Tell your story once

A bit of writing advice I received once went something like this: “Tell your story once, and tell it in writing!

The idea of this is that there is some internal, personal drive for fiction writers to tell a story. For some of them, verbally telling the story to friends or an audience (before it is written) addresses that drive and the storyteller no longer has sufficient motivation to actually write the story. (Sorry if split infinitives bother you.) The drive is satisfied.

I’m not sure that this is true for me. I can’t imagine a scenario in which I could be persuaded to tell one of my stories to someone in advance of writing it. In part this is due to my consistent observation that my stories develop in subtle ways I don’t envision in advance, so if I speak the story, I’m only telling the story as it exists in my mind at that moment. Further, I consider my stories my “property,” and I’m not sure I would want to share them with anyone (other than an agent or editor) until they are “fixed” i.e., in print. It seems like everyone has an idea for a story, and I’m sure they would have ideas for improving my story.

Even so, I don’t think speaking a story would dissipate my motivation for writing it. If I considered it good enough to share with someone, then I’m sure I would consider it worth the effort of getting down in writing.

I’ve said before that I’m chary of understanding too much about my creative process. I fear that if I know the mechanics of it too well, it won’t be spontaneous any longer. It won’t produce. I don’t think it can submit to rational demands. (“Let’s be creative for the next three hours, shall we?”) I often get sudden flashes of insight about how to resolve a plot problem or how to develop a character. That kind of thing. I’m not sure where these come from, and I don’t think I want to know. I just want to let them come. The process seems to be serving me well.

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