Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Keeping your “writing brain” in shape

by Rick Blechta

I haven’t been able to work on my novel for the past three+ weeks. It’s not that I don’t want to or can’t be bothered. It’s just that I have a huge graphic design job (that also includes writing the copy) on the go, something that would probably be more wisely accomplished by two people. But since my studio only has one lazy stupid employee (namely, me), the job has to fall onto that one person. So, for the moment, writing crime fiction had completely gone out the window.

But hey! I’m still writing, aren’t I? Only it’s advertising copy, but that’s still writing writing. Right? Unfortunately, the answer is no.

I found out that cold hard fact when I got home from a rehearsal last night feeling low and miserable (mostly due to the horrendous cold I currently have) and wanted to do something I wanted to do (other than practising, which wouldn’t fly after a two-hour rehearsal). I sat down to work on my current in-progress novel, read the chapter where I’d stopped back in January and stared at a blank page for the next chapter for at least five minutes. I knew what I wanted to write, but I just could not make it come out. Probing deeper, it was as if there was a screen between me and what I had planned to write.

Huh? Perhaps it was just that I was tired (I was, exhausted, actually). Because of the stimulus of rehearsal, my brain was nowhere near ready for sleep. What to do? I didn’t want to read; I really wanted to write!

My fail-safe dodge in these cases is to write something for the ms — maybe just not what I was planning on writing. I started down that pathway, but the blockage remained. Next tactic was going back and doing a bit of editing on previously written stuff. Problem was, I’d already done most of what I could — at least at this point in the process.

Now I was getting frustrated. What the heck was going on? I tried outlining what was supposed to happen in the new chapter: character X would realize this, while character Y, in a different location, would stumble onto new information, then there would be a phone call between the two characters. That’s not much to ask for, is it? How hard can that be?

I spread out each of the points on my page to allow space to actually write these three little scenes. I probed into my imagination for scene one. I couldn’t figure out how to begin. Scene two...not much. Scene three, however, did at least yield an opening sentence about character Y taking out her mobile to call character X. How would character X answer? (He’s a bit of an irascible bastard at times) Would he be in a good mood or a bad one? (Flipped a mental coin) Good mood. He tends to give out more personal information when he’s in a good mood, so I could work in a passing reference to something I’ve been looking to add about him for a couple of chapters.

Eureka, I was finally plugged in and going. I only got down about a page-worth of usable stuff before my tired brain pooped out, but at least I could go to bed feeling as if I’d accomplished something.

It wasn’t until this morning that I realized a good part of the issue last night was the fact that I hadn’t done anything with my novel over the past several weeks. Sure, I’ve been thinking about it. I’d even made a few notes. But I haven’t been exercising that creative part of my brain where the story is residing and it had atrophied to the point where I couldn’t easily connect with it.

The course ahead is clear: I have to make time to at least write something for the novel every day. Thinking about it won’t cut it, and making notes, while helpful, doesn’t do enough, either. I’ve got to be getting down actual prose every day or risk hitting that blank wall again.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it. Now you’ll have to excuse me, I’ve got until noon to help out my poor stalled ms.


Eileen Goudge said...

Good plan, Rick. I have found the same to be true with my own writing. Whenever I stay away for too long I get 'brain freeze.' Need to write to keep the creative juices flowing

Rick Blechta said...

What's weird about it is, in my musical life, I have no trouble picking things up after sometimes weeks away from a particular composition or arranging project. I guess I'm using less creativity or a different part of my brain than where all the words and phrases hiding.

But I 100% agree with you Eileen!

Rick Blechta said...

The second to last word in the first paragraph in the above answer should have "are" after it. Why doesn't blogger have an edit function for comments?