“The only use of an obstacle is to be overcome. All that an obstacle does with brave men is not to frighten them, but to challenge them.” Woodrow Wilson
And brave women, too! I love the idea of an obstacle being useful, don’t you? It can give you a whole new take on a difficulty you face, if you see it not as something negative or bad, but instead, as something user friendly — a tool you can make use of to your benefit.
When obstacles challenge us instead of frightening or discouraging us, they have the potential to help us grow, to make us better at the work we do. Facing an obstacle is a little like finding a stone in our path — we can stumble over it and grumble about it, or we can dig it up, get it out of the way, and strengthen our muscles for the next one.
So, can we develop a mindset where we see obstacles to our creative work as friends instead of foes? Let’s say we are struggling with a rough patch in fleshing out a character who seems lackluster on the page. We’ve hit a roadblock and need to deal with it.
We can throw up our hands in frustration, which won’t help much.
OR, we can get creative:
We can have a chat with the character — a dialogue in which we ask the character to tell us what the problem is and where they want to go. I’ve done this with surprising results!
We can create a conflict between the character and someone else. This may ratchet up the tension in our story and push the character into a corner, forcing him or her to really come alive. Again, the results can be surprising.
We can spend some time exploring the character’s backstory — what forces shaped their behavior? Will a tweak give them more pop and sizzle? Is there something hidden that needs to be revealed or to smolder?
Suddenly, this problem with a character becomes useful. It’s challenging us to make the character deeper, truer, more real. All this can only enliven the story we’re telling and make it more compelling.
Thinking of obstacles as useful tools in our writer’s kitbag isn’t always easy, but with a little can-do focus and creativity, we can transform them from problems into possibilities. Ah! The alchemy of attention and positive thinking! Write on!