Story Building: There Can Be No “Off” Switch

October 17, 2011

I forgot something that I know I knew not too long ago: Story building is constant. There can be no “off” switch. When a writer is in the throes of a story, the details come fast and furious or slow and sporadic, but they come at any time in anyplace, and a writer has to be ready.

Being ready means keeping notebooks nearby or tapping random sentences into a cell phone. Ideas can be jotted on the back of receipts or even on hands and arms. When the words come, they have to come out. But what happens when the words stop coming?

It seems crazy, doesn’t it? I mean I’ve been known to leap from the shower and rush the hall soaking wet for something to write with and on (lipstick and a mirror will do), so the idea of the words stopping seems farfetched. But stop they did, and I’m pretty sure it had something to do with my penchant for schedules.

Recently, I took on a non-fiction writing job that has required a consistent amount of my time. I wasn’t looking for work, but the opportunity is with someone I respect immensely and wish to remain engaged with. I also thought the job would help me achieve balance, because I was sliding off into Writer’s Solitary Confinement. By blocking off time for non-fiction, fiction, errands and chores, and finally my family, I figured to find harmony. What I found was the story building “off” switch.

In the beginning, I pushed the fiction ideas out of my head. “Not now. Wait a couple hours, and I’ll get to you.” Before long, the ideas stopped coming. I’d sit at the computer during fiction writing time, wasting an hour or two trying to get “back on track,” because I couldn’t get the story, the rhythm or the flow. “Where is this going? What comes next?” My progress was abysmal.

Thursday and Friday of last week, I couldn’t handle it anymore. I had to know what happened to my easy, joyous fiction writing. I spent those days BIC (butt in chair) and made amazing progress. The ideas flowed, and when they did—even away from the computer—I didn’t stop them. I didn’t ask them to wait or come back later, because I was terrified they might leave again.

I’m going to do my best to prevent another departure, declaring daydreaming and living inside my head critical to my health, happiness and the stories I am building. With society’s romantic notion of poets and novelists, it’s easy to forget that writing isn’t pretty. It’s filled with doubt, loneliness, manic moments of extreme joy and confidence, jealousy, quiet, frustration, anger, obsession and love. But we shouldn’t try to stop ourselves from feeling those things, because the emotion makes us better writers. And we can’t contain our imaginings or shield them from the “normal” parts of our life, because our creativity is what makes us beautiful and brilliant.

Shine on. Write on. There are stories to be told.

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