Go for a walk. Clean the kitchen floor. Scrub the toilet. Paint. Anything that gets your body moving and exercises your brain a different way.
I’m not kidding. Doing something tactile will unclog your brain. It will give you a chance to breath and think while not staring at your computer.
When we’re new writers we start out all excited and we love our work and think it’s the best thing ever written. Then we go to a writer’s group, or RWA meeting, and we learn all sorts of things about writing. We hear terms like GMC (goal, motivation, conflict). Passive versus active voice. Point of View. Word counts for different publishers and their lines. Do’s and don’ts when querying editors and agents.
The more I learned about writing, the harder it got. It’s like the old saying, it gets worse before it gets better. My brain filled with so much information, and often conflicting, that I could barely write. I literally had to take a step back. I had lost what excited me to write in the first place.
I liken it to the kid who loves hockey, until he has to practice every day and it becomes work.
I felt as though I was being bombarded by rules that were tying my hands. I really had to learn to consider the source and understand that their opinion comes from their experiences and who they write for, ie: a big publisher, a small niche publisher, indie, or any other publishing option.
I think the number one thing a writer needs to do is figure out what their goal is. What is it that you want from your writing? One thing I’ve always wanted was to hit a list and last week that happened. I hit the USA Today Bestseller list in a Christmas anthology. Woot Woot! But guess what. I had to do certain things to get there, so I made sure what I was writing was helping me achieve that goal.
As you can tell, I’m a goal oriented person. And that isn’t my only goal. I want to get to a certain point financially. I want to have a paperback shelved in Barnes and Noble. These are some of my goals. So, one thing I’m doing is querying editors and agents again. This means I need to look at some of the rules in involved in this type of publishing and it’s different depending on the line.
But this path might not be what another writer wants, so their decisions will be very different from mine.
And that’s okay.
Here’s thing. It’s important to know the rules and understand them. It’s important to learn about all these different things so we can make informed decisions about our careers. We have to do our research in both the industry and in the process. It’s important to try different writing programs. Different processes. And it will fuck with your writing.
For a short period of time until you really understand yourself and what you REALLY want.
Once you remember what put you in a room, alone, to write a novel about people who don’t exist, things will start to click again. You’ll learn that while spreadsheets works for one, it doesn’t for another. While Scrivener is a great program, it might not be the one for you. Point of View, Narrative structure, GMC, and other things necessary in making a book good, will become second nature. You will know if you want traditional publishing, indie publishing, or be a hybrid author (and remember, every couple of years, assess your goals, because they could change).
And most important, you’ll find your own voice and then can decide what rules to break. Bob Mayer always talks about the three rules of rule breaking:
- Know the Rule
- Have a reason for breaking the Rule
- Accept the consequences for breaking the Rule
If you don’t know the rule, how can you have a good reason for breaking it? I think the why is always important in anything. I was on the phone last night with a writer friend who asked me to read something. I asked her why she did something and her response was: I don’t know.
You have to know. No matter what rule you are breaking, know why and understand there could be a consequence to breaking that rule.
Treat writing rules as guidelines. Parameters that you might step outside when necessary.
You can also treat publishing rules the same way depending on your goals.
So, as a new writer, if you find yourself at the point where you feel stuck, whether it be in your manuscript, or your career, take a step back. Take a walk. Find that one thing that excited you. Find that goal. What is your pot at the end of the rainbow? Then, sit back down, push out all the advice, and write YOUR book.
I always say I’m the idea lady. You don’t like that idea, I’ve got another one. You don’t like that one? Let me reach in my back pocket and toss out another one.
It’s easier for me to come up with ideas for other writers because I really don’t have that much invested in it other than I want my friends book to be the best that it can be.
The only problem is that I can be seriously overwhelming. Brainstorming with me is not for the weak of heart. Casey has learned hone me in by asking me questions, which forces me to pull things in nice and tight. We enjoy brainstorming both in person/on phone, or in email. The nice thing about email is that you have a record of the conversation.
But it’s time consuming.
The nice thing about in person or on phone, you get to see the shiver moment.
But unless you record it, you might forget it.
As my friend Stacey Wilk learned, when you brainstorm with me, you need to say, “Jen. Just be quiet for one minute.”
Brainstorming is a talent. Really it is. I’m good at ideas. I’ve got a million of them, but that can be a weakness because I can take a story and toss it off in a million directions, getting lost in the details…because its not my story. My mind doesn’t see it any certain way.
The key to a good brainstorming session is to tell the other writer your expectations AND to always remember it’s YOUR story. Just like with critique, you need to find the nuggets that make sense for your vision and goal for your book.
If your the one giving ideas, remember, your job is to help the other author find that sweet spot. Help them muddle through all the unanswered questions that they need the answers for before they can start writing.
Brainstorming…the perfect storm!
We’ve all seen the articles for the various kinds of brainstorming: mind mapping, word clouds, lists/bullets, cubing, free writing, and umpteen others, and there’s nothing wrong with those, nothing about all, I mean, they are a huge help if you’re exploring your project or especially if you’re working alone. And we all know writing is almost solely a solitary journey.
But what I want to talk about is good, old-fashioned locking yourself in a room with a writing buddy and tossing ideas back and forth until you’ve forgotten to eat anything beyond cheese and crackers and at least one of you starts to smell like onions.
Okay, so maybe not that bad, but you get my drift.
No cell phone interruption, no social media, no drinking, LOL.
Just tossing out ideas. Ho-hum ideas. Laughable ideas. Often ridiculous ideas. Taking the nugget of a plan and asking a million “what ifs” and discarding them just as fast.
Two people, maybe three or four, the more minds the better unless, of course, you’ve got them all trying to yell over one another to be heard…all pinging off of one another with different life experiences, different tastes in books, shows, movies, different stories that each of them love to read, and all of them bringing a story, characters, and theme to fruition.
Recently, Jen and I were holed up in a hotel room, cheese and crackers at the ready, minus the onion smell, and pinging off of one another for hours. We tossed my novella into the ring for scrutiny, the mediocre story I had pieced together with dry-rotted, dollar store thread and threw every damn what if at it possible until only the characters and their careers stayed the same.
The mission, the character arc, the story arc all shifted based on our perceptions and our experiences. Every time we said, “What if he did this? What if she did that?” The other called into question why. Why would they do that? Why wouldn’t they just do A or B? Our life situations come into play. Maybe we’ve been in a similar situation and we know for a fact that the natural reaction is not what everyone believes it would be.
No ideas are bad. Ideas that don’t work still shape the character and the story by setting limits for where it won’t go. Those perspectives unlock avenues that you’ve blocked off in your mind. It’s like pulling in the lines of a massive circle, narrowing the space down at every turn until your character, your story, your arc, takes shape and flow in the direction of growth and resolution.
It doesn’t work with just anybody.
I firmly believe this. You need like-minded people. You need creative people who understand how solitary this whole writing process is. You need people who feed your creative soul. When you have that, you unlock something inside you that can’t be unlocked any other way.
How long has it been since you fed your creative soul?
What are you waiting for?
Okay. So, we’re talking about Ah-ha moments. Some might call a shiver (and we’re not talking the pee shivers)!
Next week, we’re going to be talking about if all brainstorming is the same and how important is it to the writing process. These ah-ha moments happen a lot in brainstorming, but sometimes they can be false ah-ahs. Kind of like a pre-tremor before the earthquake. The calm before the storm. The pre… no I won’t go there.
Anywho. I’ve sat with writers talking about their books and we all seem to have diarrhea of the mouth, and not in a good way. When asked what our book is about, we often say, well, it’s about this and that and then this happens and then this happens. Kind of boring. But then we say something magical and everyone goes….oh, ahhhh, yessssss
And someone else says: I’ll have what she’s having.
That’s the sweet spot. That’s what we have to focus on. We have to zone in on the moment everyone’s hair stands up on end or they have a mini orgasm right there.
These ah-ha moments can come with story idea, character motivations, conflict, setting, plot twist, or the idea that promoted us to write something to begin with.
But we have to be careful of the fake ones. Yes. There are fake shivers. It’s kind of like that great idea we have in our head, then we say it out loud and we realize, not so great.
Writing is not a place to fake it.
And ah-ha shiver moments never happen alone. They come in multiples. Yep. That’s right folks. You heard that right here.
What I mean is this is why we talk about our books with other writers. Why we brainstorm ideas. A true ah-ha is shared collectively, like a scream in the movie theater when the lightning shows Michael standing right behind Jamie Lee Curtis, right after he killed the couple having sex, because the couple having sex always has to die!
Okay, so I thought that was a good idea when I thunk it. LOL.
But I think you all get my point.
Now. Scoot. Go find your ah-ah shivers!