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The Storyteller’s Ladder

Please welcome Gwendolyn Womack [1] back to WU today! Gwendolyn is the USA Today bestselling author of The Fortune Teller and the award-winning reincarnation thriller, The Memory Painter. Her latest novel, The Time Collector, is out this month with PicadorUSA. Gwendolyn lives in Los Angeles with her family, collects kaleidoscopes, and paints as a hobby. Visit her online at gwendolynwomack.com [2]

The Storyteller’s Ladder

How much time does it take you to write a book? For some of us it’s an average of a few years, from conception to final edits, for others it could be ten or twenty. Then there are those writers who turn out multiple books a year. No matter your miles-per-hour on the highway to publication, one thing is certain: There is an end to the road. Life is finite. Our time here is finite. So is the number of stories we will be able to tell.

Unless we join the Centurion Club, our lives will be a little less than a century, which is not that long. When you look at the sweeping history of civilization, centuries of lifetimes are built on the centuries that came before and we are but one block on a 100-year step ladder.

When we start to look closely at that ladder, at the grand sweep of time, our time here seems even smaller, more inconsequential, but the paradox is it is also precious. It is priceless.

My most recent novel, The Time Collector [3], had me delving into questions of time, which in turn had me thinking about the things we will leave behind when our time here is over. The story is about psychometrists who can touch objects and remember the past embedded with them. They can pick up an antique and revisit another time and place, even re-experience lost history.

I did in-depth research on the history of time and the evolution of time for the book, and found how our sense of time is constantly shifting because time evolves alongside us. Time started to drastically change with the Industrial Revolution, when time suddenly began to equal money. Overnight, people didn’t seem to have enough time. (Sound familiar?) Personal time became “public time.” Then, as the world connected further, global time became a necessity thanks to seafaring, then trains, and then planes. “Universal time” was created in 1884, and the world became synchronized to the same 24-hour cycle. (That is not that long ago when you think about it.) Now our ability to tell time, to capture time, has gotten so advanced that time is measured to the slightest vibration of an atom and our sense of time is in hyper-drive–as is the amount of information that we are receiving and sending every minute. The world is becoming instantaneous.

So how does that affect us as storytellers?

We live in the Information Age, some would say the Post Information Age. There are so many stories flying around the world, thanks to the internet and the publishing machine, that sometimes it can feel like one story, one book, could never become more than just a blip in time, inconsequential, soon to become lost in the sands. But that’s not true. Stories are precious treasure. They are the witnesses to the here and now, to this specific place and moment in history that we live. Stories mark our step on the ladder.

So think about the treasure you will leave behind on those stairs when your time here is over. If objects hold the imprints of the past, then books are imbedded with the journey the writer was on when he or she wrote the words. I call that journey the invisible words on the page. In the far future when your book has become an antique, a relic of this time, what will someone feel when they hold it in hand?

As writers, we work hard to give our characters arcs, but what is your arc when it comes to your writing? Think about your journey as a storyteller, where you want to go and how much time it will take. What books do you hope to write? Record that as a promise to yourself and let that promise be your guide at the keyboard, all the time. Good journey!