Greetings, dear octopi!
In a continuation of last week’s metaphor, I, GeGi, will attempt to map out how you can guide the garden of your mind from bare earth to fruitful plant. In other words, how to go from vague idea to an actual project.
Obviously, there will be many ways to accomplish this, and whatever works for you is fantastic. This is simply one method I think is worth trying. If you do something else, please let us and the other readers know in the comments!
Going back to the topic at hand, though, let’s say you’re near the end of a “fallow” period. You haven’t been working on any particular project lately. Maybe you finished something big and needed a break before the next thing. Maybe there’s been little bits here and there, but nothing has really come front and center yet. You’ve been doing the things I talked about before, the meta-writing-process stuff to keep your imagination and subconscious fed for future ideas and inspiration, but no specific project seeds have been planted yet. Or maybe there’s a bunch of sprouts, but they’re too little yet to tell what’s going to be fruitful and what’s just weeds — lots of ideas not taking off yet, nothing really sparking off a desire to buckle down and focus.
The first step to any big change is deciding. Make the deliberate choice. Declare “This is what I’m going to do”. By making decision of starting the new project, you’ve planted the seed. You’ve picked which little sprout you’re going to tend to. This first step can be excruciatingly difficult, or astonishingly simple, or anything in between. The important thing is to make it. The act of telling the universe your intentions will generally set things in motion, in some direction (not always the one you picked, but it’s still momentum! Build on it!). Generally, I’ve found that every idea has it’s own time and timing; what speaks to me now might not later, and vice versa. Learning how to listen to that pull can take practice; accepting it and following it sometimes even more so. Try to stay flexible about what you’re interested in working on, but also try to balance it with stubborn dedication. In my experience, both traits are needed. Still, at the beginning, the important thing is to decide.
Once you’ve decided “this is the project I’m going to work on”, the seed is planted. The sprout is chosen. But now what? The next step is to ensure fruitful growth, so it’s time to generate project-specific compost. Now, to a gardener, the word compost has very different associations. A non-gardener might think of food-trash, smelly and slimy and gross. A gardener knows better; well-tended compost is food-scraps, not trash, and when properly cared for it doesn’t become unpleasant. Rather, it becomes rich soil which feeds the next generation of plants. Likewise, the writer-compost for our minds is also made up of scraps to feed the next creation. These scraps are the things we come across that we think maybe we could use that someday, the lists we make of thoughts and ideas for a project, notes and conversations and musings and walks. It’s the times we spend going out and doing the thing we’re going to write about, or other types of researching, or planning, or just staring off into space.
At this point, though, you might feel like the project isn’t going anywhere. Don’t be fooled! This is the germination phase, when most of the activity is in the ground or in the roots. All those notes and lists you’re making is progress, I promise. Eventually this will culminate into a tipping point…and to help speed that process along, there’s something I suggest giving a try: the Socratic Method (as adapted for writers). Properly defined, the Socratic Method is “consisting of a series of questionings the object of which is to elicit a clear and consistent expression of something supposed to be implicitly known by all rational beings” [via Merriam-Webster]. I tend to employ it — to various degrees — in the form of using a series of questions to figure out, well, anything really. By yourself or with a friend (Writerly or not), question everything about the project and your underlying assumptions. Ask yourself the whats hows whys and so forth. What are you trying to do with this project? How you do want it to look? What’s the important aspects to focus on with it? What are the themes, and why? Think of these questions as part of the weeding process in your mind-garden. It gives you the chance to figure out what thoughts are fruitful/useful, and which are taking up the nutrients/energy you’d rather have directed elsewhere.
Between the natural germination, the feeding of your writerly-compost, and the weeding questions around the sprout, the tipping point will come. It may feel like a sudden burst of inspiration. You might wake up one morning and have a first sentence fully formed in your mind, from which flows the first chapter. You might be in the shower, or on a walk, or talking with a friend (or stranger), or ten minutes before an appointment. In my experience anyway, it will be at time when you feel least able to sit down with it for hours on end. But don’t despair over this seemingly near-universal issue: even if you can only jot down a few key words in the hopes it later revives the spark, still remember to take it as a positive sign that the seed has sprouted, that the sprout has blossomed. There’s still a long road ahead before harvest, but the hard work is paying off. The harvest will come; the new project will become the old project, and the cycle will begin again.
Happy gardening, fellow octopi.
If you’ve enjoyed this post, let us know! Leave a comment with ways you’ve used to successfully start a new project, or methods you use to sort useful ideas from less useful ones. As always, let us know if there’s a topic you’d like us to cover, and thanks for reading!