Sometimes you have a writing project in mind that you can see ever so vaguely but don’t know where to start. Or, maybe you’ve gotten a good running leap at it and then all of a sudden you’re out of steam and stuck in the mud. Now what?
There are as many ways to approach this challenge as there are writers. Of course, the solution can largely depend on what kind of personality you have. Do you like detailed outlines, vague outlines that just give you a start, or no outline at all?
Right now I’m working on a memoir and the most daunting aspect of the process has been figuring out what it’s actually about. I’ve learned the hard way that this story is telling me what needs to be said, I’m not telling it. That said, I do play a role in shaping what comes forward, so it’s an act of co-creation.
Recently, I’ve discovered a midwife to aid in this birthing process. It’s called The Writer’s I Ching: Wisdom for the Creative Life, by Jessica Page Morrell, and I’ve found it to be not only very interesting but also fun (!). When your mind is like a circus tent filled with a dizzying array of memories, images, and dreams, your story’s possibilities can be overwhelming. And that, of course, is the perfect scenario for doubt and despair to take over.
Enter the I Ching (pronounced Ee Jing). With its elegant solutions, uncanny accuracy, and ancient wisdom, this Eastern philosophy can offer writers counsel, peace of mind, and confidence by bringing them into alignment with their own intuition through symbols and archetypes.
Here’s how it works. First, you need to be in an open frame of mind—to surrender control and allow a force beyond your everyday knowing to enter. “This is similar to what happens every night when you sleep and surrender to the world of dreams, the magic of night,” says Morrell. So the first step, as always, is to relax.
Next, you want to think about your question. The I Ching isn’t for yes-or-no type queries, and it doesn’t predict the future like a Magic 8-Ball. It can only guide you in the here and now, helping you to meet the future prepared, empowered, and informed. So it’s important to ask appropriate questions.
For example, my first question, after a long hiatus from my memoir, was “How should I approach the writing now?” I shuffled the cards (which come attached in perforated sheets at the back of the book) and drew the top one: Hexagram 59: Easing. I looked up the corresponding entry, which began with this quotation:
Find out the reason that commands you to write; see whether it has spread its roots into the very depth of your heart; confess to yourself whether you would have to die if you were forbidden to write.”—Rainer Maria Rilke
Underneath, Morrell explained: “Under the auspices of Hexagram 59, it’s a powerful time to start new projects and overcome writer’s block. Jump in with a strong sense of purpose and focus on the big picture.”
Well, yes to all that!
For each hexagram card (there are 64), Morrell provides a relevant quotation from a well-known writer, a thorough overview of the hexagram’s meaning, and then a way to apply it to fiction, nonfiction, and the writer’s path in general. It’s really all quite fascinating.
If you’re stuck in your writing project, this gem of a book is worth a shot. It’s far more interesting than flipping a coin and it might inspire a circus tent of ideas … as well as a way to sort them out. You’ll never know till you try!