I’ve been telling stories my whole life. Not the kind that gets your mouth washed out with soap while your mother belts out a well-worn southern Baptist sermon on lying. No. I’ve been telling the kind of stories that kept a very introverted child company and as an adult, stories that make art out of ordinary moments.
Some writers are driven to educate, influence or entertain. I write for myself. Early on, I scribbled tales filled with adventure, friendship and mishaps inspired by Mark Twain and L.M. Montgomery. As a young social worker, creative writing helped me process and unpack the complexities of the human condition. My short stories explored themes of poverty, injustice, exploitation, family, illness, grief and sometimes redemption. For nearly a decade as a full-time mother of three, I wrote to anchor my sanity in the adult world. Now as a freelance digital media and marketing professional, I write to run free. I write to be fully present in the moment. Alive. Real. Untethered.
So, I write. I write and I write and I write. Over the years, I’ve found the most productive time is early morning before my actual work day starts. My mind is fresh. My characters are uncluttered and the dialog seems to flow much easier. No one likes to read forced dialog. Ideally two hours each day, Monday through Friday, I work on a story. I save revisions for later in the evening. Experience has proven that a tired middle-aged woman makes for a ruthless editor.
The rest of my waking time is pure inspiration. The location for a photography shoot becomes a scene. A well-loved stuffed animal dropped in a grocery store parking lot becomes a plot about abandonment and betrayal. A guy with Captain America shields tattooed on his elbows, walking down Lexington Avenue in Asheville while eating an ice cream cone, becomes a character in a Sci-Fi story about food shortages and hunger. A difficult client becomes a theme about family dynamics.
I keep notebooks and writing pads everywhere to jot down character notes, scenes, or dialog. I’ve always loved thinking of the literary greats writing feverishly in smoky salons and European cafes. When inspiration hits while I’m driving, I also dictate to an app on my iPhone—because all great storytellers know that characters decide when they are going to speak up.
In the art of storytelling, there are no stiff industry rules. There is simply creativity and it comes in every color imaginable. The first step is to start writing.
Thus far, I’ve written exclusively in the short story genre. I enjoy the challenge of working in a limited length format where every detail is designed to carry some significance. As a writer, it is thrilling to throw the reader into a piece with limited background information and then bear the burden of developing well-conceived characters, plot, sense of place, tension, and dialogue.
What’s it all for? Creative writing informs my professional work. From photography to marketing sound bites to ad design and public relations, all the elements of great fiction support other aspects of my professional life. Keeping the stories alive drives creativity and out-of-the-box thinking as a foundation for work that exceeds the industry standard.
And then, there’s the part where the stories demand to be told. That’s the world inside a writer’s head.
In the words of Jack Kerouac: “Because in the end, you won’t remember the time you spent working in the office or mowing your lawn. Climb that goddamn mountain.” For writers, mountains are made of rich characters, plot, a sense of place, vivid imagery, and layers of dialog. I firmly believe that everyone has at least one story in them. The art of storytelling involves taking a leap of faith and telling it.