When to Speak About Your Story
Sometimes there’s a feeling of depletion when I send a novel off. New story ideas float around, but none feel strong because I don’t feel strong. I’ve learned when this happens to wait. To make no demands on myself. I was looking over my notes today and found something I’d written a while back when I was in that same place of depletion, and when the family was going through a frightening time. I had some new novel ideas flitting past like alluring birds back then, but nothing I was in love with. Then, the traumatizing incident that was keeping me awake at night, taking all my heart and mind, handed me a story—a way to map my way out.
Here’s what I wrote back 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. I had to sit and write them down. The strange thing was, this wasn’t one of the four asking to be written. This was new, unplanned for, wholly other. And the strength of it practically pulled me under.
It’s too soon to speak of whether the novel I’m currently writing will ever be complete (see footnote 1). I’m still only thirty pages in, and every work has its own life. I won’t even note here what the story is about. Breathe a word of the theme, or introduce the characters, and here’s why. It strikes me that there was a reason I’d fallen out of love with my other story ideas. Not because I’d journaled about them, because a journal is a private place, but because I’d talked too much about them.
Discussion can set a story going in a different direction than the original intent. As I talk a story over with others, the rational mind kicks in and tries to “figure things out.”
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 the crossed-out image hides a treasure trove?
When a new story is spoken aloud, ideas that come to us in the dark, that are harder to understand or explain in the daylight hours, will be 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 will win out over more mysterious ideas that are harder to explain.
There will be a time to read the chapters for critique. I do this regularly in Diviners. But at this early stage, I need to let the story dream. When I discuss the tale too often or too soon, everything becomes quite reasonable. My friends have a positive reaction to the story idea, and I convince myself that I really understand what the story is about. I can even condense the idea into a few neat sentences! And this will surely come in handy later on when I try to sell the story to editors and agents. But all the story fire begins to slowly sputter out. Instead of courting a mysterious love, I become married to an idea. The only remedy I’ve found for this is
One way I can rekindle the love I once had for a story is by protecting it with silence. This isn’t easy, especially if I’ve lost interest. But when I give the inner storyteller my complete attention, I free myself from the boredom of logical dictation, and let the deeper story unfold.
If you’d like to try this start by practicing a quiet, centering art.
Give daily quiet time to your story.
Find a comfortable place where you can write without interruption.
Sit very still.
Listen with every part of you 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. The inner storyteller asks you to:
Trust the direction of the story, even when the way feels uncertain.
Trust the storytelling voice you’re hearing as you write.
Trust the images you’re seeing in your mind’s eye.
Trust the strange inexplicable stuff. (Refrain from dismissing it. The reason it’s there will often become clear later.)
Trust the characters and let them speak their honest truth. Let them share their joys and fears. And the strange content of their dreams.
Trust the intimacy of the act of writing.
Trust the uncertainty of the act of writing.
Trust, above all, your inner storyteller who knows the wild and glorious secrets that are driving this story, even if you don’t.
Each story demands a moment by moment relationship. A story doesn’t ask for complete understanding. A story asks for devotion.
Whether you’re writing your first novel or your thirtieth, it’s never too late to begin the art of listening.
Each of us can learn to trust that quiet voice within.
Great stories await.
The beginning place is silence.
The relationship unfolds slowly.
Word by word.
Footnote 1: The story mentioned early in this piece was only 30 pages long at the time. It was published later as The Beast of Noor. I did not mention what I was working on to my editor at that time. She’d said she wasn’t interested in seeing a fantasy, that I was doing well in realistic fiction and should stick to that. Much later when I was done, I let the secret out. She read it and acquired the book.
The Beast of Noor broke through a barrier and helped me map my way out of a dark place. I’ll always be grateful for what it taught me. Here’s the UK cover.
Beauty, Janet! It’s wonderful to hear your own thoughts, clarified and distinct.
This means much coming from you.
Perhaps I need to be sharing my own personal dreamwalks a little more often on this blog.
Thank you, Janet, for sharing your own personal dreamwalk with us. Especially with me. Your divulging the daily necessity of silence and trust for the inner story to develop itself, is truly an enlightening revelation. Sometimes I don’t trust myself enough. Sometimes I feel that perhaps I am simply indulging myself in pleasant images and words. I appreciate your permission, this admonition to listen and to trust!
Thanks for letting me know this piece reached you, Gretchen. It warms me to know the discoveries I’ve made along the way have encouraged your creative process.
We dreamwalk together.
Janet, thank you for reminding us (so beautifully) that we need to be able to dream the possibilities in our stories. I have also spoken of my developing stories too early and some of the urgency to write them vanished. But you’ve identified something I didn’t realize–that in these early stages we ourselves do not know what the story is and another voice or our reaction to it can clip its wings.
Yes to being able to dream the possibilities, Vijaya. Sometimes it takes a while to know where the story is going. We need to listen and walk the path. Best to you in your creative walk