Thursday, February 16, 2017

Fasting Story by Joanna Roddy

Photo by: Marco Ottobelli, Source: Wikimedia Commons
This fall, I was up to my eyebrows in work commitments with very little time to write. I knew the new semester in February would bring half the teaching load and twice the scope for creativity. In the months when my fiction writing lay fallow, I came to terms with the end of a long-hoped-for project and realized that the time I wasn't writing was actually rich creative time in a totally different way. 

Freed from the responsibilities of writing, missing writing and wishing I could have the time to do it again, I was suddenly filled with new ideas for stories. I've never felt like much of an idea factory, but it seemed like every day I had some new exciting thought for a character or setting or plot element. They were all thoroughly disconnected, of course, but I was swimming in a rich primordial soup of creative life. It felt like I was on the edge of something new, and I leaned into that with the total freedom of someone who doesn't have to do anything about it yet. 

Finally, in December, with the new semester coming and past projects shelved, I realized it was time to channel the next story. I didn't know what it would be, or if any of the myriad ideas I'd been entertaining would play into it, but I knew it was time to start dreaming something larger. 

Then I did something weird--something I've never done before. First you have to understand that I'm a total book gobbler. I get audio books through my library, I have several e-books on my phone or printed books on my nightstand (or in my purse--anyone else? Lit. nerds unite!), and at any given time, I am voraciously reading at least one or two of them at every possible opportunity. But in December I decided that if I wanted to receive something new, I needed to get other people's words out of my head. I needed to carve out quiet, empty spaces where my own words and ideas could form. So I decided to fast story. 

Yes, fasting. Like a spiritual practice, or a diet. That meant no books, no audio books, not even podcasts. I also took a break from mindless phone games that I sometimes play while listening to an enthralling novel. Instead, I sat with the silence and I waited. 

I'm not a saint, and I'm not a liar, so I'll be honest: it was uncomfortable. There were times I cheated with a podcast. But I pressed into my story fast anyway with the kind of dogged faith we creative people have to have, believing that there are stories for me to tell and trying to make my mind and heart open to receiving them. I had a piece of paper on my dresser that I looked at every day that said simply, "Let it come."

One night at the end of December, I lay in my bed, very tired and a little sick after all the holiday hoopla, and it happened. A story began to come into my mind in a series of images, scenes, characters, and plot twists. I could see it all unfolding in front of me. I was a bit bent on getting a good night's sleep, so I actually fought the idea of getting out of bed to write it down for a good ten minutes. But the idea was so vivid that all hopes of sleep had fled, and finally I went out to the dark dining room, sat down at the table, and filled a page in my notebook with lines and lines of small print as I shaped the idea into words.

And I'm excited about this new story. I feel it burning in me, waiting for the chance to move from my mind to the page. 

I don't know whether all this is merely coincidental--perhaps it is--but I think there's something true in the idea that our lives are so full of clamor that we miss quieter voices within us that would guide us in transformative ways if only we stopped to hear them. I know that for me, the act of faith precedes the miracle. If inspiration is to find a way in, leaving the door open to her can't hurt. 


  1. This is so interesting to me because it's the exact advice I never took while working through The Artist's Way. I just seemed to big and challenging and sad somehow. But it also intrigued me. I like challenges and opportunities to grow. I have an idea that is nothing more than vague that I've been pushing to the back burner for months, because there's nothing yet there (and I don't know how to even think about it yet).

    I know Michael has recently done this, too (a la The Artist's Way). I'd love his insight, perhaps a parallel post?)

    1. I'm due for a second round of the Artist's Way, which I might do in the fall. We'll see. The first time was hard, but oh so rewarding!

  2. I love this idea of "fasting for a story"! And I think all the things burbling beneath were able to make connections as a new story and come together for you without all the other words and stories in your mind.

  3. Caroline, I may just write about a "reading fast" in my next post, which is at the end of this month.

    Joanna, this was a fascinating post. Thanks for sharing your experiences.

  4. I hear you, Joanna. Reading is dangerous when you are writing. I always find that what I read can influence how I write.

  5. This is fascinating! I did a story fast a few years ago when I did The Artist's Way. I'll have to try it again, but not yet! Not yet...


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