Lean on Me

Starting a story is something I’ve never found hard. It’s finishing that trips me up and I’ve probably got about fifty stories with little more than a promising paragraph or some interesting opening sentences, all lying dead in the water. Sometimes I bring one up on my screen and try a bit of resuscitation. Occasionally, I can get my head back to the character and capture the emotion or the intention of those opening sentences and the story starts to breathe again. But more often than not I just can’t re-open that particular door in my imagination and I can’t step back into the place where that story started in my head.

The reasons I let the initial inspiration slip are probably the same for all writers. Sometimes good reasons interrupt the flow of writing a story, like family. My husband, my children, my grandchildren – they’re something that will always come first for me. Not to mention my brother-who-lives-too-far-away – hi Mick if you’re reading this! And my friends, of course. But, more often than not, my reasons for not persisting with a story are lame and I know I’m just trying to avoid the hard work of seeing the thing through to the end. I’ve never met a writer yet who wasn’t an expert in procrastination.

So my attention was caught a while back when I read a suggestion in an article on writing and inspiration. Essentially, it suggested a slower, sneakier approach to getting the story moving along. Once a character walks across your mind, once you’ve got some idea of what that character is doing and some inkling of their personality, write down what you’ve got and don’t feel as if you have to push it any further. Instead, walk away from your computer and lean subconsciously on that character as you go about all the other activities in your day. Don’t leave the character behind when you walk away from your computer, take him with you and lean on him while you’re doing the supermarket shopping, hanging out the washing, weeding the garden, cooking dinner. Instead of allocating all your imagining time to when your fingers are on the keyboard, let the character walk around in your head and nudge him a little to find out more about him and what he might do. During that time, don’t let any other stories intrude. Be faithful to the one character and live with him a little.

At some point, you have to sit down and get the story on the page but I’ve found it a lot less stressful to allow myself to walk away from those unfinished opening paragraphs, as long as I take my character with me and subconsciously lean on him throughout the day. It’s quite amazing how some stories take shape away from the computer. And what’s even more amazing is how inclined I become to procrastinate on all those mundane tasks so I can get back to the computer and finish the story.

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5 thoughts on “Lean on Me

  1. Aahhh! So glad to hear that I’m not alone in struggling to finish stories! I have a folder full of snippets and ideas. I so appreciate the idea of living with a character too. At present I’m trying to live with two nations, letting their past grow in my mind so i understand their current situation better – and that’s while I’m still getting characters to define themselves and their relationships too…I love finding things that tell me I’m on the right track!

  2. Procrastination must be my middle name I think. I know what you mean by other things getting in the way of writing, it happens to me all the time, and at the time they are all important. But when I leave a story it does take a lot of effort to re-kindle it. The drive seems to fade, and when I go back to it, I wonder how to pick up the the story. Just which way would this character choose to go?

    However, I tried your tip about ‘leaning’ on a character and it does work. After a fair bit of leaning, over a few days, I suddenly realised exactly how she would react in this situation. It worked for me, so thanks for that. I wonder if any other writers have tried it with similar results? It would be interesring to hear!

    • I’m pleased to hear it worked for you, Kate. It sounds almost too simple, doesn’t it? But I’ve found that ‘leaning’ on a character over a few days has worked for me quite a few times and I have more finished stories as a result. Funny how the easiest things can often be the most effective.

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