Write For You: Story Inside a Story

by Nancy Casey

Do you ever find yourself starting to explain something and then getting side-tracked because in the middle of it you realize that you have to explain something else first?  Maybe you even notice yourself pausing for a breath and moving your head so you can look side-to-side or up at the ceiling for a few seconds before you launch into the explanation.

Sometimes when you do this, the other person thinks your story is over, so they stop listening and start talking about what they are thinking of. 

Sometimes other people do this and you are the one who starts talking because you don’t realize the story isn’t over and you are still supposed to be listening and thinking about it.

This happens because our minds work in two ways.  When we are thinking linearly, we keep everything in order, first things first, followed by what’s next.  There’s a mental discipline to it.  When you think linearly, you make an effort to “stay on track.”  It’s what you are trying to do when you struggle to “think straight.”  If you struggle too hard to think straight, you can feel like your mind is in a vice.

Our minds also work associatively.  That is, one idea is associated with a second idea which, as soon as it pops up, brings three more along with it.  This is one of the ways we get new ideas.  It also helps us make sense of our experience by putting ideas together so we can think about how they are related.  When our minds go on an associative rampage, however, we end up overwhelmed and exhausted.

Writing in sentences and paragraphs usually requires us to squeeze all of our associative thinking into strict linear thinking.  Here is a way to write in a way that’s both linear and associative:

Begin somewhere.  With your surroundings, or something that happened yesterday, last year, or in your imagination.  Tell about it in the shortest version possible.  A couple of sentences, no more than four or five lines.  Rest.  Relax your hands.  Roll your shoulders around.

Then pick one word or phrase from what you have written and write a few lines about that.  Only a few.  Don’t get carried away.  Rest again.  Gently move your arms, shoulders, and spine.

Pluck a new idea from what you just wrote, and continue in the same way, writing a few lines, resting, and picking out something new for the next part.  Take the resting part seriously.  Don’t strain anything, just notice how nice it feels when something relaxes on its own.

It’s normal to try to plan ahead for what you will write.  It’s hard sometimes not to think about which word or phrase you will choose for the next section.  But when it comes time to pick, ignore your plan and take whatever jumps out. 

Don’t bother paying much attention to how you started out or where all of this might be going.  Think of it as a chance to wander. 

Here is an example of the kind of thing you might write.

When you have almost reached the end of the page, or the end of your writing time, go back to the top and read over everything you have written.  Then write a couple of more lines that “end” whatever story you seem to have told.  You might have to come up with something more goofy than logical, but that’s fine.

Once you have the ending, you want to figure out the title.  While you are thinking about the title, draw a border around the writing or decorate the page somehow.  Once the title pops into your head, put it at the top of the page.  Write the date somewhere on the page if you haven’t already. Then file it away someplace safe.  It’s a good one.  You will like looking at it again a week or a month or a year from now.

Nancy Casey teaches at the Recovery Center on Thursdays.  531 S. Main St. in Moscow.  Check the calendar for classes and times.  All are welcome.  Call the Recovery Center  208-883-1045 or email latahrecoverycenter@gmail.com for more information.



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