; it’s an incredibly humbling experience. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been in the middle of writing only to find myself blinking away tears I never anticipated all because I didn’t realize I felt a certain way about something until it showed up on the page before me.
And then there’s the moment when you realize the one undergoing the metamorphosis… is you.