So I’ve been trying to write this one story for over three years. It’s short. It uses classic motifs. It should be easy. I’ve outlined it from beginning to end at least three times, which is usually my most difficult step. Once the outline is done, I bang out the story in one quick sitting, spend a week or two on revisions, and huzzah – on to the next thing.
So what’s the big deal with this one tale?
I have fallen into a common trap: I can’t separate my inspiration from my creation. There comes a time in the life of every story when the author must start doing what’s right for the tale, even if that means cutting out the things that initially inspired her. It’s like being a good parent: You had your heart set on your kid being a librarian or professional skateboarder; but as she grows up, it becomes clear that she is built for dentistry. If you ignore her gift for orthodontics and instead force her to spend her days at the skate park, you are doing her a disservice. As her parent, your job is to help her realize her best potential, even if it looks different than you thought it would at first. Same thing with authors and stories.
My story, initially, was about my grandparents. I loved my grandparents deeply, and I want to write a fairy tale about them and for them. This is a lot of emotional responsibility for my fledgling story. As I started my first drafts, I then got tangled up in a torturous, crazymaking love affair – and the story started being about that, too! So right out of the gate I am forcing my poor little story to carry a couple of massive suitcases around, like an 8-year-old bellhop at a third-rate hotel. And because I have all this STUFF that I want my story to do, I can’t just let go and have fun with it. Every time I start writing, I am so aware of my need to write a Great Love Story about Fidelity, Integrity, Home, Family, Femininity, Masculinity (can’t leave anyone out!), Creativity, and Identity. Oh, yeah – and it has to have cool imagery, great plot twists, and Zen-master control of language.
Phew! That’s a lot! My story slowly became a stinky chore. I now feel the same way about writing my story that I do about cleaning out the basement.
How can I make my story fun again? I have to release my terrible expectations. I have to accept that my story may never be a professional skateboarder. Then I have to commit to exploring what my story actually is instead of what I think it should be. Maybe dentists aren’t so bad…
All it takes is letting go. That’s not so hard, is it? [ahem]