“Once upon a time … um … damn!”
Why can’t I tell bedtime stories?
The most dreaded words I hear at night are “tell me a story.” I’m not a father yet, though I very much want to be. My wife grew up with her father making up the most wild and fantastic tales, and she thinks I should know how to spin a good yarn. She’s testing me. Currently my success rate is zero. The best I am able to accomplish is boring her to sleep by talking about computers, sci-fi, or anime, etc.
“You’re a writer. How come you can’t tell a good bedtime story?”
I’m not sure, but I have a few thoughts.
I’m a better writer than a talker (even though I talk A LOT)! Writing helps me to organize my thoughts and to construct a narrative, whether its a short-story, novel, or even these blog posts. At work I prefer to write an e-mail rather than speaking on the phone because I feel I am able to communicate information more clearly in that medium. There is a comfortable connection in my brain between what I’m thinking, and the words that appear on my computer screen. Some writers are able to dictate their work out loud. This just seems crazy to me.
It’s not for lack of ideas. At my peak I can put out nearly 2000 words an hour (~ three-single spaced pages). Obviously not every word is perfect, but that’s what revision is four. (This last error was deliberate. When I write quickly I tend to use homonyms incorrectly as my Dad takes special glee in pointing out!) I’ve taught myself to “punch the keys damnit” and write drafts without a censor, but I haven’t been able to do the same thing out loud.
Ironically I think it’s the censor that is my biggest problem. Like any male, I say a lot of things that probably should have gone through a filter first and either been edited or omitted. This filter, often inactive, kicks into high gear when I’m trying to tell a story. Ideas don’t flow, and many are rejected before I get any words out. I could make the excuse that it’s the subject matter, I don’t write about princesses and unicorns after all, but as my friend Brian likes to say, “fantasy is just sci-fi with magic”. I should be able to figure something out.
I think practice is the only way I’m going to get better, just like how it took months to build up to 2000 words an hour. But, there’s another idea that’s kicking around in my head since my drive in today. My parents read to me from a very young age. I could write a kids book! Maybe not for general consumption, but for my future kids. This might be a bit of a cop out, but I want do be the kind of dad who can tell stories to his kids, even if he has to write it down first.
Did your parents read to you as a child or did they make stories up?