Nobody Wants to Change

Generally, people don’t like it when you tell them they need to change.

They really don’t like it when you tell them how to do it.

They might grudgingly do it when they recognize you are right, but the world will be a little duller for it.

At this year’s Southern Festival of Books, everyone seemed to be ruminating on these truths in one way or another. Without having planned it, most authors I got to hear speak and read kept circling back to this idea that those who most desperately need to change are also the most resistant to it.

A few even took stabs at figuring out what to do about this. I was so drawn especially to Nicole Krauss, whose latest book, Forest Dark, is about the courage to turn from the certainty of self, toward the unknown in hope of personal transformation.

She said (and I’m paraphrasing- it’s possible this isn’t exactly how she said it, but it’s how I heard it) that the self is a narrative- a story we tell ourselves, and are told, since we were small children. This means that the story is much more flexible than we think. When the narrative we tell ourselves stretches too tight and limits who we are or who we can become, it’s entirely possible to enlarge our sense of self.

But so few people do this, because changing is terrifying and it is stigmatized. It’s embarrassing to concede that we have grown into a corner and must now take a different direction. It’s doubly embarrassing to be told what to do in that moment of personal crisis.

In the end, you’ll change when you have no other choice. And when it’s time to change, what do you need?

I need encouragement and examples of change. I need a book like Forest Dark, which shows me some of the ways change can happen, and opens my mind to possibility. A book which reassures me that my own reality can always be comprised of infinite possibilities. Despite its name, Forest Dark is a sliver of light in the uncertainty.

So let’s connect this idea to writing.

Books that tell you that you need to change are terrible.

Books that tell you how to do it are insulting and boring.

People might still read them and do what they say, but the world will be duller for it.

So now what?

This is probably the teacher in me speaking, but maybe instead of giving readers the answers, books could be about providing inspiration and companionship through the reader’s questioning process.

This is probably the teacher in me speaking, but maybe instead of giving readers the answers, books could be about providing inspiration and companionship through the reader’s questioning process.

As writers, I think often we want to hand people the answers we’ve spent ages thinking about, but what if we humble ourselves? What if we admit that we don’t have the answers for everyone? What if we re-commit to being midwives for the ideas of others? What if we return to trusting people’s thought processes?

How might your writing be different? How might you change, as a writer?

I want to go through life trusting that this way of writing will enlarge the readers’ takeaways.

Telling people what to do, and making them do it is what took away the world’s shine. Showing people how to figure it out themselves, is what may brighten it a little.

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