The story of a story

How far back does a story go? When is it planted, how deep are its roots?

I struggle with this sometimes. Often I write a story and realise that some random thing I’ve read years ago has crept in, that an idea always comes from somewhere and I only find that place once the sentences are written. They’ll come from a feeling I had when I moved overseas the first time or a book I read about space or all the ways I’ve screwed up relationships. And I’ll write it all down and pause and re-read the paragraph and say, “Oh. Oh.

But you can trace them to people, too. To things that I did and choices that I made – a few months ago, when I was in my last week in New Zealand and traveling from Wellington to Napier, we stopped in Taupo. If you haven’t been, it’s a tiny town on the North Island that has a lake bigger than the country I went to high school in and is very popular with tourists in their teens and twenties for being a gorgeous place to go skydiving. The first time I was there, I met my ex. He’s the one who gave me Scotland – who brought me to Edinburgh, who made me get back into writing, who showed me what life looks like when you do what you’re passionate about. It was surreal looking down the street we met on, knowing how it would all end. Knowing what it led to. Knowing that as painful as parts of it were, it was a gift.

I trace a lot of my identity as a writer to Scotland. That’s where I learned to let go, to let emotion into my writing and connect to it, to make it more than just plot. It’s where I learned to bleed onto the page, and where I learned not to let ego get in the way of the story. It’s where I went to learn to write the way I needed to write, not the way I was writing. It’s where I went to become the person I needed to be to tell my stories. It’s where I rediscovered how much I love to perform, and where I finally got to be surrounded by stories.

I have so many stories swirling around in my head right now, but there’s one less story living in there. One that’s made it out into the world, onto paper, and can actually be shown to people (which is as close to done as I ever feel). The rest? Well, I’ve got about 25k of the next story done, and a third percolating – the concept is there, the story hasn’t spoken to me yet. But it will. I’m not too worried – I’ve probably got about a year or two before I need to think about it.

That’s the coolest thing about writing, I think. That this is all just a mess of sounds and rhythms in my head and then…it’s not. Then it’s on paper; then it’s yours. And every step of the way feels like the thing I love best.

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