Why the Book of Your Life is
Better than the Movie

Guest Blogger: Hannah Collins

Note from MC: I love to talk to new writers. There is a fire in their bellies that we all remember. This blog post from the talented Hannah Collins reminds me about the risk we all take as writers when we decide to embark on this exhilarating journey: writing.

Take it away, Hannah!

I love the movies. More than your average person I would say. I could wake up and watch a movie, watch a movie at lunch, watch a movie as I fall asleep. I love the way they inspire, the way they draw me in, the way they make me feel things.

That is, until I realized maybe I loved movies a little too much.

I woke up one day and discovered my life had no direction. I felt as though I was simply floating along, hoping for the best. Sure, I wanted things, I aspired to move in a certain direction, but I wasn’t doing anything about it. In full disclosure I was afraid to commit to goals because I was terrified if I verbalized them then I would fail at them. Admitting you want something makes it hurt that much more when it doesn’t come to fruition. And thus I had settled into the monotony of my mediocre life. Apathy consumed me and I felt as though I was sitting on my hands. I also happened to notice I really was sitting on my hands—I watching anywhere from one to three movies a day.

bookandclockThis wasn’t a coincidence. I used movies to disengage from my life. In order to disassociate from the disappointment of my own life story I threw myself into larger than life plot lines that were always resolved in two, three hours max. Conflict resolution seemed much easier on screen.

How often do we wish our life could be turned into a feature film? We envision which actors would play us, who would star in the leading role. We imagine the cast and the plot; we even pick the costume design. But if we’re being honest the movie of our life feels a little cheap.

Movies, though fascinating, are passive. Even as an avid film fanatic I am still distracted while I watch. I don’t have to fully engage, I can check emails or have a conversation. Sometimes I work out or even fall asleep in the middle of movies. And if for some reason the movie isn’t meeting expectations I can simply turn it off.

I’ve decided to stop treating my life like a film and more like a novel. To write is to engage. It is messy and time consuming. It takes effort to move the plot, to develop the characters. Rather than watching my life story take place I want to write it into being.

Reading and writing are active processes that engage the whole being. It requires being a producer rather than a consumer. After living life as a consumer I realized I wasn’t going anywhere by watching. I wanted to start doing. It meant sitting down to the blank page of my life and putting words on the paper. This started with actual words—writing out goals, visions, and dreams I was previously afraid to admit. Even just looking at the words on the page was inspiring.

And thus I began to write a better story. It meant actively engaging the world around me. It meant getting messy and showing up in my own life. Writing a better story wasn’t necessarily fun, conflict resolution took much longer because there was actually conflict to resolve. I was involved in my own life and therefore the lives of others.

Life, the way it was truly meant to be lived, means living engaged. No longer were the scenes of my life whisking by, I was creating them, shaping them, writing them, and even editing them. Sometimes I still write sentences I wish I could erase. Sometimes I create moments I wish I could take back, but more than anything I know I’m writing them. I’m an active participant in the life I’m living.

So I’ve stopped watching the movie of my life and started writing it. To write feels good. To write is to create. Creation is inspiring. I wonder where we will put pen to paper, words into action, and action into being in our own lives?

When will you write your own story instead of watching?

Hannah Collins writes a regular blog at www.toraiseanebenezer.com. Check it out!

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Martha Conway’s new novel, Thieving Forest, won the 2014 North American Book Award in Historical Fiction, and her first novel was nominated for an Edgar Award. Her short stories have appeared in The Iowa Review, The Massachusetts Review, The Carolina Quarterly, Folio, and other journals. She has taught creative writing at Stanford University’s Online Writer’s Studio and UC Berkeley Extension.