How many old stories do you hold onto? I’m talking about the stories of your life. And for you SuperStar writers out there, I’m talking about half written pieces, sketches, outlines, ideas on napkins.
In life, things happen. Objective events. The sun was covered by clouds today. My car wouldn’t start. My lover whispered a song in the moonlight. All very fact based. Then the human perspective comes in and we string together meaning between these events.
It happens every minute of every day. And this is a large part of how we create our stories, and our identities.
The grade you got in third grade art class veered the course of your dreams for decades. The way your mom rolled her eyes when you tried to do something special as a kid haunts you to this day. Or the time your teenaged co-workers sabotaged your amazing work limits your trust even now. It doesn’t necessarily mean they were plotting against you. Unless you make a story about it. (Or it was actually true).
Holding on to old stories that keep us down is not useful.
If affects our choices, our perception of other events, and even distorts our own identities. Holding onto these old stories will drag you down. Guaranteed.
A few months ago I had the honor to coach a fiction writer named Joyce. Joyce is an amazing writer who was a little stuck at the time. She had piles and piles of half written stories, ideas that she hadn’t really considered revisiting for decades. Sketches of stories, characters and notes of all kinds. It overwhelmed her. It sort of paralyzed her. And she was sort of going around in circles with it all.
We began to untangle her personal stories around her as a writer. She got off track of her original vision while working the day job. She was holding onto the same kinds of stories that many of us hold onto— semi-dark tales about ourselves that don’t do anyone any good.
I suggested that she go through her closet full of old stories and do some serious sorting.
She filled up the trash can with old stories. She made room in her mind and her time to get into the tales that mattered.
On a cold spring day just outside of Philadelphia she took the dead stories and scraps into her back yard, did a ritual to say goodbye to the old ghosts, characters and half-materialized tales. Then she lit them on fire. And watched them burn.
Soon after Joyce began cranking into the work. She finished some old pieces and started new ones. She submitted to publications. She kicked (and is still kicking) ass. F yeah!
Torching old stories that don’t hold value, relevance or goodness is a powerful act.
As writers, we can see the paper burn. As humans, we can finally let go of the ideas, belief systems, identities and other bullshit that keeps us down.
A few months after Joyce burned her old stories and began to create new ones, she emailed me a link. It was to a story about burning her old stories in the backyard.
What stories do you want to burn? Why?