My month off.
Since January I’ve been working with Irish kids fiction authors on my Story Thief Challenges series . Doing it is an utter joy and a privilege. It restarts after a summer recess in September with guest author Lara Williamson and continues all the way till February 2019. Check it out if you’re looking for ways to promote reading, writing and creativity with 8-12 year old kids!
So this is my month off the Thief. I get to write exactly what I feel like writing. Hopefully you’ll like it too. But, just in case the title didn’t spell it out, it won’t make you rich or anything. And it’s not really writing advice – I’m not in any position to give that. It’s just about –
The stories I tell myself.
I was cycling home from a gig with my brother in law the night before last. My phone was dead so no music or podcasts for me. I was in great form, a fab evening behind me, so as I cycled I told a story. Out loud. Anyone I passed could have heard me.
Four nights ago at 3am. I wake. Some thoughts whirling. Body tense. Nothing heavy going on – all is great in my life, but just a bit too busy a day to let me settle. So, I tell myself a story.
Sitting on the edge of my bed years back, my tummy so sore that it’s like there’s something in it trying to force its way out. Feeling low. Feeling crap. I tell myself a story.
The contents of these stories isn’t what’s important. Nor the fact that, after a lot of fixing up and revising, that last story became a short film script that got chosen out of hundreds for funding (although I wasn’t going to leave that out – gotta massage that ego).
No, to understand what’s important about these stories we need to go back.
How far back? Way back. And it goes a little something like –
After getting very badly burnt out nearly twenty years ago (which I wrote about previously), I was at home lying on my bed on a Saturday afternoon. Still trying to get myself back to myself. My eyes closed, I noticed that those flickers and flashes dancing behind my eyelids. I am not really sure how it started, but I saw images in them. And when I followed the images I found stories. One image led to another. I found myself narrating those stories as if they were the story boards or I was putting text to a picture book. Later I wrote them down.
A fun Activity for all the family – Close your eyes. There’s loads to be seen with your eyes closed, particularly when you’re almost asleep or drifting back to sleep. Let those images emerge from those flickers and flashes in the darkness and follow them. See where one image leads into the other. Follow the story. Tell it outloud. Write it down.
Yes, it did seem weird, but what amazed me was that the events in the stories surprised me. The stories went directions I didn’t expect. Their plotting and characters were deliciously more unexpected than anything I could normally write even with after the many writing books that I’d consumed.
It’s not that the contents of these stories were all that wonderful. This is not a GET RICH QUICK WRITING STORIES WITH YOUR EYE CLOSED blog post. Go somewhere else if you’re looking for certainty and success. No, it was something else about the stories that made them important, but I’ll get to that in a moment.
Sometime not too long after that, I’m not sure when, I realised that I could find stories another way too. It’s the approach I use a lot now – I used it this morning actually. It’s all me sitting with how my body feels, sitting with those tensions and feelings inside. It’s nothing to do with with how my body looks (although I can guarantee that I look pretty damn hot) but it’s all about my emotions and inner physical sensations.
First I sit with that tension in my tummy or a pain in my head or even the giddy excitement that sometimes makes it hard for me to sit still. Then I wait on the words. Once the words come then I follow those words and a story emerges.
You do can do this at home kids! It’s useful to close your eyes. Focus on whatever part of your body is sending the strongest signals to you – the lower back pain, the heachache, the quivering tummy or even a mood, whatever – and just sit there and try out words. Wait for one that just sounds right – as if it was the word that this part of your body might say. Now wait on the next word and the next. Follow that trail. Here be stories.
Yep, odd. I know. But I irregularly record these stories on audio files on my phone then audit them later in the year. The ideas seem to have emerged fully formed from my body, from somewhere far less filtered and edited inside me. Many are utterly random, circular, plenty are violent and dark and a bit pointless or even grim.
Still, there’s been some images that arose that still stick in my mind years after hearing them. Plenty of the stories are in my list of story ideas on Evernote. And one of those stories was the heart of the my first book that I’m in the process of querying with agents right now. I definitely think telling these stories helps my writing in general. It’s made me more willing to follow the thread of my books where they take me, even at risk of getting lost.
But, please note, even the stories that I think are great, need loads and loads of work. They don’t become anything worthy of being read by anyone but myself if I don’t edit, revise, share and get feedback, repeat ad infinitum.
None of this is new really, all sorts of people better placed than me (such as WB Yeats and Jack Kerouac) have experimented with automatic writing. And as I keep saying, this isn’t any quick way to wealth and riches as a writer (and if you do know one please use the website’s contact form and send it to me immediate!). I don’t know where my writing journey will take me or where this kooky way of telling stories fits into it.
So, what’s your point then Oran?
Well, what’s important to me is the telling, the letting the story unfurl, letting one word slip out after another and following the story. What’s important is how doing that can make me feel. Telling these stories changes me from the inside out, loosens those knots of confusion and fear that get pulled too tight inside just from living in this busy world.
Just like exercise and talking with friends and walking in nature or whatever works for you, each story that I tell in this way lets out some feelings – good or bad – that are trapped inside me. Sometimes these stories even help me make some sense of things.
And as Shrek would say, ‘Better out than in, right?’
So that night, four days ago when I couldn’t get back to sleep. I let a story unfold from that tension in my body. I felt a little lighter after hearing it. I drifted back to sleep. I never bothered writing down the story the next day and I barely remember it now. It was the telling of the story that was important not the story itself.
Maybe this is how it should be for all writers – wherever on the continuum of a career we find ourselves and whatever approach to finding our stories suits us. We can’t control how agents or publishers or readers or reviewers will respond to our work. We can’t guarantee worldly success and we certainly can’t guarantee financial success, but we can tell stories that express something from inside of us. Sometimes those stories will connect with others. Sometimes they’re just for ourselves.
But either way we can feel a little lighter for telling them. Some of the jumble of confusion and messiness inside ourselves can be unravelled and sorted out for a change. Telling our stories can change ourselves for the better.
Enjoy your summer. Tell your stories. Happy reading,