The documents we write for councils may not be Moby Dick or The Bone People, but we still have to put in the hard yards to create something from nothing – and novelists can help us to do this.

Australian author Charlotte Wood includes an essay about her doctorate research on nine different elements of the writing process in The Luminous Solution.

When her writing is happening easily, she doesn’t need to reach for her list of writing elements, or to think about which particular one she is using. She just gets on with it. However, when she finds herself in a writing hole, the nine elements are a useful menu of options to try, to bring her writing back to life again.

Similarly, when a council document is going well, it’s best not to stop and think about exactly what you are doing. Enjoy the flow for as long as it lasts!

In most cases a time arrives when you lose your writing flow when working on a large document. Suddenly you can’t see a way through from where you are to something that can be put out into the world for public scrutiny. But you don’t need to panic. Questioning the worth of what you’re doing is part of the process.

Here are five of the elements described in Charlotte Wood’s book, which seem like the most useful tricks for us to try when we get to a stuck stage in a council document. This may be particularly useful when picking up the messy threads of a draft after returning from the holidays!

  1. Heat seeking – Read through your document with your radar on, to detect whether draft material is ‘alive’ or ‘dead’. Then work with the stuff that has life in it rather than wasting a lot of energy trying to resuscitate the rest.

  2. Connecting different ideas – Look carefully at the separate concepts in your document to see if you can make some kind of connection between them.

  3. Disrupting – Mess with the existing work in some way in order to create movement and change. Try doing the opposite of what you would normally do. (This reminds me of the Seinfeld episode where George experiments with saying the opposite to what he normally would.)

  4. Territory mapping – Sum up your progress so far using lists, maps or diagrams. This can help reduce anxiety about all that you don’t yet know how to do. Territory mapping involves gathering draft material into one space and examining it as a whole, to prepare the way for the next stage.

  5. Waiting or suspending – Step back to allow the percolation of ideas to go on and for solutions to emerge of their own accord. (This one comes with a warning not to try it first – opting out as soon as things get tough is unlikely to yield anything interesting.)

All the best for finding the beating heart of your half-finished projects, as you return to work in 2022!

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