Wednesday, June 8, 2016

That Nagging Story

Maya Angelou once said: There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.
These words have been ringing true for a few weeks, and it brings a heavy feeling of responsibility, excitement and urgency.

When a story brews inside me, it nags at me throughout the day. It doesn't matter what I'm doing, it's simmering in the back of my mind. Often it feels like a pressure. It wants out, and I have to find the time to get it to paper. But, my Type-A tendencies kick in and I stall because I want to write the best I can. Spilling a bunch of out of sequence ideas feels chaotic to me, unnatural. One side of my brain wants order, the other side fights me to get the words out. It's a constant battle. Yet, I have proven time and time again that I am not a linear writer. I don't write the beginning, middle and end in that order, even though I want to every time. I have trouble letting myself write as it comes, and figuring out the order organically. Perhaps its my impatience. Waiting for a story's plot to unfold takes a level of patience that I struggle with. My way is to get things done as quickly as possible. 

Stories don't work like that. At least, not for me. My stories take time to grow into themselves. Outlining, character sketches, and plotting morph, and when I look at where I started and thought it would go, I find that it has veered into something else. Sometimes that other direction is correct, other times I have to re-route and find the correct path. Characters develop in ways I hadn't expected, or become irrelevant. When that happens, it's like starting all over again because it re-shapes the entire manuscript. I have to have patience that allows me to see it as part of the process, which is very difficult for me. That is even harder when the story is pressing on my brain, demanding of my time and energy, which is often in limited supply. 

Ignoring it, or forcing it to wait is scary. It fosters a slew of crazy thoughts and questions.
  • What if the idea vanishes and it's the last good idea I will ever have?
  • I am a writer. Shouldn't I be dropping everything to write?
  • How do I expect to be published if I allow life to come before words? 
  • You're not writing. You're not a writer. 
  • Write or you'll never get an ROI on your MFA. - this one appeals to my frugal side.
  • All the good stories have been told already. Why would anyone want to read my rendition?
On the other hand, there is excitement to having something so pressing pushing you forward. When I finally get it on paper it is euphoric, like weights are lifted, air is crisper and life feels on the correct orbit. Writing releases endorphins that bring me joy and peace in a way that very few other things can. It takes me to a place of control, away from reality and resets my energy. The sound of my fingertips clacking at the keys is like a melody, an orchestra of a beloved sound, and the solace of releasing new friends and places that I can visit and love. 

Very little compares to that feeling. It gives me a sort of high that comes with the added bonus of feeling like I accomplished something, even as it reminds me that I am embarking on a path that comes with hours of work and frustration. I have never been one to shy away from hard work and doing what has to be done, but when it comes to writing, there are so many stories I want to tell, characters I want to get to know, and ideas I want to explore that it feels urgent, like a full bladder. The more I write, the stronger the urge to write.

Every minute that I'm not writing, or planning out the plot feels like wasted time, like I am stepping farther and farther from my dream. It allows doubt and self-mockery to take root, a dangerous concoction that leads to writer's block and discouragement. The story permeates my thoughts as I do other things. I can carry on a fully logical conversation with someone, while clearly picturing the next scene that is percolating in my head. It's not that I am not an engaged listener, but I don't know how to stop it. 

Writing is a roller-coaster. It takes me on quick highs and drops me into scary lows. It gets my heart racing, and calls for me to slow down. Above all, it reminds me that I have a purpose, and that words are my way. 

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