Have you ever known someone who has an excuse for everything that goes wrong in her life?
“If only it hadn’t rained that day, I wouldn’t have gotten stuck behind that truck and been late to the interview. I’m sure that’s why I didn’t get the job.”
“Was it a good job?”
“It was a great job. It would have paid me enough money to solve all my problems. I’d probably have met my future husband at that company too.”
And you can’t help but wonder what force of nature caused her money problems, her relationship problems, and so on.
Of course we’ve all known someone like that in our lives at one time or another. And it’s pointless to tell them that, since it was raining, perhaps they should have left the house earlier for such an important interview. Or not bought those three new pairs of shoes that they didn’t really need. Or, or, or.
The fact is, life is mostly a culmination of the choices we make and their consequences. As we mature, we understand this and learn, from experience, to make better choices if we want better outcomes.
I’m currently writing about a character who is forever getting in her own way. She is smart about some things, but she learns other things slowly. She has no faith in her abilities and is therefore never surprised when things go wrong. Instead, she has an excuse. A person like this would drive me crazy in real life.
The secret is, I used to be just like her: a vulnerable mess, full of excuses and problems. I’m often glad I grew up before the Internet so I could keep that embarrassing part of my life to myself. So the idea of writing her scared the crap out of me. What if she irritated everyone around her, as well as readers? What if they recognized me?
Natalie Goldberg said, “Write what disturbs you, what you fear, what you have not been willing to speak about. Be willing to be split open.”
Well, I did it. I wrote her in all her messy, sad, annoying glory. I exaggerated her weaknesses and her eye-rolling audacity. And you know what? As a character, she is probably the most fun I have ever had writing.
She makes me laugh out loud and cry at the next turn. I feel sorry for her, I want to help her and I want to hang out with her.
Though I don’t know how she’ll be received in the world of readers, I see now it doesn’t matter. She is real to me. She’s vulnerable and exasperating and has helped me face my fears. She has split me open, and I feel I’m a better writer because of her.
What do you most fear? Are you willing to write it?