Friday, August 5, 2011

Switch Off the Auto-Pilot

Did you ever have that experience where you’re driving somewhere, and you’re completely engrossed in thoughts unrelated to where you’re going or what you’re doing, and suddenly you find yourself at an intersection, and you realize you have no idea how you got there? Sometimes – hooray! – it’s the right intersection, heading in the right direction. But sometimes you find you’ve taken the turn to go to work when you were supposed to go to a doctor’s appointment, for which you’ll now be late and receive the look of death from the stuffy receptionist who would never, in a million years, allow such a thing to happen herself.
It’s because most of us, a lot of the time, are flying on auto-pilot. We go through life acting out the same routine day in and day out, never wavering – God forbid – or who knows where we might end up? Have you ever had a phone call or a question from a child disrupt your morning routine only to realize hours later that you to forget to put on deodorant? Or brush your teeth? Those routines can be powerful things.
They can also be dangerous. They can – quietly, insidiously – keep us planted in our place, never really moving forward, but only getting by. Marking time. Treading water. Revving our engines. Pick your favorite metaphor.
I’ve noticed this with my writing. I’ve been writing children’s and young-adult fiction for several years, never really wavering from that medium until a couple of months ago when I started this blog. At first, it was daunting. I spent hours upon hours planning my first post, rewriting and revising it, scrapping it and starting over. It had to be just right, a masterpiece of wit and poignancy, something my friends would tell their friends about, and they’d tell their friends, and so on, and so on, and so on. After all, these were my thoughts, not the thoughts of some character I could hide behind.
Then I posted a few entries, and a funny thing happened. I found I enjoyed it. I enjoyed thinking of topics and scribbling thoughts. I became less concerned with perfection and more interested in where my ideas would lead, what topics I could explore, and whether anyone would share my views. I broke out of my routine and enriched my experience as a writer as a result.
I took this a step further this week by writing a short story for adults, a genre I haven’t attempted since undergrad (and we won’t talk about how long ago that was). Again, I felt paralyzed at the start. I couldn’t decide on the first words, first sentences, first paragraph. But I began. Soon those first words turned into second and third words, and thirtieth and one thousandth words, and suddenly I finished. And, again, my writing was enriched because of it.
I encourage all of you this week – today, even – to break the mold of routine. Whether you do something as simple as drive to work a different way to make your brain work a little harder, or whether you do something as dramatic as sign up for those college courses you’ve always talked about but never pursued. Take up a new craft. Go someplace different of vacation. Cut your hair. Take up dancing.
Then open yourself up to the adventure that will surely follow.


Elizabeth-Anne said...

What a great call to action, Sue! And more importantly, a call to life.

Hannah said...

I agree. Lovely, well-rounded post. Thought provoking.