I’m not good at finishing things. I get distracted, or bored, or lose focus when something new and shiny comes along. I’m not proud of this, but it’s true.
When I dig in and try to analyze this pattern, I suspect that I have a tendency to run from problems. When things get difficult, I start looking for a way out. As a result, I’ve bounced around a lot in life, switching between jobs, starting over in different cities, even swapping out friends and relationships when they get too intense.
I’ve been thinking about this a lot recently since I’ve made two huge commitments in the past few months: getting married, and starting to write a book. I know, those are two completely different things! Why in the world would I be comparing them? Marriage is a sacred commitment between two people, while writing a novel is a personal pursuit. However, with both, I think there’s a point where you have to decide that you’re all in, utterly and completely dedicated to making it work, whatever happens down the line. And even when you’re head-over-heels in love—with the characters and world you’re bringing to life, or an amazing human being you’ve had the good fortune to meet—this stuff is hard.
I’ve been married for a few months now. In those few months, M and I have faced more crazy problems than the characters in a badly-written soap opera. Our wedding was almost rained out, our apartment building faced a bed bug infestation, and recently, issues with our housing arrangement in Singapore that left us scrambling for a new place to live. We’ve had amazing adventures, and crazy fights. We’ve gotten lost together, and discovered some incredible places in the process of finding our way back. The good times overwhelm me with more joy than I could ever imagine. But when things get difficult, that old voice in the back of my head shrieks “Run! Get away from this! GET OUT!!!”
It’s hard even writing that, because I know someone could think that I agree with that destructive instinct. It’s not something I control. It’s like an alarm bell ringing in my head, telling me to leave everything behind and start again. Beginnings are easy. They are beautifully pure things, full of possibilities and unmarked by failures. But you can’t build a life on a beginning. Nothing in this world can stay pure forever. We live in a world full of complexities, and we all just do the best we can. The possibilities that wink at us in the beginning disappear as we make our choices—in choosing one option, we abandon countless other things that could have been. It’s a necessity of moving forward. And the stains of failure that mark the end of a fresh beginning—they’re a part of learning and growing. So moving forward—moving on from that perfect beginning—means letting things become imperfect. That “Run, get away, GO!” voice wants me to go back to the beginning, forsaking all of my choices, everything I’ve established, and everything I’ve overcome. But I don’t want another beginning. I’m not going to be scared off by imperfections. I’ve seen enough of life to know that they are threaded deeply into the tapestry of this world, there to snag me however many times I start over.
It sounds so morbid to write these things about love, so let’s switch to writing. (As a side note: I can only imagine people reading this and wondering what kind of monster M is—I assure you that the worst thing he has ever done to me is making me cranky by waking me up too early, or by forgetting that I don’t like shrimp!) So, writing… That novel that seemed so perfect in the idea phase, and those characters that seemed so alive in my mind—it’s all a hot mess on the page. The beginning was so strong, but I’ve reached the dreaded middle. My characters are either listless, wandering aimlessly through the pages, or too willful, and determined to wreck everything I had planned for them. My plot has so many holes and knots that you wouldn’t even use it as a dishrag! I’ve thought about abandoning this whole project and walking away from it more times than I could count. I even have some shiny, new ideas that I could chase down… but I remember that this story used to be a shiny, new idea, too. What happened to it?
Writing happened to it. Writing, like life, is messy and unpredictable. Things go wrong. Things get ugly. Things don’t make any sense… but these aren’t problems you can run away from—they’re omnipresent. So, I’m sticking with it. I’m going to move forward with this jumble of words, finding the problems and fixing them one by one. I’m going to stand by this novel-in-the-making until it’s fully realized, and it tells me that I’ve done my best to tell its story, and I can move on. I’m going to learn from all of these difficulties instead of running from them. The only new beginning I need is to begin letting go of that panicked voice, and to let it know that I won’t run anymore.