If we run out of stories to tell

Sometimes, I wonder how many stories I have left in me.

Maybe that sounds melodramatic. Maybe that’s a little weird to be thinking at age 21, when I (God willing) have so many years ahead of me to write stuff down.

Maybe it’s something that every writer thinks about. I can’t remember when I first starting thinking about it. The thought might have popped into my head sometime after I finished the first draft of Privateer (I’m now on the fourth, in case you were wondering). But right now, I have the sneaking suspicion that this thought’s swirling around up there because I’m currently in so many storytelling classes.

It’s my final semester at USC. I’m taking a fiction writing class and a playwriting class, and as I am attempting to straddle the two different art forms—forcing my brain to switch back and forth between fiction mode and playwriting mode while doing homework—I keep getting struck by the fear that one day soon I will sit down with a blank piece of paper and come up with… absolutely nothing. And it’ll be a lasting nothing. It’ll be a nothing that never ends, because I’ve written out all of the stories inside of me and am now just a shell of a writer, with nothing left to say.

buzzsham buzzsham2

So this fear is probably fairly irrational. But that doesn’t mean it hasn’t set up camp in my head. There’s a nice bonfire going and everything. It’s, like, really attractive.

To add to that, I am currently in the middle of half a dozen different projects. This is f***ing with my brain, because as you may recall… I never do this. And it’s not because I have SO MANY IDEAS that I want to write ALL THE THINGS. It’s because I am not inspired by any of the ideas I’m working with. I’m not genuinely excited about any one project.

That little, friggin’ camper is burrowing in for the winter.

It’s not a very nice place to be, where I am right now. Maybe you’ve been here, too. It’s kind of like writer’s block, but it’s not exactly the same. It’s more like… exhaustion. Sometimes I will open five different Word documents and a Celtx file, look at all of them, and realize that I can’t remember why I started them in the first place. I will maybe crank something out for a class, but my heart won’t be in it.

But I wonder how many novels I have left in me. 

It’s sort of amazing (sorry, allow me this one self-indulging moment) to look at a 400-page book and think, “This was once inside of me.” It’s kind of insane, actually, that I have actually somehow done this multiple times. Like… where the HECK did all of it come from? WHAT am I doing with my life? And is this what I’m going to get to do forever? Get so worked up over a topic and an imaginary person that I will actually rant about it for 400 pages, then rinse and repeat?

…what if I can’t do it forever?

What if I simply… run out of things to say?

In his comic book series The Sandman, Neil Gaiman wrote, “Everyone has a secret world inside of them. I mean everybody. All of the people in the whole world—no matter how dull or boring they are on the outside. Inside them they’ve all got unimaginable, magnificent, wonderful, stupid, amazing worlds… Not just one world. Hundreds of them. Thousands maybe.”

To me, it is nothing short of a God-given miracle to be able to say that I have worlds inside of me. That you have worlds inside of you. Even if you’re not a writer. Even if you’re not a filmmaker or an animator or an actor or a designer. Holy crap. You were born with worlds in you.

I think that there’s another word for what Gaiman calls “worlds,” and it’s curiosity. As long as I am curious, I have to believe that I will never run out of things to write. Otherwise, what is the point of all of this? If I knew everything, why would I need to write fiction? If I could tell you all the answers to life’s most difficult questions and craziest philosophies, why the heck would I feel the need to spin entire epic tales about made-up people in made-up situations?

So I’m working really hard right now, trying to juggle writing short stories while revising one novel and completing another, while also writing a full-length play to be turned in as a final… but as my fear of running out of things to say grows, so does the hope that maybe I’m feeling this way because I’m doing something important.

Maybe it’s not that we run out of words, but that sometimes we are at a loss for them. Because we’re doing something worthwhile, something that could possibly make a difference, and when we reach the core of anything… it’s always a little bit too beautiful, too bright, too fierce, too much to describe. At first.

I hope that’s true. In the meantime, I’ll be putting my butt in the chair, showing up for my half of the job. Eventually, I think the words will, too.

–Samantha Chaffin


P.S. — Happy Valentine’s Day. I love you guys more than Taylor Swift loves to publicly mock her ex-boyfriends. I love you guys more than Olan Rogers loves butt jokes. I love you guys more than Kanye West loves himself. A.K.A. a lot.


11 thoughts on “If we run out of stories to tell

  1. Linda D says:

    I think you have plenty more to write. You are now in “forced” writing mode – having to write specifially for classes, when that crammed (and it’s not called “crammed” without good reason – craming your mind with more stuff than you want), but once that crammed stuff is no longer there, the creative genuis will dose that camper’s campfire and ignite its own magic.

    Linda D

  2. sophiawood says:

    Never say that! I’ve been there: when you have a thousand stories in your head and another hundred on paper, and none of them are inspiring or exciting. But that just means you haven’t found the right one to tell yet. And, if you look closely, you’ll see that maybe half of them are the same: exactly the same story retold in different ways. That’s happened to me before, a lot. When its the same characters in different situations, or the same situation with different characters. But that doesn’t mean I’m running out of ideas, it just means my “true story” hasn’t fully formed yet. And I’ll never run out of stories. Neither will you. Authors are born story tellers, and nothing will change that. You just need some inspiration. I recommend taking a long break. Come back to your writing in a week, or a month, maybe more, and everything will look better.

    • samchaffin says:

      That’s another thing to consider! That maybe I haven’t found the right story, yet. Unfortunately, I can’t take a break, but I have been reading a lot, which always helps me–being inspired by other people’s stories is what made me want to be a writer in the first place. 🙂 Thank you for your kind words!

  3. deshipley says:

    Such fears as these hit me during my dry spells. Fears about whether I’ll ever have the time, creative energy, and inspiration to ever again pull out another work I’ll proudly fall in love with. Heck yeah, it’s unnerving, and no number of fellow artists saying they’ve been there will do much to reassure me that this, too, shall pass.
    But I know it will.
    At least, I’m mostly sure it will.
    It has before, so it probably will.
    Here’s to keeping the faith. Happy Valentine’s Day, beloved Sam!

    • samchaffin says:

      Haha but really, it’s encouraging to know that a lot of writer-people struggle with this. It might just be a human thing… but in any case, it makes me feel less like a bum to have wonderful people like you reassuring me. 🙂 Happy Valentine’s Day, m’dear Danielle!

  4. clclewis801 says:

    I totally feel this! This is sort of like what I feel. You are so brave for going to school for writing I would be so exhausted…it’s hard enough writing on my own. I adore the Neil Gaiman quote…I will have to add it to the quote book soon (I don’t have it on me at the time). Anyways, this is like how I feel (sort of) we all have stories within us and our struggles are so different. With me, I tried writing this story that I had in me since high school and after I got about 130 pages (a short first draft) I was exhausted…the concept for my story didn’t go over well with anyone and I just stayed up all night feeling like I had no inner life whatsoever and was creatively bankrupt. Then I started reading and it healed me…that’s why I’m currently getting ready to purchase Insurgent…that’s why I’m semi-postive in regards to my writing career/life. Some times you just need to take a break and come back with fresh eyes…sometimes you just need to read a book. I know you have to write for school…you will do well…and, well…I’m still working on multiple writing projects (my poetry and my Cinderella retelling being my main things right now).
    BTW the pictures are perfect!

    • samchaffin says:

      Ahh I’m so glad that you can relate, too! Wait… maybe “glad” isn’t the right word? Haha I am selfishly happy to know that I’m not alone in this, even though I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. It’s awesome to hear that you got back on the horse in your writing because of reading–I find that that always helps me, too. It’s the reason I’ve been reading a lot more, too, since the beginning of the year. Here’s to carving new paths on the return from creative bankruptcy. Haha 🙂

  5. Kim says:

    “I have no special talent. I am only passionately curious” – Albert Einstein

    BAM. I love this quote. I found it on a sweater (which I promptly bought) and remind myself constantly of it when I’m under the weather with writing or finding ideas. Curiosity is key. I truly believe that. But sometimes you just need a nap.

    I know where you’re coming from; if you remember by revision hell blog post, the you’ll know that a portion of that is what you’re feeling. Howe many stories do I have left? I never would have fallen into such a state if I hadn’t been slammed with a sea of fresh rejection letters (it’s hard to remain confident with that). I was also exhausted, with too many deadlines to meet along with other real world preoccupations.

    You will get past this. None of your feelings have to do with your talent or ability to create. What’s going on is that you’re taking too many creative classes at once (which is, like, what everyone has to do. It was horrible for me when I took more than two cw classes… esp at the grad level. EGADS!).

    I recommend that you find ways to escape from writing – or at least expose yourself to inspiring people and situations to keep the blood pumping. When I’m on a deadline for a cw project, I try to read or watch something that may even remotely help me with my current project. That way, I’m having fun and relaxing, but I’m also moving forward too.

    • samchaffin says:

      Ahh that’s a fantastic quote, Kim!! I need it to be on wallpaper or something so I can see it always. Haha so I’m not gonna lie, the fact that you’ve been through this and have pushed through it, is really so encouraging to me. I don’t think a lot of people really understand what it’s like to take multiple creative writing classes at once. I remember you telling me a while ago (in an email, I think) about how difficult it was starting out in your MFA program with all of the writing you did, and how you had to find other hobbies, haha. I TOTALLY feel that way right now–except I’m not an MFA, haha. Imagine the breakdown I’d have if I was. Oh gosh. 😛 Anyway, I do love writing, but I think it’s really good advice to find other things to do for fun! Also, napping. Napping will probably help.

  6. thejaneite says:

    sammmmmmm. hi I’m finally here.

    ahhhhh yes yes yes to the bit about working on several different things but not having a spark with any of them. honestly, I have at least eight legitimate novels that I want to be and am writing right now, but none of them am I passionate about *actually* writing right now!! it’s the most agrivating thing EVER. like, in my head the stories matter but I just can’t get there with my heart. by no means do I think Finding You is anywhere close to perfect (I expect many more drafts; even as I was just editing, I was kicking myself for so many things) but it was a huge part of my life while I was writing it. and now that I’m officially done for the time being, I feel deflated and sad because nothing else has the same spark. it’s depressing. and a (*cough* huge) part of me feels that I’ll never write something I love as much, that has the same kind of voice or makes me feel as inspired.

    oh well. thank you for reminding me to just stick with it. I also adore that Neil Gaiman quote and will memorize it and tattoo it all over my whole body now thank you. (my parents will not thank you.) he’s amazing. you’re amazing. I’m gonna go do some writing.

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