When I pick up my two older kids from school, they’re often bubbling over with everything that happened that day. Each one likes to be the first to tell me their stories. When the youngest is in the car with me, he likes to pipe in with everything he did as well. It’s stereo sound — with each speaker tuned in to a different station. Usually before I get to the first traffic signal, I have to tell them, “Okay, guys, I want to hear about your day, but if you all tell me at the same time, I’m not going to catch anything at all.”
It’s somewhat similar with the stories in my head. One more came to mind during the drive from California to Colorado for a recent writer’s conference. Another one yesterday, from a friend’s comment about a blog post I wrote, bringing the total number of outlines for novels in my mind to 45.
For a while, I wrote only under inspiration. Isn’t that how a writer should do it? Won’t everything be garbage that isn’t written during a time of perfect inspiration? That’s what I had thought, which meant that one day I would write a thousand words in one novel. The following week, I would write a few hundred words in a different novel. The next day a great scene for another novel would pop into my mind and I would be too busy to write it, so I would take a few notes and stash it away, promising to come back to it later. The result? Not much, actually, except a nagging thought that perhaps I didn’t really have what it took to write a complete novel.
I moaned to my husband that I had too many ideas and because I didn’t know where to start, I wasn’t getting anywhere.
“Choose one book and stick to it until it’s finished,” he told me.
What a novel idea! (Pun fully intended.) And yes, others had counseled me to do that very thing, but this time I knew I just had to discipline myself to do it. Like the kids in the car all telling me their stories, and me not managing to grasp any one story, I wasn’t getting anywhere trying to write 40+ novels at one time.
“But which story?” I was stuck again. My husband suggested one, a storyline I had told him about last year, so I went with it. (Okay, I’ll admit I had a second novel I was working on as well, in case the dreaded writer’s block came in the one novel … I could just switch to the other one.)
I began to write. Some days I was not inspired. Some days it felt forced. And some days I completely ignored it, not so happy with how it was coming together.
I also prayed, and asked as many friends and family as seemed remotely interested to pray for me as well. I printed out a prayer list for my daughter, and one for my son. And when I saw them sitting together on the top bunk one evening, taking tuns praying for my writing, I knew I had to finish strong.
My deadline was a month before the writer’s conference so I could get some critiques from friends and readers. And I met the deadline with a 77,777-word novel.
Is it complete? Not at all. It’s in the fourth draft, and I’m planning to do a fifth after a few more people critique it. But it is possible … to silence the other voices and to write. Just write.
Everyone has a story to tell. And if it’s time to get your story out, you’ll know … because it won’t let go of you. So if you have an idea for a book (or 10 or 20 or 50) and it won’t leave you alone, choose one and just write. Write a little every day. And keep writing.
And when you’re done, turn to the next kid (sorry, I mean story) and give that one a turn. You might be surprised at what you learn as you listen … and write.
Often you’ll find that what you “just had to write,” someone else needed to read. And that is one of the greatest joys of writing: touching another heart by opening your own.
Because like child, like novel … everyone has a story to tell.