The Writer's Life

A Life of Its Own

It begins as an idea in your head.

Wait, back up. That’s not entirely accurate. It starts long before that.

It begins as a childhood daydream, as a parade of clouds, as a balance-beam walk along a railroad track. It begins with rock-skipping, dirt-digging, butterfly-following.

It begins in beautiful words and hard words. In complaint and compliance. In monsters hiding under the bed. In hiding under the bed from monsters.

It begins in the infinite space after the yes and before the kiss. In the thrill of discovery, the fear of begin discovered. The uncertainty of one moment and the certainty of another.

It begins five minutes or two decades ago, when all it means is what it is.

And then in a flash it becomes something else. It becomes an idea for a story.

Stories have roots and tendrils in our experiences, our memories, our histories, our waking and sleeping dreams. Everything – the good the bad the great the sad the dangerous the stupid the ugly the learned the imagined – is seed or sapling for a writer.

When it becomes an idea in your head, you have a choice: ignore it or embrace the arduous thrill of writing it down.

In your head, the story has a shape, a color, and perhaps not much more. But once you begin to write, the words the story gives you (and the ones it withholds) change that shape, that color.

Somewhere between the idea and the page, a good story begins to assert itself. It declares with suggestion or silence that it’s not just about your brilliance and your typing fingers. The maturation of a story happens in concert with the chorus of real-life experiences and relationships that shaped you. To ignore the wisdom of the chorus is to risk telling lies that no one will believe.

So you write and rewrite until the story tells you to stop. Eventually, you add “final draft” to the file name, but that’s not entirely accurate. Because the moment you give a story away, it changes again. The reader’s chorus pulls it like taffy, reshaping it a little or a lot. Your true final draft is co-authored by the reader.

Yes, it’s still your story. You captured it after it captured you. You wrote it down. But it’s bigger than you. It always was.

Good stories have a life of their own. There is curious comfort in this.

And probably good reason to be terrified.

12 thoughts on “A Life of Its Own

  1. Good post!

    One Sunday morning after breakfast, sitting on a sofa with my girlfriend and just talking of this and that, I told her about my childhood past time of telling stories for entertainment and to stay out of trouble, growing up in poverty with no toys or much anything else. She smiled and as if to test me, asked me to tell her a story. For one reason or another, she picked the circus as a subject. I smiled back and told her a funny circus story that I made up on-the-spot. We both laughed and enjoyed it. Driving home through New York City, I reflected on the morning and realized I could “really” tell a story. A believable story.

    Fast forward four years, I have finished my first novel and find myself standing at the fork in the road, looking at different options of how to get it published. I’ll keep your services in mind.

  2. Your posts make me smile, make me think and sometimes send shivers down my spine. I loved the line about good stories having a life of their own. Yes, it is terrifying!

  3. This post was beautifully articulated. I’ve read most of your blog posts, and even though I haven’t commented, I would like to say that they have helped immensely with my own writing.

    It was difficult not to comment on this particular post since it really struck a chord with me. So I thank you for being that voice of reassurance which says that the writing process isn’t as simple as we’d like to think.


    1. You’ve read most of my blog posts? And you’re still here? I will mark that down as either a compliment about my writing or a testament to your undiagnosed insanity. You seem sane, though, so I’m leaning toward the former.

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