I’d like you to have a taste of our fifth discovery technique, Q&A, so choose a subject to practice with. If you write fiction, choose one of your characters. If you write nonfiction, choose a topic, such as what ordinary people can do to help the environment, or a problem, such as unexplained inventory shortfalls. Then, once you’ve chosen a topic, come up with an initial question to serve as a starting point for the exercise.
Questions that do not allow for yes-or-no answers work best. Choose a question to which you don’t know the answer. For fiction, for example, your question might be, “Linda, why did you snub Teresa at the Christmas party?” For a report, your question might be, “What should I say about the inventory shortfalls?” You can also choose to probe your difficulties with writing head-on, for example with a question like, “Why am I having such trouble coming up with a topic for a book?”
Once you’ve settled on a question, when I tell you to go, either handwrite it or type it and then, without pausing to think, answer it. Then, jumping off from that answer, immediately write another question, answer it, ask another question, and so on for five minutes. What makes this exercise interesting and useful is that each question except the first should come out of or be prompted by the previous answer you’ve just written down. You have to do it fast and keep ongoing. For instance, my Q&A might go like this:
Q: Linda, why did you snub Teresa at the Christmas party?
A: Because she snubbed my dog.
Q: What kind of a dog do you have?
A: A schnauzer.
Q: Does your schnauzer like to schmooze?
A: Not really, and neither does Teresa. That’s the problem!
This is my favorite of the five techniques. Usually, I give a group ten minutes to try it because they get deeper into it. Some people say they experience it as a dialogue between two parts of themselves or even as a dialogue with another person (who actually comes out of their own unconscious mind). I love this exercise because it affords access to the part of us that knows more than we know that we know. For several years, I did this every day and filled up many notebooks with the conversations.
Even today, when I am feeling uncertain about something, I will close my eyes and call up Hamish, an inner advisor who helped me a lot through Q&A during those years, and ask him questions, in my mind, and consider his advice.
In the next and final lesson, we’ll wrap up the course.