Last fall, I was able to compose an entire short story in my head!
It happened by accident. As with any story, it began with an idea. An idea I couldn’t fully attend to because I was revising an older piece. My commute to work takes an hour-and-a-half, one way. Feeling too drowsy to read a book (but not drowsy enough to actually fall asleep), I closed my eyes and rested my head against the bus window. The idea bounced around my head, giddy and promising, maybe because it did not have the pressure of a deadline. It was not a draft on paper, so there was no need to fuss over grammar and word choice. It was just a floating potential, turning fleshy day by day.
But during my designated “writing time”, I chiselled away at my older and more crystallized story. Sometimes, I would note down names and keywords related to the new idea but not much more. I have a rule against working two pieces at once. I didn’t want to immerse myself into a fresher (more inviting) project, without seeing the older one through.
By the time I finished with the revision, the idea in my head had grown, not just the bare bones of a story arc or the heartbeat of a theme, but a head to toe first draft. Complete with an opening paragraph and a compelling last line, with exposition and dialogues in between. Blanks waiting for the names I have written in my notebook. When I sat down to write it was as if the story was drafting itself!
In a post early this year, I said that writing block is stage fright on paper. Not sure if this is true for other writers, but to me, a written piece is already “performing” once I’ve put it on paper. It’s already working for an audience (reader), even if it’s safely tucked away in my notebook (or saved in a drive). Drafts on paper make me pay more attention to the technical aspects of a written piece. Grammar, punctuation, and paragraph breaks are all vital, things that have more to do with the story’s soul—characters and setting, tone and theme, conflicts and resolutions—are more easily resolved when I’m not yet burdened by a hard copy.
So I no longer feel guilty when a writing afternoon was spent looking out at the window and jotting down vague bits. The blank page no longer fills me with dread because I understand that I no longer have to answer to it, at least not right away. I sip my tea and let my thoughts wander. Trusting something useful will surface.