I don’t have kids. Never had ‘em (and don’t miss ‘em—not that I mean to offend anyone). But I learned something from a writer friend who had two children very early and suffered through endless diapering the first year and a half. She kept lamenting that with all the continuous changing, powdering, lotioning, washing, and drying she had no time to write. All I could do was listen and nod sympathetically, with weak assurances that this too would piss—I mean, pass.
At one of these sessions, we both realized almost simultaneously that the diaper ritual could be applied, metaphorically, to writing.
I first tried out the method on my academic clients who are writing dissertations (please, no potty jokes about a Ph.D. meaning “piled higher and deeper”). Doctoral candidates often feel snowed under by the intricate required university outlines and lists of their doctoral committee members’ critiques. The students become frozen, sometimes for months, not knowing where to start or how to resume.
I experienced the same immobility when the proposal for my first book-length work, Trust Your Life, was accepted by a publisher. I became paralyzed and, I admit, panicked, at having to complete the book and write so much when I’d written only articles, essays, and one longish short story.
The diaper method changed all that, for both my clients and me. It’s most useful when you’re writing a lengthy work with many chapters, or a shorter work with many headings.
So, what is the diaper method (patent pending)?
It starts with anything you’ve put down—chapter headings (tentative as they may be), an outline (if you use one), a list of possible scenes, anxiety-fueled scribbled notes of the plot twists, or even a few barely coherent notes of the work’s essence. Print out whatever you’ve got.
Now, choose one item from that intimidating list or scraps of ideas. Next, isolate it by covering the rest of the page, above and below, with pieces of paper, post-its, cards, or cancelled stamps (diaper it) so you see only the exposed (ahem) item.
With all other sections and points out of sight, you can now concentrate on what’s in front of you. Write about it. When you finish that segment, move the post-its or cards so they show only your next selection. That’s it.
Maybe the diaper method sounds easy, obvious, simplistic, even silly. But the psychological benefits are legion. Yes, we’re fooling our mind, but it’s eminently foolable and the method works. Why? With the diaper method . . .
- You keep your attention on the visible section.
- You head off any thoughts of overwhelm or endlessness.
- You focus.
- With this focus, your mind somehow frees itself to explore more of this section. Your imagination may take off, and you delve into, or play with, the subject at hand. New depth can emerge.
- The method gives you a sense of control.
- You feel organized.
- You feel more balanced (“I’ll do two sections and then go to the gym.”)
- You can work non-linearly—this heading, then one that’s two or four notches down.
- Each time you move that diapering paper or post-it, you’ll probably feel, as I do, a sweeping sense of accomplishment and excitement at your forward movement.
And now, please excuse me. Got to go to my current project, a practical-psychological-spiritual handbook for those same beleaguered doctoral candidates. I’ve diapered most of the table of contents so only the section on how not to pile it higher and deeper peeks out.
Author, editor, writing coach, and spiritual counselor, Noelle Sterne writes fiction and nonfiction, having published over 300 pieces in print and online venues, including Writer’s Digest, The Writer, ReadLearnWrite, Women on Writing, Transformation Magazine, 11.11, and Unity booklets. Her monthly column, “Bloom Where You’re Writing,” appears in Coffeehouse for Writers. With a Ph.D. from Columbia University, for over 28 years Noelle has helped doctoral candidates complete their dissertations (finally), with a practical-psychological-spiritual handbook in progress. In her book Trust Your Life: Forgive Yourself and Go After Your Dreams (Unity Books; one of ten best 2011 ebooks), she draws examples from her practice and other aspects of life to help writers and others release regrets, relabel their past, and reach their lifelong yearnings. With Trust Your Life, Noelle appears in the Unity Books 2013 “Summer of Self-Discovery.” Discussions appear on Goodreads: http://www.unity.org/publications/unity-books/summer-reading-series, Her webinar on the book of June 26, 2013, can be heard and seen on YouTube: www.youtube.com/watch?V=95EeqllONIQ.