Jeff’s Pep Talk: Always One More Story to TellPosted: September 5, 2018
Always One More Story to Tell
By Jeff Bowles
The first Wednesday of every month, science fiction and horror writer Jeff Bowles offers advice to new and aspiring authors. Nobody ever said this writing thing would be easy. This is your pep talk.
I’m good at giving pep talks. Sometimes I wonder if it’s not my life’s purpose to encourage others to success rather than to achieve a huge amount of it myself. If that’s the case, I think I’m okay with it. It’s not in my nature to divide or mislead people. I’ve got a slight carnival barker element to my personality, I suppose, but other than a little ill-timed self-promotion every now and then, it’s never gotten me into much trouble.
In this world, in this day and age, contention and cultural separateness are extremely popular trends. It seems folks today are primarily interested in defining themselves by what they are not and what they dislike, abhor, or disagree with. Maybe my personal philosophy comes from some other time, some other place. I’m more interested in the things that unite us, that remind us just how similar we are; I’d like to see people come together and acknowledge the good in life rather than the bad.
I’m an optimist by nature, even and especially when things in my own world seem askew. In grad school, I adhered to a certain ethos that served me pretty well. It became popular enough among my classmates I heard it repeated back to me more than a few times, especially as my academic cohort entered the home stretch of thesis prep. That ethos is simply this: there’s always one more story to tell. It actually applies to more in life than just writing, but for the purposes of this blog, I’ll narrow its definition to its most literal meaning.
There’s always one more story to tell means a good writer understands a career is not built on a single world, character, or narrative. It means no matter how hopeless or defeated you feel, your imagination and will to create are completely under your own power and can therefore sustain you through the hard months and years. There’s always one more story to tell implies none of us should ever stop dreaming. Dreams are the stuff of joy and expansion, not cold, hard, practical facts. Cold, hard, and practical wants you to see a slew of form rejection letters as a personal condemnation from the universe. “How dare you try to be a writer? Don’t you know you’re lousy at every single thing you do?”
I believe it’s possible to see through the illusions of life. Here’s the biggest illusion for writers who have yet to realize their goals: no one’s believed in me yet. It’s safe to assume no one ever will. Contrary to what you may have been told, belief is not required for success. There’s no secret recipe for super-stardom containing one part perspiration and nine parts yeah, but I believe so much. It’s not a badge of honor or a sign of a superior mind to keep the faith even when you’re feeling battered and bruised by every creative endeavor you’ve failed to launch. The truth is, there’s no room for belief in always one more story to tell. In fact, it’s antithetical to the entire basic philosophy.
Choose to be rather than to become. Were you born a human being or did you choose to become one? Did you draw your first breath naturally, or did it just seem the most prudent thing to do at the time? Oh, well I guess oxygen is a thing here in this hospital room. Didn’t seem to need my lungs down in that womb, but what the hell? I’ll play along with everyone and just breathe.
What is a writer? Honestly, have you ever stopped to ask yourself that? A writer is a person who writes. That’s it. You either are the thing or you aren’t. So in acknowledging you always have one more story to tell, you’re giving yourself permission to screw up a little. Or maybe even a lot. Man, that last story was a real loser. Well, so what? Remember that idea you had the other day while you were driving to work? The one about the race of rat-people who secretly control the international rat poison industry? Didn’t that excite you to think about? You know, excitement is the one and only key signifier of a creative avenue worth walking. Enthusiasm carries, after all, so ditch the last story that didn’t work and start crafting a new one. You’ve got to learn to harness your creativity before you can engage it with discipline. In a perfect world, a writing career would contain plenty of both, discipline enough to get the job done, creativity enough to ensure the stars in your eyes rarely dim.
So how does always one more story to tell work in practical application? For starters, don’t wait to start dreaming up your next masterpiece before you’ve finished with your current one. In fact, don’t ever stop dreaming, not if you can help it. Also, never stop watching, reading, playing, or listening to the types of stories that really get you going. Every single storyteller on the face of the planet was a fan before they were a creator. Never stop being a fan. You very well may become a huge success one day, which means you’ll meet some of your heroes. Don’t lose interest in their work once you discover they’re human, just like you. Know and understand the kinds of stories you enjoy most and devour them whenever you can. Don’t lose perspective. You’re a storyteller because you like being entertained and wish dearly to entertain others. That’s a noble goal. Really, it is. Writers are folks who allow others to be someone else for a while. We help people dream, just like other very noble writers helped us.
The dream is the thing that binds us. The dream is elemental and necessary. Rather than showing us who we aren’t, it defines us deep down to our very cores, who we are–or rather, who we’d be if we could take off our disguises and dance, as they say, like no one’s watching. I love to dance. You know how kids need no prompting when it comes to make-believe? It’s because no one’s taught them yet to avoid dancing at all costs. Above all else, writers are individuals who never fully integrated the lesson that adults do what they have to do 100% of the time and nothing else, no ifs, ands, or buts about it. And the world needs people like us. Perhaps now more than ever.
I recently went through a period in which I stopped writing completely. I had a few pretty major personal setbacks, and I needed time to recoup. I don’t regret it one bit. The me that worked my butt off in grad school would have told this other me to soldier on, work through the pain, never stop writing. That old me would’ve been dead wrong. Always one more story to tell also accepts the fact that sometimes there’s no story to tell right now, but that this won’t always be the case.
I always preach self-forgiveness to budding authors. I think it’s paramount. Writers are often a depressed bunch. Sometimes I think it must be the key to our tenacity, that we couldn’t do what we do without a little self-doubt. Writers are perpetually Linus clutching his security blanket. We need a hug and a little friendly reassurance from time to time. But then, well, who doesn’t? Be the storyteller who’s willing to cut herself or himself a break. You won’t forget how to write, not ever, not as long as you’ve still got a pulse. The lessons you’ve learned, the work you’ve put in, they won’t suddenly disappear overnight. Uncertainty will always be a factor. It’s probably best to get used to that. There are things you can control and things you can’t. C’est la vie, right?
Do yourself a favor and keep a running ‘story ideas’ notebook. I’m a digital guy, so I use an app called Evernote. It’s a pretty helpful tool, because it allows you to save and sync individual notes across all your mobile devices and then backs them up into the cloud. The next time you’re watching an old favorite movie and one line of dialogue gets you thinking about some great new concept, write it down and save it for a rainy day. You’ll be glad you did.
The best thing about collecting ideas is that the process is cumulative, which means one idea lends itself to another, lends itself to another. One good concept can change your life. Dr. Martin Luther King knew that and spoke highly of it when he told us about his dream. His vision of an America, a world, in which all people were truly thought of as equal was perhaps the best conceptualization in human history. It was so damn good it seemed like a no-brainer and still does, even if we’re still fighting to see it realized. I suppose that’s another thing. Bringing something new into the world will always be a fight. Remember, enthusiasm carries (as in, it can help carry your lazy butt to the door). Never underestimate your ability to conceive and create the future. MLK didn’t, and nor should you.
It’s natural to doubt yourself and your abilities sometimes. Everyone has done so at least once in their life. And really, the work of a creative soul is doubly hard, and fraught with personal perils deeper the the Grand Canyon and twice as cleft. “It’s not the years, honey, it’s the mileage.” Indiana Jones said that, and he hated snakes and had a thing for whipping the competition.… Okay, maybe that’s not the greatest motivational allusion, but you get the idea. Take a breath, do something fun for a while, come back to your work, start again, knowing with certainty you never really stopped anyway. Life’s a continuum, a big lopsided wheel bouncing through space. One day you’re on the bottom, sure, but guess what? That’s only a prelude to being back on top again.
You’re reading a blog post written by a guy who dislikes divisiveness. The pendulum, it seems, has swung in that direction. But it doesn’t mean any of us has to like it. It also doesn’t mean you have to accept it in your own creative endeavors. Competition is everywhere in the writing world. Don’t play that game. Honor the success of others, and feel and express gratitude for your own, no matter how humble it may seem. Sometimes choosing to sit down and put one word after another is the biggest victory you can claim. So celebrate your abilities and your work, and get excited for your future. Whatever you do, remember the following: there’s always one more story to tell, there’s always one more story to tell, there’s always one more story to tell.
Like the one about the garden fountain that pitches quarters at people to make wishes. Or the cybernetic super-being who wants to trade his metal heart for a plastic one that can break. Or the…
See what I mean? Until next time, people. ¡Viva la creación!
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