The Writing Desk: Letting Your Stories Age

Posted May 14, 2015 by Stormy in Books / 12 Comments

writingdesk

I mention on the blog quite frequently that beyond being a blogger and a reader, I’m also a writer. Yet, I rarely discuss writing. Part of it is because for so long writing has been intensely personal for me for a myriad of reasons. Some of those are legitimate, but many are because of writing-related fears about not being “good enough”. So, because I have this tendency to tell myself “Stormy, you need to do things that scare you”(which, by the way, is MOST THINGS. I am an easily scared person), I decided to give myself the freedom to talk about writing on this blog of mine from time to time as part of a new feature: The Writing Desk.

This post(and indeed, the whole feature), was created when I started ruminating on the idea of how sometimes you need to let your stories age.

There’s a story idea that’s been in the back of my mind for awhile, which isn’t unusual. I have no problem coming up with ideas for novels of various genres. SO many things interest me, so I always have writing fodder. However, every one in a while a story just jumps to the forefront of my brain and won’t let me go. I knew it wasn’t going to be my “main” WIP, but there were a few scenes that kept popping up in my head whenever I tried to sleep, so I finally gave in and created a document for random ideas and scenes related to this story.

And you know what? I couldn’t write a single scene that was in my head in full.

I hadn’t let my story age enough. I had the general premise for the story, but I didn’t really have the plot. This particular story idea is for a fantasy novel, and I didn’t grasp the world enough. I had the main character’s name, but not her sister’s(who plays a large role), or the love interest, or the name of the location. I didn’t even have a name for her job(which is highly important in this particular book, as the story revolves around it).

Some of those things only come about through research, true. But a great deal of that sort of information generally only comes when I’ve thought about the story for a bit. The first time I actually got the point where I was able to type THE END on a story, I had thought about the story for a month and a half before I ever wrote a single world. And I don’t mean that I was researching, either. It was just there, stewing. Time can be a writer’s best friend I’ve learned.

Of course, not all stories need the same amount of time. I gave the first novel I finished a month and a half. The last first draft I finished I only let it age about a week before I began writing, but that story came to me much more fully-formed. Each one is different. The novel I worked on for NaNoWriMo 2014 had been in my head for two years before I ever typed a single word, and you know what?

It still hadn’t aged enough.

I don’t regret working on that novel for NaNoWriMo, because I learned a lot, but it was too early for that story. That novel is what I would call “the book of my heart”. It’s intensely personal and important to me, and I’ve always known I needed to mature as a writer and a person before I could do it justice. I’m not sure I’ll ever be “ready” to write it fully, which is why I jumped in and tinkered with it last November. I’m so, so glad I did. . . but I needed to put it back in the cabinet and let it age.

LET’S CHAT: If you’re a writer, do you find you have to let your stories age? Have you ever tried writing a story you DIDN’T sit out? How did it turn out? Even if you’re not a writer, have you felt this same idea in other creative projects?

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12 responses to “The Writing Desk: Letting Your Stories Age

  1. I can totally relate to stories that need to age. I have all sorts of documents where I can just throw ideas as they come – add a name or a scene or an idea as I realize it fits with that particular story.

    But the detail stuff you mentioned, like names and jobs and stuff, for me that comes in writing. As I write the first layer, I sort through the very basics of plot, scenes, character arc and motivations. Then on the second layer I hammer out plot (because it’s the most difficult for me). Then everything after that is more details, more description, more action and emotion until I go from a 10,000 word first layer to an actually finished novel. I usually don’t force myself to figure out details like titles until the 4th layer but names come in the first or second (or when the character shows up if they don’t make themselves known until a later layer).

    I’m excited about your new feature – I like talking about writing with other writers 🙂

    • Stormy

      That’s really interesting! I love learning about other people’s writing processes. Part of me wishes I could write that way, but I think if I tried to write a 10,000 word layer like you do it would never get done. I think talking about writing processes can be tough because there’s no one way that fits everyone. I do tend to change details in later drafts as necessary, but my thing is names. I HAVE to know my main characters & important secondary characters names before I start REALLY drafting. I can’t go back and change them later–some time I mean too, but then that characters “becomes” the name for me.

  2. I SO relate to this. I’ve worried at times about letting a story stew in the back of my head so long, but I think what you said is true, that some stories really need that time! Looking forward to more of this feature!

  3. Great topic, I usually say “let the story marinate while I ruminate”. I am not a writer of fiction like you, but with discussion posts, essays for the local paper because of my work, or important correspondence I always let it rest if there is time. Luckily I grew up in the age of handwriting something and then revising as I typed it up, so I’m used to the stewing stage. As an English teacher I found students just want to “get it done” and don’t really care if they are expressing their ideas to their best ability. Except for those who participate in the after school writer’s workshops of course!

    • Stormy

      That’s a great saying! I’m a huge fan of writing things down by hand too–I don’t first draft by hand, so it’s not the same as going from first draft to revising as typing–but I like to make lists/bullet points/quick ideas. I find I can organize my thoughts better that way.

  4. Great topic! I’m a writer as well, so I understanding when you need to give stories time to age. Stephen King wrote about this aging process in his book On Writing and called it “letting your ideas percolate.” I’m a bit partial to that term… mostly because I love coffee haha! But you’re right, ideas often need to have time to settle. Of course there are sometimes everything comes to you in the matter of days and you’re constantly scrambling to write down all the ideas, but most of the time it needs to settle and percolate a bit before it really latches on and becomes something great. Good post, girl! 🙂

    • Stormy

      I love that term! I’ll have to start using it(also because I love coffee). I have On Writing on my shelf, though I haven’t read it yet.
      I’ve noticed for me there are times when everything comes in a matter of days, but after that initial bout, the dust needs time to settle, so to speak. Those days filled with writing are great for creativity and getting in a good mind frame, but the story needs a bit of space.

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