On finding the message in the mess

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This month has been about looking back. Not the sort of reflection that happens on the page, but the kind that has to do with checking in and taking stock.

The process of gathering specific memories and corroborating them with family and friends for my book project has been going on since February, and now that I have quite the growing information cache, I’ve needed to step back and consider it all at once. I don’t want to lose sight of what my intentions were when I started this exploration, and at the same time, I don’t want to miss opportunities to let the material point me in directions I could not have known about at the outset.

There is no single way to organize so much stuff. In some ways, I’m disrupting the original systems these artifacts came from. Riffling through boxes of old letters and photos in my closet. Hunting down journal entries from the carefully chronologized notebooks on my office shelf. Pasting snippets of e-mail threads into a catch-all Word document. I’m laying eyes and hands on what felt like mere personal mementos when they were all separate, but as I bring them together, the shape of the story I need to tell is starting to show itself more definitively. It’s also feeling bigger and messier than I ever imagined. How much I managed to hide from myself by keeping those mementos in their separate storage spaces — all accounted for but dissociated from their collective implications.

My process journal has been my anchor for all the bits and pieces that don’t have a clear place yet — especially all the questions that are coming forward. Where do I go with this? Why is this bothering me? Who do I need to ask about this event to fill in what might be missing? What did this mean then; what does it mean now?

I fully expect that as new information emerges, I will cycle through this process again and again: collecting, reflecting, assessing, and collecting more. My way of organizing what emerges will evolve as well — and so I’m reminding myself that the container I create for working with this story will need to be just as flexible. In literal terms, that means keeping my process journal in a digital notebook, with subsections and pages I can easily add, copy, and move around. In the figurative realm, it means being willing to make room for the unexpected detour, embracing the chance to explore what doesn’t fit the picture rather than forcing my way toward the image of the work I initially sketched out.

What container does your work-in-progress need in order to expand? What kind of container helps you feel supported in your creative process? Share your thoughts with me by clicking the button below or set up a free 1:1 conversation to explore these questions. I’m here to support you in building the sanctuary you and your work can flourish within.