By Jordan Dane
I’m teaching an online writing class from Feb 20 – Mar 2, hosted by YARWA, the online chapter for Young Adult Romance Writers of America. We’ve chatted about how to get over the hump and finish a book once you’ve stalled out for various reasons. Some people might call this writer’s block, but for me, I refuse to acknowledge anything like that exists. It’s too easy to blame an affliction we seemingly have no control over. I prefer to think my brain is secretly trying to tell me something that I’m not hearing, even though we are close neighbors.
When I can’t hear my brain SCREAMING at me to stop writing, apparently my body can hear that pesky 3-pounds of mush. My fingers boycott me and quit hitting the keyboard or I find many excuses to distract myself—even doing laundry, for cryin’ out loud. Now that’s desperate.
I’ve learned to listen to my body when this happens. It’s my interpreter when it comes to “brain speak.” One way to get me back on track is first understand and accept that my brain is trying to tell me something about the plot, character revelation/motivation, or certain scenes aren’t working and could be better. Usually this part only lasts hours or a day or two, or a good night’s sleep. I’ve found answers for my dilemma in commercials, the NOVA channel, and even have found the complete ending of a book from watching an old skateboard flick, starring Christian Slater, called “Gleaming the Cube.”
But when I can’t find the answer alone, I’ve found a tried and true method for me is cornering ANYONE to listen to me ‘splain it. Usually this poor person is my husband, John. We can chat over breakfast, spending quality time talking about how to kill people and get away with it, or he listens to my ramblings as we drive. (Your gas mileage may vary.) One thing amazes me about this process. It doesn’t seem to matter who I corner or how I ‘splain it, I invariably come up with the answer on my own as I talk it out. It seems the brain needs the mouth to communicate back to my brain. What a weird Détente!
If you haven’t tried this, do it. It will blow your mind. Literally! I’ve concluded that since I spend most of my day in my own head—without speaking—that when I finally DO speak, my brain is listening and finally sends messages that result in solutions. Things I wouldn’t have explored purely thinking about them. Apparently explaining things to someone outside my “brain trust”—whether they ultimately contribute to the process or not is irrelevant—forces me to work things out in a way I can’t do on my own. The act of being more thorough in my explanation seems to be a critical element to my process.
But given the old adage about a tree in the forest, does it take someone else listening to get results to my dilemma? Or is this the first stages of schizophrenia and my way of justifying it? I haven’t ranted to me, myself, and I on this yet. That day might come on its own—along with a nice helping of meds.
Please share with us:
1.) How do YOU jumpstart your writing process?
2.) What have been your strangest diversions when you should have been writing?
Below is a video on how the publishing industry works from author to store:
When I get stuck, it’s usually because I know a character less well than I should, or I didn’t dig deep enough during the planning stage.
I get around it by “talking” to myself; not aloud, but on the page. I just type whatever comes into my head (often in bullet point lists) regarding the character or backstory or whatever it is that’s causing the problem. It can take a while, and a lot of lists, but I always spill the solution in there somewhere.
Talking it out
Writing a long-hand character voice journal where I ask questions and they answer helps me. (IF this qualifies as schizophrenia, please keep it to yourself.)
I’m enrolled in Jordan’s YA workshop and I find that talking with other writers is an amazing way to work through issues. Big shout out, Jordan! Great class.
Reading TKZ blogs.
That’s a great suggestion, Wendy. Since most people are visual learners, the act of writing it down helps it sink in. Plus, because you’re a writer, you’re probably crafting the words in a way that is similar to my “splain it” process.
Recently I read YA author Carol Tanzman blog about her method of writing down “20 stupid things” her character would do to get out of a situation. Carol swears this works for her whenever she gets stuck. I think the act of brainstorming & letting things flow without fikters is a good one, whether someone listens or not. Thanks for your comment.
Hey Paula. You’ve been fun in the class too. Good suggestions too. My husband will probably be grateful for this post by end of day.
I agree–talking it out with someone often helps. But sometimes it can be difficult to snag the time to do so.
I sometimes just spew on the “page” (paper or computer) to help myself over a hump too.
I sometimes imagine I’m in a pitch meeting at a major studio. I have to keep telling the story, with stone faced execs asking, “So?” or “And then what?” It helps!
Thanks for sharing, Jordan. And those questions are great. To answer:
1) I drive or walk around unfamiliar areas, wherever I happen to be. There’s always something interesting going on, or someone interesting to watch. Baring that, I’ll call up a friend I haven’t talked to for a while and ask wassup. Usually, there’s a good story in there.
2) I don’t think anyone wants to know about the things that distract me from writing. Seriously. You really don’t.
Actually, I do. Joe. Maybe over a beer.
Jim–I can see you pitching a book in Hollywood. I’d love to sit in on that one. Anyone who can come up with a Zombie woman Lawyer and the titles to those books is a zen master to me.
Spewing works, BK. I think my husband might describe my process as verbal spew.
Just grossed myself out.
A good action film–at the theater, not at home–usually jostles something loose for me.
I transcribe a lot and there comes a time when the ears/brain tires and the voices speak foreign gibberish. It happens in an instant. At that point, I put the headphones down and go do something else until I’m rested. The same thing seems to happen with writing. At a time when the words come but they make no sense, I walk away and give it a rest. Doesn’t take long, depending on the distraction, then it’s back to work.
If the weather permits I take a walk and mumble dialogue and storyline to myself. That works pretty well, and when I’m walking along the park trails at UAA or near my office muttering to myself ensures that no one is going to come up and try to talk to me. For that matter I tend to have wide areas of the trail to myself, which is nice.
In winter though that’s very hard to do without snowshoes or cross country skis, so I usually talk the scenes out with my teen kids. They love it and interact well, pointing out problems or asking questions I might not have seen. I used to do it with my wife…well, I still ‘do it’ with my wife, I mean, she’s my wife, but I mean the talking about books here. stop thinking dirty…but military thrillers aren’t her thing and she just got a glazed look in her eyes that told me she was thinking about the next episode of Korean Dramas to watch online.
I had used my cousin Leonard a couple of times, before the time machine took him away to better places, but he always just stared at me and stuffed handfuls of tortilla chips in his mouth making indecipherable comments while chewing, it never worked
JJ–Great point. I love watching action flicks when I have certain scenes in my head. It’s like getting into choreography and breaking down what’s happening, but it also ramps up your adrenaline. Gets you into the mood to escalate the stakes. Nice.
Basil–You have such great & inpirational places to walk in AK too. So jealous. When I had my day job, I took lunches by myself to write dialogue on paper for a scene I would do that night. Only the dialogue. Later I would fill in the setting, body language, frame out the action in the scene, then the last thing I would do is lightly add introspection to move the character motivation along. At first, my notes looked like a screenplay, but I eventually taught myself how to write sparsely with tighter narrative drive. So you talking over dialogue on a walk reminded me of that. Very cool method, my friend. I like it. And you get exercise. Double plus.
Jumpstart? Mine is more like slow boil that finally overflows. It’s definitely a process where I keep scooping the ideas foaming at the top of the pot, use ’em, then wait til more collects.
Now, moving with that metaphor, if I don’t want a bland broth I definitely look for folks with whom to ‘splain scenes, plots and dilemmas. It’s like adding the extra ingredients to the pot. It makes a richer flavor for the story. Almost always. I have yet to write a book where I didn’t use input from others-even if they just nodded their heads. 🙂
My strangest diversions? If you don’t mind, I won’t go there. I really don’t want to be quoted!
>>My strangest diversions? If you don’t mind, I won’t go there. I really don’t want to be quoted!>>
Kathleen–Writing for the YA market, I’m tempted to double dawg dare you.
Walking (without the dog–he’s too distracting) helps me get my mind going. Thoughts seem to flow naturally when I’m walking along the beach, which is fortunately where I live!
Ah, Kathryn. So jealous of your beach. I bet that would be amazing.
Yep, that’s my problem with walking as a writing tool too–I’m not usually walking without the dog, and when I’m with the dog, I’m too busy trying to keep her in line to be able to think about my story.
Maybe once I sell my first book I can hire Cesar. 😎
I could use Cesar too. Two rescues, neither get the concept of “heel.”
Darn it all, Jordan. You KNOW I can’t resist double dawg dares!
Okay, sometimes when I can’t get the energy flowing, I dress up like my character (the females, mind you) and venture into public. I do the wig, the clothes. I buy coffee and sit and watch folks go by (and eaves drop on conversations), go to the mall or, on brave occasions, go to dinner and dancing w/my husband or friends as an alter-ego. All the while, trying to think like my character. It really gets the juices flowing!
You may have seen me and not know it . . . or should I say, I may have been watching you. LOL!!
Have I told you lately HOW MUCH I LOVE YOU?
Well, I do. (stalker)
Oops. Forgot to say my last message is for the Pickster.
I think that there is no one solution- it just plain depends.
-Sometimes I need to take a break, do something else (usually completely unrelated) – it’s kind of like looking at things sideways – while your not looking at it, it is peculating away in its own way.
-I’ll go an listen to the soundtrack I made for the story while doing whatever.
-Sometimes I’ll take a break and look at some pictures – maybe for a picture that reminds me of the character or scene I’m working on.
-Sometimes I’ll just free write about a character or situation or ask questions just to keep my brain from molding or seizing on me.
-Weather permitting (or mostly permitting) – I’ll go for a ride on my motorcycle for fresh air and to blow out any cobwebs.
-I’ll leave the problem area and work on another area… (Like others have said sometime there’s something wrong and it just needs to sit and stew while your brain figures it out). I can still trodge along.
-Go from left brain to right brain. Go from creative to functional – work on some grammar, spelling, etc… edits.
-Talk it out with someone who doesn’t mind listening or butting in to my insane, bizzaro rantings.
-Take time out to play with my dog, because she may be sending hate mojo at me for being on the computer again.
What a great list, Chaco. Thanks. The dog option seems to be a favorite here. That puppy telepathy works wonders. Have a great weekend and happy writing!
Love you, too, Jordan! Now we just have to get together, play dress-up and go out and see what kind of trouble our characters can get into in the real world!
Your town or mine?? LOL!
I agree with you that a sounding board is a great help when working out a plotting problem. I’ll use whoever is nearby, husband, critique group, friend. Or I will toss out a question on one of the writers loops. Eventually the answer arrives in my own head.
Weird distractions? How about having our flat roof replaced? Bang, bang, bang all day. I couldn’t stand the noise and had to flee to the local library.