Everywhere I see stories. I see a woman waiting on a bus and I have a story. I see a cat chasing her tail and I have a story. I read a gravestone and I have a story. There isn’t anywhere that I can’t find a story. But it wasn’t always so.
I have come by this ability to see stories only by spending a lifetime of trying. It has taken years and years of putting my imagination to work. And often coming up empty handed. I’ve banged my head against the wall and sweated tears enough to tell you it wasn’t talent that made a storyteller out of me. It was persistence.
I can remember exactly the moment when I realized that I wanted to be a storyteller. I was nine years old. I was sitting on my mother’s couch. I was reading a story called “Jack the Giant Killer”. I finished the story, then I had a revelation. I could do that. I could tell stories just like the one I read. Even more than that. I had to tell stories. That was my purpose in life. If I didn’t tell them, they wouldn’t get told, darn it.
Now you would think I would run out and start creating stories with that kind of discovery hanging over my head. But no. I didn’t. I was too damned scared to try. I was afraid of what other people would think. I was afraid of failure. I was afraid of success.
I walked around with an umbrella over my head, preventing the light from getting to me. I did that for years. But I didn’t forget that moment when I was nine years old. While I was out trying to make a living doing this, that and the other, I was reading. I was studying. And what was I reading and studying? The art of storymaking.
Beginning in the 1980s, six things happened to me that changed my life into a life of creativity. I performed in a church drama group and wrote a musical, which we produced. I had an article published in a national magazine. I came upon an essay by the poet, Richard Hugo called “The Triggering Town”. And I chanced upon Robert Ray’s “The Weekend Novelist”.
Then I joined a creative writing group. We met weekly for over twenty-five years. And the sixth thing that happened to me? In the early 2000s, I attended a series of workshops facilitated by a wonderful local teacher, Jamie Morris. Those workshops taught me the importance of prompts. How a series of prompts could take me through a novel.
So how did I get so good at writing stories? And how did I come up with the ability to create story after story after story? Persistence. In good times and bad, I have been at it. I’ve got out of bed when I had a 102 degree temperature to put in a half hour to write my 200 words for the day. I have sat myself down and wrote my 200 words during Hurricane Matthew and Hurricane Irma. I have written at least 200 words a day for the last several years. And day by day I get better.
The one thing I know is that my writing and my pursuit of storytelling has not made me rich. But it has enriched my life in ways I can never express. It’s been Some Kind of Wonderful this life of creativity that was chosen for me and I plan to keep on doing it. Even after I have passed on to the Other Side.
So here’s my hand and my wish for you. Join me and let your creativity out. Let your voice sing. Let your feet dance. Let your fingers type the words. Let your plants grow. No matter how your creativity directs you, water it, nurture it, and let it grow. You won’t regret it.
I completely agree! I have always known I loved to write, but it took a long time before I actually did it with any consistency. Like many new writers, I thought that writing stories was supposed to be easy, and the fact that I didn’t have tons of stories in my head just waiting to be told meant I wasn’t really a writer. I was also afraid of failure and rejection, which completely stifles creativity. But over the years I’ve learned exactly what you said: the key is persistence, in the face of fear and struggle. And it also helps to read about other writer’s experiences and the encouragement they give. One of the most helpful books I read on the subject was Stephen King’s “On Writing.” And I don’t even care for his fiction!
Glad you’ve kept at it. It’s all a journey. We don’t know how it will turn out but it’s such a wonderful journey.
This post is a wonder. I’ve often wondered where you get your ideas and how you keep writing so prolifically, and you’ve answered my questions. This sentence in your comment above fascinates me: “Scientists have discovered that it takes about 10,000 hours to develop a skill,” and the last paragraph of your post delighted me. I’ll join you, Don; I will.
You go Don!
“To be good at something, do it every day.”
It is a piece of wisdom that you hear from so many sources, concerning so many endeavors. It is what writers and runners tell each other. I have been both. Years ago, I started running a mile a day, it hurt like hell and I had a hard time making progress – but even then, I upped it to two miles, then four, then six, then eight.
And through it all, I kept a journal that chronicled my runs. The amazing thing about the journal was how common my complaints were. I wrote about how badly I ran, how much I hurt, how often I broke down and staggered home. It is not that I was a complainer, it was just that hard.
Then I started running marathons – and qualified for the 100th running of the Boston Marathon. I had become really good at what I set out to do. There was no natural talent about it, just the product of hard work.
But this is not about running, it is about writing.
So many writers think, I am no good at this, it is hard, it hurts, I can’t finish and they get discouraged and quit.
But to become good at something, you have to become good at being lousy at something….until all the time you put in, rewards you with talent.
🙂 Artists know this. Musicians know this. Actors know this. Many writers question it. But I have learned that it is the daily practice that makes you a writer. Scientists have discovered that it takes about 10,000 hours to develop a skill. Thanks for the wonderful comment. Would love to read a blog post on your marathon experience.