Recently a friend emailed me with a question about writing. She was feeling overwhelmed because suddenly she had too many story ideas and didn’t know which ones to write first. Does this happen to me, she asked, explaining that she asked me because I was a “real writer.” She’s not sure she warrants that title yet, because if she did, maybe she’d know which story should be next.
Currently I have at least 5 books and I don’t know how many short stories that I want to get to – someday. Some of them are more fleshed out than others. Some I know will never actually get written, because I have a limited time to walk the earth, and more stories and book ideas keep popping in and shoving older ideas out of line. The thing about creativity is that once you open the gate to your creative self, ideas will pour through like surfboarders riding rushing waves.
This is a good thing, and many of those ideas are transformational and wonderful. Some of them are bland and stupid, of course, but they pour through your gate too. But you can’t do them all, so it takes practice at discernment to know which you should work on and which you should stick on a shelf somewhere (notice I did not say to discard them – sometimes what looks like a stupid idea will transform itself into brilliant when the time is right.)
I have another friend who told me her “egg chain” metaphor. Think of yourself as a hen. Your body is continually making eggs inside your egg cavity. But you can only lay one egg at a time. If you tried to lay all of them at once you would break your poor little laying mechanism. (Sounds really painful.) But if you don’t lay any of your eggs, pushing hard to get them out in the world one by one, ALL your eggs will rot inside you. And that would be icky.
The thing about eggs, though, is that they are not the end point. The end point is a feathery little chick. So you can lay a clutch of eggs, but you still have to nurture them by warming them, then when they hatch you have to show them how to forage for food, and only then can you let them go. It’s a big undertaking, to be a hen writer. You will be laying some eggs, sitting on others, and polishing others into chickens once they hatch. It’s also sad sometimes to be a hen, because not all of your eggs will hatch, and of the ones that hatch, not all will live through chickdom, and of those who grow up, some of them will get eaten in the prime of their youth.
All this rambling stuff about surfboarders and gates and hens and eggs means that I don’t know how many is too many. Sometimes you focus and make sure your egg hatches, sometimes you show a whole brood of chicks how to scratch up their dinner, and sometimes you just brood over your clutch. I do know that you ARE a real writer, whether you have already written a book or short story, or are just working on them.
I am glad my friend thinks of me as a “real writer.” Sometimes I forget and have doubts too. I think that’s part of being real.