The Stories We Tell Ourselves


No, this isn’t a post about negative self-talk.

That would be the subject of an entirely different, and if I chose to get all self-psychoanalytical about it, lengthy post.

Rather, it’s about what goes on in my mind whenever it’s not otherwise occupied, and, to me, is the furthest thing from negative.

Two weeks ago, in the lead up to my trip to Ontario for Easter, I had a mountain of tasks to attend to.

Work was a zoo: the start of programs was a month behind schedule.  A colleague resigned.  We hired someone new, but that person wouldn’t start for another two weeks, so the outstanding duties had to be divvied up and shared.

My revision of my WIP was no less trying.

For my trip, I wanted to break from my novel at the end of a chapter (actually, I wanted to go back and make another pass of chapters 1-3 while I was in Ontario in spite of my dismal track record for writing while on vacation).

However, the chapter I was trying to finish was one I’d generously coded yellow with respect to its revision needs for draft 2.  In truth, it was as red as rage and the LED display on my clock as the minutes kept count of my curses.

Three days before the trip, I hadn’t even started packing yet, which is unheard of for me to wait so long (I usually start laying things out a good week to week-and-a-half in advance).

I also had a volunteer commitment as a contest judge for an annual school-based environmental challenge.  This was the sixth time I’ve served in this capacity, but the organizers changed the judging criteria this year.  My resultant struggle in trying to understand the new rubric made the entire task take twice as long as usual.

Plus there were birthdays coming up, which required shopping and homemade cards and letters to go in those cards.  And Easter itself also required some shopping.

As well, I had to gathering up all my income tax information so I could tackle that chore as soon as I returned home from Ontario.

Yet even in the midst of all of that, as I often do, I was telling myself a story.

This particular one happened to be a love story. ❤

Albeit, one with a tragic ending. 😥

And I don’t know that I’ll ever actually write it.  That really isn’t the point of it.

Storytime anytime

I once read in a writing how-to guide that once you becomes a writer, you’ll never wait in an airport lineup the same way again.

I have found this to be true in many situations of enforced waiting: it provides ample opportunities for people-watching, eavesdropping, and reading people’s text messages over their shoulder, all of which – however ill-mannered – is excellent fodder for character development.

Daydreaming 2In addition, long waits allow me the opportunity to let my mind wander.  To be honest, though, I’ve never needed the excuse of a queue of any sort for that, instead doing so quite freely and regularly almost every day of my life.

I always have – have always been a daydreamer.  Whether I’m showering, cooking dinner, running on the treadmill, lying in bed waiting to fall asleep, attending a dull meeting at work, riding the bus or what have you, I almost always have some sort of story running through my head.

Oddly enough, this story usually has nothing to do with my current writing project – at least not directly.

It may relate to a tale I someday want to write, like the scene currently running in my head about a battle-weary Spartan warrior and his turbulent first encounter with a village woman offering him a drink of water.

Or it might be about a character from my WIP: an event from his/her backstory that never made it into the novel, or an alternate plotline that definitely won’t since the actual course of events took a completely different direction than what would support it.

A lot of times, though, my mental storytelling involves other people’s characters – characters from books, movies, and shows I’ve read or watched and loved – allowing me to play out the plots and situations I would have liked to see but didn’t.

Allowing me to do what I would have done with them if they were my creations.

Sometimes these stories are quite short: a one-off yarn to occupy me in the dentist’s chair or during my bike ride to work on a given day.

More often, though, the story goes on indefinitely – an ongoing narrative like a soap opera with no clear beginning or end, just a continuous string of conflicts, resolutions, and escalations of goals and stakes.

I can’t be the only person that does this.

Inside my mind’s eye

Day Dream by OliveLoaf Design

Day Dream by OliveLoaf Design

I’ve long recognized the power of visualization as an important component of any planning process.

God knows I certainly like to plan; I’m an unrepentant plotter and also an introvert under the Myers-Briggs typology.  Introverts are said to be so much into visualization, we often won’t even speak without having first rehearsed and refined in our minds what we want to say.

I consider the stories I tell myself to be part of this visualization process.

Quite obviously this is the case when the stories involve my own characters and their backstories, for it gives me the chance to test their reactions and motivations under different circumstances to determine how well they jibe with what I already know about their personalities within my novel.

The stories with characters that aren’t mine are also beneficial for the experience they give me at telling a tale in general.  Seeing as I’ve only written one complete story (in three novels) in the past three years, this is practice I could definitely use.

Do you daydream? If so, when do you usually do this? What type of stories are you telling yourself?  Let me know in the comments.

(Image source #1, #2 and #3)

13 thoughts on “The Stories We Tell Ourselves

  1. I most certainly daydream. I do it most of the day, really. Through all the chores, whilst I’m eating, showering, driving… Basically, from the time I wake up to when I sleep, and then it becomes just dreaming.
    A lot of the time it’s additions to what I’m already writing or plotlines for sequels. Occasionally, I’ll get an idea for something new, but for the most part, I’m just idly cycling through what I’d much prefer to be doing.


    • Haha, it’s not just me, then. I do a lot of thinking about what I’m writing (most likely, what I plan to write that night), however often, I’m just looking to entertain myself rather than be “working” (thinking about writing is still “working” on it). It’s kind of like reading myself a story, only I have to create the story myself. And I don’t have to write it afterwards. 😉


  2. I have always been a daydreamer, Janna. Even at school I’d look out the window and imagine an entire story unfolding near the road or playground (when there was actually nothing there). No wonder I didn’t do very well at exam time! 😀


  3. I will deliberately start a dream/plot line before going down for a nap, to use the time for something other than breathing. It goes a long a bit, finds a resolution, and then peters out. But no daydreaming per se. So it’s not the plotting. Or maybe I’ve worked most of it out by now.


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