I have officially been edged out of my house and have made a little office for myself in the garage. The contractors have made their way from the third floor, all the way to the first floor of my house, working their way down and repainting the entire thing along the way. Eventually, they will blow out the garage, and I will be stuck on my front lawn as I supervise the job and keep them moving along. We’ve been under construction in this house for most of the time we’ve lived here, thanks to the hurricane, so I know I need to stick around while the work gets done.

I remembered something from my story grid podcast today. In it, the co-host Shawn Coyne described how to solve a narrative problem, or rather a strategy for solving a narrative problem. By the way, a narrative problem is some plot-hole or inconsistency in a story that you, as the writer, is trying to resolve without the use of a dues ex machina. To paraphrase Shawn Coyne, he said,

“Come back to it later, but for a while, leave it alone. Let your subconscious mull it over, and the answer may come to you while you’re mowing your lawn, or shampooing your hair.”

I described before that a story is a series of creative decisions, and how life too can be viewed as a series of creative decisions. I suppose that because answering the question of what do I want out of life, cuts to the core of some existential question, much like creative writing does. So, Shawn Coyne’s advice to shelve these creative questions is also useful in creative life questions as well. Maybe the best thing to do when confronted with what to do with the next two years or your life is to shelve it. Come back to it later. Maybe, like with a narrative problem, some solution will present itself at an unexpected moment. At the very least, you’ll likely have more clarity after you’ve let your subconscious handle it for a little while.

Fortunately we’re past this point now.


Hi there. I'm a writer and reserve military officer with a day job. I write fiction, professional essays on military topics, and wax philosophical about books and movies. I live in Florida with my husband, two kids, and two cats.


Stuart Danker · July 20, 2020 at 9:07 pm

I hate that your subconscious doesn’t work when you really want it to, and yet it gives you marvellous solutions when the problem doesn’t really matter to you anymore. This must be why I’ve taken to rearranging the spice rack when I come across a narrative problem myself, lol.

Thanks for sharing, Diana!

    dianaxmoga · July 21, 2020 at 9:26 am

    It is a paradox, that you have to forget to hopefully maybe come up with something.

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