Yesterday I had a moment. It was a dreary Sunday and I was putting together the ingredients for a meal that would spend the afternoon in the slow cooker, sending delicious smells through our house. My toddler was napping, and I was listening to an audiobook. Cooking + audiobook = Ro’s happy place.
This is my second listen-through of Matt Bell’s brilliant Refuse to be Done, a terrific read about the process of drafting (and redrafting) a novel. Now that I’m starting to get pretty serious about the writing of my next book, the book was hitting me in a new way.
As writers, we’re lucky to live in a time where so much expertise about the craft is available. One nugget of wisdom that I love is expressed perfectly by Stephen King’s in On Writing: “Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration, the rest of us just get up and go to work.”
Taking this idea a step further, Bell talks about writing towards inspiration, and about how the first draft can be a process of revealing our own story to us. He quotes this mind-blowing passage from Lucy Curran:
You should look at the material you produce to find your material… The story is always smarter than you—there will be patterns of theme, image and idea that are much savvier and more complex than you could have come up with on your own… Become a student of your work in progress. Every aspect of a story has its own story.
Friends, can you dig it? THE STORY IS ALWAYS SMARTER THAN YOU. I nearly cut my hand open on a tin of tomatoes when these words landed.
I freaking love this bizarre alchemy process we call storytelling. The way it calls on us to pull experience through the film of experience, soaking and steeping the moments we live within the moments we imagine, until fact and fiction, objectivity and subjectivity, become blended and distilled in the pot. Until they fill our houses with their rich new aromas.
And it follows, doesn’t it, that this process of storymaking is infinite—a hall of mirrors in which we are all ultimately characters in another, larger, story? In seasons of loss or disappointment, doesn’t it feel reassuring to see ourselves in the thrall of a master storyteller somewhere? It does to me.
I don’t mean this literally; it’s a story. And I don’t mean it to be confused with the stories religions tell. I don’t think these challenging seasons befall us as the consequence of sin, or because we have lessons to learn, or because our reward will be greater in heaven. No, I think that it’s a privilege to play out the complex themes of a story that’s not interested in skimming the surfaces. Instead, as Sunday has given way to Monday morning and I’m looking ahead to leftovers, I’m grateful for everything that makes this story richer, and ultimately—for its complexity—more delicious.