Saturday, 22 February 2020

What's Interesting About Your Work? - Heather Dyer

One of the best things about writing is that it’s a process of discovery. Even when you start off thinking that you know what you’re going to say, things tend to bubble up in the process that are unexpected. I suspect this is because our unconscious (the ‘great home of form’, as Dorothea Brande calls it) knows a lot more than we do – and this can surface during the writing process.

The following writing exercise is inspired by Edward do Bono’s ‘Positive, Negative and Interesting’ (PMI) exercise, from his book Thinking Course: Powerful Tools to Transform Your Thinking.

By asking yourself what you find ‘interesting’ about your story or subject, you push beyond what you already know, and dig deeper. What’s ‘interesting’ touches on the questions your book is raising. It takes you to your leading edge, your point of growth.

What's Interesting About Your Work?

Step 1
List at least ten things you think are good about your work-in-progress.

Step 2
List at least five things you’re worried about.

Note: These steps need to come first – it’s a way of putting aside what you already know about your WIP and priming the mind for unchartered territory. And you’ve got to put pen to paper; it’s in the process of writing that stuff arises.

Step 3
Step three requires a different sort of thinking: receptivity instead of critical analysis.

Sit back in your chair and ask yourself what you find interesting about this project – not what others might find interesting but what interests you, personally. Don’t be in a hurry to write anything down.

Hold the whole thing in your mind. Allow your mind to play across the scenes or sections and explore the periphery. See where your attention goes. Where does it rest? Wait, stay open, look deeper.

Gently probe any areas that present themselves. Consider what it is that interests you about this situation, character place, idea? What draws you in? What don’t you know? What might be beneath it all?

If something occurs to you, don’t write it down immediately. Stay open to other things – related or unrelated.

Step 4
Finally, freewrite for several minutes on one thing that arose.

By allowing your mind to hover over ‘interesting’ areas, you’re staying open to the grey zones, the unexplored regions. This is the growth zone, where new connections can be made.

I haven’t done this exercise with students yet, but when I tried it on my own work-in-progress I realized that the thing I’d assumed most interesting actually wasn’t – something else was. Developing this aspect further might also solve some of the things on my ‘worries’ list.

Another way of doing this exercise is to ask yourself, ‘What is it about this project that has really got me thinking?’  If you try this exercise yourself, I’d love to know how you found it.

Heather Dyer is a consultant in writing for children. She provides writing and publishing advice through The Literary ConsultancyThe Writers' Advice Centre for Children's Books, and privately. If you’re ready for feedback on your work-in-progress contact Heather at

Heather’s children’s novel The Girl with the Broken Wing was one of Richard and Judy’s book club picks, and The Boy in the Biscuit Tin was nominated for a Galaxy Best British Children’s Book award. Heather also teaches creative writing for the University of the Creative Arts, and facilitates workshops in creative thinking techniques for creatives and academics.


Penny Dolan said...

Hesther, this looks really good set of exercises and an interesting way of thinking about work in progress. Timely, so thanks.

Anne Booth said...

This is very interesting. Thank you. I am going to try it.

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