Originally published July 8, 2013, at Creative Dream Journals.
Have I mentioned that I have a book coming out this fall? Oh, I have? (Insert winking smiley face here.)
Many years ago, when that book was just beginning to come to life, I went through a long period in which I didn’t really know what it was about. I couldn’t put it into words—and yet, it had me. I knew it was a thing, a nonverbal something—I just didn’t have the words for it yet.
I think a lot of ideas start out nonverbal like that—as a sense of something or a feeling or an intuition that hasn’t quite made its way into the verbal realm of thought. But for a writer, that can be kind of a drag, because this thing is going to have to find words somehow, and you’re not sure how to help them come along.
I began by immersing myself in others’ words—I read and read and then thought and thought and tried to make this thing articulate. Friends said “Is it this?” And I’d say “It’s like that, but it’s not exactly that.”
I wrote notes and notes and two- and three- and five-page summaries of my idea. None of them actually communicated much.
But I knew that the thing was there, that there was a book on this thing waiting to be written, and that somehow I was going to have to find a way of pulling it out of me.
After about a year of this searching for words, I was pretty frustrated. I was in grad school, and my adviser, Paul—bless him and his faith in me—did not act equally frustrated. Instead, he said, “Go out and graze.” Go out and look around. Get out of your own head, get out of books. Go out into the world, and see what you find that resonates with this idea of yours.
And that’s what got me unstuck. I looked around, made scrapbooks of what I found, and went and looked and listened some more to the creative things that other people were up to that seemed to speak to this thing that I had going on.
And then the words came.
Now that I think about it, this is probably good advice for an introvert. Maybe introverts and extraverts can weigh in: I wonder whether introverts like me are more likely to get stuck in our own heads, our own inner processing, and can get unstuck by remembering to get out there and engage with the outside world. And maybe extraverts can get stuck in what’s already happening out there and get unstuck by remembering to “go in” and see what their own unique minds make of all that they’ve seen and done.