Thursday, June 25

Write That Story! Don’t Let Fear Win

Write That Story! Don’t Let Fear Win

It’s said that, at the end of life, what haunts us ISN’T the things we did but the things we didn’t do. 

We can’t do everything in the time allotted to us, but we can do the important things. We can pursue our passions.

I think this is something that we, as writers, need to take to heart. (And by “writer” I mean just that--people who write. One does not need to be published to be a writer.)

For the past while I have deeply regretted letting fear rule me and NOT writing a particular story.

But please don’t misunderstand. There are many reasons to NOT write a story. (Stephen King talks about a few of these in “On Writing.”) Perhaps you’ve only got hold of a part of the story so you need to wait for the rest, for a complete idea. After all, it took Stephen King a few decades to finish the story we now know as “Under The Dome.” And so on.

There are good reasons to delay setting pen to paper. Fear, though, is NEVER a good reason. (Remember: just because you write a story doesn’t mean you have to publish it!)

My Story


Back at the beginning of my journey as a writer, back before I published anything, I had this idea for a story: From the first person perspective, have each of three characters tell the reader about an event that happened to all of them at the end of grade seven. They had been camping in the woods, camping with a fourth person, a person who died that night. Each of the first person accounts would differ and, through those differences, the reader would come to know the characters.

By the three-quarter point I wanted the reader to have formed certain conclusions about what happened that night. 

The last quarter of the story would be written in objective third person (fly on the wall perspective) and would be a recounting of the event itself. Further, the ending would introduce a twist, something that would shatter one of the reader’s fundamental assumptions, but in a way that made sense. 

At least, that was the plan!

Now, I’m not saying this story would have been any good, but I would have enjoyed writing it and, at the very least, it would have been good writing practice.

What Happened


I ended up never writing the story. Here’s what happened: 

A friend asked what the story was about. These days I have a rule: Never EVER discuss a WIP before the first draft is complete. At that time my story was still in the idea stage. Anyway, I told her. 

She said, “Oh no! You can’t do that. You can’t switch the POV from first to third at the end and you absolutely can’t have three different first person accounts.” 

And then she gave me a look that seemed to question my sanity!

Please don’t misunderstand. I now think my friend was correct, having three different first person narrators would have been extremely off-putting for readers (to say the least!). But that was in the days before I knew about free indirect voice. If I had written the story and put it away in a drawer I could have gone back to it as a more experienced writer and turned the first person accounts into third person accounts but without losing the sense of intimacy the story required.

As it was, my fear made me rethink the entire story. Where before I was excited and eager to begin now I questioned the whole enterprise. I spent so much time rethinking the story that I decided I wasn’t mature enough as a writer to attempt the project and put it to the side.

Here’s my advice: Even if you’ve gotten hold of an idea for a story you think you’ll never be able to publish, if it’s in your heart to write it, if you’re passionate about it, then go for it! Write it. 

Nowhere is it written, there is no commandment scrawled on stone tablets, that you have to publish every story you write.

Granted, you might NOT want to take months, or even years, out of your life writing a book length work you don’t think will be publishable. Point taken. But I believe that every longform story--the main plot line at least--can be condensed into a shortish story. Or at least a novella. 

Changing POV


The other day Adam Savage interviewed Andy Weir, author of runaway bestseller “The Martian,” for his podcast. It’s fascinating and I urge you to listen. Anyway, Adam mentions the book has a POV shift from first to third person halfway through!

When I heard that I sat in stunned silence. Now, I’m not saying that just because Andy Weir was able to pull off switching from first person to third that I would have been able to pull it off. I’m only saying that I should have tried. I should have written the story and THEN made the judgement call: Did it work?

As Stephen King says: It’s all on the table. Everything. Try it out. If it doesn’t work then don’t send the story out into the world. That one will just be for you. I’ve got a few stories like that and, honestly, they’re some of my favorites!

In Conclusion


The lesson I’ve learnt (or at least I hope I have!) is: Don’t let fear stop you from writing the story that’s in your heart to write.

I’ve decided I AM going to write that story and, in tandem with writing this blog post, have completed a (very rough!) first draft. Even if the story never sees the light of day, I’m putting this in the win column because I conquered my fear. And fear can lead to writers block--or at least it can if you’re me. (grin)

Don’t let fear get the upper hand. Write the story!

Talk to you again next week. In the meantime, good (fearless) writing!

8 comments:

  1. I was expecting your friend to say, "Oh, you can't write that. It's RASHOMON." Akutagawa's story, IN A GROVE, is one of the most amazing pieces of short fiction.

    In the Kurosawa movie version, I wasn't surprised when the spirit of the dead man turned up to give his view of events. It fit the story, so well.

    Later, when I read the short, I was even more impressed. So write your story, Karen. And have at least one eye on sharing it with the world. ;)

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    1. Sorry for the late reply, apparently I'm no longer getting notified by email when someone leaves a comment!

      Yes, wonderful story. Thanks for mentioning it. And thanks for the encouragement! :-)

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  2. HI Karen

    Thank you SO much for this post. You really have given me an incredible boost of energy, bringing back to my mind 'the story' that has been stored away in the back of my mind palace for years.

    And on reflection of this post, the only thing stopping me from writing it is FEAR! I have self sabotaging thoughts like:

    I'm not a good enough writer to tackle the story yet
    I won't be able to pull it off

    And like you said, how do I know unless I try? Well, I'm gonna! *waves a flag in celebration*

    So thank you and good luck with your your revisions, I hope the manuscript pokes fear in the eye!

    Best wishes

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    1. That's awesome! Yes, write the story, then decide what you'll do with it. I love telling myself stories. At least, that way, I'm guaranteed to have a sympathetic audience. ;)

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  3. Karen, this arrived in my inbox at just the right moment. I've been struggling with a crazy idea for a while and I'm not sure if there is any mileage in pursuing it, even though I think the tiny bit I've written is some of my best work. As a result, everything else seems to be scary, pointless (both work). Reading this is the prod I needed to 'suck it up' and move on. Great post, thanks.

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    1. Thanks Steve. I've had to do that a few times, (temporarily at least) shelve a project and move on. I keep going back to my shelved projects, rethinking them, fiddling with them. Often I'll have a dream, or something will spark, and I'll get what I need to take the story off the shelf and finish it. So it's not goodbye, only "see you later." At least, that's how I look at it. :-)

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  4. "[Y]ou absolutely can’t have three different first person accounts.”

    Fobidden Planet was written with three different first person accounts.
    'Shortly before the film [Forbidden Planet] was released, a novelization appeared in hardcover and then later in mass-market paperback; it was written by W. J. Stuart (the mystery novelist Philip MacDonald writing under the pseudonym), which chapters the novel into separate first person narrations by Dr. Ostrow, Commander Adams, and Dr. Morbius.'

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