When you’re a writer, one of the most common questions you get is about where your stories come from. I don’t know about other writers, but in my experience, stories begin like a loose thread you one day notice on your shirt. Smarter people will get the scissors, cut it off, and toss it aside, but not you. You’re compelled to pick and tug at it because there’s something satisfying about drawing it out.
The more you work it, the more your shirt unravels. Before long, the seam is open, and you can see something of what you look like underneath. You keep pulling, and eventually, the sleeve is in tatters. You keep going, and often, the thread jumps off the seam. That’s when it becomes grueling work.
In its current form, the shirt is ruined. You’re tempted to throw it away. You’re not going to wear it anymore, and really, nobody should see this textile monstrosity. And you know what? Sometimes you do toss it away. Sometimes you fold it lovingly and place it in a trunk to come back to later. But the important part is you realize the shirt isn’t the story here at all. The story is what lies beneath, and that can’t be thrown away.
So you keep tugging, wondering where this unraveling is leading. Maybe your spouse is asking you questions from the other room. Maybe your dog wants to go for a walk. Maybe your kids want to play. Maybe you have to go to work. Through all of it, you worry that thread.
Because you don’t have to be at a keyboard to be writing. Progress isn’t a word count. Progress is the unraveling thread.
Eventually, while every shirt unravels differently, you’re standing there, naked, and you’re tempted to hide, but you have the sense you’ve discovered something about yourself, maybe other people, maybe the world.
And you’re incredibly self-conscious; you’re in a raw form; you’re sensitive and irritated like that thread was your skin, and you realize it was, because writing is like shedding. It has to be. Otherwise, what is the point?
At this point, some writers close the door to allow themselves time to heal. Others brazenly charge from the room because they think there’s something worth showing the world. Most of us are a mixture of both, I think.
Or maybe we feel a compulsion because it offers a sense of freedom to be rid of that particular layer, as if the act, in itself, is a kind of disposal.
In any case, that’s where stories come from.