Listen to the Stories You Tell Yourself
Updated: Mar 27, 2018
For as long as I can remember, I’ve called myself a writer, but I’ve always believed that I am horrible at fiction writing. I’ve believed I lack the imagination to create something unique, invent characters and plots, tell a story related to me in enough ways to make it real, but distant enough to be untrue.
As it turns out, this belief was recently debunked - symbolically speaking - a new light bulb turned on, a new lesson learned.
The truth is, I come up with a lot of stories. Sometimes they make their way onto the page, but mostly they just swirl around in my head. Related to me enough to make them real, but not rooted in any particular truth.
I create characters and plots, wrapped around real people and real thoughts. I create storylines that often make me the victim, or the righteous hero, or the villain - whichever suits me at the time. I can get rather imaginative, making meaning or twisting reality to spit out something completely different than what it was before.
And while these stories keep me sitting in suspense, flipping tirelessly through the pages, keeping me up at night, spinning me down the rabbit hole...while I can lose myself in the narratives, I too often fool myself into believing they are true. They feel true, so they must be, right?
When you live the stories, they aren’t nearly as useful as when you read them. And much of my fiction is ridden with doubt, guilt, dread, shame, and fear. These are the stories that, with repetition in my younger years, became my default narratives. These are the stories that keep me stuck on repeat, rooted in old wounds, bound to a history I want so desperately to overcome.
Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t know better, none of us do...until we do.
And when we do, we realize the same old stories we are writing no longer serves us. We realize that relying on our pain and suffering for content just doesn’t feel as gratifying or entertaining as it used to feel. In fact, it starts to feel kind of boring.
We’ve awakened to new possibilities, to new narratives, and there’s no off switch for this light bulb. Suddenly, we realize we have a choice (and the plot thickens). We realize that we are the writers, not the victims or the heroes or the villains. We are not characters in our own lives. We are creatives.
When we listen closely and critically to the stories we tell ourselves, we are one step closer to re-writing the ones that no longer serve us.
There’s a scene at the end of the movie About Time, where the main character realizes that he can live every single day to its fullest, so long as he sets his intention to it (purposely vague here, because spoilers are dumb). And he does, and in doing so he lives a beautiful life. Once he realizes he has a choice, he chooses to infuse every moment with joy and meaning.
This is one of the purest examples of rewriting the narrative that I’ve seen in a film, and it leaves you feeling all tingly (and a bit blubbery if you’re a sensitive soul like me). I think things like this touch us so deeply because that’s the kind of life we all want to live. For the briefest moment, they zap us out of the narrative that it's not possible for us. For the briefest moment, we believe in it.
I’m starting to believe that maybe that’s the kind of life I could live, the kind of story I could tell. With one foot in front of the other, chipping away every day, doing the best I can, perhaps I could get there. And perhaps you could, too.
I couldn’t tell you whether these new narratives are any more true than the old ones, but they are infinitely more interesting, and infinitely more liberating.
So here we are, creatives and storytellers, ready to put pen to paper, foot to ground, imagination to work.
It’s time to write something new.
It's time to write something bold.