When you are working on a writing project, do you sometimes forget that you don’t have to do everything at once?
It’s a familiar problem for me, I even have a name for it: a reverse ‘forest for the trees’ problem. It’s not a catchy name but it does sum up the issue.
You know how people say ‘I couldn’t see the forest for the trees’ to mean that they got so caught up in details that they couldn’t see the big picture?
Often, when I get stuck, I can clearly see that there is a forest in front of me (a.k.a. the big picture.) However, I forget that the forest is made of trees (that the big picture is made up of many smaller steps.)
I sometimes need help to see those metaphorical trees.
My Current Reverse ‘Forest for the Trees’ Problem
For the last few months, I have been working on a Role Playing Game (RPG) but I had hit a snag.
I took an RPG writing course online and I’ve done lots of reading and research. In-person mystery games – improvised events that work from a flexible structure with a few fixed points – are a specialty of mine. I ‘m a professional storyteller, telling stories aloud in front of an audience, some of them made up on the spot. I coached a high school improv team for 10 years.
So, I’ve got lots of skills to bring to bear on this project but what I don’t have is a lot of experience playing RPGs. I’ll be correcting that over the next few months but I want to keep working on the game in the meantime. I just couldn’t tell what things I should work on while I was figuring out the parts I don’t know.
My Tree-Spotting Friend
So, I did what I always do when I get stuck…I asked a friend for help.
In our online chat on Monday night, my friend listened carefully to my ideas and my concerns and then deftly pointed me in the right direction.
He reminded me of several key things:
- My project is made of a lot of different parts, it’s not one big thing.
- I can work a bit more on the parts I do know while I figure out the parts that I don’t
- I don’t need to know everything about my project in order to move forward, I only need to find my next step.
We chatted a bit more and figured out that my next step is to delve into the characters in the village where my game takes place. Exploring the village a bit more should help me figure out my plans and questions for the step after that.
While my writing time has been limited this week, I have been making exciting little notes about possible characters and location. I’m no longer stuck and my project is back on track. (Thanks, KW!)
What’s Your Next Step?
Whether or not you have trouble seeing the trees for the forest, I’m sure there have been times when you have felt stuck on a project.
When that happens, it’s helpful to remind yourself that you don’t have to solve every problem at once.
Instead, please try to focus on identifying a single step that you can take right now.
Even if it is not a perfect step, it will lead you forward and get you closer to figuring out where your project needs to go.
PS – Obviously, I highly recommend finding a writer friend to talk it out with. For starters, it’s often easier for someone else to see what you need to do next. And, sometimes the practice of articulating the issue helps you to understand it better and leads you toward a solution.
*It used to happen to me on almost every project but between my ADHD meds and some coaching, things have improved. Now it happens a little less often and I mostly recognize when it does. That recognition is the cue I need to get help to start seeing trees.