I’m stuck. I’ve been stuck for a while now – a whole lotta stuck-inducing life stuff goo-ed all over my writing machinery. Yes, it’s important to trust the process, to remember the necessity of fallow winters and spring and new shoots and all that. (Barf.) (Sorry.) (Ish — I tend towards acidic when I’m stuck.)
At Alumni Weekend in January, Kelly Barnhill talked about how our creative brains are light-years ahead of our conscious brains. There’s that trust thing again, but yanno, it’s Kelly Barnhill, so I’m going with it. Anyway, this got me thinking: We like to imagine we’re directing traffic in our stories. Can our stories direct traffic in our lives? Can we possibly use our writing-lives to unstick our life-lives? (It’s not quite “what-would-my-character-do” but close.)
It’s not news that we draw on parts of ourselves to tell stories. We write for the children we were, or maybe children we know. Often our characters are stand-ins for those little people.
Also? We are still, somewhere inside, those children we were. We’re still here. And sometimes our “littles” pipe up and cause trouble.
So, what if we see the whole writing thing as a giant feedback loop connecting the stories we create with the US in our life-stories? If it’s true (again, Kelly Barnhill, so let’s go with it) that our stories receive deep wisdom from our creative brains, maybe we can learn from them, our stories, how to do our life-lives better.
I mean, our stories often parallel our lives. Our lives present… difficulties. And these difficulties can feel like impossibilities we’ll never figure out.
But what if there’s this interconnected breathing web of YOU and the WORLD you create? But it’s not just YOU, NOW– it’s YOU, THEN too.
So maybe it’s more like a braid, or a twisting-double-helix ladder, where the rungs are YOU-THEN connecting the YOU-NOW with your MC. Or maybe the rungs are your MC connecting YOU-THEN with YOU-NOW. You know. All those combinations. (Like recombinant DNA, maybe.)
Say something’s going on in your life – like, say, you keep getting passed over for job promotions for which you are supremely qualified. You’ve “gone along to get along.” You’re convinced you cannot confront your boss; you see yourself as powerless. You’ve diagrammed all the angles, but you don’t see any way out. Every night after work, you shovel doughnuts (or pour liquor or whathaveyou). Kind of an echo of when you were a kid and for whatever reasons, in order to survive, you shut up/ piped down.
I’m guessing, if this parallels you in any way, you might be writing a character struggling to speak truth to power.
And you might, in the course of writing your story, have reached a place where you don’t know how your MC is going to figure it out.
Maybe you don’t know where the story’s going. Maybe you know where you want the story to go, but you don’t know how to get there. Maybe you have a plan of how to get there, but unplanned, random characters keep intruding and messing up your plans (so you’re not so much stuck as derailed – that’s a whole other conversation).
Anyway, you keep asking yourself, HOW DO I MAKE THIS STORY WORK? And your conscious brain is saying I DON’T KNOW, DUMMY. I CAN’T EVEN ASK MY BOSS FOR A FRICKIN’ STAPLER.
But your MC, with the help of your brilliant creative brain, figures it out. (Eventually. I mean, that’s what they tell me.)
I guess what I’m saying is if your MC can figure it out, so can you. You can. It’s scary, so maybe Young-You suddenly develops a fascination with squirrels or with mapping routes to every bakery in town. But Young-You can’t always direct traffic, because then staring-at-trees-Now-You will stay at stuck at intersections, and possibly develop diabetes.
Still, remember: YY has been told to shut up enough – that’s partly why you’re having this trouble in the first place. So, what happens when YY gets a voice? Not a whistle or actual traffic cones, but a voice? YY brings wonder and all sorts of leaps.
So, this might be weird, but someday while you’re eating a donut or searching for your keys or wondering if you should just bring your own stapler into work, try an experiment: give Young You a nice long meeting with your MC.
Because your creative brain has infused your story with its forward-thinking brilliance, trust it.
What if your MC can conspire with Young You to figure out a way to get you to talk to your boss, preferably without stapling your resignation to her forehead?
There are a million ways to get unstuck, in writing and in life, and tons of terrific advice on how to do that. Not sure this here is advice so much as just trying to figure out a different paradigm. (Lissen. Look at the first line of this. Would you take swimming lessons from a drowning pigeon? Remember, Kelly Barnhill also said “nobody knows what the hell we’re doing.” Still, I’m sure you real writers have this all figured out already. And I’m usually late to the party. Where’s the vodka?)
Anyway, fallow fields and rDNA and trust. You can do this. We can all do this.
Good luck, Duckies. I’m off to research squirrels.
Recombinant DNA (rDNA) molecules are DNA molecules formed by laboratory methods of genetic recombination (such as molecular cloning) to bring together genetic material from multiple sources, creating sequences that would not otherwise be found in the genome. Recombinant DNA is possible because DNA molecules from all organisms share the same chemical structure. They differ only in the nucleotide sequence within that identical overall structure.)
Miriam Busch is the author of Lion, Lion, one of NPR’s Best Books of 2014 and a Junior Library Guild Pick, and Raisin, the Littlest Cow. She is also the recipient of the 2012 Herman W. Block award and the 2013 Jane Resh Thomas Prize.