The Dark Forest is where we go when we’re deep in the writing process and lose our way. Overwhelming feelings of self-doubt, confusion, and inadequacy threaten to halt our stories’ progress. Sometimes, we forget why we started on the path in the first place. Luckily, many people have been here before, and they can help us find a way out. This week, we get very lost, and find our way back out again, thanks to Jad Abumrad, Ira Glass, Joe Richman, Zoe Chace, Robert Smith, Stephanie Foo, and Jay Allison. Plus an interview with Kazu Kibuishi, creator of the graphic novel series Amulet.
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If you’re looking for a written version of this episode, you can find our transcript here.
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Collaborate. I know I told you to do this last time, but I’m betting you didn’t do it.
So now, I’m keeping it simple: Hold a Focus Session. Find someone to sit down with you for half an hour, and explain to them what you’re working on, and where you’re stuck. They don’t need to be experts on your subject or your medium. You just want their honest feedback and their honest questions.
Record your conversation. If you have a smartphone, it will have a recorder built in. If not, you can get a cheap digital voice recorder. It’ll be worth having.
After your Focus Session, I want you to post a quick debrief of what you learned.
If you want to find someone to work with who is more attuned with your goals, find a local or online writers’ group and ask for volunteers, then meet at a cafe or do a Google Hangout or Skype conversation with them. But make sure you’re talking out loud, not exchanging email. The talking part is the magic.
And of course, if you’re in the Out on the Wire Working Group, you’ve got a tested field of possible collaborators. Just reach out to someone whose work you like and see if you can find a time.
I know this will make you feel vulnerable. It’s scary to admit you are stuck. It’s scary to ask something of someone. But I think you’ll find that it’s all worth it. And very likely your collaborator will too. Just make sure you pick up the tab for the coffee.
If, on the other hand, you’re struggling to even get your creative work off the ground, I’ve been writing a lot about creative project management on my blog, including designing some activities you can try.
Next time on Out on the Wire
Episode 8: Your Baby’s Ugly in which we explore the agony and the ecstasy of the edit process, as we are forced to kill a few babies of our own.
Céline Keller is making an autobiographical audio story about how she turned her life upside-down in order to raise two wild baby boars on her father’s remote farm in Germany. It sounded good on paper, but now she’s stuck in the dark, German forest, literally!
So for our 7th workshop episode we’re actually DOING this week’s challenge with Céline, one of our Working Group participants. The challenge was to collaborate in a focus session to try to move your story forward. We workshop her story together to try and help her find her way out of the Forest by going back and re-examining what’s catching her attention, the scope of the story, and how she can reframe the story to include the best elements of what she was working on, with a new, more focused direction.
Listen to the show:
Work we talked about this week:
XY Story Formula:
I’m doing a story about Celine, who has trust issues, caused by a troubled relationship with her distant father, who is an egocentric dreamer.
This is interesting, because when Celine takes the challenge to raise two wild baby boars (a mission with dim chances for a happy ending), she needs to move in with her dad on his farm, and confront, that her father’s romantic recklessness might be something they both have in common.
Celine is determined to never let anybody get too close to her, especially her father, who somehow always ends up hurting her. But then during a visit to her father’s farm, an orphan wild baby boar, named Gustav, decides to adopt Celine as his replacement mom.
Like everybody else she knows from the beginning, that raising a male wild boar is a stupid and possibly dangerous idea, but she can’t help it, and immediately supports her father in doing so.
Therefore the two of them bond for the first time, which leads to her getting over herself and moving in with her dad. It’s the only way she can take care of and protect little Gustav, since her dad is constantly travelling.
When a couple weeks later her dad picks her up to bring her to a second wild baby boar, she realizes, she’s up to her neck into something she won’t be able to control.
Willi, the second boar is very sick, and so frightened that the people who found him are scared of him. But when Celine lets the ballistic boar out of his cage, like Gustav, Willi immediately decides that she must be a safe place, and with a sigh and completely exhausted he falls asleep on her legs.
Now Celine is caught between a rock and a hard place. If she takes him in, she won’t be able to have enough time to train little Gustav properly, just like the real life mom she never wanted to be, only with possibly much worse consequences. But if she doesn’t take Willi, he quite probably will die. To top it all, wild boars are known to kill and not accept other boars from different sounders.
Lacking any other options, she takes him in. And after it takes much longer time and effort than expected to nurse Willi back to health, she even manages to bring the two boars together. The whole summer she enjoys long everyday walks with her boars in the woods, which make her feel a certain happiness she thought impossible. But while the boars keep digging up all the roots in the garden, also old family issues keep coming to light. Various times Celine thinks she shouldn’t stay, but where could she move now, bringing two wild baby boars along?
Finally, you wouldn’t believe it, but Gustav and Willi keep growing like crazy and already after 6 months they confront Celine with her decision, that a short happy life, hopefully is better than none. Gustav, as you could expect from a poor spoilt first “child” thrown down from his throne, grows up to be quite challenging and jealous, while fearful little Willi, now is an incredibly trusting cuddle boar. Even though she managed to convince her dad to let her castrate both, which wasn’t easy, the boars start fighting in ways that sometimes don’t seem so playful anymore. Celine knows that soon she probably won’t be able to control Gustav anymore, and that because of it, their long walks in the woods should come to an end. But imagining a future life for the boars devoid of all the freedom and happiness she experienced with them in the forest, is just too much to take for her. That’s why she ignores all warning signs and keeps going out with the boars into the woods. She just hopes for the best, something she used to have loads of trouble with. That’s when she realizes, that her father, who’s recklessness she always resented, might be the only one, who can understand her dilemma, and that this time she will need his support.
And the reason this matters to everyone walking the face of the earth is, that we all have the tendency to judge the people around us based on our own personal hurt feelings, which keeps us from connecting to, loving and seeing who we and the others really are, despite all of our shortcomings. Like Celine we might resent and fear in others, what is actually our own dark side, we refuse to deal with. But if we do, dark places can suddenly turn to light, and even if they don’t, we might at least have gained a friend, not afraid to sit with us in said darkness to hold us a candle.
Links to the things we talked about:
Next time on Out on the Wire
In our next episode, Episode 8: Your Baby’s Ugly, we take what we’ve done and learn how to rip it to shreds in order to figure out what works, and what doesn’t. With interviews from Rob Rosenthal, Ira Glass, Glynn Washington and more.
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Includes full length interviews with:
- Stephanie Foo (This American Life)
- Jonathan Mitchell (The Truth podcast)
- Larissa MacFarquahar (The New Yorker)
- Kazu Kibuishi (Amulet)
- Our edit with Robert Smith and Jess Jiang (Planet Money)
- Rob Rosenthal (the Transom Workshop, How Sound)