You Are A Story Machine

There are many that would like to write a good story. The problem is that they will try and invent one—and that just isn’t going to work. Well, not for most anyway—including me.

You can’t will yourself to write a story—you will need shear doggedness to write one, but that doggedness won’t get you started.

You need a story idea. Not only that, its needs to be something that gets so under your skin that you just don’t want to write it—you need to write it.

Sometimes a good story will come by way of a life experience, or an anecdote. But what if you don’t have anything like that?

Well, what most don’t realise is that their heads are awash with good story ideas. It is an unavoidable consequence of being.

All of us have ideas for a good story. We will each of us think of a different one several times a day, and every now and again an absolute cracker will pop into our heads.

But the reason most never realise it is because they aren’t fully formed ideas. In fact they are unlikely be much at all. They might be just a fragment, a moment, an idea—fleeting and gone in an instant.

What is going on is that you mind is a story generating machine. It needs to be just so it can make its way through life—a constant thread of possibilities playing out to anticipate the world about you.

Most of the time you won’t realise—because it’s not you that’s doing it. It’s your subconscious—or, if you like, not the front and centre you, but the back-of-your-mind you.

The trick is to catch your mind at it, and better still, hijack the mechanism for your own purposes.

A lot of the time a certain part of your mind is in charge of your consciousness—it’s the sensible, practical part that sees to it that your attention is kept focussed in a logical manner. A conversation, a complex task, crossing the road—activities such as these need you to be thinking about what you are doing.

But this is not the case with a routine task—even something as complex as driving a car. Ever been on a long motorway journey and been unable to remember it all? It’s because you were not driving the car—or rather, not all of you was. The sensible part was, leaving the rest of you on your own recognisance.

The result? Daydreaming.

Walking down the street, ironing a shirt, mowing the lawn—they all allow your mind to wander. It’s during these moments that story bubbles up.

The person walking in front of you—do they sense your presence? Perhaps they have a special gift. Or maybe not everyone about you is as they seems. You can catch your mind thinking like that.

But the idea that everyone else might have a sixth sense isn’t a story. The why and how might be start though. So how do you work that out?

You need to put that same part of your mind to work.

If the seed of a story that it initially gave you is intriguing then explore it. Put it into you mind when you next do the ironing. You’ll find that your built-in story telling machine starts generating maybes around the how and why. What you need to do is steer it—a nudge here and there to make sure it follows the more promising rabbit holes.

The process then becomes something of an investigation. The person walking in front of you on the street clearly had some sense that you were there. It was all over their body language. A sixth sense? No! She saw your reflection in that coffee shop window. But wait a minute…it looks like she was purposely doing so…and who is the man behind you? What if they were to suddenly turn on you–what would you do? And why?

The really wonderful aspect of this mechanism is that it is self-fulfilling. Start thinking about something and your sub conscious gets involved.

We are all familiar with the notion of sleep on it when it comes to some mental obstacle. A mathematical conundrum, a bug in a computer program—or how to best re-model the downstairs living area. When these obstacles present themselves—particularly at the end of the day— the temptation can be to plough on.

But the best strategy is to put the problem to one side and forget all about it. Your subconscious, however, will keep at it, and the next day an idea to solve the problem will pop into your head.

And when will this happen? When you are walking down the street, ironing a shirt, driving to work…

You will find the same is true of story.