Free The Wild Writer
Fiction is a faith walk. The kind of trust required only grows as a writer pays close attention and sets the words down upon the page. Even if you’ve successfully written one or more novels you can’t expect to reproduce that success. We all have to start with a tabula rasa.
Over the years while working on my nine published novels, I’ve learned a few hard lessons. I thought I’d share a cautionary tale with you all about the time I lost some vibrant stories. When my second novel hit the bookstores, and my third novel was accepted for publication, I had four novel ideas waiting in the wings. Each story had a nice strong pull, and I couldn’t wait to go on the next writing adventure. In fact, the tales felt so strong, I was having a hard time deciding which one to choose.
A writer’s life is full of stops and starts. With a new book on the stands, I was busy with book promotion, social media, interviews, conferences and the launch party.
With no time to write, I satisfied my story hunger by discussing plot ideas in my critique group, Diviners. I went over character motivations with painters, sculptors, and fellow writers in my arts group. Chatted about story themes as I circumnavigated the park with walking buddies. I was juggling future story ideas like balls—tossing, catching, tossing, catching as I talked with friends about the strengths of each story. But the longer I waited to begin writing, the less excited I began to feel about the stories. When the time came, the stories I’d juggled had all faded. There was nothing in the air. I sat at the blank screen feeling numb. What had happened to all those great story ideas?
Then with the April rain, a story came. A novel rose up from the deeps. I couldn’t help but listen to the words as they arose. The strange thing was this wasn’t one of the four novels lined up to be written. This was new, unplanned for wholly other. And the strength of it practically pulled me under.
A family incident had shaken me to the core. The impact sounded a call only this story would answer. Suddenly I needed to write a lost boy tale and so The Beast of Noor began. A tale of a cursed dog, a boy lost in the shadow realm, a girl bound to try and rescue her brother.
Early on I decided not to breathe a word of the story premise, not to introduce the plot or characters to anyone else, and here’s why. It struck me that the reason I’d fallen out of love with my other story ideas wasn’t because I’d journaled about them, since a journal is a private place, but because I’d talked about them too much. What’s the danger in that? I think the danger is quite subtle, but very real. For one thing, discussion can set a story going in a different direction than the original intent. As a writer talks a story over with others, the rational mind kicks in and tries to “figure things out.”
Rational vs Wild Writing Mind
Think about the times you’ve shared a dream with a friend. If you’re anything like me, you left out certain parts of the dream because they seemed too strange or because they didn’t fit into any kind of logical story frame. Or maybe, like me, you were embarrassed about just how weird your dream images can be. But what if the very part you left untold, the strange, exotic vision, is the key to the dream? What if somewhere under the crossed-out image, lies buried treasure?
So too, when the inkling of a story is spoken aloud, the ideas that come to us in the dark, that are harder to understand or explain in the daylight hours, are left out of the conversation. Instead, certain more logical images take shape and become set in our minds. Plot ideas that seem very good and fitting to the storyline win out over more mysterious ideas that are harder to explain.
Over time, as we discuss the tale, everything becomes quite reasonable. Our friends have a positive reaction to the story. They add some of their ideas and questions. We convince ourselves that we really understand what the story is about. We can even condense the idea into a few neat sentences! And this will surely come in handy later on when we try to sell the story to editors and agents. So what’s wrong?
All the story fire slowly sputters out. Instead of courting a mysterious lover, we are now married to an idea. Suddenly the plot and characters have become quite sensible, and all the writing ahead seems less like an act of love, and more like plain hard work. Because let’s face it, sensible stories are crashingly, boringly, dull, dull, dull! So, what’s the remedy?
You can free the wild writer within and rekindle the love you once had for a story by protecting it with silence. This isn’t easy, especially if you’ve lost interest or run into a rough patch of writing. But when you give the inner storyteller your complete attention and free yourself from the boredom of logical dictation, the deeper story unfolds. How is this done?
~Find a comfortable place where you can write without interruption from friends, family, social media or cell phones.
~Give daily quiet time to your story.
~Sit very still.
~Listen with every part of your being.
As the story begins to speak work on letting go of all pretense and apprentice your writing skills to the story at hand. This takes a great deal of trust on a number of levels. The inner storyteller asks you to trust the direction of the story, even when the way feels uncertain. Trust the voice you’re hearing as you write. Trust the images you’re seeing in your mind’s eye. Let your characters share their joys and fears and their strange inexplicable dreams.
Your inner storyteller knows the strange and glorious secrets that are driving this story, even if you don’t.
A story is transferred in silence. Its characters wear the skin of myth. Take up your pen and listen.