Story Overload: The Tales You Don’t Have Time to Write

Writing is Like an All-You-Can-Eat Buffet. You Can’t Actually Eat it All!

By Dave Fox
Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

One of the frustrations my travel writing students express to me, especially when they’ve just returned from a big trip, is they have more stories than they have time to write. This is a common problem, though actually, it isn’t a problem.

Save your notepads! When you do find time to write a particular story, they’ll conjure up the details your brain can’t!

My head is full of unwritten tales from a long list of places. Many will never get written. A few will – months or years after the fact. This used to drive me crazy. I wanted to write everything while it was fresh in my mind. Then I realized, that just isn’t possible – and having too many stories to write beats not having enough.

What do you do if you’re a writer overwhelmed by too many stories in your brain? You can’t write them all. You don’t have time, and you’ll be a happier, more productive writer if you are at peace with that reality. So choose a few and let others go.

How do you choose which ones to write? The first thing I prioritize is those that are time-sensitive. A couple of summers ago, my trip through France was disrupted by a train strike. That train strike threw my journey on an unplanned trajectory that made it a better trip. I wrote that story immediately (while my trip was still in progress), and sold it to the Straits Times in Singapore while the train strike was still in the news. Today, two years later, it would still be a good story, but it would be harder to sell because it wouldn’t be timely.

Next, I write the stories I think are most sellable or important. Then, I pick those that are most interesting to me, most fun to write. Some I sell. Others go on my website.

In addition, I’m always on the lookout for publications that want a certain type of story. If they’re wanting articles on a particular topic, or with a particular angle, I’ll dig in my mental library in search of unwritten tales that might fit their needs. Pitching ideas you know an editor is hunting for increases your chances of selling them.

That’s my strategy. It works a lot better than what I used to do (and what I see many aspiring freelancers do), which was to quietly panic, freak out about the fact that I had too many stories to write, and freeze. I wouldn’t write any of them, or I’d try to cram too many tangents into a single story, and end up with a rambling, wordy mess.

  • Panicking about what you can’t write, and freezing, is never good. Just write something!
  • Don’t try to squeeze an entire trip into a single story. Specific, pinpointed tales are more interesting to readers (and editors).

When you take that approach, you will find yourself with more stories than you have time for – and this applies to many genres, not just travel writing. So let some stories go and know that’s okay. Work on the ones most useful or interesting to you and your readers.

If an idea keeps nagging you, then maybe you need to bump it to the top of your “to write” list. But when you find yourself freaking out about the stories you haven’t written, take a deep breath, celebrate those you have written, and get going on one new one.

Just like you can’t eat everything at an all-you-can-eat buffet, you can’t write everything among the smörgåsbord of tales in your mind. So pick the tastiest ones, let others go, and in the end, you won’t end up with story indigestion.

Want to become a phenomenal writer? Follow these links for discounts on my online writing courses. The workshops are specially designed for people with busy schedules. You can do them at your own pace whenever you have time.

Looking for your own personal writing coach? Whether you need help honing your skills, breaking into freelance publishing, or getting over emotional hurdles such as writer’s block and procrastination, I can help! Learn more about writer coaching here.  

Published on Friday, May 6, 2016

Leave a Reply