A new question unexpectedly popped into my head recently. When is the right time to tell my next story? Initially, I thought that I should wait to tell it, either via a new novel or a play, because we are living in a world where, finally, stories are being told which have never been given a platform before. Our world is so politicized, I thought perhaps I should give other voices a chance. I should step aside and not tell my next story until others have had their chance. And anyway, now probably wouldn’t be a time to find a market for it; I’m not relevant enough.

Whew! When I write it all down I can see that there is a lot of conflicting and irrelevant ideas all bumping up against each other. Let’s unpack it.

  • This all assumes I have a new story to tell. Do I even have an idea for a new novel or play? When do I know that a story needs to be told? When do I know that a story needs to be told by me? I realize that I have been allowing lots of other factors influence me too much. I’m stopping myself from finding my story, no less writing it, by too many external factors, like the needs of other voices, and the vagaries of the marketplace.
  • There is an implicit assumption in all my questions that there is a finite amount of room for voices and their stories. The only limit on the number of stories there can be, though, must be the limit of the number of people roaming this planet. We all have our stories, our specific experiences. The only question is whether any one of us chooses to express it or not. Again, the marketplace is the problem, not the story itself.
  • External factors, like publishers, producers, theaters, journals, agents, and all the gatekeepers to the market are important, of course. But it is easy to allow them to stifle us, to tell ourselves that our stories won’t sell or aren’t relevant and so we shouldn’t bother. I fall into this trap all the time, even though it goes against every artistic bone in my body.

So what is the answer? The answer must be that all our stories can be told. No one should stop any of us from finding our own stories, and from telling them in whatever way we can. I have the image of a burning coal pushing against the boney structure of a chest. If it is in there, let it out. Keeping it in only causes pain.

The telling is the important part of all this. If we assume that the art arising from the telling will never bring fame or fortune, even if the book is published or the play is produced, then we can get on with our work. That question of marketability must come last, not first. First comes the telling. And even if no one else hears it, there is immense power in the expression.