What to do if nothing is happening in your story: face the shadow.
Writers are always invited to shadow work, whether they expect it or not. That’s because writing a good story always seems to bring us there!
Whether we take the time to integrate that work into our consciousness is a bigger question.
Meeting our shadow is incredibly difficult, because it means looking directly at the most vulnerable parts of ourselves, the aspects of ourselves that are steeped in shame. Psychologists call these the disowned parts of ourselves.
In a story, shadow has a super important role: it can come through as a character’s “fatal flaws,” buried memories, motivations, feelings, or desires. And it is directly related to transformation.
Very often, when a writer feels that “nothing is happening” in a story, it’s because the writer is avoiding facing a shadow somewhere.
Of course we avoid it!
Looking at shadow (our own, or that of our characters) is intensely uncomfortable. It can even feel impossible! It’s easier to go blank and feel numb. We disassociate from unpleasant aspects of character because it can be so hard to look at them directly.
Shadow: can’t go under it, can’t go around it, can’t go over it. Without going through it, there can be no transformation of character.
Which is, of course, what a story is all about.
How do we go through that uncomfortable process, then, both in our story and as writers ourselves? If we’ve disowned that part of ourselves, how do we ever get to see it?
This is what I’ll be talking about in my newsletters this month, and in our monthly Centered Conversation live call on Wednesday, October 20th.
For now, here are three journal prompts to get you started.
Note: if these questions make you cringe, that’s the point. They’re designed to make us squirm a bit. In writing through the discomfort, you create the conditions for change and growth, and make some very interesting discoveries.
Pick one prompt to start, set a timer for ten minutes, and write by hand.
a) The thing I’m most afraid that someone could say about my writing is…
b) What is something I can do to expose myself to this fear in a safe way?
a) My character’s worst personality flaw is…
b) I share this personality trait, because…
a) Who makes me envious? Why? What do they have that I don’t?
b) How might I work towards giving myself something they have that makes me jealous?
Pace yourself, okay? Spread this journalling out over a few weeks if you can. Jot the questions down in your notebook and see which ones speak to you before you jump in.
Give yourself time to digest after your writing sessions. It’s not for the faint of heart, this work, and it’s not meant to be rushed.
In my experience, the more I respect my subconscious, the greater it rewards me with interesting dreams, feelings of joy and relief, and better connections with the people in my life.
Remember to release the energy after your shadow writing. Go for a walk, play a song you love and dance it out, or call a friend.
See you next week.
Photo credit: Jeremy Bishop on Pexels.