I was talking to one of our advanced MFA students the other day, a writer who I’m mentoring this semester and who will graduate from our program this coming January.  We were discussing the story development of his latest project, a play with interesting and complicated character relationships.  He was frustrated by certain elements that weren’t falling into place quite yet even though he was already deep into his pre-draft exploratory work.

I found myself telling him something that I tell fellow writers all the time.

What I shared was that often elements of a developing story simply need some time to emerge and fall into place.  And to help this along the writer often has to hand off the problem area (or areas) to his or her subconscious for a time and let that part of his or her brain sort things out. When ideas for a solution are formulated down there in that subterranean part of the mind, those ideas will be pushed up to the conscious mind and the writer can take it from there.

The key to having this work is to totally believe that this is exactly how script problems get solved. In other words, you have to literally talk to your subconscious as if it was a separate person running a powerful think tank installed deep down there in your skull.  Give this “person” your issue or problem areas to mull over and mediate on and request that when they have found possible solutions to send them back up to you.  And remember, this think tank is fully aware of all the work and thinking you’ve already done on the project–every shred of it.

Give a time limit–maybe a day or two, maybe when you are going to the shore or the mountains for a week with the family to relax and take a break from your writing.  And trust that this part of your brain has heard you and indeed is going to work hard while you float off thinking about anything but your script.

As I say, the key to success with this simple little game you play with yourself is trusting that it will work.  Any rolling of the eyes or skepticism that this is too easy or simplistic or only wishful thinking will short circuit the process.  Just believe that this is the way writers solve many of their most difficult story issues and it will work.  Promise.  Every successful writer I know uses this as a central part of their process to one degree of another.

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I’m the Program Director of the low-residency MFA in Writing for Stage and Screen being offered by the New Hampshire Institute of Art.  Our next residency runs January 3-11, 2016 and we are now considering applications for starting the program in January.  I’m also a playwright and screenwriter, producing partner in my production company Either/Or Films (The Sensation of Sight and Only Daughter), and a professional script consultant.