Before you wrote a word—in a journal, on the back of scrap paper, via typewriter or computer—you were a storyteller. Maybe you told yourself stories late at night, maybe you daydreamed worlds and resolutions where you had absolute control. A love story with a happy ending, a battle with you as victor, an adversary well and truly bowed.
You were a Storyteller long before you became a Writer. You will always be both things.
The transition between the two isn’t a finite event. It doesn’t happen once, to great fanfare. Your Storyteller continues to exist inside you, dreamily picking pieces of life and memory and imagination and twisting them together into a story. It could be a fragment, enticing and alluring. We perk up.
What is that!?
And then there are the moments when you sit down at the laptop or with pen and hand and your Storyteller left a sign that says “On Strike.”
Finding a balance between those two parts of ourselves—the flitting fairy of our imagination and the worker bee who translates those pieces into a story—is crucial to our not only our ability to write but a whole bunch of inner peace!
Sometimes our Storyteller is creating to rescue us. In childhoods of chaos or oppressive silence, when what should be a safe space is very much not, our Storyteller arrives to distract, soothe, empower. We have ultimate control of our dreamscapes, imaginations’ playground. No adults, rules or limits to the stories we can tell ourselves. Books are the gateway—movies, music, television as well—and bits of those childhood treasures are filed away in our internal database. They’re the foundation to the stories we tell ourselves, as we get older.
So we get older—maybe we share our stories. Maybe we have the courage to let loose that magic inside us in school assignments. Maybe we write epics that we allow others to read.
Or maybe we hide the Storyteller away, telling ourselves it’s better if they stay hidden.
We all make the decision to be a writer in our own time. It’s never too early and it’s never too late. The Storyteller may go quiet but so long as you’re breathing, so are they.
How our Storyteller is treated, or how we perceive it will be received, shapes us as writers.
Is your writing an act of defiance?
Is your writing a nurtured and cherished gift you consider a spiritual act?
If it’s either things, or neither or shaded in between, it’s irrelevant. Translating your Storyteller into writing is personal. There is no right or wrong way to forge that relationship, that connection. The only important thing is that it exists.
So picture this: there’s a story idea that’s been in your head for YEARS. It’s brilliant—the scope and breath is basically Lord of the Rings trilogy meets The Matrix plus romance and surprises and it’s amazing, okay? You’ve been plotting it for years; it’s probably going to be thirteen books and a Netflix series…
Finally, you sit down to write it. (Office for writing, newest computer, ergonomic chair, the works). Annnnd nothing. You fiddle with an opening and muck about but nada. The visions that flow perfectly in your head will not appear on the page! Frustration abounds. You declare you have writer’s block and leave the room, mad at yourself for not translating your Storyteller’s vision into a Writer’s words.
Two things are possible.
One, you don’t have the right tools to take this story from in your head to the page. I don’t mean the computer or the chair or the soothingly painted walls of your new office. I mean the craft tools, the ones that you can use to evaluate, articulate and convert. Craft comes with study and time—you might not be ready for this magnum opus. You might need to get the hang of the tools. Build a birdhouse before you decide to recreate a 12th century castle.
That doesn’t mean you aren’t a great writer. Or even a good writer. It doesn’t mean you won’t ever get a chance to launch your great epic story.
Secondly? Maybe that story belongs to just you and your Storyteller.
It’s the fertile world you’ve built together, full of everything that makes your Id (your inner most unspoken desires) kick up its heels and frolic through the brambles. It’s your imagination database in 4D, sourced entirely by all the love you have for telling stories.
It’s yours. No one else has to see it, to validate it. That fire is stoking everything else you write. Every episode, every battle, every swoon-worthy kiss is another bit of fuel that keeps your Storyteller alive, well and talking to you.
Not every web the Storyteller spins is meant to be a book or a short story or a script. Keep something for yourself.
When we transition from solely Storytellers into Writers, we walk a delicate tightrope. On the one hand, there is our childhood-born imagination, immune to rules, throwing stories into our path with abandon. Hopefully. On the other, the writer, who must take these stories, and translate them through craft and patience and understanding of the rules.
Sometimes we lose something in that handoff. Sometimes we gain an entirely new way to put the puzzle pieces together.
“This isn’t what I started out with!”
“Then in the middle, it just…boom…took off!”
Or maybe we realize that this wonderful story in our imagination isn’t right—or ready—for the Writer to tackle.
Scarcity mindset makes us panic at the thought of not using an idea. What if that’s the last one!? What if that’s the book that kicks my career into high gear?! I have to use everything!
No. You don’t.
Part of creating a healthy relationship between the Storyteller and the Writer is not pressuring yourself into being an endless font of marketable ideas. Your Storyteller has no interest in current trends. It doesn’t care about marketing or sales reports or that thing that person said that was hot right now. Your Storyteller shouldn’t care about those things! Not their skill set, not their job.
If you throw that on the Storyteller—Must. Come. Up. With. Genius. Idea. Now—they will hide in a cave. Pout. Refuse to come out no matter how much you yell. Ever tried to get a toddler to stop something fun, get cleaned up and do something terrible like wash up or sleep? Like that but worst.
Note: You can also substitute “dog” for toddler. Same thing.
Writers may have all the craft knowledge, talent and quick fingers in the world. They may have tips and tricks of the trade and be dropping books like beats BUT when the Storyteller stomps off, the magic dims.
Anxiety might enter the picture. Writer’s Block! You aren’t blocked—you’re just missing an important piece of the puzzle.
So how do you keep both sides happy together and working cooperatively?
1. Don’t neglect either the Storyteller or the Writer.
Give your Storyteller plenty of time to romp around sans pressure. Read delightful books. Watch things that make your Id purr. Sit around; let your mind wander to the epic fantasy building in your head. No. Pressure. Just…be. Let the Storyteller have their playtime.
As for the Writer, feed it with craft. Keep adding tools to the chest. Don’t need it now? You might later! Stretch and learn. Listen to other people’s process not to steal or sample, but to just marvel. Marketing and advertising have their place—this is about your delight in being a Writer.
2. When you get an idea, give it a little time to percolate.
Noodle around. No, you don’t have to write an outline or anything like that. Use crayons or color pencils and scrap paper. Doodle. Parse out if this is indeed something you can translate or something that can stay with your Storyteller for just you to enjoy. If the sparks are still there, take it for a ride.
Think of it as Speed Dating Your Plot Bunnies.
3. When the outside world gets chaotic, it can send your Storyteller fleeing from the pressure.
Instead, RELY on it. Things suck? Everything too much? Instead of forcing the issue, cuddle your Storyteller! Don’t expect anything but a refuge. Even if you aren’t writing, you will still be telling stories and when you’re ready? You can transition back again.
4. Long lay-off? Felt distanced from your Storyteller and burnt out?
Consider starting again. Throw out the tried and true, put aside the tools you’ve used over and over and have begun to acquaint with a lack of words. Put on different music, use a different font. Become a pantser. Become a plotter! Do neither and come up with something uniquely YOU. Write down your dream project. Pull out that thirteen books and a Netflix series idea you spent so much time with. Offer those to your Storyteller and see what they latch onto.
That first delicious spark with remind you of why you started to tell stories in the first place.
Nurture your Storyteller.
Equip your Writer.
Never give up!
And never stop telling yourself stories