We don’t choose our stories

Filed under: Writing |

A friend posted about a writing book she was reading. The quote was this: “I believe that we don’t choose our stories,’ she began, leaning forward. ‘Our stories choose us.'”

It was exactly the kind of self-congratulatory thing that writers love to say to each other. I’ve done it dozens of times myself, paper cup full of herbal tea in hand, a notebook at the ready, lamenting and celebrating this quirky urge to record things, to tell. Are we, at heart, the kid in the class that wants the teacher to know, because justice must exist in some pure form? We can’t help it, you see. We don’t choose our stories. Our stories choose us.

The urge to self-aggrandize is not restricted to writers, of course. The knowing nods at the word “hero” applied to someone who just kind of survived a situation by dumb luck, or the ascribing of higher motives to otherwise mundane professions… we need meaning in our lives. Writers are no different. So why not fall into the trap of calling ourselves scribes, witnesses, truth-tellers?

Here’s the thing: we do choose our stories. We choose – in adulthood, anyway – what experiences we’re exposed to. We choose what to focus on and what to ignore. We choose whether or not to hurt that person with the thinly-veiled reference, whether to cast a soft glow or a harsh glare on a character, when to explain and when to obfuscate. Writing is not some blessed calling, a mantle laid upon our unwilling shoulders by a knowing¬†Fate. It is a tinkerer’s profession, like a cabinet-maker, sanding, carving, making sure the hinges are well-oiled. We choose writing.

This matters, because we can, we must, choose our stories wisely. Today, more than ever, we must speak, choose, shed light, not stand down. Because we choose our stories, and our stories shape the world.

Oops, I did it. Leave it to a writer to push the crescendo into the realm of carnival music. It’s so tempting.

Write. But don’t take yourself so seriously.

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