Monday, April 4, 2011

Believing in story

I've been thinking about stories lately. Often adults will dismiss stories as kids' stuff, Santa Claus, monsters under the bed, fairy tale princesses.

But even though most of us have outgrown monsters and princesses, we still believe in stories, even think in stories. I expect they're inherent in the human condition, our best way of processing our world.

Scientists are encouraged to tell the "story of their research" in their papers and presentations. Historians, journalists, and biographers shape real life into an accessible story. And most of us use stories to frame our lives into tales of hope, overcoming the odds, or destiny. Couples wonder if their boyfriend/girlfriend is "The One," or if after their marriage they'll live Happily Ever After. In the writing world, Chuck Sambuchino, for his blog Guide to Literary Agents, has a regular series of "How I Got My Agent" stories. We want to believe nothing is random, but all part of a larger story, with an understandable plot, leading towards something greater.

When I started searching for an agent, I shared my joy at finishing my novel, and vague details about my submission process. Partly I hoped I was chronicling a story with a happy ending that I could share weeks, if not months, later. I might still be doing just that.

But sometimes life doesn't work out like a story. We spend all our time waiting for our knight in shining armor, or our out-of-the-blue agent call, but nothing happens. Or everything happens when we least expect it. Or our knight in shining armor shows up, but the fact of the matter is that he's a turkey. So we start waiting again. And the in-between times, when life isn't like a story, and happy endings seem in short supply, can be all the more difficult. Sometimes it's easier not to believe in stories at all.

But of course, I'm a writer. I can't escape story! And stories give us hope, something to keep striving for, ideals, and heroes.

How do you deal with the non-story parts of your life, the waiting, the worrying, and the disappointment?

13 comments:

  1. They are all part of the story...the happy ending isn't always obvious right away, and a story with only happy bits is a very dull story indeed. Or so I tell myself....

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  2. It's true that sometimes (maybe most times?) life doesn't measure up to stories. Maybe that's why we write and immerse ourselves in books. I try to tell myself that things happen for a reason, and if something I really want doesn't work out it's because something better is in my future. I blogged about this a little while ago, but I love the line in the Katy Perry song "Firework" that says (not direct quote) maybe the reason why all the doors are closed is so you can open one that leads you to the perfect road. I have to believe that's true.

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  3. Keren: Or so you tell yourself..." =) It is true, though, that the stories that look like a happy ending might not be possible are the most exciting stories to read... not necessarily to live, but they do make the happy endings, or at least happy moments, all the sweeter. Thanks. It's a good way to look at it.

    Kelly: Thanks, Kelly. That's how I try to think of things too, focusing on the bigger picture, hoping that one closed door doesn't mean all doors will be closed. And in the meantime, we can read a lot of books to stay positive. Right? =)

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  4. My life's less like a story and more like a short story anthology by a bunch of different writers! So I guess the crappy bits in between the fun bits are when the writers were just busy thinking up what was going to come next :)

    Don't get too down, your success with Undiscovered Voices just goes to show how great your writing is and how close you are to your happy ending. And like you say, it'll probably come when you're least expecting it. ((hugs))

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  5. GF: Hah! Love the short story anthology metaphor! Life definitely feels like that sometimes! And I LOVE the idea that my writer is just trying to figure out what super exciting wonderful thing will happen next!

    Thanks for all the encouragement! And *hugs back!*

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  6. The waiting, the worry, the disappointments? You get used to it. Like the quip from the Seventies: Life is what happens while you're making other plans.

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  7. Hi Anne: Ah, don't we all wish that our life was one big happy story. Alas, that isn't life. Someone once said to me that you can't experience the happy in life if you didn't know the sad or disappointed feeling too. It's so true. I would wish nothing but rainbows and puppies for my kids their whole life but it is how they work through the adversities that build their character. And don't we always say as writers that we have to throw obstacles in our heroes/heroines way to keep the reader turning the page? That's how I deal with my obstacles - I tell myself I'll be turning the page on this bad patch soon! :)
    Nelsa

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  8. Anne: So true, Anne! I think that's the point I need to get to, where I'm so focused on everything else that the queries take a back seat.

    Nelsa: Thanks for stopping by. I love that metaphor of turning a page soon. And of course you're right, it's the good and the bad that really make a life and a person.

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  9. For non-story parts of my life, I still imagine a happy ending. So basically, I still want a story.

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  10. Anne, Such a provocative question that I have wrestled with quite a bit. Stories are powerful and even when they are about disappointment, they can maybe even get us through those times. I suppose you are talking about fictional stories, but I am thinking about personal life stories. At any rate, I think the hard parts can be present even in the good moments, and the complexities of what is challenging and difficult combined simultaneously with what sustains us is what really makes stories more interesting.

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  11. I focus on the things in my life I *can* control, when I'm trying to deal with the frustrations that come from other people having control over things in my life.

    I choose very specific things to do - in terms of writing, things like editing an existing manuscript, organizing my notes, tidying my work area, researching an aspect of a new project - anything to give me a sense of control and accomplishment.

    Elisabeth

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  12. Medeia: Yes! I really do think we're wired to see everything as story. A blessing and a curse, as we're always waiting for that elusive happy ending!

    Adoptsomom: This is so much more worthy of a long conversation alongside a bottle of wine than a blog comment! Of course you're right about the hard parts being ever-present, even in the midst of happy moments. So in reality, there's never a true happy ending, but then, as you say, that's where things get interesting, and the richness of life is present.

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  13. Elisabeth: I've been wanting to write a blog post for a while now on control! Writing is such a crazy business, and so uncontrollable in so many ways, it really is important to focus on what we can control. I really like your suggestion of stepping back from the worry and doing specific things you can accomplish. Thanks!

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