It’s Not Always Your Story

I have a notebook full of  ideas for future pieces I could write. A line of dialogue, or a premise. Sometimes just a single event or concept. I take it with me just about wherever I go. (If you’re a writer, you should do the same thing, you know.)

Thus far I have not even attempted most of the ideas in the notebook. Some of that is due to time. Some of it is due to my not committing enough time to writing what comes to me in idea form. Or perhaps a touch of laziness and fear thrown in. Yet at least a portion of the stories that have gone unwritten is due to something else. Something not totally within my control.

I won’t begin to theorize on how ideas form in the mind of a writer or artist. There are scientific as well as spiritual components to the mystery of where ideas come from, as far as I’m concerned. Sometimes those ideas that come to us (and they really do just arrive don’t they? We don’t go to them…that much any writer can agree on), lead on to other ideas. A story idea strikes us, we write it down, begin to explore it or outline it, and a sequence unfolds. Characters walk into our consciousness. Events that affect those characters are uncovered by us, rather than being caused by us.  And a story is born, and you go through all the drafts to perfect voice, character, dialogue, description and the other things so vital that writers read about all the time.

Then there are times when that initial idea strikes with just as bright a bolt of lighting as any other. You write it down for later. And when the time comes…it doesn’t provide you with the next piece you need. Or it does, but that piece seems off to you. Too heavy to carry on your shoulders.  The writing stalls. You outline a bit. You brainstorm. With great effort a few more tiny concepts at the frayed edges of the overarching idea blink into existence. Yet they are still not enough to set the thing on fire. (Writers know about this fire.)

So you set aside this story for a few days. Maybe a few weeks, or longer. After you have read a few more novels, worked on a different WIP, or just taken a break from thinking too much, you dig this beauty out of the drawer again. Refreshed, you set to work on it. Yet despite a brief spurt, you find the road is still closed to you, and you still cannot continue. Your worst fear has come true…writer’s block!

Or perhaps something else happens. Perhaps the road for this story is in fact open before you now. Laid out in great detail you can sense its turns, its cracks in the pavement. You can see the destination. The possible detours. And yet…you just don’t want to go. You feel guilty about this. Inspiration so rarely comes as quickly or as clearly as came this idea, that by not taking the journey you’re punching the Muses in the gut. Surely they will never again come to say hi to you.

Yet this is an error in thought. You do not have writer’s block. You are not lazy and you are certainly not disrespecting any Muse. You have simply found out something that many writers don’t consider often enough; this story with great potential isn’t yours. It belongs to someone else. You just happened to be driving by and saw it along the road, head under the hood of its car, so you gave it a lift. (Because you are nice like that.)

I’m sure it appreciates the help, but if the two of you are just not going to the same place, there is no reason to carry that passenger with you all the way home. They in fact don’t want to go home with you in many cases. You have to be content enough that you helped it along as far as you could, and then drop it off at a safe location before going on your way.

As a writer, you  practice seeing the world in creative ways. You pay attention to what people say. Get to know humanity. Read a lot of fiction, and non-fiction for that matter. Tune the instrument that is your storytelling into the orchestra of existence. Believe it or not, few people actually do this, so you are already a step ahead if you even try to do so.

When you do, you will see things, inspirations, ideas, concepts and even characters floating about in the collective artistic ether that is all around us and inside of us. You have a trained eye and trained heart for such things as a writer, and you will see things others don’t. You may want to dance with them all.

But you cannot, nor should you. Like I said, that piece of fiction that came to you in the shower may not end up being for you. It could be a great idea, but not an idea that you can give the proper life to. Perhaps you were never meant to. Perhaps your entire contribution to the life of this concept is to share it with other writers, one of whom may be stuck on something and needed to hear exactly what you say at that exact moment. That writer then continues with their story and in so doing brings to life the idea that you picked up for a while. The concept has found the person it needs in order to be told well.

By being big enough to share your ideas with other creative types once it becomes clear to you that you can take it no further, you are honoring  the idea itself, the craft of writing, and its fellow practitioners. And if I had to guess, I’d say the Muses quite enjoy hanging out with people who think that way.


  1. JMH

    I get this way about project ideas frequently and my first impulse is always to go in search of collaborators, even though I tend to be more of an independent worker. I used to think it was simply due to the scale of the ideas I was coming up with and all of their moving pieces that required more than one person to handle, but maybe it was a case of me not feeling as if they were ever fully mine. Trying to get others interested might have been my way of transfering ownership and trying to connect these potential projects with the people who are better positioned than I am to tackle them.

    • That very well could be. It sounds to me like you have all kinds of ideas, more in fact than you could ever tackle. Maybe if there is someone, a colleague perhaps, in your area that you respect, you could share some of these ideas with them, once it seems clear that they are not quite a fit for you?


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