Confession: I’ve never really bought into the muse idea or writer’s block for that matter. For me, it’s always been a case of “idea in, words out.”
As I was finishing up the last WIP, I started brainstorming new projects. There were four stories I wanted to tell, but one in particular really intrigued me. It had everything—great concept, emotional tugs, interesting characters, family secrets, personal revelations, fabulous location, and a very personal connection. It was the perfect story to write next.
I had the working title, I had character names, I’d even started mind-mapping plot points (that’s a post for another day though). And because I’m a planning nut, I had a calendar with milestones for completing the various drafts.
So imagine the frustration when my perfect story got stuck somewhere between the in and out channels.
The one thing I hadn’t taken into consideration was life. The last few months were draining on so many levels. I’d pushed through a particularly rough period with the determination to lose myself in my writing. It worked. And it didn’t. I finished the project. But though I was able to write “the end” on the manuscript, I couldn’t wrap a nice bow on other things. And those other issues were weighing me down.
Then one evening I went for a walk, alone. Well, me and the multiple characters in my head, but they were behaving and leaving me mostly to my thoughts. There’s a lovely little pond in our neighborhood and the frogs were performing at full volume. It was late in the afternoon and getting chilly but I was drawn to the bench by the pond.
I sat and listened to the frogs. At some point my husband texted, asking where I was. I snapped this picture and responded with, “having a chat with my imaginary friend.”
It started as a joke but there was something—someone?—in the shadows on that bench.
If I could have anyone sitting next to me, who would it be? Who would I want to let into my space?
That’s when it hit me. The character in my perfect story wasn’t the one I wanted next to me. She’s intense, driven, and lost. Yup, she’s way too much like me and two “me’s” in one brain is at least one too many. Especially right now.
As writers, the characters we create are often extensions of ourselves in one way or another. I don’t mean that they are us, but that we often use them to explore feelings and experiences.
When I stopped planning the perfect story, it became as clear as the shapes on the bench next to me. The right story isn’t always the one with the best marketing hook or highest concept or hard hitting characters. Sometimes the right story is the one with the ‘person’ you’d really like to sit next to on a park bench.
That perfect story is still there, and in a few months I’ll get back to it. But for now, I’m thoroughly enjoying spending time with my ‘right’ story. I look forward to the time I get to spend with the main character and her partners in mischief. It’s fun seeing what trouble we can get into, what the gossip about town is, and navigate emotional territory that’s quite different from mine.
Now I want to hear form WITS readers—do you allow your life situation to influence what you write and when you write it? Do you pick a story idea and move forward without second guessing your choice?
After years of pushing the creativity boundary in corporate communications, Orly decided it was time for a new challenge. Three women’s fiction manuscripts later (plus a handful of picture books), it’s safe to say she’s found her creative outlet. When she’s not talking to her imaginary friends, she’s reading or at least trying to ignore everyone around her long enough to finish “just one more paragraph.” Orly is the founding president of the Women’s Fiction Writers Association.
You can find her on Twitter at @OrlyKonigLopez or on her website, www.orlykoniglopez.com.
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You're so right, Orly. Always trust your gut. There's a reason one story calls to you more than another. When you're done with the story, you'll understand why.
Write through it!
Trusting your gut isn't always easy though, is it? Especially when your brain is trying to overrule it. 🙂
But you're absolutely right, there is a reason one story calls louder at a certain time. I'm really curious about what this one has to teach me. 😉
Can't agree with you and Laura more. Like you, I had several stories in my head. I even started to write one that I was sure could be a winner, But only a few chapters in, it stagnated and the OTHER story kept needling me to be written. So I switched and haven't looked back. Well, maybe a little, because I still think that other story needs to be told - but not yet. Do I connect with my characters? Most definitely, although they are very different from me. Someone pointed out to me that all my stories have mother-daughter issues. Do you know I never connected that? How could I miss that? With three daughters of my own and four grand-daughters, perhaps they fill up my head.
Oh, Joanne! We've been on the same story dating game. 🙂
The things that are obvious to others about our writing can be so hard for us to see. Keep writing about those mother-daughter issues!
My paranormal novel is a finalist in the Golden Heart contest, so from a career persepective, my nextt book should be the next one in that series. I absolutely know that, but what I really want to write s the story of a woman who wins an extreme makeover and returns home from Hollywood to a husband who married a homely woman for a reason and a 12-year-old daughter who has the nose Mom just got rid of.
I'd love to read THAT story, Jeanne! 🙂
I had that should write vs want to write dilemma. A good friend (looking at you Laura Drake) told me to take a "vacation" and spend the summer playing with the story I wanted to write even though it's totally different from anything I've done so far. By removing the pressure of what I should do and by when, I'm actually sliding back into the fun of writing again. And the more I write, the easier it also is to look at that should write project with renewed excitement.
Try it - even if it's only giving yourself a month to fast draft that first go of the new story.
This is a fascinating post, Orly. I just went through something similar, writing a new synopsis for my editor for a book I thought would be a thrilling read. She hated it, so it was back to the drawing board for me...and I stumbled into a new story line that actually had more emotional resonance, simply by letting myself step back and garden, walk the dog, and think about where I'd like to BE and who I want to hang out with on the page for the next six months while drafting a book. I think my editor spotted the fact that I was forcing a story, not feeling it, and I'm grateful to her for it. Of course, I'll be even more grateful if she loves the new synopsis as much as I do. 🙂
I was thinking about Vaughn Roycroft's post while writing this and what he said about being less fixated on the publishing marketability of the new story he was working on rather than what it meant to him and his journey. Whether you're writing to a contract or writing in hopes of a contract, that need to find the next big thing, high concept, blockbuster story becomes suffocating sometimes. And you're right, it does come through in the pages.
I have my fingers and toes crossed that the editor loves the new synopsis. Can't imagine she won't!!
This post really struck me. I have four books battling in my brain right now. Three of them are outlined and ready to be written. But one is my memoirs which I started many years ago. I wrote on it for four hours last week after attending a wonderful seminar on writing memoirs. As my "handle", to use an old radio term, is older writer and indeed I am an older writer, it must be time for me to finish this manuscript. Thanks for the insight.
As Laura said, trust your gut. As soon as the story that has to come out starts to take shape, you'll know you picked the right one.
Orly - Your comment about using the characters we create to explore feelings and experiences hit home with me. I'm in the early stages of a novel that may have no commercial appeal at all, but it's one I feel a need to write. Maybe just for me to know what I think. Thanks for a timely post.
I'm glad that spoke to you, Carol. Actually, my March post went into that more.
I can say this because I don't have to produce a story under contract - yet (fingers crossed on the yet) - but I'm finding that letting go of the stress of writing for "commercial appeal" is really helping me right now. We write for so many different reasons and those reasons change with the stages of our life and careers. Nothing wrong with turning off the GPS and having a bit of fun exploring. 🙂
Sometimes it feels like the book I really want to be writing is the next one. I'm working on revisions right now for one but I can't stop writing notes for another, which is really one from the past I plan to resurrect. Wish I could focus!
Story squirrel! 🙂
Finish those revisions!!!!! I'm not letting you off the hook.
I've recently undergone a change in my writing process or perhaps it's more accurate to say that I gained a deeper awareness of my process. I always told the next story, whatever it was. Contracts helped determine most of them. My self-pub stories were told in terms of what sat in the front of my head, as opposed to all the other stories floating around toward the back. All my books include abuse survivors, being one myself. I finally recognize that my stories revolve around the questions in my head, ie, if I want to have healthy relationships what do I need to change to be healthy. I let my characters work it out. Whatever I'm curious about my characters tackle.
Thanks for sharing your process, Judy!
Lovely. Thanks for sharing the insight. This helped me better understand two of my characters.
Thank you, Tim. I'm glad this post helped you and you've brightened my day!
Move forward without second-guessing? I can't even imagine what that would be like. I'm in revisions right now, which is all about second-guessing (and trying to strengthen) my original plot points.
Interesting concept, isn't it?! I'm not sure I'd know what to do with myself if I wasn't second and third guessing everything. 🙂
I had a story floating in the back of my head that I was totally resistant to. I kept pushing it down. And then I did NaNoWriMo last year when it had no choice but to come to the fore because I wasn't forcing myself to write what I thought I wanted to write. I was writing the story I had to write. It's not complete and it's a pulpy mess, but after leaving it for a few weeks and coming back to it, I was shocked at what I'd managed to write without fear because of the crazy NaNo deadlines. As my former teacher in Drama School used to say to us, "Leave yourself alone." In other words, don't work so hard to come up with an idea, trust that it will be there and you can go along for the ride. Great post, Orly and beautiful photo. I want to live near a place like that!
This --> " I was shocked at what I’d managed to write without fear because of the crazy NaNo deadlines." It's amazing what we can accomplish when we get out of our own way.
Thanks, Kelly. And good luck with that story!
I have a story that has been hanging out in my head for two years. Same thing - I know the story, the emotional impact, everything. For me? I'm not a good enough writer yet. I can't give the story the attention it needs in the way it needs it. So it's sitting in a brain marinade waiting for me to know how to cook it.
Tasha, trust yourself to write that story. And trust your writing partners to then help you realize what that story can become. 🙂
Oh, Tasha, I just finished a book I waited 4 years to write because I wasn't good enough! Still not sure I'm good enough, but sure enjoyed putting that one on paper!
Do it, as soon as you're ready - it's wonderfully freeing!
Thank God I don't need to rely on writing to make a living; I write when, where, & how I want to...which is usually when my creative juices are flowing.
I enjoy these honest comments.
That's a great feeling. Enjoy the writing. And thank you for being one of those honest comments!
Thanks Orly. I'm grappling with what to write next. I see it's a process that can't be rushed. I need to let some ideas percolate and stop pressuring myself to find The Perfect Story.
Deb, maybe you should try "speed dating" for stories - give each one a set amount of time (30 minutes? hour?) and brainstorm on paper the plot points and characters and fun facts. Then see which of those ideas chews with its mouth closed, says thank you and please, and sparks the most creativity in you. 😉
This is so uncannily timely for me, Orly. I have a lot of not-so-great work and family things going on right now that have kept me from being productive for a few months now. And as a result, the story I've been working on isn't fun or appealing to me at the moment. My gut keeps saying to put it aside and write something else; the only problem is, I don't have anything to replace it. I have three or four other stories that were in my head, but none of them appeal to me at this point, either. I think I need to go visit your friends the frogs and ask them for some advice or to help me come up with some new story ideas, LOL.
*patting the bench next to me* ...
Here's a crazy thought ... give yourself permission not to work on a story for a while. Write a short story or write an article for a magazine you've always loved (doesn't mean you have to submit it although why not??) or just read. Catch up on blog posts, make a dent in the TBR pile, read a writing craft magazine or cooking magazines or whatever floats your boat at that moment. But do them without the stress of "should be writing instead." If you stop pushing the story to come to you, it may just hop onto the bench next to you when you're not paying attention. 🙂
Thanks, Orly. I'm thinking that the frogs were using cross-country mind control on me and telling me to listen to you--even before you actually told me something to listen to--because I went to the bookstore yesterday for one magazine and ended up buying six hard copy books (and forgot the magazine, of course), then I went home and bought three more e-books online. (Cheaper than clothes, and I don't have to worry about them being too tight on me, LOL.) They're all reading-for-fun books, so I'm thinking I will take your advice and just read, read, read and quit pressuring myself. Because that's what summer is for, right? And then hopefully the hiatus will knock something loose in my brain so I have something to work on New Mexico in September!
Ohhhhh ... September! We're going to have fun. 🙂
Three chapters into my new book, and I discover that both my main characters are me. Talk about schizophrenic! I get his, Orly. Thanks!
This is very timely for me (is that in the same way horoscopes are always spot on? - we find what we need at the time). As soon as I start writing one story, another starts demanding attention (a bit like my kids, come to think of it). It's frustrating because then I start to force myself to finish one so I can start the other...maybe it would be better to give attention to whichever one is calling at the time and trust that they'll both get there in the end. Thanks for sharing.
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