Writing a book is like solving a maze: paths that lead nowhere, sign-less intersections, circling roads that never end. It’s so mysterious that writers admit that they’d rather take on their most hated tasks — like weeding the patio or cleaning the bathroom — rather than tackling their work.
In the face of this confusion, simple tasks beckon, like loading a dishwasher or filling out forms because you know where stuff goes, how to do it, and when it’s done. With a book, there is no clear way of knowing if what you are doing is right, good, or even makes sense. Writing begins to feel like entering a dark forest.
One long weekend recently, I immersed myself in baking apple pies, socializing, hiking, and unpacking warm clothes from storage. When Monday rolled around, I was so far from the creative process that I felt a visceral fear of venturing into the dark forest. I wanted to stay in town where hedges were trimmed and signs posted, trawling for more ordinary things to be accomplished.
However, with the help of my co-writing group, I was able to tiptoe into the book. If I had known where to begin, I thought, entering my manuscript might not have felt like hunting a dragon. So before I left the quagmire and re-entered the daylight world, I noted what writing task needed to be done the next day and wrote it on a digital sticky note.
When Ariadne wanted Theseus to kill the man-eating Minotaur, she gave him a ball of red thread. All others had failed, but Ariadne’s thread was the trick that helped Theseus wind his way into the labyrinth, kill the Minotaur, and find his way back out.
I’ve started calling my book progress note the Red Thread. It’s a bright clue that says, This is where you left off. Do this next time. With simple directives like “Review the chapter about college,” or “Look over journals from Jan 2019,” writing starts feeling more like re-organizing a closet or making a bed. The alarm bells quiet down in my head and I can get started.
The truth is that book-writing is like getting lost in a maze. But what I love about the writer’s red thread is that each time I enter, I feel like someone has been there before and is leaving me little clues about where to go next.