In business they tell you to work on your business, not just in your business. In other words, don’t get stuck working the cash register when there’s planning and analysis to be done and systems to be put in place. There’s something to be learnt here for writers and other creative people.
Sometimes, when you’re writing a draft, you get so lost in the story and characters, you can’t work out what’s wrong with it. But you know that something stinks. An outline is one way out but I prefer to dive in and write a few messy drafts before I become beholden to plot and outline.
|Writing morning pages outdoors seems to provide even clearer insight on story problems.|
Writing Morning Pages
I deal with this by writing daily morning pages (inspired by the work of writing gurus Julia Cameron and Natalie Goldberg) – three free-written pages early in the morning when I tell myself the story and poke around in the crevices that I might ignore when I’m in full-flight, writing a chapter.
I wake up and put the date at the top of a page and complain for a bit about how cold it is and I describe where I’m sitting and the smells and sights and sounds and tastes, then I’ll write, ‘My story is about…’ and I’ll tell myself the story, even though I might’ve been working on it for three years. In that random, free-associating headspace I start to find solutions for some of my gnarliest challenges and by the end of three pages I have untangled one of those annoying story knots.
|I started writing morning pages almost twenty years ago. Reviewing old notebooks can give fresh insights.|
The Cost of Bypassing the Unconscious
Sometimes I try to skip my morning pages because I feel I should get down to the ‘real’ business of writing sooner. My writing days are always more troubled when I miss this vital step of letting my unconscious mind do its work.
Morning pages are a bridge between my life and the life of my characters. Detouring around that bridge can result in scenes and chapters that lack authenticity and emotional charge. I learnt most of this while writing my book Two Wolves and developed it further on The Fall. On these projects, morning pages would get me out of bed at 6am, or make me roll over, grab my notebook and begin.
|Writing morning pages on the run.|
Work on Your Story, Not Just in Your Story
So, creating an outline is one way of ironing out story (or life) challenges, but if you want to feel your way through the story and be led by instinct in early drafts, this free-written, daily, unconscious exploration can be your best friend.
Photography by Amber Melody.
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5 Things I Learned While Writing Two Wolves