There’s a short problem-solving exercise I do whenever I go on a Wordless Walk. It works for big problems, tiny problems, and it also works for my character’s problems.
Here’s the exercise:
As you’re walking, close your eyes for a second and take a deep breath. Open your eyes and notice whatever your eyes fall on first. Could be anything: A tree, a rock, a path.
Of course, you can also do this exercise sitting in your living room or anywhere else, and you’ll get a different object, such as a lamp or a stool.
Whatever your eyes notice first, ask this question about it: How is this tree (rock, path, lamp, stool) like my problem?
Then, as you walk, (or sit,) notice whatever answers come to mind. It sounds clunky, but this exercise has never failed me.
A couple of years ago, when I was having trouble finding time to write, I did this exercise while on a wordless walk and my eyes landed on a bird when I opened them. I thought, How is this bird like my difficulty finding time to write? These are the answers that came:
- The bird is up at dawn and goes to sleep at dusk.
- The bird follows her own natural rhythms.
- The bird doesn’t worry about having enough time.
- The bird has enough time to do whatever it wants.
- The bird stays present to whatever is going on.
From these thoughts, I came up with some very helpful insights: I am a morning person; I should stop trying to write at night. I need to follow my own natural rhythm and focus on writing in the mornings or during the day when I am fresh and awake. Staying present will show me where there is time I can use to write. I have enough time for the things that are important to me.
Even though I’m a morning person, I’d been trying to write at night after all the business of the day was done and it wasn’t working. Thinking about this bird made me realize how silly it was for me to continue to push myself to do something not in my nature. I relaxed about writing at night and found different islands of time during the day to write, starting with the early morning. This new insight has served me well in the last couple of years.
To use this exercise with one of your characters, you do the exercise the same way but ask yourself: How is this object like my character’s problem?
The brain is a very effective problem-solver, and the structure of this exercise allows the brain to easily build the answers and show us the result.
Try it and let me know what you think!
Diane MacKinnon: Hello, I’m a writer, blogger, master life coach, and family physician. Please let me know if there are any topics you’d like me to cover in this blog.