Listening to our stories, our worlds, ourselves

“We have all a better guide in ourselves, if we would attend to it, than any other person can be.” –Jane Austen, Mansfield Park

With every story we write, every drop of ink, every key pressed in a frenzy of typing, we are becoming better writers. Over the last year, I can feel how I’ve grown, how I’ve stretched and challenged myself, how discovering solutions to complex story issues has made me a better writer. Every story teaches us something.

For me, one of those recent lessons has been to listen to my writer’s intuition. I don’t mean our inner critic, although she has her time and her place. I mean that feeling in our gut that tells us when we’ve veered off course, when we’re taking the story in the wrong direction, when our characters aren’t behaving like we’d expect them to, etc.

photo by Catie Rhodes, WANA Commons

photo by Catie Rhodes, WANA Commons

In a recent draft, I became so focused on getting words on the page and finishing the story that I ignored that voice. The result? My revision of that story will almost be a full rewrite—because I didn’t listen to that voice and go back to where I started and start over. I don’t mean the critical voice that says, “This sucks.” I mean that small, quiet voice that whispers, “This isn’t right.”

If the story has zigged when it should have zagged, I need to go back to the place where I took that wrong direction and correct course. Otherwise, I risk writing a story that needs a page-one rewrite—beyond the normal revisions a story needs.

Part of this is understanding my process better. I need to solidify those first few chapters before I dig into the rest of the story. This could mean I write the first chapter three times before I feel that I’ve established a solid foundation. I need to do that so I know the rest of the story. That’s just my process.

I don’t regret the mistakes I made with that recent manuscript. Though I’m taking a break from it so I can return to it with much-needed distance, I think about those characters and that world daily, and each day they reveal a little more to me. A will-o-the-wisp haunting a forest full of bluebells. A character dabbling at her watercolors. A cat, a witch’s familiar, rubbing against a character’s denim-clad legs. Good writing is good listening.

Before, in my rush, I wasn’t listening, and the story suffered. But it’s live and learn. And the lesson I’ve learned is that an important tool in our writer’s toolbox is letting that voice that whispers guide us, telling us when we’ve veered from the story’s true path. In short, we need to listen—to our writer’s instincts, but also to our characters, to their worlds and to the world around us. Because it’s in the howling of the wind and the night’s creeping shadows that horror stories find their way into this world. It’s a view of the mist-shrouded mountains that calls an epic fantasy into existence.

We have to listen to our writer’s instincts. We have to listen to our characters. And we have to listen to this world we live in if we are to make our stories come alive.

Lastly, my Sunday ROW80 check-in…

Writing goals

1.) Make measurable progress on one of my WIPs. Revised the first chapter in “The Phoenix Feather.” Did some world-building for that story. Revised the first chapter of “Made of Shadows.”

2.) Read two books on the craft/business of writing. 1/2. Began reading “How to Market a Book” by Joanna Penn.

Social media goals

1.) Check in on Twitter or Facebook daily. Goal met.

2.) Blog twice a week. Goal met.

3.) Comment on three-five blog posts daily, Monday-Thursday. Goal met.

Life goals

1.) Do yoga or tai chi or meditate three times per week. 0/3.

2.) Do morning pages in journal Monday-Friday. Met for 4 of 5 days.

***

A Round of Words in 80 Days is the writing challenge that knows you have a life. It’s also a blog hop! Click here to cheer on fellow participants.

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11 thoughts on “Listening to our stories, our worlds, ourselves

  1. It’s comforting reading how we all seem to be wading through the same waters at times. So many people have the assumption that writing always comes easy to writers. That’s often times the most challenging thing to comprehend. I find myself over thinking or forcing an idea out even though I KNOW I shouldn’t. Voice is one of the most difficult elements of the craft to explain. It is either present, or it isn’t. The good writers can often pull off a solid piece of writing, only we know the difference between writing what we want to say and writing what speaks from within.

    • Voice seems to be one of those things that comes with practice and can’t be forced–it has to rise naturally from the page. I’ve found that as I read and write more, my voice becomes stronger. Writing doesn’t always come easily, and each story has its own obstacles. I find myself learning and growing more with every story that I write.

      Thanks for commenting! Have a wonderful week!

  2. So much truth in this post! We do really need to listen to ourselves, our characters, our process, our worlds–both the real and made-up. Even outlining doesn’t keep my stories from going off the rails sometimes. When they do, once I figure it out, what works for me is to just make a note of it right in the MS, and keep on writing as if I’d already made the change. Because sometimes, I get another change that changes it yet again! It does make for some hefty revisions, but all for the better of the story. Good luck fixing yours, and kudos to you for seeing it for what it is: worthwhile learning and practice!

    • Thanks, Jennette. Yes, even when we’re plotters, there’s still plenty of room for surprise on this journey. I tend to go back and forth between plotting and pantsing between projects, but my first drafts are so much more cohesive when I plot. It allows me to see potential plot holes or problems ahead of time. I’m able to ask, “Why would this character do this? Would they be more likely to do that?” etc. I’ve grown with every story I’ve written, and I hope I always do. That’s part of the fun!

    • Thanks, Bev! Yes, I think practicing listening to our intuition is a necessary part of the creative process–especially since where our stories come from is so mysterious to begin with– from the ether, the unconscious, the divine, the muses…

  3. Good job on your goals this week! And I get what you mean about those mistakes. I remember the first time I caught one of mine (it almost derailed the entire plot of what I was writing). I was so proud of catching it and not just blowing past it. It is the only kind of mistake I’ll go back and fix right then and there. All else waits for draft 2.

    • Thanks, Gloria! There are a lot of things that I’m still figuring out in a first draft, so I try not to worry too much if I don’t know everything. But I’ve learned that if there’s a major plot hole, I need to go back and fix it. Otherwise, I end up with a mess that needs a rewrite. But it’s live and learn, right?

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