Why We Get Stuck on Stories

Stick with what works. But don’t be afraid to expand your horizons.

In college, I spent three to four years basically working on the same story.

In some ways, this was a good thing. It allowed me to practice worldbuilding, gradual character development, and patience (A LOT of patience). I learned a lot from that experience.

But looking back, it may not have been the best use of my time.

As a writer — especially toward the beginning of your career — one of the most important things to master is figuring out what kinds of stories you want/need to tell.

I always advise newer writers to try everything. Keep pursuing different stories to figure out which ideas stick and which ones dissolve. You never really know the kinds of stories you’re truly drawn to until you figure out which ones aren’t your “thing.”

So in many ways, developing the same characters, environments, and conflicts all in the same universe isn’t very helpful. It isn’t the best way to grow.

But why is it that we find ourselves attached to our creations enough to keep coming back to them time and again? Even when we know it’s in our best interest to set them aside and pursue new ideas, why do we let the old ones keep calling us back?

I suppose you could look at it in two different ways. You can either see it as something negative — out of fear, we stick with what’s familiar — or something positive — we know this is the story we’re meant to tell, and we’re willing to fully embrace that fact.

Knowing this, I think we have to treat this as a balancing act. We need a little familiarity and comfort when writing. But we also need to challenge and stretch ourselves, to write things that make us uncomfortable and unsure and hesitant.

It’s outside our writing comfort zones where we discover who we truly are as creatives. Where we learn what we are really capable of creating.

Don’t shy away from the stories or themes or characters you love — not completely. Emotional connections are important to both the creator and the consumer. If you truly love something you’re writing about, that’s going to shine through — in a good way.

But also don’t be afraid to branch out and try new things. To write things you’re less sure about. The most successful writers over the long-term are the ones dedicated to growing while also figuring out what they’re good at. Find that balance, and run with it.

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 10-time NaNoWriMo winner. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.

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4 thoughts on “Why We Get Stuck on Stories

  1. I think I’m doing that. Despite the fact I’m still touching up my baby after each round of rejections/feedback…

    I’ve also written 2 other rough drafts, a handful of short stories, and am gearing up for a contemp MG fantasy. (I’ve done 2nd world YA fantasy and historical/mythical fantasy Ya/A)

    1. I think it’s good that you’re still touching up the project you really care about (because you want it to go places!!). It’s not easy to juggle multiple projects but it definitely helps when you’re trying to do big things with one while working on others. This has definitely slowed me down this year but I’m learning how to manage my time better (slowly!).

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