Choices That Matter


I’m a writer and a reader. That means I like to write and I like to read. Specifically, I enjoy sinking into a story, whether fiction or non-fiction, through the portal of language, experiencing that story using only my imagination and none of my five senses. If you’re like me, this is one of your favorite ways to tell and be told a story. In fact, I enjoy telling and being a told a story in this way so much I sometimes believe that it doesn’t matter what story I’m telling or being told.

It actually matters quite a bit. I thought of this recently when I was helping a student understand what I call the Intentional Arc of a story. The Intentional Arc is the story’s meaning, the reason it’s being told, its value to both the writer and the reader. She was not the first student who’s had trouble understanding this arc. It’s common enough that I made a series of videos about it. I have to admit that I’m always a little baffled when a student doesn’t get this idea straight away. Until, that is, I remember how much I like to write and read.

It’s easy to believe that the experience of reading and writing alone is enough in the same way just being alive is enough. Being alive is great, but it’s not enough for me. I’m not a potted plant. If I’m alive I’m making choices. I must choose whether I stand or sit, walk or run. I must choose what I think and what I say and what I eat and of course what I read and what I write. If I’m writing, I’m choosing every single word. All I’m ever doing, for every moment of my life, is making choices.

The deepest despair I have known grew out of the belief that none of those choices mattered, as if my life is nothing but the path of a pinball bounced through the universe by fate and physics. It can certainly feel that way sometimes, like no matter what I do the same old crap keeps happening. But to see my life as a journey I am choosing to take, whose route I find step-by-step, choice-by-choice, word-by-word, that what happens on that journey is a consequence of those choices, is to know the value of life itself. My life is not an accident, nor is a book.

A book is a great opportunity to remind myself that I can tell absolutely any story at all. Now I have to decide not just which story I’m going to tell, but if it matters which story I tell. As soon as I pick my story, as soon as I choose this one and not that one, I’ve found not just my story but in another small way I’ve also found myself – and that always matters.

If you like the ideas and perspectives expressed here, feel free to contact me about individual coaching and group workshops.