This week’s theme for the October Memoir and Backstory Challenge hosted by Jane Ann McLachlan is Secrets. So far, I wrote about secrets that I’m not revealing:

Today, I’m going to write about secrets that I do reveal — at least, when I’m brave enough. These are the secrets about myself that seem too idiosyncratic. The things, that in my worst moments, I believe no one else does, thinks, or feels. The things that make me ask the question I’ve been asking since about age 8:

Will they think I’m weird?

The answer, of course, is yes. Some will. But not the ones who matter. The ones who matter will say, “I do something like that,” and share their story. Or, even better, the ones who matter will say “I want to do something like that. Tell me more.” These secrets, I believe, are the ones that writers need to share to be authentic and original, to express a unique viewpoint on the world, and to weave the reality of one individual into the tapestry of human experience.

So, today, I’m going to tell you about something that I have never told another soul. Today, I’m going to tell you about the Guidebook.  The Guidebook is a tool I use when I’m working on a project. As its name implies, it guides me through the process.

There have been several editions of the Guidebook, each an improvement on the last. The most recent iteration, though, may be the final one. I’ve been using it for about four years and it’s still working for me. I created this version during a brief time period when I was working on digital scrapbooks — I don’t currently have the tools or skills to create anything as pretty, so I may be best off sticking with what I’ve got.

Three ring binder with colorful pages

The Guidebook was built from many inspirations. The first was A Kick in the Seat of the Pants by Roger Oech. The most recent was The Nine Modern Day Muses by Jill Badonsky. In between, I blended bits and pieces from Peak Learning by Ronald Gross, Six Thinking Hats by Edward de Bono, Mapping Inner Space by Nancy Margulies, Wishcraft and Refuse to Choose by Barbara Sher, Visioning by Lucia Capacchione, and The Universal Traveler by Don Koberg and Jim Bagnall.

The Guidebook takes me through six phases (although they are very fluid — I sometimes go back to an earlier one and, occasionally, skip one entirely):

Explorer. I choose containers of time and space, journal about where this issue fits in the journey of my life, identify my feelings, and seek out resources.

Artist. I brainstorm, make mind maps, and ask myself many questions to stir creativity.

BFF. I list possibilities, ponder things to consider, define the project, and decide if I really want to commit to it. Sometimes, I invent an imaginary Best Friend Forever to be a partner for this project.

Planner. I refine the project definition, choose a structure that will help me complete it, make lists and charts and diagrams, evaluate my skills and resources, and devise strategies.

Traveler. I work on the project by taking baby steps, writing sucky first drafts, and celebrating each small success along the way.

Shepherd. I evaluate and celebrate the experience and the product, while considering what aspects of the project require an orderly shut down and what aspects need continued maintenance. I rest and relax and think about how I can build on this experience for my next project.

Sometimes I’ll ignore the Guidebook for months and muddle along just fine. But, when I’m using it, my life and projects are more fun and animated. I don’t know that I’m more efficient when I’m using the Guidebook, but I do know that some projects would never get off the ground at all if it weren’t for the Guidebook. The scariest projects that I undertake require a structure and a guide if I’m to get through those first frightening steps where I don’t know where I’m going and I’m not sure what will greet me when I get there. The Guidebook is as reassuring as a travel guide, letting me know that others have trod this path before and returned from the journey alive and with wonderful stories to tell.

So, how weird is that?

Signature of Joy Weese Moll


Secrets Revealed — October Memoir Challenge — 10 Comments

  1. Love the BFF guide – I use this one all the time for writing essays; pretend I am telling a story to a best friend. Really works when I’m having a tough time finding my voice for an essay I’m writing.

  2. Wow. This is excellent. What a great idea. I use a nagging system. It’s much more basic – I decide what I want to get done, by when, break it down into daily tasks, and send an email to two people each night, saying whether or not I accomplished today’s tasks and what tomorrow’s are. It’s a kind of written commitment. they do the same. If one of us notices the other isn’t getting a task done, we’ll ask about it or nag them, or whatever. Mostly, just cheer each other on.

  3. Sounds like both a management and motivation tool to get focused and stay engaged. I like that it uses language but is visually more appealing than blank white space on a page with straight type. What’s so great is that it’s the tools you found most helpful from many different sources. Makes it a customized winner!

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  5. Joy, this is brilliant! I love it. Weird? Only if you consider the magic wand it’s capable of waving over your creativity threshold.

    This is something that could really make a difference for every writer. Okay, maybe many writers, since every assumes too much. 🙂

    You could easily share this Guidebook brilliance with the world and put everyone on their toes.

    I love it. I must confess here that I’ll probably steal this idea and begin waving that magic wand over my own work. Thank so much for sharing your weirdness. Btw, do you think it’s contagious. This kind of contagion I could use more of. 😀

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