There comes a time in all writers’ lives when tragedy strikes, when the story you have been crafting for years is lifeless.
It’s not pleasant facing a dead story. You might want to be dramatic and burn each page on a bonfire, weeping your heart out, feeling sorry for yourself, feeling like a failure. You might also blame the world for its demise, but you are a writer, and the death of your story is serious business.
Before you destroy your story, there are some vital questions you have to ask yourself.
Were you capable of writing the story?
Was it the right story for you to write: sometimes an inspired idea seems like you have struck the motherlode and you write it with fervour, but soon, inspiration fades, genius runs out of steam, and you realise that you have absolutely no physical or emotional connection to your story? Your story has become a stranger to you. Writing is a passionate journey of sharing what you want to express to the world, letting passion fuel inspiration.
Have you done enough research?
Have you gone to the end of the world and back to sustain the inner and outer life of your story? Or did you simply write what you thought was best, plodding ahead without rhyme or reason? You have to know what you are writing.
Do you have the experience to write the story?
Sometimes writers write out of their depths and far beyond the years of their experience and maturity. You have to write what you are confident about, and what you are familiar with. Writing your story begins with you. You are your story.
Have you done all you can to keep your story alive?
Have you brainstormed your concept, and fully developed your characters until they started bleeding and breathing? Crafted a solid outline that cradles all the relevant story events, and set in motion a crafty plot once you have shaped the narrative structurally? Spent the time needed to feed the beast?
Once you have ticked all the boxes and are confident that you were not poisoning your story by trying to outsmart reason and shortcut the writing process, you still went ahead and wrote it recklessly.
You cannot write a story if you do not live the art of storytelling – full stop!! Your passion must last to the end – to the last word – the last note. Your passion must be total. Your passion must never say “Sorry”! Your passion must burn in your eyes. The fever of passion must rack your body with such intensity that it can pulverize any rock of doubt you encounter into the dust of eternity! You must have total Hunger!!! A physical and mental hunger. Your soul must be racked with hunger. Your body must cry out for food. Then you create! Then you soar into the sky. Then you touch the magic. Then your soul explodes… Then your words flow like vintage wine staining damask cloth into a dark purple of greatness…Legendary South African filmmaker & Author Jans Rautenbach, Abraham (2015)
Making peace with your story’s demise
Once you have calmed your senses and stopped blaming the universe for its death, you need to end the suffering and lay it to rest.
Give your story a proper burial in the bottom of a drawer, or wherever you find a suitable tomb.
Don’t despair, it’s not the end of your story, its demise will soon inspire the birth of a new story. Years later (or even days later) you will hear its familiar voice calling from beyond the grave and will resurrect it, breathing vigorous new life into it, welcoming familiar characters, just like a friend you haven’t seen in years.
You will now respectfully observe your story with new eyes, and fresh insight and listen to its voice, follow its reason.
This is the moment you will realise that you are not writing your story, but that each story writes itself.
You are merely the story’s Minion and as long as you listen to what is whispering into your ear, and follow its guidance, there is no return journey to the dark drawer-tomb.
The tricky thing about being a writer, or about being any kind of artist, is that in addition to making art you also must make a living. My short stories and novels have always filled my life with meaning, but at least in the first decade of my career, they were no more capable of supporting me than my dog was. However, part of what I love about both novels and dogs is that they are so beautifully oblivious to economic concerns. We serve them, and in return, they thrive. It is not their responsibility to figure out where the rent is coming from. Novelist Ann Patchett
And, as you look at it, stacked up in a bookstore with all the latest releases, proudly waiting to speak to those who have come to hear you talk about your story at the book launch, anticipating reading the novel, or watching the film in a cinema or on television, you will then fully understand the power story has had over the centuries and will have for generations to come.
Be a happy Minion to your story and you will write tons of other stories without having to bury it.
You must discover your own unique process; you must find a way inside your own story. You must become an emotional archaeologist.
To me, art and storytelling serve primal, spiritual functions in my daily life. Whether I’m telling a bedtime story to my kids or trying to mount a movie or write a short story or a novel, I take it very seriously. Guillermo del Toro
The Write Journey is your journey from the moment of first love, falling in love with an idea to the moment of saying: “I do”, signing a contract with yourself, a commitment that will ultimately result in a story the world wants to experience and enjoy.