Process: MY story. THE story.

It is an unmatched thing of beauty to have people in my life who are writers. I can talk honestly with them about my characters and they aren’t concerned for my mental wellbeing. I can share with them in the ups and downs of productivity, fears, passion. There is, however, one thing I have found that is hard to talk about – that’s process. Perhaps it’s because I’m a new writer, and I don’t have “a process” to speak of. Perhaps it’s because I fear restricting myself in that way: “this is my process…” when it may just be my process for this particular story.  Perhaps it’s because I fear that I should have a process, and don’t want to admit that really, I have no idea what the heck I’m doing. Just when I think I have my story nailed down, I’m back in the thick of it again.

Process is the way in which a story is birthed. We all do different things in order to conceive of a story: Sharon Darrow wrote about hearing a voice that comes from a specific place and how those are inseparable; Ingrid Sundberg is a proponent of method writing and inhabits her character, even dying her hair if need be. L. Marie is also doing a series about writers’ processes, and so I think it’s safe to say that we all do things differently. I have made origami birds, surrounded myself with bird photos, poems. Taken long walks in the forest. This has been helpful to me in terms of story conception, but birthing – birthing is a different matter.

Last week I wrote very little. But what I did write was fierce, and it was resonant. And after I wrote it, I felt a sense of relief and closure. I even said to a writing friend, “I think I have it now! I think I have a full arc!” What I realized, though, was that while I do now have a full arc, it is not my character’s arc. It is my arc. I have figured out where this story comes from in me. But now I have to move this thing from MY story to THE story.

And so I wonder – when we’re muddling through our works in progress, do we need to find our own closure before we can shift and find closure for our character? Most of all I wonder – am I now in a place to surrender to my character? I feel like I’ve been in a tug of war, and I think I’m dropping my end of the rope. But, I’ve said that before 🙂

I hope she takes that rope and runs. Who knows, this time I might pick up my pen and follow her.

7 Responses to “Process: MY story. THE story.”

  1. pamwatts

    This is a great point. I’ve spent years, literally, wrestling with the same story, and I think part of my problem has been that I was too close to the parts of my own life that caused me to need to tell this story. Now that I’ve moved on, I’ve moved away from that situation and am able to start to look at it from a more distant place, it is becoming much easier to think in terms of my character herself. And she even speaks French and loves astronomy. . . .? Two things I have no interest in or aptitude for whatsoever (which is making research tricky, but that’s another story.)

    • Jen Bailey

      How cool, Pam! A friend of mine once told me to stop focusing on how my character was like me and start paying attention to how she was different – it sounds like you’ve done just that. Like you said, though, sometimes this does not come as a matter of the will but rather with time and distance. Thank you for sharing!

  2. Marc

    Great entry Jen. I find myself confused on introducing new levels or “sides” of my character as I am unsure if they fit but they are things that I am going through at the time and feel it is necessary to add these levels although in turn I feel it could be making my character to complex. (not sure if that made sense).

    With keeping that thought in mind I believe I need to redefine my process. which to me makes sense as process should be fluid I suppose

    • Jen Bailey

      Thanks, Marc. That makes total sense to me. I think the stuff we’re going through gets woven in to our characters’ stories all the time – the level of self-awareness needed to tease it all out is pretty astounding if you think about it! Certainly, if your process is anything like mine, some of the levels you are adding on could be you discovering new sides to your character since your character reveals himself to you over time. What helps me is to look back and see if what I’ve written previously is suddenly clearer because of my new insight. In other words, I think that if they are truly part of your character, the levels you’ve added on will deepen your understanding of what you’d written before you made that addition.

      Now I’m the one hoping that made sense.


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