I reached a pretty spectacular milestone in my writing adventure yesterday.
I’ve blogged about this before, but I struggle to understand where my stories come from. Other writers will talk about creating whole worlds but that’s not how it feels to me. I don’t feel like I’m creating or inventing the stories I write. It feels more like I’m tapping into a source and downloading them through my fingers.
At one point, it seemed as though this source were something magical, something outside of myself that gifted me with stories to tell. I call it the Stream. I’ve talked before about transforming that idea into something that is less dangerous during times of word famine in my brain. Instead of thinking of the Stream as something that can withhold stories or dry up, I now think of it as a part of my brain. It’s always there, it’s just trickier to access it some days. I’ve spent a lot of time learning what strategies help me open up the floodgates when they stick.
One of the side effects of my lack of confidence is that I have let stories run rampant over me for many years. I tap in and just start typing or writing the story down as it wants to be written. I let the characters meander about as I trail along behind, scribbling away. Sometimes this is amazing. I’ve gotten some of my best stories this way because the characters do things I’d never think to tell them to do.
Unfortunately, about 50% of the time the story fizzles out or the characters wander off or I get bored watching and stop recording. It’s still fun, it’s still practice, and it’s still worthwhile, but it’s not great for my productivity. And I’ve reached a point in my process–in my ability–that it’s not just about getting words on the page anymore. Sometimes I want to get specific words on the page in a specific order to meet a specific project goal.
In the past, I’ve only ever looked for submission calls in terms of which ones fit stories I had to offer. I know writers who regularly see a sub call and write a story to suit it. That always seemed CRAZY to me. And the couple of times I tried were a total failure. Even considering it would damn up the Stream immediately.
Back in April, a friend told me that he was considering putting out an anthology of Texas gothic stories. He demanded (in an appropriate, supportive way) that I write something for it. I laughed it off.
Then I went home and wrote a story for the anthology. It took an hour and at the end I had just over a thousand words that pretty much made sense and sort of met the goal. I tapped into the Stream, made a request with some pretty specific parameters and I GOT A STORY. Then I read more about what makes a gothic story and realized I had missed the mark pretty significantly.
I still liked the story, but it wasn’t right for the anthology.
A little while later, my friend told me that the anthology was a go and once again prodded me to submit something. I thought about that not quite right story off and on (without actually looking at it again) until early last week. I’m about to embark on a big writing project and it felt wrong to do that without giving this little story it’s due.
So I pulled it out, brushed it off and did some serious thinking. I am a die-hard pantser, but I took notes and made lists and brainstormed ideas and went on long walks to sift through the jumble in my head in search of the actual story. I didn’t just download a story from the Stream, I CREATED a story.
It was slow. It was frustrating. It required a ridiculous amount of pacing and talking to myself and M&Ms. But in the end, I took a broken story and turned it into something that I love. Something that still needs polishing, but that I will be proud to submit for consideration in this anthology.
Something that makes me feel like I’ve leveled up as a writer.
PS – If you’d like to know more about this anthology, look here!