The Poppins Principle

“I’ve revised and submitted my manuscript to my publisher. I’ve received a first proof and we are in the process of fine tuning. I’m enjoying the process of re-visioning and problem-solving that this process takes; didn’t think I would at first. I’ve learned just how holistically all of the pieces fit together and how taking one thing out affects the whole and makes more re-imagining the whole necessary. I am truly enjoying this!”–a student


“In every job that’s to be done, there is an element of fun.  Find the fun and POOF! The job’s a game!”–M. Poppins


A story can start out as a vague notion: a character, a snippit of dialogue, a theme, a situation, a world, a scene…anything.   Some people can just start writing, and it all falls into place (“Discovery Writing”). Thos who can do this SUCCESSFULLY time after time are probably the most fortunate and “talented” writers of all. But the key word is “successfully.”  These writers have all the skills integrated at the level of “unconscious competence” and can just “chop wood, carry water” and produce the kind of result you’d be lucky to produce if you labored over that line they just “flowed out” for a month.

Rare.   But methodologies are created to allow you to imitate the instinctive behaviors of the more integrated through careful work and planning. Yes, they have Seven League Boots. But you can imitate them, follow their path, and get much the same result if you are willing to put in more work, and learn to turn the demons in your head the ##$%% OFF.

I’ve learned that the process of writing is like being in a space shuttle circling the globe. When I take off it is all smoke and fire and thunder, in the sunshine of creative spark.  But as I keep writing (maybe 20k into a 100k project?) I slide into the shadow, into that interplanetary cold, and begin to doubt everything: my story, my market, my allies, my ability.   

At this point, all that keeps me going in the discipline.   And also–experience.  I’ve been this way countless times before. And know that if I keep marching, keep flying, however difficult it may be, I’ll eventually emerge on the other side, back into the light of creation.   It is as if the “shadow” is the struggle to haul a block of marble up from the quarry of the unconscious, then once its there, the chipping away of “everything that doesn’t look like an elephant is purely fun.


But one of the things that will  make the shadow-journey better is to play games. Set quotas, do fun research, weave jokes into your work to be removed later, drop blocks of text from research materials and then rewrite until the author wouldn’t recognize it, write conversations between characters sans description, summarize, ask questions if you don’t have answers, and on and on and on.  

As the student above observed, it is all problem solving, and the biggest problem is just getting yourself to do the work.  Solve THAT one, and you are about 80% of the way to a home run.  Most of it is just showing up!





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