At some point, the ideas become too many, and the pressure to write them becomes too great. The documentation of real life has its limits. Fiction seems roomier, or at least different.
So I begin. I start in a place I know, the setting for the story I have imagined. I writer, stop, write. The story starts traveling far away from the point I imagined the protagonist would travel to. I don’t know where she is heading anymore.
I tell James, during our weekly hangout, “It’s like I’m swimming out, past the lifeguard buoys, and I keep going.” I wonder if I should turn back — to try forcefully to get back to the place the story began for me. But it’s going somewhere else.
James says, “It’s okay if you keep swimming out. That’s the good thing about metaphors.”
It’s true. I won’t drown.
What may be happening, he explains, is that in fiction we are writing a bunch of things at once, and wanting to deal with them all at the same time. “All these things come into the mind all at once” — and this is motivating, it keeps us going — but we have to deal with them separately, one or two at a time to give them the depth that the story wants.
And this going out, farther and farther, this might change the story.
“Anxiety is based on the assumption that there is this perfect version of the story waiting to be unveiled,” he adds. “But there is not only one way; there’s a bunch of ways.”
“Because it’s writing, you can stay out for weeks at a time. You’re not going to starve. You’re not gonna die of dehydration.” He pauses and laughs at his own joke in advance: “And maybe you’re a whale.”
I laugh, too, picturing myself.
That means I can dive under deep.
“But all the possibility is out there, so why would we tether ourselves to the land?”
I do not know where the story will go. I write, the narrative meanders, and I have to adjust my vision of it. And then I go farther, the story changes, and the vision is adjusted again. The story feels as though it is a few inches in front of my understanding, and I take a stroke, float closer, and it floats a few inches away again.
So I paddle towards it. I wonder if finishing will feel like getting back to shore, or reaching an island.