In the afterward of a sci-fi book that my dad recently finished, the author said that writers don’t come up with ideas, but that ideas find writers. I didn’t want to be rude and say, “No, duh.” After all, this was an epiphany for Daddy. But I said, “Yeah, any real author believes that.”
There is the chance, however, that I spoke out of turn. There very well could be an author out there who spins a little wheel that points to a variety of plot possibilities. The first spin: heroine is in an unhappy marriage. Okay, onto spin two: hero makes heroine believe in love again. Spin three: hero and heroine escape heroine’s dastardly ex-husband and save the world in the process. Alrighty, plot decided, time to crack the knuckles, take a deep breath, and write. Unfortunately, I’ve read more than a handful of bestsellers that felt like they were the victims of similar plot devices.
For the rest of us, though, writing is a tightrope walk across a pit of ravenous alligators, often sweating and exhausted and hopeless. But sometimes we find our footing and make it across. Sometimes we gather our courage and leap. Sometimes we fly.
I’ll be the first to admit that I fall into the pit more often than I fly. But usually, I’m somewhere in between, swimming like hell, struggling to keep my head up. What does that look like, outside metaphorical language? There are a lot of starts and fizzling-outs. Compositions books, notepads, journals, Word documents, full of millions of unpublishable words. When I realized that I had this propensity years ago, I started keeping a journal that was specifically for these little scenes that may or may not make it into completed novels. Sometimes a good bit of writing just doesn’t have a home yet. One of these scenes turned into the middle grade fantasy that I’m currently shopping with agents.
Even though I don’t consider myself superstitious or very mystical, I do believe that stories—true stories that need to be told—find their writers. One way in which they find me, at least, is what I think of as my inner narrator. She never shuts up. Often it’s in the third person, less often the first. The tense varies.
Earlier this week, it started when I saw a line of muddy footprints tracking from one end of the house to the other. Almost immediately, a line popped into my head. She should have known something was wrong when she saw dirt tracked across the house—BAM!—a story was born. No, that’s not actually the opening line; I tweaked it. But as soon as I thought it, I wondered what exactly went wrong with the nameless “she”? I’m still finding out; her story hasn’t let me go all week.
I don’t know this story’s future, as far as publication is concerned, but I love it that it found me while I did something as mundane as sweep a dirty floor. I don’t even have to leave my house, or my own mind, for creation to happen. So, I suppose, if I silently narrate about doing laundry or brushing my teeth—you know, the really exciting stuff that people can’t wait to read about—instead of worrying about the psychological issues behind talking to myself, I can be excited that (even if I am crazy) there might be a story in it one day.
But there still is one problem. If a story found me through the dirt on my previously clean floor, where did the dirt come from, exactly?
Round up the usual suspects, Sarah. I think you’ll find your answer — about the dirt, anyway. Don’t stop talking to yourself. One thing I’ve noticed about your book is that your voice is strongest when you’re inside your character’s head and she’s running her fantasies.
“Write what you know,” as the popular saying goes.
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