Where does a story start?

For me, it’s always the same: a voice. I hear a line in my head, usually a first line. And it has a specific tone to it – even if it’s coming through a character – and I know, I just know, this is important, this you must get down, this is a story.

It’s never initially a person or an image or a plot. They might follow fairly quickly, but until there’s that voice, I don’t have anything.

The most frustrating, worrisome, scariest part of my process is waiting for that voice. Because it doesn’t arrive on a daily basis or even weekly sometimes. Prompts and exercises can lead me to it, but not always or even often. The voice doesn’t arrive with any regularity. Two weeks will pass and then within a day three new stories are speaking to me, and I have to decide which has the strongest pull, which have to stay in an orderly line in the queue (though they are never very good about that, they always want to be rude and butt in before its their turn).

I will be the first to admit that I am not the happiest person to be around or even within myself when nothing is speaking to me. I feel much more dissatisfied with everything, and the waiting makes me worry. What if this time nothing comes?

It’s when I let go of that worry that it usually does. Saturday was the first time I relaxed about it, about this voice I’ve been waiting on for two weeks not arriving yet, and I took a whole day off, a rarity for me. Walking round the river, I had my first line, and then a second, and then a man in a leather coat and shorts walked passed me, and I knew that he factored in the story, and, suddenly, I had a complete moment for him with the narrator, and then I noticed the environment, the small details about where I was that connected to what the characters were experiencing at the point in their lives that I found them.

There’s a rightness to those moments that’s hard to explain.

What’s different now from a couple of years ago is that I don’t just patiently wait. I don’t wait weeks, months even, for that right voice to speak to me before I write. I keep practicing throughout the waiting. Every day I sit down and I write something. It’s me and a blank page and something must go on it – that’s the deal I’ve made with myself. I don’t know if it means the voices come any more regularly, and I don’t know if it really lessens my frustration or dissatisfaction, but it does mean that when they do arrive, I’m ready.

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