This month, I started writing a sad book about sad characters.
And I cried. A lot.
I knew going in that this was going to be an emotional story. But for some reason, I thought (stupidly) that I could distance myself enough from it to, you know, not have to type through tears.
Clearly, I grew very close to my characters very quickly. Because each day of writing meant putting them through unfair things, and that sort of destroyed me a bit.
I’d be fine with this, if this story was my own personal way of dealing with some kind of grief or overcoming some obstacle. But it isn’t. I have had a wonderful year, I am very content and happy, and life hasn’t thrown anything at me lately that I couldn’t handle.
So why did my brain suddenly come up with such a devastating plot to explore?
I don’t know what prompted me to start writing this. I’ve been very fortunate to have lost very few loved ones throughout my life thus far (and of course those few I have, I miss dearly). This story is not based on any of my personal experiences. I am not, and have never been, married. I do not know what any of these things are like.
Yet my characters felt the need to pull me into their story, to show me. To remind me that sometimes, the stories we write are unfamiliar because we have something to learn. Because there are things we need to think deeply about. Because our readers have had different experiences than we have, and just because we don’t know everyone’s story doesn’t mean we can’t tell some of them.
You don’t have to know where it comes from, or why you have this desire to write it. All you have to do is respond. All you have to do is let it take you where it will.
I have been thinking a lot about what I would say if anyone ever asked me, “Why are you writing about a woman with a dying husband?”
I don’t know. I feel like the story just called to me one day at random. And I finally answered its call.
Never ignore that pull you feel to pursue an idea. Because whether it ends up turning out in your favor or not, your creative instinct isn’t wrong. There is something there for you.
Maybe I will learn something from this experience — about myself. About how to get through writing an emotionally draining story. About writing outside my comfort zone, for the benefit of my readers.
Maybe this is just a story that needed to be told. And it chose me to be its teller.
That may be an abstract way of looking at it. But hey, I’m a writer. That’s how my brain processes things.
Perhaps your story is woven with a thousand threads of different things you have felt or experienced or wished in your lifetime. The story itself isn’t something you have been through, but the thoughts and emotions of your characters as they journey through it are very familiar to you. And to anyone who happens to stumble upon your story and absorb it.
This is the part of creativity I don’t think science will ever be able to accurately explain. Because when I think of that moment when a story idea just descends upon you and you can’t get rid of it, honestly, the only word I can think of to describe that is magic.
If there’s a story inside you, find a way to tell it. Through writing, through dance, through a serial podcast — it doesn’t matter how. It doesn’t matter if it’s great. Sometimes, it just has to be something.
If you’re thinking of a story right now, and you haven’t told it yet …
There’s a reason it’s come to your mind now.
Don’t let it down.
Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a staff writer with The Cheat Sheet, a freelance editor and writer, and a nine-time NaNoWriMo winner. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.