You’ve got a story. Oh, yeah! You think this is a good story, crying out for a good telling. You want to tell this remarkable story to the world, or at least tell your community or your circle of friends, or your daffy old Aunt Eustace. But where do you even start that project? You find yourself teetering on that starter block, rocking back and forth, thinking about diving into a writing project, but somehow you just can't quite.......take the plunge.
Yes. Writing a story, no matter what the purpose, can be daunting. As daunting as stepping up to a microphone in front of an audience who are leaning forward in their seats with high expectations. As daunting as driving around a busy city full of one-way streets in rush hour traffic without a map. As daunting as that blindingly bright blank sheet of paper, or that shiny blank computer screen with the cursor poised and stupidly blinking at you.
But here is one great way to help you understand the job ahead. It sounds ridiculously simple, and you might not even think it's worth doing because it sounds too obvious. Hey, there are obvious things, and then there are things we take for granted are obvious.
Ask yourself why you want to write it. This is not an exercise is trying to discourage you taking on a writing project. Heaven forfend! But it is an exercise in helping you understand your creative motivation. Ask yourself why, answer, then ask a question why about the answer, then carry on a kind of conversation with yourself about it....
For example, say my elderly mother asks me to write a story about her life as a child in a small town in the Great Depression. Wow, I jump at the chance. Asking myself why I want to write them seems a ludicrous question; it's obvious that I should help my dear old mum put her early memories in story form!
That's good, but why? Why do I want to write these stories?....
Because I've heard her talk about them; they are great stories!
Why are they great stories?....
Because my mum lived in a fantastic community of characters whose lives together were so moving.
Why were their lives so moving?
Because their lives were about hardship and ingenuity and simplicity, generosity and being kind.
But why are those things interesting and good things for you to write about?
Because I believe we are living in tough times now and its good to know its possible to still be kind and generous even when life is hard. Community matters.
You see where this is all going, don't you? By questioning your story with why, why, and more why, you will be questioning your own motivation. The process will reveal your own creative stake in the story, your own passions. The more you ask why the closer you will get to getting a feel for the big picture in your story. And getting to grips with the big picture—well, a picture is worth a thousand words, as they say, so a big picture must be worth a million, right?
In the Write Out Loud Program, one of the very first exercises is called Why x 5. In it, you'll work through five levels of asking yourself why. By the end of it, you will have found some precious and probably quite deep reasons for your urge to write a particular story.