Stories Don't Write Themselves. Ever.

>> Saturday, April 03, 2010

I don't think terms like "the story wrote itself" or "my characters write my novels" are either accurate or helpful.

It may be pretty--in theory--all whimsical and mysterious. But, **reality check**, stories don't write themselves. Characters (I know this will come as a shock to some) are figments of a writer's imagination, so, sorry, they don't have the power to write novels.

It gives rise to the idea that creativity is a separate entity. That you, as the writer, have no control over said entity and are at its fickle whim. For any writer struggling with their work, these terms can be discouraging at best, crippling at worst.

Stories and characters may take on energy, but it's your (the writer's) energy, not the story's, not the character's.

So next time you hear someone breezing about how their story is writing itself or how their characters have taken over and they (the writer) are but mere transcription tools, remember:

1) The writer is having a good day, is in "the zone", or is writing pure crap and they just don't know it yet.

2) The writer is experiencing a rush of subconscious communication that he or she has been cultivating--whether known or unknown to the writer--for months, if not years.

3) Your creativity is part of YOU. It is cultivated by you, fed by you and ultimately controlled by you. So if you're not feeling it on a particular day, or during a particular week or month, that doesn't mean it's gone.

I thought this article was a good illustration of how the writer took control of the seemingly "disconnected" ideas and related to them to how his own brain brought them to light -- giving credit where credit is due: YOU, the writer!

You, too, will have these in-the-zone days. So when they come and words seem to be flying out of your mind and through your fingers out of nowhere, don't give inanimate objects credit! You think hard. You plot hard. You write hard. Claim your victory!


Jamie D. 8:23 PM  

I agree that technically - no, stories don't write themselves. But when I'm in "the zone" really does feel like it's writing itself, playing along like a movie in my head as I simply transcribe what I see. Characters do sometimes seem like they're "taking over" and acting under their own impulses. I think most of us know that it's all in our heads (quite literally).

There's value in letting go of our conscious control when writing, in my opinion. And in that sense, the story is "writing itself", because our subconscious is extrapolating what might happen next from what we consciously feed it.

A writer's job is to "dramatize" life - in that sense, using the phrase "the story's writing itself" shouldn't be at all surprising or unexpected - it's a dramatization of what's really happening. :-)

Now if you want to rant about the writer's "muse"...I could join you on that one. LOL

Joan Swan 9:21 PM  

Yes, Jaime, I think we're on the same page.

Maybe I'm a little over sensitive, but I've noticed that when others are declaring their writing ease, and I'm struggling endlessly, it can have a negative affect on my confidence and on my writing. I've found myself thinking, "What's wrong with me?" "Maybe I'm really not cut out for this."

I hope this will empower other writers who have felt this frustration. I hope other writers searching for their creativity, their "muse" (you're right, that's a whole other topic, isn't it?), their writing mojo with realize it is within their grasp and not an etherial concept they may be missing.

Kendra 8:49 PM  

Yes! The book wrote itself is a pile of crap. Thank you for challenging that! I've had your exact same thoughts...what is wrong with me? It really pulls me down.

The facts are: Writing is tough. Some days suck. Some days don't suck as much and some days rock!

Elisabeth Naughton 1:39 PM  

Well said, Joan. Writing is hard work. Period. And if you're doing it "right", each book is harder than the last because you're pushing yourself to be a better writer. Just like there is no mythical "muse", there is no such thing as a book that writes itself. The author does it. End of story.

I love "in the zone days" but even those are work. I have to force myself to sit and write, even then. And I continually challenge myself to do it better every single day. Definitely no book "writing itself" here.

Zen 7:24 AM  

I do not disagree, but the romantic part of me chooses to believe that it takes more than "me" to create a masterpiece. Many famed storytellers (please please please watch Elizabeth Gilbert's talk: Your Elusive Creative Genius on TED), artists (Miyazaki), and scientists (Einstein) have all shared their experiences on ideas simply "arriving" in their heads. The real hard work is to be there to catch it and translate it into words (or images) when it happens. Once again please watch Gilbert's talk on TED, it really helps in relieving some of the heavy burden off a writer's shoulders.

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