Lost in the jungle? Five steps to move your story forward
Ever feel like your mind is a jungle and your manuscript is a reflection of all those tangled vines and spongy mosses? Ever feel stuck in a bog of your own making? In her book, On Writer’s Block, Victoria Nelson says that one of the biggest reasons writers get blocked is because at some subconscious level they know that something isn’t quite right with an aspect of their writing—whether it’s a character, subplot, theme, or even the original story idea.
Before I read Nelson’s book, I spent far too much time lost in my own overgrown and disorderly jungle, paralyzed by fear. Now when I recognize the block is happening—for me it’s when I feel like I need to do anything else but write (clean out the fridge, make another “to do” list, scoop the litter box)—I stop and ask myself a few questions.
The 5-step process below gets me back on track and allows my creative energy to spark and flow again. You can adopt this process or use these steps as a springboard to make the unconscious conscious:
1. Empty your mind: Close your eyes, take a few deep breaths, and empty your mind. On the inhale, imagine a white light coming in through the top of your head. On the exhale, imagine that white light sweeping through your body and going out your feet, taking with it any worries or concerns. Do this until your body and mind are relaxed. The idea is to let go of any worries you have around your manuscript or anything else in your life.
2. Scan/Ask: Now that your body and mind are relaxed, keep your eyes closed and bring your attention to your writing project. Gently allow your mind to scan over your project while asking, “Where are the problem areas? What aspect is bothering me the most right now?” Allow your mind to drift over the project, scanning for anything that draws your attention.
3. Notice/Ask: Notice what comes up FIRST. Go deeper—like taking a brain scan and noticing a dark spot—go deeper into that area to get a better view. Example: In my current project, I’m stuck on plot. What happens next? I close my eyes and focus on my plot line. I ask, “Why? Why am I stuck on plot? What’s wrong? What’s next?”
4. Listen/Ask: The first thing I hear or notice is the word “character.” (Yes, with practice, you may hear your subconscious mind talking to you). I go deeper and ask, “What about character?” I hear, “Finish naming and developing my main characters before moving on to plot.” I’ve only named and fleshed out two characters. I realize I need to do more character work before the plot will become clear. This may not be true for every writer—but for me, at this time and in this manuscript, it’s what I need to do to move forward. In my next writing session, I’ll work on character development.
5. Keep Asking: If you don’t get anything right away, gently keep asking questions. The key is to be gentle. Don’t force anything. Don’t beat yourself up. If you still don’t have any flashes of insight, then forget about it for awhile: go for a walk, go out in nature, do the dishes, scoop the litter box.
Try the process again later. The next time, try different questions: If I knew the answer, what would it be? What if _______?
Look at each aspect of your manuscript and ask questions because within the questions lie the answers. And remember—have fun! Pretend you’re on a grand adventure, stealthily slipping through the jungle, sneaking up on your prey….