Let It Simmer: On Writing a Story

I’ve heard, on occasion, that some writers like to keep a notebook full of ideas. But some of those same writers have never actually finished a story, novel, or novella. I think I understand why that is, actually.

Once you have it written down, you’re done with it. You’re satisfied. You move onto something else and forget about what was in your notebook.

You still haven’t finished a story.

If that sounds like you, BURN THAT NOTEBOOK. Or delete it if you keep it electronically. Don’t burn your computer. That’s just messy, and dangerous … and possibly arson if you’re at the public library*.

Now, that’s not to say I don’t keep notes or even make outlines. I do. But I keep the notes vague and outlines just generally highlight where I want to go with a story. They don’t tell the tale. So I sit there with these half-finished notes, totally dissatisfied with them, and from there, out comes a story. Because I need it to be finished.

I do have a notebook where I keep scraps of images from nightmares, dreams, and bizarre detritus that whizzes into my head from time to time. I treat this notebook like a stew pot, and let the ideas just sit there, sometimes for months, all while I’m working on other recipes, such as Exit 1042.

Then, after some time passes, I have a look inside, and skim the top for all the unnecessary fat, leaving behind a rich, juicy stew of stories behind.

The difference between this stew pot and what others have is that my stew isn’t finished. I have to take out the tender bits and put them into the main stew pot. I’m the chef, after all, and if I don’t select just the right cuts, the whole stew will taste bland and underdone.

No one wants that.

Letting the ideas simmer will help you decide what’s best for the main stew, and what’s best turned into compost in the bin.

So cooking analogy aside (because that was making me hungry), if you do keep a notebook and are generally unsuccessful in completing a project, give these tips a try:

  • Write general, vague notes or outlines. This isn’t writing the story, it’s a sketch of what you want it to be.
  • Be dissatisfied. Consider your notebook incomplete, and the only thing that will satisfy your urge to write is to tell a story from start to finish, not just the notes.
  • Let it sit for a while. Come back to your notes at a later date. The idea may not seem as brilliant or cohesive as it had when you first wrote it. Toss out what doesn’t work, and keep what does. Add what works to your story.

Now, go back to your stove and stew on it for a while.

*I am not a lawyer and that was supposed to be humorous.

© 2016 Anne Hogue-Boucher. Not for reproduction without express permission from the author.

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