Telling your story

Contrary to popular belief, stories don’t come, even to the best of writers, fully formed and awaiting their translation from brain to pen to paper. They come in nebulous dreams and nightmares, in snatches of thought, in the idle moments waiting in the checkout line, at work and at play, and between the hectic appointments of life.

Sometimes they’re not even welcome, but as inconvenient as a pebble in your shoe, sharp and digging into your sole (soul?). No matter how you shake it, you’ve got to get it out. You’ve got to write it down before it hurts.

The story starts like this: It chooses us. And when you get a good story idea, you can feel it. But how to pursue it, and how it ends? That’s up to you to decide, and writing guidebooks can only gently nudge you in a few good directions.

At this point, I’d argue not to be concerned with the “how?” and instead with the “why?” Why does this story matter to you? Why is it worth telling to others? 

For me, the best approach to writing is to be quiet and listen. Your characters are all extensions of yourself in their own ways — inner demons, heroes, friends and enemies — and you have to let them speak to you.

From my readers, I’m seeking judgment, not necessarily approval. I’ve already effectively “approved” myself as a writer by going forward; now it’s time to prove it to others. And others might have preconceived notions about being a writer, that it’s narcissistic or even glamorous in its own way. But writing is more of an act of compulsion than a call to artistic destiny, so sharing it not self-serving — it’s self-sacrificing. It’s a gesture of trust. It’s saying, here are the contents of my head, and maybe they need some sorting through, but there might be something of value buried in there, and can you help me get it out? It’s putting yourself on the guillotine with a “please and thank you.”

It should also come from the realization that I am not a special snowflake. I am aware of the privileges that allowed me to get here and the difficulties that are sure to come. I am more like the asymmetrical paper snowflake with its crappy scissor cuts, maybe to get thrown in the trash heap, but maybe to be recycled into something better.

Go tell your story. Tell it in the only way you know how. Then let the knowledge of others guide you on.


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