October 19, 2009
I hear stories everywhere. When we were camping in Canada, I visited a tiny campground museum and saw a short film about the voyageurs. A young female voyageur spoke to me, telling of her adventures dressed as a man, canoeing the Canadian wilderness. Over the next few days, while I was hiking and swimming and daydreaming, the story developed and grew. Then, when we got to Montreal, I met a different story, and again in Vermont. When I was in Europe a couple of years ago, stories conversed with me everywhere we went. European history screams stories.
The problem for me, as a writer, is to focus on listening to just one of the stories calling to me. If I can focus on one, I learn about the characters, the complications of the plot, the details of the setting. When I finally put pen to paper, I have spent countless hours inside my story, talking with the characters, walking through their gardens, considering their problems. This is the magical, wonderful, dreamy part of being a writer. The torture is in the writing: choosing words, typing sentences, inking on paper. Sometimes I feel like I vomit up my story and then spend months cleaning it up.
Some people, when they learn that I’m a writer, will say, “Oh! You know, you should write about….” and give me some random idea. I smile and try to be polite. These are often people I like a lot, and I don’t want to offend them. But, golly jeepers! I don’t have any trouble with ideas. I don’t have the time or discipline to write all of my own ideas. I would like to devote my full attention to each and every one of the characters who call out to me, but there are too many and their numbers are forever increasing. Why would I want to waste my time with a story I don’t know? whose characters I’ve never met and who aren’t talking to me?