Jessica Shelley

storyteller, poet, bookworm

A ball of thread (and 3 things I have learnt over the past two years.)




One of my favorite stories within Greek mythology as a child was the tale of Theseus and the Minotaur. I always loved the imagery of Theseus using the ball of thread to guide himself into the Maze, so as a way to find himself back again after defeating the beast.


Often, when we begin writing a story, it is similar to the Minotaur myth. In the sense that we have plucked up the courage to enter into the unknown, but we are waiting for something to guide us in the right direction. This can look like advice from other writers, finding your own process and plotting. However, it is the time between anticipation and waiting that can be difficult.


For writers, there is no princess to offer a hand of safety. We must find a ball of thread on our own. This takes time and patience. And you can get lost along the way - living in the fog of fear. The entrance to the maze, beginning to write, is simultaneously alluring and terrifying.


For a long time, I had been comparing my thread (aka my process) to other writers threads (their own process). But every one works differently.


Among the writing community, you may have come across the terms plotters and pantsers or architects and gardeners. These terms are used as a guidance to help other writers discover what kind of bandwagon they fall into. Plotters are thorough in the design of their creations, whereas pantsers are spontaneous and find the idea of outlines stifling.


Although I think of tight boxes, elevators, and tiny stairwells when I hear the word 'plotting,' I knew I still needed some guidance along the way.


So I found methods such as the lighthouse method (only going as far as you can see), using story beats (refer to 'Save the Cat' by Blake Snyder), and using timelines as a guide. But all of these situations, and more, still made me feel cornered. I wanted some idea of knowing where I was going, but also wanted the flexibility and freedom to discover everything along the way.


As of two days ago, I discovered the breadcrumbs that lead me, finally, towards finding what works for me.


And I'll share it here, because it may help those of you who don't identify as either plotters or pantsers, and feel like your hanging in the limbo in between.


I found that by using the emotional arcs of my characters and atmosphere along side those emotions, my soul would light on fire. I like using emotion as a reflection of setting too. So everything feels multi-layered like an onion. If you stripped back my story, you would see so much hidden underneath. And I like to use both arc and atmosphere as free writing prompts. Yet they still both give me a sense of safety and guidance, so that I can keep coming back to the core of my story - its central message. I want it to have a beating heart. I want to honor this story. And I feel this is the best process I have found so far to do so. (Apparently going into the dark with a torch light is what I need! Ha!)


*Side note; the closest I have come to finding an artist who shares a similar writing technique is Laini Taylor.


Discovering our own process can only happen through actual writing and experimentation. It takes time, and we must listen to the brag of our beating hearts. Then trust our intuition when something lights us up or when the child of our curiosity say's 'lets go this way.'


Comparing ourselves, which is so easy to do in this modern age, to other artists and creators, is a sure fired way to make us stagnant. Better to find our own first and then seek out other writers you can connect to afterwards.



Here are the three biggest lessons I have learnt over the past couple years...


1. We must write the story of our hearts. And when we combine what we love with our message and mission, it will act as a guiding compass and never lead us astray.


2. If we want to discover what works for us, then we must write and read our way towards it. It is better to experiment, learn and fail from trying, than to compare ourselves to others and never begin.


3. Developing the habit of writing, takes the fear out of it. It builds up courage and confidence, the two things writers need the most. And every day we write or work on a habit we desire, we are saying 'yes' to the person we want to become.


* To rebels like myself, refer to Gretchen Rubin's 'Four Tendencies,' the idea of 'routine' can feel claustrophobic and challenging. The child within us stamps our feet and declares freedom - no resistance. But I recommend a book that absolutely changed my life (yeah, that sounds cheesy but its true) called Atomic Habits by James Clear. It explains the science behind forming habits, why it is so brilliant to develop good ones and break bad ones, and gives actionable advice on how to actually do it. Linking habits to identity, that as rebels/pantsers, is our golden ticket! Highly recommend reading!


I hope this helps someone somewhere to find their ball of thread.

(And hopefully saves them 2 years worth of time!)


From one creator to another, I wish you the best on your personal journey!


Jess <3




Designed with love and intention by Jessica Shelley