Many of the writing clients I work with have spent some time in workshops or MFA programs where writers gather around and talk and talk and talk about each other’s stories. All the attention in these environments is on The Manuscript. What is right with The Manuscript and what is wrong with The Manuscript? Is this sentence over the top, or stylistically daring? Should a character be dropped or a new one introduced?
Typically, these authors arrive with their manuscript in hand, ready to get to work. Typically, I will not even look at that manuscript during our first session. I certainly understand the impulse to focus exclusively on the manuscript. If this thing were what it should be, if it were polished and engaging and ready to be published, they wouldn’t need me. The problem is the manuscript. Let’s fix the problem.
But the problem is rarely in the manuscript, and is almost always within the author. It is impossible for an author to tell the story he/she most wants to tell if that author simultaneously believes no one reads this sort of story any more, or the market is too crowded, or they aren’t smart enough, or talented enough. The list goes on. Clear away these useless thoughts, and the manuscript usually finds its form.
The same is true for parents of kids on the spectrum. How easy it is to only focus only the kid, the kid, the kid. The problem is the kid. How do we get the kid to start doing this and stop doing that? What therapies should we try? Should we use drugs? What about vitamins? What about gluten? What should we do about the kid? If only I could fix this kid I could know that he is going to be all right and I could be happy.
There are nights that happiness feels like something I have necessarily deferred until the question of the kid has been answered. Isn’t this what it means to be a good parent? I have decided for myself that it is not. I cannot think of one instance where I have received a clear and enlightening answer to the question, “What should I do about Sawyer?” Likewise, all my attempts to fix him – and there have been many – have failed.
Though I am his father, I have no actual power over him. His will is precisely as free as mine. If I forget this, he will remind me. And so the best question I can ask myself is: What if no one is broken? What if I am not broken and he is not broken? What if all the people I disagree with and fear are not broken? What if no one is the world has ever been or could be broken? What would I do then?
To ask this question is to correct the only thing I have any power to correct – namely, my perception. I could no more fix Sawyer or myself than I could teach a mouse to fly. But if I believed that mouse were a bird, I might heave into the air and mourn its violent return to the earth. What a tragedy. The world of broken people is a tragic world, a world where true happiness is won through the roulette wheel of talent or genetics or indifferent coincidence. It is a world where no one is free, and extinction is the only certainty. Who would live in such a world by choice? No one, or course, and yet I must choose everyday, with every action, with every thought, where I wish to live.
I am the author of Fearless Writing: How to Create Boldly and Write with Confidence, and Write Within Yourself: An Author's Companion. Learn more here.