As writers, we tend to hold conversations inside of our heads. Entire sections of dialogue or internal thoughts get put onto the page for our characters.
But we tend to live too much of our real lives inside of our heads as well. I’ll concoct conversations that I anticipate happening or review one I’ve had in the past. I’ll change the wording and the tone, trying to imagine the different ways the outcome might have changed.
“Writing yourself into a corner” is a popular phrase used by many writers. This occurs when you create a plot point that you hadn’t anticipated, and now, you’re not sure how to get the character out of that particular situation. The assumption with the phrase is that if you wrote yourself into a corner, you could write yourself out of the corner. For the most part, this is true because what other option do you have?
We often seek quiet and contemplative places in which to do our best thinking. You will hear writers talk about going for a walk on the beach, or hiking in the mountains. These places create a safe, quiet place for us to do the mental gymnastics required to fix a problem or to find a solution.
At other times, we’re encouraged to make lists. One of the most common strategies for making a big decision is to create two columns, one for pros and the other for cons. We are then supposed to list the benefits and drawbacks, depending on the expected outcome. Again, this process can be very helpful, but it occurs almost entirely in our heads.
Even the most introverted of us, like me, must understand that we are hardwired as social creatures. This compulsion to interact with each other goes back millions of years, and even though the Internet has made it possible for us to interact in different ways, our brains can’t possibly change that fast.
Solitary confinement is debated as an inhumane form of punishment because it isolates a prisoner from human contact. They don’t see anyone else, can’t talk to anyone else, can’t listen to anyone else.
In some ways, we’ve romanticized this notion of the solitary artist by creating fantasies around what it means to live the author life. And while I acknowledge that a significant portion of our work must be done alone, there are times when interacting with other people is absolutely critical.
I hadn’t been convinced of the power of talking through problems until I participated in a mastermind group. It should have been no surprise to me, given the effectiveness of support groups. Organizations such as AA or grief groups can be incredibly effective, even more so than traditional one-on-one therapy.
This strategy was something I leveraged in the classroom and learned how to use it effectively, although I can’t take credit for it because Socrates was doing this thousands of years ago in ancient Greece. What is often called the Socratic method is simply a fancy way of saying, “Ask the other person questions.”
Whenever someone is on the hot seat in my mastermind group, I tend to ask more questions than I do advice-giving. Forcing someone to think about a question and talk through their response almost always shifts their perspective in a positive way. Members have told me that they had not necessarily heard anything they hadn’t heard before, but once forced to talk through the problem and answer the questions, it gave them new insights. Once they had to explain their problems to someone else, solutions appeared, and they were no longer stuck in the same way they were before.
Many of us have a person in our life to whom we can talk to about our problems, and this is extremely valuable. But it’s doubtful that a person is in the same situation as us. And this is where the power of the mastermind group comes in again. Authors in this group tend to have similar aspirations, they want the same things, they’re working toward the same goals, and their ability to ask pertinent questions to someone having a problem is invaluable.
So much of being in a mastermind group is about listening instead of talking, even for the person moderating the group. I found it useful to give people the time and space to answer important questions. And then, another strategy I employ is asking them to mute their microphones while the rest of us discuss the problem. I don’t allow the person on the hot seat to become emotional or defensive while we discuss their problem. They are not allowed to respond or ask questions during this time, so they’re forced to listen to the other people troubleshoot as if they are not present.
Once the mastermind group has finished with their conversation, we allow the person on the hot seat to unmute and rejoin the conversation. Every single time, they say that it was valuable to be forced to sit back and listen, as opposed to trying to come up with a response for every issue or question raised within the group.
Different masterminds will function in different ways, but the commonality in all mastermind groups is the ability to talk through problems with people who understand the problems and want to help you solve them because many times, they are having the same problems.
Whether it’s a book pitch, a plot snag, or a marketing conundrum, explaining that problem to someone else and answering their questions will almost always provide an insight you hadn’t anticipated. And by leveraging the subject-matter experts in the mastermind group, you know the solutions raised will be of the highest quality, perhaps even life changing.
Want to take your writing chops and business savvy to the next level? Check out The Author Success Mastermind group at https://theauthorsuccessmastermind.com/join/