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Wednesday, March 22, 2023

Writing can give you the power to be anything and do anything

On Aug. 7 my little brother and I had to trek across London from one airport to another, accompanied by two large suitcases, phones that did not work outside of the country and the exhaustion of a day of traveling. Due to general miscommunication, we were separated from the rest of our family, whose flights were out of Heathrow Airport the next day. Ours was out of Gatwick Airport (which has no direct Tube line, mind you).

I had been freaking out about this late-night trek since the moment I checked my itinerary and realized we weren’t flying out of Heathrow.

Not only would we have to take a bus (which we could easily miss thanks to the intense U.K. border security), but we’d have to find a taxi to take us to our hotel. Now this doesn’t sound terrible on paper and in retrospect, I feel really dumb for freaking out as much as I did, but there’s a part of my brain that I’m still struggling to learn how to control which takes a situation like this and magnifies it until I’m lying awake at night, staring at the ceiling and thinking of every possible thing that could go wrong.

The day before we were set to fly out of Croatia, I was messaging my friends and relating my anxiety. I communicate with this group of friends online, and we’re all pretty familiar with one another’s day-to-day lives. When I was talking about how scared I was, one of my friends (the one I’ve known the longest, about six years) told me, “Hey, you’re (name of one my characters), world traveler. You can do this.”

That really stuck with me.

Not to bore you with the backstory and details of my character, but long story short this character has traveled the whole world and back and finds the unknown thrilling and does not mind not having a plan.

I listened to my friend and for the span of that journey, I tried to channel that character.

I’m not going to pretend that it totally cured my anxiety and that now I’m ready to hop on the first plane out of town and gallivant across the world; I’m still very much me, the person who needs an itinerary and a plan and a backup plan and a backup for that backup, but it helped for that journey. I got on the bus, did not panic when the bus was late, found a taxi stand, talked to the driver and then to the hotel receptionist and made sure my brother was with me the whole way. I did it.

A few days ago, that same group of friends and I were talking again when one of them admitted that one of her characters helps her when flirting because she can channel his confident energy. We all started discussing the ways our characters help us.

“If you can write it,” said that friend, “you can be it.”

As a writer, I do put myself into a lot of my characters. All writers do it, whether intentionally or not. Everyone knows this, too. What we don’t usually talk about is that it goes both ways. Yes, we put ourselves into these characters, but we also take some things back.

It makes a lot of sense when you think about it. We often look to fictional characters for inspiration, be they Hermione Granger or Superman, Leia Organa or Sherlock Holmes. As writers who craft these characters intimately, we can find guidance because we once had to put ourselves in these characters’ places and figure out how they got through their situations.

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Am I a bold, jet-setting world traveler who embraces missed flights and getting stranded somewhere she does not know? Not at all — but I know I can sure as heck write one very well.

Petrana Radulovic is a UF English and computer science (super) senior. Her column appears on Fridays.


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