Like many of us in the storytelling community, my well of personal stories occasionally runs dry. These spells canlast for weeks or even months and are always frustrating. Sometimes I cannot decide what to write about. Other times I get stuck in the writing process. My story plots falter, and my words lie lifeless on the page.
How do I pull myself out of these ruts? Sometimes I find inspiration by reading or listening to the stories of others. But an even better solution, I have found, is to switch from personal stories to another type of story to tell—usually folktales or historical stories.
With folktales, I am able to use the tale’s basic structure instead of creating my own, bring characters to life through description and dialogue, add detail to scenes, tweak the plot, and add drama through movement and vocalizations. With historical stories, I can build a story around a brief span time in the life of a person or the course of an historical event.
I have speculated that I sometimes become blocked when writing a personal story because it makes me feel self-conscious and vulnerable. I worry that others may judge me for the life I’ve lived, the thoughts and feelings I have had. Somehow, switching to another type of story to write—and completing it successfully—helps remove that block. I am able to return to an abandoned personal story with fresh perspective and renewed confidence in my writing ability.
My journey as a storyteller has been marked by fits and starts, elation and disappointment, growth and stagnation.
Margaret (center) performs at the Institute of Musical Arts with John Madigan (left) and Barbara H. Clark (right).