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.