Where Good Stories Come From

McCullers sketchbook

You never know where a new journal will take you.

“The challenge to writers today, I think, is not to disown any part of our heritage. Whatever our theme in writing, it is old and tried. Whatever our place, it has been visited by the stranger, it will never be new again. It is only the vision that can be new; but that is enough.” – Eudora Welty

My third year of grade school was pretty eventful. I attended three schools, in three states in one year: Georgia, Alabama and then finally Mississippi. It’s bad enough to have to endure being “the new kid” once in your school experience, but three times in one year is asking a lot. And yet, I wasn’t really unhappy… I genuinely enjoyed the adventure of it all. But that doesn’t mean I wasn’t lonely.

Thankfully I credit loneliness with the genesis of my creative leanings. At some point in my kid brain it dawned on me that I could create characters and stories and that they would be sort of like my own special group of imaginary friends. The stories were simple and I even illustrated them with stick figures and crude drawings, which in my head were fully formed images, regardless of how they manifested on the page. Through my childhood and teen years I kept notebooks full of stories, characters and ideas. At some point in early adulthood I began to doubt and question my stories. I became distracted with the challenge of building a career and spent far too much time chasing girls and all the while, I left off my note taking.

But in the deepest part of my brain, details and thoughts congregated to be filed away, and at some point, gathered into something meaningful. The urge to create is a compulsion for some. Me being one of those folks, a compulsion can be ignored or stifled for a while, but it always comes back. Maybe mine just had to ferment for a time.

When I was in my mid-20s a successful New York City editor reviewed some of my work and told me that I definitely had talent, but what I lacked was life experience. She said that the only remedy for that was to get out and live some life. At the time I wasn’t sure what to make of that advice. Did she mean that what I had experienced up to that point wasn’t worth writing about? But now, years later, I think what I was missing, and what she meant, was that I needed the perspective that only life experience can offer. I think I needed some emotional distance from my own experiences to be able to write about them and incorporate them into some evocative narrative.

During the past few months I’ve been pulling out notes I’ve had tucked away for years. Now seeing them with fresh perspective, I sort of believe there are no new stories. What can be new is the unique perspective of the individual who tells the story. With 20 years of perspective I now see that growing up as a lesbian in the Bible Belt of the Deep South has granted me a wealth of stories to tell. Not just stories set in the South but more importantly, I believe, stories about belonging. I have a lot of good stories to write. I’m looking forward to sharing them with you.

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6 thoughts on “Where Good Stories Come From

  1. Found you through the BSB website. You’ve shared a fascinating history with us, thank you. I love the premise of ‘All Things Must Rise’. It sounds so intriguing, I’m making a note to buy it when it comes out. The advice you were given about life experience…sometimes I think that’s a crock, some great stories have been transferred ‘from the ether’ from writers who were young by our standards. But sometimes, it’s that life experience that opens us up to stories, so I guess it’s a double-edged sword.
    Anyway, I’ll be reading your work as I find it. You intrigue me!

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    • Thank you for your comment. I might also agree with you about the “life experience” advice I got in my 20s. Thinking back now, I realize what I really needed to overcome was my southern social conditioning… or I at least had to figure out how to turn that filter off and write honestly. It was a process… part of which was geographical distance. I still love the south, all my family is there and I go back as often as possible… but as a region, it has its issues.

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  2. *grins* Life experience. “Ah the moments,” she sighs at the wise age of just-past-29, “I remember those.”

    I do three pages of long hand journaling every morning. Its the only thing that keeps things making sense. And…it does an excellent job for collecting stories. I think that might be what life being lived is… A collection of stories.

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  3. Doing some catching up, as I was a bit busy with “life experiences” of losing a parent to cancer…but coming back into the rest of the world, I’m much looking forward to reading your sorted collection of notes and stories made whole. 😉

    Reflectively, I’ve always journaled in depth when I took any substantial travel adventures. In that vein, I also kept a blog during my mom’s illness, my way to help keep others informed…and meet my journaling needs through a whole different type of adventure. Although I have known I generally write well, I was still a bit surprised at the extensive positive feedback I received regarding my blog posts. But only for a fraction of a second did I ever equate that style of writing to anything more than what it was…personal storytelling. The construction of a storyline and characters and twists and turns takes far more focus and work than I ever wish to apply myself to…so looking forward to yours! 🙂

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