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I'm a writer and library worker who wears many hats. I believe a good book and a good piece of chocolate are the keys to a happy life.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Thinking In Stories- Reflections on Being a Writer

I have a problem. It seems I’m addicted to stories. I read them, I write them, but most of all, I think them. I can’t help myself, all my conscious (and some unconscious) thoughts roll and swirl through my brain till they have evolved into stories. All it takes is a trigger: a sign on the side of the road, a house painted pink and purple, the woman standing in front of me at the post office. Before I even know it’s happening, the trigger has taken on a life of its own. I think in stories.

People think on all different kinds of levels. Some are very literal: pictures, words, or numbers. Others think more freely: passing fancies, colors, feelings, smells, humorous anecdotes. A writer is in a different class all together, we can’t think literally, or even figuratively. A writer can’t let a thought go until it has been completely defined. The writer feels obligated to answer the where’s, why’s and how’s that never occur to anyone else when they look at the world around them.

The first step to resolving an addiction is to admit you have a problem. For me, realization came after a trip to the circus with my family. I turned to my husband and made a harmless comment, “So, what did you think of lady with the monkey act?”

His only comment was “She was too fat for that dress”.

I tried again, “Well, how do you suppose she came to have a monkey act in the circus in the first place?”

“I don’t know.”

I had walked away from the show with a million tales spun in my imagination. One for each trigger: the blond lady with the dog and pony show, the ring master, the youngest trapeze artist, the clown with the green hair and naturally big nose. I had created a story from everything I saw. On the other hand, my husband had come away with “huh, neat trick” and “her dress is too tight”.

I have come to the conclusion that there is no cure. Once a storyteller, always a storyteller. I tried to stop myself once. The result? I caught myself creating a tale to explain away my resolve within the first five minutes.

So, what does a writer do with such an addiction? The answer: write! Give in, and succumb to those impulses. Feel free to look at the woman in front of you in line and think “I’ll bet she’s a school teacher……” then go home and write it. Or better yet, pull out that idea notebook and write while you’re still staring at the back of her head, imagining what grade she teaches.

I keep notebooks all over the house, the car, my purse. Whenever I can manage it I sneak my mini-computer in my purse hoping for a few minutes to pull it out. If nothing else, there is always pen and paper in reach, because I never know when a new story will start. Those little notebooks open doorways to wonderful worlds. Plus, they’re great ego trips. To let your mind go, let it pour out your soul, your thoughts, and your feelings, into a concrete form is the greatest high a writer can achieve.

Write it all. Admit your addiction and come out of the closet. We provide a service to the rest of the world. While some think in pictures, we fill in the fine details for them. While some think in numbers, we give them references for where the equations can take them. While some think in color, in smell, in feelings, we give them those colors, the smells and feelings in a broadening perspective. As writers we allow others to see into our worlds, the worlds of thoughts, feelings and experiences that fill our souls every day, with every new story. Our addiction makes life rich for everyone else.

If you wake up in the morning with a story in your head, and you can’t rest till you’ve given it a life of its own, you’re a writer. You will always be a writer, no matter what the occasional rejection letter says. It just becomes a trigger for another story. The one where the editor is a bitter old man who wouldn’t accept a great piece of work if it smacked him in the …… you know the rest.

You are a writer. You think in stories, the world can’t resist great stories and neither can you. Give those stories wings and they will find homes.


Tristi Pinkston said...

See, this is what happened.

She was a young teenager when she ran into *him* -- tall, lanky, black moustache, red coat -- what wasn't to love? She fell head over heels, madly in love. But his life's ambition was to be a ringmaster, and he didn't want any woman who couldn't share that dream with him.

She tried to be a trapeze artist, but she was scared of heights and she got motion sick. She couldn't get shot out of a cannon -- same reasons. She tried the elephant act, but discovered that she has a rare allergy to elephant hair and every time she sneezed, the elephants would stampede.

Unwilling to let the love of her life ride his circus wagon off into the sunset, she learned to train the monkeys. She hates it, but as it keeps her closer to the man she loves, she tolerates it.

As far as the weight gain, well, that's pretty sad. After giving up her entire life and risking the health of her sinuses for this man, he decided he'd rather be with the lady who runs the hot dog cooker. Our poor monkey trainer locks herself in her dressing room between shows and eats Little Debbies until time to go out again. It's a silent pain she bears -- she's not one to complain, but to hold it all in. But as her pay is almost completely spent on Little Debbies (and bananas, for her monkeys) she doesn't have enough money for the new costume, so she has to wear the old one.

Alison Palmer said...

Ah, Tristi, a woman after my own heart! The young girl on the trapeze is actually the monkey trainer's illegitamate daughter whom the mother if forcing to fullfill her dreams. . .
Isn't an imagination a wonderful thing!