I love my friend Stephanie. I’ve known her for almost three years now, and from the first, she was easy. Not in a promiscuous way, but in an easy people kind of way. Tomorrow morning, we’re going for a walk, and I’m looking forward to well, nothing in particular. How great is that?!
Let me explain, and then let me get to that part where this connects to writing. Because it does, and it’s a satisfying puzzle piece, I assure you.
So, Stephanie. She’s one of those people around whom I feel miraculously devoid of expectations. I never feel like she wants me to be any particular way. I can show up giddy or weepy, grumpy, or sleepy. Really, like any of the dwarves, and like Snow White, she greets me with arms wide open and birds perched and chirping on her shoulders.
The first time we met, I was going through a healing phase during which I cried as a part of any given conversation, in any given location. Ours was over coffee, walking her dog Tulip around Mount Tabor. The crying didn’t freak her out. Instead, she listened, empathized, shared things, stopped to let Tulip sniff gross stuff she wanted to roll in. It was so easy that I found myself able to laugh, too. Crying at one point didn’t automatically make me “She Who Has the Great Sadness.” We just kept walking.
I know we all have people in our lives around whom we feel like we need to be a certain way, for whom we need to dress up, spend a lot of money, or with whom we can only schedule appointments when a pigeon lands on a sacred water fountain at noon on a Tuesday when the moon is in Leo. And the truth is, we ARE also those people for others. At least I know I am.
Not everyone is easy for everyone else.
A few months ago, I realized that I was the kind of friend to my novel that put her on edge. She had to lace up a corset, meet me for high tea once a week, and be on her very best behavior. She could feel it, and so could I. I could see her cower, and cringe.
I’m not always this kind of friend to my books, but because of ego, and weird shit, it happens, to all of us. And the bottom line is that I wasn’t very easy for my novel to be around. She wasn’t returning my phone calls. She put me off. She was disappearing, seared by my expectations.
Sometimes, those can be a clue that it’s okay to just leave it alone or walk away, but sometimes warped expectations are an opportunity to check ourselves and make a change.
Because this relationship mattered to me, I chose Option B. I took a good hard look at what I really wanted, what my frustration was all really about. And it was about this: me being told what I should want, and letting that affect my relationship.
That is, I was hearing that readers/agents/editors want Pickyourflavoroftheweek kind of novel, so I was working hard to make my novel that. And it didn’t work. My novel was her own flavor, no matter how much I tried to muck her up with onion soup mixes.
This led to me experiencing a movie mind montage, remembering all of the moments of us giggling over a really terrible sentence, and me spilling coffee on myself and my notebook because that bluejay divebombed me while I was writing on the patio, and that time we finally figured out how to get my protagonist into that basement. Oh, us!
What I realized was that I truly, simply wanted my novel, just as she was.
So I ran to her, like Billy Crystal in the final scene of When Harry Met Sally, with Frank Sinatra singing “It Had to Be You” in the background. I ran through a thunderstorm to tell her that I loved her. That I loved her stuttery plot, her tendency to only pick up momentum in chapter 3, her teetering on the edge of trite romance, her earnest desire for a happy ending, no matter who had to unrealistically change their lives to get it. All of it.
She cried, of course. And we had a very dramatic public reconciliation, during which the clouds cleared and a rainbow emerged in a perfect arc over our heads.
Since then, things have been so much better between us. Now she can come over in her pajamas, bitch and moan, laugh and snort beer out her nose, and show up with whatever she found in the fridge and have it be okay. No corsets, literal or figurative.
And you know what? The trite romance is actually becoming much more realistic, the plot’s running more smoothly, and I’m even feeling okay with that tendency towards happily ever after. After all, that’s part of what I love about this book.
The thing is, as she feels more comfortable, I get more glimpses of beauty. I get more surprises. Letting her be what she is and not expecting her to be something else actually creates more possiblities.
Like me, sometimes she cries every half hour, and sometimes she expresses the kind of mirth that makes me want to lambada along with her. Sometimes she shows up with gourmet oven fries, gelato, and a darling sweater she got downtown that she knows I’ll just adore.
Most of all she shows up. And that’s what this is all about.
So when you go to your writing project, whatever it is, this week, be the Stephanie your writing needs. Make it easy.
Lower your expectations, and let yourself be surprised by the magic that happens when you do.