One of my longtime favourite writers, Elizabeth Gilbert, writes in Big Magic about the concept of catching a story. She suggests that if you don’t catch it, someone else who’s ready for the mission can – and that is not a bad thing. I think she’s on to something. I’ve had many ideas for books throughout the years, some of which I’ve started, others I’ve just “hmm that was a great idea” without following up. All of these unfinished ideas seem to pop up later in texts I haven’t written. Written by people I’ve never met. Written in a different style, with a different perspective, with a different approach. Yet the same style, the same perspective, the same approach. Ideas I’ve never discussed with anyone, so there’s no way someone could have told the new owner of the story and given away my idea.
That’s exactly what Gilbert experienced when she gave up on a book she wanted to write, life came in the way which it sometimes does. Years later she met another writer for the first time and they connected. After having kept in touch for a while this writer told Gilbert about her new project, which Gilbert thought – oh, this is my story. The story wasn’t the same, yet it was. And this brings Gilbert to make the conclusion that the stories are swirling around in the universe, for anyone to grab the idea and make it their own. It’s not about stealing someone else’s project, nor about plagiarism. It’s about the interesting energy we are surrounded by. Maybe the stories have an expiration date, that they need to be told at a certain time, nothing to do with the trends, but it’s just the timing for the story’s life, and when the expiration day is nearing, the energy gets more intense and makes it more visible for writers to catch the idea that is floating around and give life to it.
This is as abstract as it gets. I believe this perspective can reduce the mine-yours attitude. It may serve as a kind way to let yourself off the hook if you’re not able to catch the story, because of life – life happens, sometimes life comes in our way for doing what we had set our minds to do. If you’re not able to catch the story, to cultivate it and make it how you visualise, if it drains you, if it bugs you, isn’t it better that it’s moving to the next writer that might make an even better story around it than you, at that moment, knew you could? That you can let go of that story, and freely open up for another story?
Gilbert’s idea on how stories can land into someone else’s lap(top) if you don’t take action made an impact on me. It told me first to don’t beat myself up if I don’t manage to write the book I intended but never seemed to get around. Secondly, it reminded me to not rely on what I believe to be my excellent memory, but to jot the ideas down, as they come. That is the first, gentle step towards catching the story, I would say. Thirdly, to be honest with my self when a new idea pops up, is it a keeper or is it ok for me to let it go.
Maybe the story is difficult to catch, it might be difficult to get the hang of it, to find how its route is supposed to unfold. Maybe it’s not your story tell, but something that can lead you to something else or teach you something for later. By opening up around the essence of a story – the universal life of a story – it might loosen up the tight bonds we get to whatever we have set our minds to. It’s awesome when we’re able to catch the story, it’s ok if we have to let the story free. It’s fascinating to play with the idea of a story, it’s freeing to realise that this story is not yours to tell. The best thing is though, by far, to be able to catch the story and wrap it in a veil of your own voice and touch.