What does writing a novel have to do with New Year’s resolutions? More than you think, less than you fear, and enough to make you read on, I hope.
The usual New Year’s drill has to do with will. We ponder all the things we will to do that we have not done, and all the things we have done that we will now not do, or will undo. We will exercise more and eat less. We will stop biting our fingernails and start praying. We will read more and watch television less. We will stop being patsies and start speaking up for ourselves. That sort of thing.
It all boils down to whether we have the will-power to carry out our will. Or so we think.
Novelists learn something surprising in the course of their writing. Once they create characters and begin to impose their will on them, those same characters begin to take on a life of their own. It’s an odd experience to realize that something fictional can be so real. There is only so much character-shaping the creator can do. A space is made between the creator and the character that leaves room for the character to develop character against all the intentions of the creator.
If you haven’t written a word since high school English, consider the same challenge with parenting your children or managing a business you started. You made these kids. They have your genes. You get to tell them what to do and when. Somewhere along the line, they defy you by becoming themselves. Same with employees. You hired them. You directed them. And then one day, they started taking initiative with your business as if it were their own.
Welcome to life. There’s only so much control any of us can exert over anyone else, or even over ourselves. You can’t keep tightening a bolt without breaking it. And you can’t keep resolving to change things that can’t be controlled. Not without adding misery to others and ourselves.
Authors sometimes describe the wonderment of waking up to find what their characters are going to do next. That’s a good start for all of us to make: Wake to wonder. A good novelist lets the story unfold with some freedom of its own, the characters acting with some free will – even in defiance of the author.
Some people think God determines everything. Some think human free will means God determines nothing. The truth is somewhere in between: God wills, and we will.
But it’s not all about will. God does not control everything and everyone. God loves the story and joins it. Which means God has to accept some things God does not will. It means more than that, though. It means God gets to enjoy finding out what happens next. Sometimes God has to suffer what happens next.
This, too, is life.
When you sit down to write resolutions this year, why not determine not to be so determined this year? Why not give yourself and those around you a break by standing back and wondering at life instead of trying to control it?
Delight in differences. Welcome surprises. Receive the day rather than squeezing it to death. Treat interruptions in your schedule as acts of grace to be attended to.
Wonder what that might be like.