Monday, February 2, 2009

The Story Knows Best

Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.
~ E.L. Doctorow

So often, the story we're writing is wiser than we are. So often, our creativity begins when we abandon control and just let the story direct us.

As we move forward, writing the word or sentence we know, the next will always appear...if we're open to it. If we have our eyes on the road and our headlights on, if we're prepared to trust in the unknown that lies just beyond the reach of our vision, that unknown will become illuminated...and known.

There's a scene in my novel, The MoonQuest, that reminds me of that Doctorow quote. In it, the main character is walking a fantastical celestial road that only forms as he steps forward. As stressful as the journey is, the road takes him where he needs to go.

Ironically, that's the same journey I travelled in writing The MoonQuest. Some days Doctorow's headlights showed me the next scene. Some days, they showed me only the next sentence. Some days, only the next word.

But as I surrendered to the journey -- and to the voice of my Muse -- the story unfolded, magnificently, and in ways I could never have predicted, plotted or imagined.

As I write in The Voice of the Muse: Answering the Call to Write: "All I can do -- all we can ever do, in writing as in life -- is trust in the story. It has never let me down before. Truly, the story knows best."

• How much control do you cling to in your stories? In your life?

• Where you can let go some of that control and trust that the story -- the one you're writing and the one you're living -- knows best?

• Where in your creative journey can you more fully trust that the headlights illuminating your way
will carry you to your destination?

Photo credits: Headlights by Peter Roome; E.L. Doctorow by Mark Sobczak, via Wikipedia


Maryann Miller said...

Good advice, Mark. I have found that going with the flow works much better than detailed outlines and trying to stick to the plan. :-)

Mark David Gerson said...

Thanks, Maryann. You might also enjoy what Stephen King has to say about plot.

wildheart said...

Hi Mark,

This is so true. I always have much more fun and satisfaction when I let go of control and let my creative process lead me!

Mark David Gerson said...

Thanks, wildheart. Me too!

attitudemama said...

I love this! and this is what I love about writing.. I love starting out in one place and shaping the words like a piece of clay as they take me to another place...


Anonymous said...

I love that Doctorow quote. I had forgotten about it. Thanks for refreshing my memory, and using it in a thoughtful post.

Gabriel Gadfly said...

I come up with a very loose outline when I write. Usually, the end product is nothing like what I've outlined. I'm a firm believer in letting the story (and the characters) control my writing. They know more about what needs to happen than I do.

Mark David Gerson said...

The great thing about writing (as in life) is that there isn't one fixed rule that works for everyone and for all time. We're always being called upon to be flexible, to be open and to risk trying a new way.