So, you’ve got a story? Oh, yay! You think this is a good story, one that’s crying out for a damn good telling? You want to tell this remarkable story to the world, or at least tell your community or your circle of friends, or your daffy old Aunt Eustace. But where do you even begin? If you find yourself teetering on that starter block, rocking back and forth, thinking about diving into a writing project, but somehow you just can’t quite take the plunge, here’s one great exercise to start.
This is going to sound ridiculously simple, and you might not even think it’s worth doing because it sounds too obvious. Hey, there are obvious things, and then there are things we assume are obvious.
Ask yourself why you want to write this story. This is not an exercise is trying to discourage you taking on a writing project. Heaven forfend! But it is an exercise in helping you understand your creative motivation. Ask yourself why, answer, then ask a question why about the answer, then carry on a kind of conversation with yourself about it….
For example, say my elderly grandma asks me to write a story about her life as a child in a small town in the Great Depression. Wow, I jump at the chance. Asking myself why I want to write this story seems a ludicrous question; it’s obvious that I should help my dear old grandma put her early memories into story form!
That’s good, but why? Why do I want to write these stories?….
Because I’ve heard her talk about them; they are great stories!
Why are they great stories?….
Because grandma lived in a fantastic community of characters whose lives together were so moving.
Why were their lives so moving?
Because their lives were about hardship and ingenuity and simplicity, generosity and being kind.
But why are those things interesting and good things for you to write about?
Because I believe we are living in tough times now and its good to know its possible to still be kind and generous even when life is hard. Community matters.
You see where this is all going, don’t you? By questioning your story with why, why, and more why, you will be questioning your own motivation, your personal stake in the story and the telling of it. The process will reveal your own “creative juice” in the story, your own passions. Instead of being just a favour to your gran (which, hey is lovely but there has to be more), it takes on a profound meaning and direction for you personally. The more you ask why the closer you will get to getting a feel for the big picture in your story. And getting to grips with the big picture—well, a picture is worth a thousand words, as they say, so a big picture must be worth a million, right?
Big writing projects, like writing a novel or a play, will take time. You may be spending months, even years working on this story. So it stands to reason you seek, from the very outset, to know why you’re interested in the idea and where your passion for it lies.
Incidentally, this exercise is not just for writers. It’s a good exercise to try with any number of major projects/decisions you undertake in your life—taking a job, leaving a job, buying a house, creating a garden, starting a business, and even writing a blog.