Is Your Story Tank Leaking? by Jen Violi

For two years, my toilet gave me grief.  Actually it seems the tank itself was grieving, regularly weeping onto the bathroom floor.

Last year, I thought I’d found salvation when the maintenance guy came and put in a whole new toilet and tank, imprinted with the word “Toto.”

I secretly hoped it would play “I bless the rains down in Africa” every time I opened the lid.  It didn’t.  And the leak continued.

The maintenance man kept telling me the leak came from condensation on the side of the tank, from winter temperatures in conflict with bathroom temperatures.  Although I could see the condensation and sort of see the logic, my gut did not trust that condensation was the problem.  But I trusted the expert.

By a lovely stroke of luck, two weeks ago a new maintenance man came to assess the ongoing situation, and said, “Well, your gaskets are loose.  You can feel the leak coming from under the tank.”

I felt it, and sure enough, he was right.  “Hallelujah!” I said.

After he left, I felt some regret and shame mixed with the relief.  I was so grateful that someone had been able to identify the issue and fix it, but a little embarrassed that I didn’t ever follow my gut or, you know, common sense. I didn’t have to be a plumber to feel under the tank.

And I thought about you and me and writing, how it’s so easy to defer to authority, to let The Expert tell you The Truth and then trust that “truth” for far too long, despite your own worthy feelings and instincts.

I absolutely rely on specialists.  I mean, I didn’t fix the toilet tank, but when I’m with an expert, it doesn’t mean I suddenly turn into an amateur human being.

I am an expert at being Jen Violi, who also happens to be really good at considering multiple possibilities, asking good questions, and using the smarts I have to problem solve.

Likewise, you are the expert on your own story and experience as a writer, no matter who told you that you couldn’t write poetry, weren’t allowed to do that in a novel, or shouldn’t ever choose X or Y as a subject if you wanted to be taken seriously.

Lovers, let us not shrink in the presence of experts and forget our own brilliance.

So here’s my first big question for you: where is your story leaking?

For instance:

  • Puddle 1: Does your story lose steam after the first chapter?
  • Puddle 2:  Has your villain gone too soft and started to drain energy from the plot?
  • Puddle 3:  Is the leak actually from you, that is, you lose steam before you even start writing?

Now, here’s my follow up challenge for you: before you go off to an expert, grab your own tool kit, get down under that leak and take a look.  What do you know about what’s happening or the source of it?  What can you do to fix it?

If you need help tightening some story gaskets, by all means, find someone qualified to help you.  As Anne Wilson Schaef writes, asking for help “usually indicates an advanced level of honesty and intelligence.”

Regardless, let yourself be the first expert you trust with your story.  Remember your own brilliance.


Jen Violi is the author of Putting Makeup on Dead People, and founder of Jen Violi: The Business.  As a mentor, editor, and facilitator, Jen helps writers unleash the stories they’re meant to tell.  Sign up for her free monthly newsletter, brimming with writing ideas and resources for you at