Don’t tell my son (who thinks he has superior taste in movies), but one of my favorite horror films is The Blair Witch Project.
The film is about three aspiring filmmakers who set out to produce a documentary about the fabled Blair Witch, once blamed for the disappearance of children throughout the 18th and 19th century.
The witch is believed to haunt the forests of the Black Hills near Burkittsville, Maryland.
It’s not a typical horror film. No chainsaw massacres.
No torture rooms. No diabolical clowns.
The terror is psychological. The filmmakers hear children laughing and twigs snapping as they sleep. Belongings go missing.
Cairns are mysteriously built around their tent in the night. Twig stick figures hang from trees.
But worst of all, when they decide to abandon filming, the trio can’t find their way back to the car.
They wander in circles for days.
At one point, they return to the same river crossing from the previous day. That’s when despair sets in.
There’s no way out.
When You Think There’s No Way Out
A few years ago, when I was ghostwriting a book, I had what I like to call a “Blair Witch Project Writing Moment.”
I had an idea for the chapter—a clear thesis, a destination—but 4000 words in, I was wandering.
I wrote in circles, not making much of any point. I couldn’t wrap up the chapter, because I couldn’t figure out how to make it back to my big idea, the thesis.
So, I kept writing. And writing.
And then I started crying, because despite all my writing, I realized there was no way out.
I had lost my way. I despaired.
Strip It Back
If you’re like me, in those moments, a good cry can help relieve the agony.
But tears don’t move your writing forward.
You need a strategy.
The best strategy for dead-end writing is to scrap what you wrote.
Dump it into a different document. And forget about it for now. Maybe all that writing and thinking will work in another chapter.
Strip your writing back to the thesis.
Remind yourself what the chapter is about, and the journey you want to take the reader on.
At least three times in three different ways, state: “This chapter is about…” Or “By the end of the chapter I want my readers to understand or feel…”
Or “In this chapter I must communicate…”
It seems so simple it’s stupid.
But forcing yourself to focus on the essence of what you want to achieve in the chapter is clarifying.
It reminds you what you need to say. It helps you see what doesn’t belong.
Once you’ve clarified your governing idea, then rebuild the structure.
Most aimless, frustrated writing is a result of no structure.
Structure is your map for moving forward. Don’t overthink it. Just jot down the movements of the chapter, with a few sketches of what you might include within each, so your big idea unfolds purposefully and cohesively.
As you jot down your ideas, you might realize more research is necessary before you actually start crafting sentences and paragraphs.
The point is, there is a way out.
Now, buckle up and write!