Matt has a great post over at his blog about how the narratives we construct can get in the way of actually seeing reality (a common thing in Zen practice, actually). In it is this line: "If you cannot dig into the stories you carry around with you, you run the risk of believing lies."
We know this by other names: self-reflection, skepticism, self-inquiry, etc. etc. But I think also of the other meaning of story: the stories we want to tell the rest of the world, the stories we're carrying around because we're working on them and want eventually to sign our names to them and publish them.
What does it mean to say that I want to tell a story about such and such a person, or such and such a set of circumstances? Why me and not someone else? What do I bring to the table? Do I even have anything to bring?
If I was more lax about this standard, I would easily have a lot more work to my name, but I think it would on balance be far less interesting. About nine-tenths of the ideas I come up with for a story don't ripen because I look at them in this light and they wither. Why me for this story? I ask, and I get nothing back. Why me other than the fact I came up with it?
If I dig into a story I have in mind, and I find nothing there but my own ego looking back at me, I already have that. No need to go digging for more of it. If there's nothing more to it than because I want to sign my name to it — nothing more than just the frisson of the ego — then I can't do it. There has to be more than just bragging rights. There has to be some other level of looking-inwards to what it all means.
I come back constantly to the idea that what makes a writer distinct, and what makes a few of them great, is point of view. Their lives and their minds gave them a way to look at the world that is unduplicatable, and they found a way to make their work an expression of that view. I don't yet know to what degree looking inwards refines all this, but it's something for me to mull over going forward.