Story is everything. Not just in films, television, advertising and publishing: the stories we write for ourselves, about our own lives, can hold us back or move us forward. Many of us aren’t even aware we have a backstory with an over-arching theme, a plot, and an underlying motivation that guide our everyday choices and lead to our successes or ‘failures’. But these are the self-written tales that lurk beneath our subconscious, or in the background of our conscious minds, making faces at us and whispering snarky comments that keep us from fulfilling our dreams and goals.
Unfortunately, it’s often the usual suspects who write the premise: parents or teachers who criticized our early creative efforts, or well-meaning folks in the fields of writing, editing, publishing, or marketing who doom our work before it has a chance to live. The problem is that we take these negative comments or experiences and weave them into something much bigger than they deserve. Instead of shrugging off the experiences as isolated events that may or may not have any connection to the reality of our talent, we give them Power.
Full confession: I teach writing. I help other writers overcome writer’s block all the time but last year, for a 6 month period, I experienced a weird kind of block. Based on one comment, not even about my writing, but rather about a marketing decision, I was riddled with doubt. Instead of moving forward and seeking an agent or publisher, I re-wrote the same twenty five pages from a novel manuscript of 350 pages, over and over and…I could not move on. Over lunch with a friend, a writer herself, I confessed my literary perseveration. She looked at me with a mixture of shock and pity, grabbed her cell phone, Googled a well-respected publishing consultant and forced me, then and there, to schedule an appointment.
In preparation for the call, the consultant had researched my background and short story collection, Ladies in Low Places, which I had tossed into the ring as an indie-experiment to see what kind of feedback it would get. Ten minutes into the conversation, I began to let go of My Bad Backstory as the consultant assured me that, based on an extremely positive Kirkus review, two national indie- awards for women’s fiction and the book being featured in The Pulpwood Queens/Largest Book Club in the World, I am well-positioned ‘to go get that agent or traditional publisher for your debut novel.” Six months of self-doubt and in only ten minutes my subconscious story’s plot, characters, theme and underlying motivations had all been shot through.
Not that we didn’t commiserate on how difficult it is to get published these days. But, never mind. For right now, hallelujah, I’m doing the final tweak, writing the query letter, and am researching agents. And those twenty-five pages are finished and just fine, thank you.
The Big Question is: do you have a Story holding you back? Or did you ever break through and write a New Story for yourself? What Story are you writing for 2018? I would love to hear from you. firstname.lastname@example.org