This last week, I had the task of breaking down the process of getting words on paper. I found the act of writing almost impossible to explain. The best I could do was to advise the student to
“Get out of the way of the story. Let the story tell itself.”
I doubt he understood. I don’t really. When I begin to write, I never know where my words will end up. They fall out onto the page, one after another in ribbons of meaning. Looping and coiling, they slide across the page like frenzied dancers swaddled in brightly-colored tendrils of thought.
They have a life of their own. They pass through me but they are never completely mine. Unsure of their origin or their destination, words are just passing through like mysterious drifters. Words capture my imagination and some times my heart but they aren’t interested in settling down. They are on a journey and I only offer them a “room for the night.”
Truth is, I can’t explain how I write or how a story is created. Stories and words live in a mystical realm. We, humans participate in their creation but they have a life separate and independent of our own, much like children. They can possess us but we can never fully possess them.
I believe the ability to weave a story is a uniquely human skill. As humans, we take the random bits and pieces of our lives and weave them into a coherent story of who we are. We need our lives to make sense. We need them to have a beginning, a middle and an end. We need them to have a setting, a plot line and characters.
To live without creating a unique story of our existence would be to go mad. We would be overwhelmed by chaos and confusion. Our lives would be meaningless. A hard life with meaning is one thing. A good life without meaning is a waste. We need our stories to save us.
We create meaning out of all the elements. We emphasize one thing. We ignore another. We relate pieces of our stories again and again until they become our reality, until we could recognize our story any where as our own.
If you hesitate to believe you are the author of your own destiny, simply remember the last heart-to-heart conversation you had with some one close to you. Remember what you said. Remember the words you chose or the words that chose you. Think about what you didn’t say. Why did you chose the words you did at the exclusion of others? Why did you relate the events you did and not others? The words we use and the words we don’t use shape our stories. We are all authors with stories flowing through us.
So maybe my advice to the reluctant writer wasn’t so bad after all. I do not doubt that stories tell themselves. The words I chose or the words that chose me are uniquely mine. They are my story and they are a gift. We simply need to learn how to get out of our own way and let our stories tell themselves.