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Sunday journalling prompt
An exercise for when you're stuck
I’m feeling my way through the first pages of my next book at the moment, and I’m here to tell you that my current draft absolutely sucks. It is chaotic, overstuffed and, quite often, of dubious grammatical merit. This is normal for me. I leave it too long between books, and so I have to find my voice anew every single time. I’m loving every minute.
But my most pressing problem is that I don’t yet know what argument I’m trying to make. I tend to discover that as I go along - it’s part of the fun for me. I don’t like to write didactically, setting out to illuminate my readers on something I know already. I like to take you all with me.
That means, unfortunately, that we all feel confused together sometimes. I think this is a good thing - that state of not-knowing is a kind of truth. But it means that, in the early stages of the project, I’m using this prompt a lot. And again at the end. And quite a lot in the middle, now I come to think of it. It’s a real clarifier, an untangler. I find it useful for life as much as writing. It’s an exercise for moments when you hit a road-block.
When you reach a point when you can’t go on, all you do is write these five words at the top of a page, and keep going. Allow yourself to itemise the contradictory, partial and muddled thoughts that are crowding your brain. Get it all down.
Every now and then, you’ll grind to a halt, but persist. Write your five words again, and go on.
‘What I’m trying to say is…’
‘What I’m trying to say might be…’
‘What I’m trying to say is definitely not…’
The trick here is to notice the points at which you feel embarrased or self-conscious or stupid, and to definitely write that down. When it comes to making any creative work, you have to normalise the ick - or in fact, learn to welcome it. It’s a signpost to the heart of things. At the very least, you need to pass through it to get to the other side. But sometimes the ick is the thing that you most need to say. This is why we write in privacy until we choose to share. A certain intimacy is necessary.
I find that this exercise works when I’m generally stuck in life too - particularly when I’m in conflict or feel misunderstood. Starting with ‘What I’m trying to say’ lets me prise apart jumbled feelings, and explain myself clearly, if only to myself. Sometimes, the depth of my emotion surprises me in the moment, and I need to spend some time working out what was behind it all. This little prompt really helps.
Let me know how you get on - and feel free to share a ‘What I’m trying to say’ sentence in the comments!