A Story’s Own Burning Determination

All kinds of ideas can pass through our minds: idle or active. I might jot some down in cryptic language in a notebook. They might never again see the light of day, being preserved and pristine in the colorful journal archive that dates back to my teenage years. Others might get me chasing rabbits down research holes, which is tremendous fun! Whether or not the research leads to anything useful is not the point—the thrill is in the sense of discovery and learning something obscure about our world. But a few ideas—however innocent they seem—have something mysteriously animating about them. For better or worse, they come to life. 

I am not the first writer to insist stories have their own life. But if you’ve never had one burst forth, grab your attention, and consistently tug at your mind for years, you might consider yourself lucky. Those of us who can get overtaken by an idea, or god-forbid fall in love with an idea, are in for an emotional roller-coaster ride. 

Like all forms of love, we can be struck instantaneously or over time. As the story idea deepens and grows—and we might stoke it by writing, researching, developing, plotting, experimenting, honing—it can reveal its layers and earn our love by expressing a flowering beauty. If we stay with it, start poking at its assumptions, arguing back, questioning it, doubting it even, weak ideas will fall apart and dissolve no matter how strong the infatuation. We may leave it alone and walk away. 

I went through this many times with The Queen Bee series. Every October, I become more interested in watching football with my partner as we cheer on the Kansas City Chiefs. I want to read. I want to absorb epic series on Netflix. I want to let ideas go and enjoy the fruits of others’ creative labor. Now, this makes the pause on my own writing seem peaceful and agreeable. But each year, I feel like I go through a breakup with my ideas. I grieve them, wishing they wouldn’t betray me while also apologizing for pulling away. 

“Can I just have some space?” I ask meekly. 

“Fine,” the story responds. “I’ll go live somewhere else.”

And it won’t come back until January. By then I inevitably feel bereft and empty without it. My need to write the idea has so much longing to it, so much passion. While it was gone, the story somehow grew; it changed in ways I never could have imagined. Wait—aren’t I imagining the story? Maybe not. Because the story comes back with its own burning determination. This ends up propelling another cycle of writing, another curve in our ever-deepening love spiral. 

Anyone who thinks they have control over an idea is the insane person, or perhaps actually AI. Once a story has taken hold through several infatuation/breakup cycles, I guess it must be written to the end. Published even. All because we have gone through so incredibly much together—all for the sake of creating something. In fact, the longer I live with The Queen Bee series, the more convinced I am that it is leading me. 

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