Sometimes we have to go deep inside ourselves to solve our problems.
— Patrick Star, SpongeBob SquarePants
You are back again, at the foothills of your mind peering up. Something doesn’t want you to rest. It whispers words and fragments in your sleep. You wake with an idea half-formed; snatches of over overheard conversation melt into consciousness.
You sit down for the long march. To find them. To tell a story. A blinking cursor marks time. Second by second you will it to move through telepathy, frustration, apathy, coffee, and chocolate. You try it all. But it refuses to move, words refuse to appear. They’re just words. How difficult can it be? We use words everyday, we have done for years. We are words.
But there is something else here. A veil—stretched out, tensile, yet superficial—bars the way. It is like peering through water. But you cannot get past. It resists being held. You yearn to dive into the world beyond. But you can’t.
You peer through the lens, focusing the scope inwards towards that strange, enshrouded land. Those people they want to be found, their story to be told.
Bad weather strikes. A storm is moving in. You abandon your search. Writing is not easy after all. Words are not svelte. Words are clunky, heavy—they slow the journey down. Words are not your friends—not now.
Nights pass in silence. You forget them. But it happens again. Another city rises from the rubble of dreams, citadels rumble from the ocean depths. There are people there. They are calling to you. And so it goes. But you are the frustrated begetter, the impotent creator, the Prometheus without fire. You have failed them. That thin veil is all you see. It mirrors the page—white, mocking smiles in its creases and folds.
But you don’t give up. You can’t. You refuse to be beaten. You sit down again. You march. But this time you forget them. You wend your way around not through. Sometimes the most exciting path is the indirect one. And so with a word like a foot on sodden ground—heavy, uncomfortable—you begin the journey.
Turn back, a voice whispers. But you don’t. You are a teller of stories, you hold magic in your hands, you are a saviour of dreams; your footprints are words, and the path your narrative.
But the path doesn’t make sense. It winds and twists unpredictably. One minute on fire, the next drenched in dark rain. Chimeras rise, the path ruptures. It is full of rocks and holes. This is not the road you wanted. It seems designed to entrap. It dips into valleys full of unfriendly souls. Turn back! the voice wails through the storm. The path descends. It is pitch black. This is the midnight zone. Yet you walk blindly on and cry. But this is not the journey you wanted. Not like this.
However, you soon reach a point where waves break and the view is more beautiful than you imagined in your dreams. The cursor passes like time, like a bird of prey it swoops—windborne, striking. You smile as it plucks you from the depths towards great heights. You don’t ever want to stop or come down. You’re not even afraid of falling anymore.
You know now—like you’ve always known—that even the longest journey is a series of smaller ones. That a story is built from the movement of words on dust and mud, as a pilgrimage is performed one step at a time to bring the destination closer.
In Samuel Beckett’s Molloy, private detective Jacques Moran is assigned to track down the character of Molloy who has gone missing. A task Moran knows is of great importance and yet he dithers for hours around the house, organising his trip, packing clothes, berating his son, full of doubt, unable to start, fearing to begin. That is what writing feels like at times. In writing, as with most journeys, the most agonising time is the anticipation of the start. However, writing can seem even more difficult because you have to invent the path before you tread upon it.
But once you start the journey can be beautiful. It doesn’t always make sense. Sometimes it may seem unfriendly or futile. But that is the beauty of your own unique mind and imagination—embrace it.
When I’m stuck I have two ways of helping me navigate the journey.
One is a ten-minute timed freewrite. A freewrite is just as it suggests, you place one word in front of the other without thinking.
Sometimes I choose random words, take a phrase from a book, or just write without a safety net. Take that initial terrifying leap of faith into the unknown and take another one without thinking. The aim is not to create something that makes sense, but to explore the depths and observe the journey itself.
There are times when I don’t feel brave enough to freewrite. Times when the page is not crisp and white, but dark and foggy like an uncharted map upon which the words: ‘Beware here there be monsters’ are written. For those times, I use clustering.
With clustering (or mind mapping) you take a single word or idea and circle it in the middle of the page. Without thinking you connect another and another. If you are stuck go back to the key word. Clustering frees your mind from the analytic mode we normally employ for constructing sentences.
If freewriting is a journey to the clouds, then clustering feels like being placed upon clouds and jumping between them without care. The key is to have fun and ignite the imagination. Perhaps freewrite from it afterwards or just leave it alone with the satisfaction you have travelled somewhere you never thought you would.
Go inside yourself, as Patrick says, to solve your problems. If you are stuck then don’t despair, try freewriting or clustering. The worst that will happen is you will surprise yourself and open up new paths.
Clusters and freewrites are deeply personal because they delve into that wonderful subconscious ocean that belongs to you alone. As long as we let go and lose our fear of falling, we can uncover wonderful worlds we never thought existed. Do enough of these before writing and the journey becomes eased.
This is a cluster I’ve just done for the word ‘Spider’ (please excuse the handwriting):
The first thing that came to my head was ‘Terrible Love’ which is a song by The National featuring the line: ‘It’s a terrible love that I’m walking with spiders’. Things soon moved to T.S. Eliot (via ‘Jester’/’Prufrock’) then to Virginia Woolf (‘Lighthouse’) to James Joyce (‘Ulysses’). The most surprising thing for me was ‘Higgs Boson’ towards the right. And then, via a separate thread, a whole series of movies: ‘Interstellar’ through to ‘Apocalypse Now’ (via ‘Intelligence’ and ‘multiverse’)
Image credit: Dustin Scarpitti via Unsplash