Author guides, skills seminars, blogs and social media abound with tools and tip lists for the purpose of overcoming writer’s block. That abundance is a great thing; generosity for those of us who suffer (from time to time or chronically) with the process of getting ideas to translate from the brain to written form.
There is also an abundance of resources to help us stay focused on actually producing output instead of floundering around in the mysterious vortex of gonna-do: Advice by the bucket-load about the wisdom of setting deadlines and devising writing schedules.
The wisest advice I have ever heard came from academic author and motivator of high achievers, Hugh Kearns, who I have twice had the pleasure of hearing speak.
Whilst Kearns’ talks are framed in the context of academic writing, as are his books, every pearl I took away from those talks was applicable also to the writing of fiction.
Kearns firm grip on psychology had his audiences’ jaws dropping in unison as he described one procrastination habit after another – everyone looking around in surprise to note that apparently everyone was doing the same habitual behaviors!
“Just a quick check” of emails and Facebook seem to be the worst offenders, and such hard habits to break because we think they are important parts of our jobs: Fear of missing out on that important message or opportunity in the inbox, and of course Facebook is a necessary networking tool. Well, both things are true, but I guess it’s also true that if we don’t turn them off and get stuck into the business of writing, there will be nothing to offer when the opportunity shows up, and nothing to sell to the network.
But what was that “wisest advice”? It’s this: Park on a hill. It’s about making a note, or a couple of dot points about the next thing to write when starting up again at the next writing session, whether that be right after a lunch break, next morning, or several days away. It means never having to spend time trying to figure out where you’re up to and what should happen next. It means being able to hit the ground running and get straight back into it instead of facing that treacherous half-hour of uncertainty that is so vulnerable to “perhaps I’ll just have a quick check of emails and Facebook” because we can run with the breadcrumb ideas we left for ourselves.
The park on a hill concept works so well that it feels like a gift that keeps on giving.
Even better for fiction writers and bloggers is that if we run out of ideas, there are even resources to help us generate ideas! How cool is that?! The tools we can find on the internet are wondrous things, because even if they don’t come up with the most brilliant literary suggestions, they can prompt our imaginations to generate better ideas.
But what about if the problem is that we have too many ideas?
This is the one I struggle with. Those of you who have read my Welcome page know that I postponed my fiction writing for a long time while doing other things. I didn’t want to lose the ideas I loved, my darlings, but I did not have the foresight to organised them in any user-friendly way. Or in any way at all really.
Worse, I seem to now have an overactive idea-generation-gland. Really. It’s a problem.
It doesn’t happen 24/7, but when it does it’s like a rapid-fire assault. Not all ideas are good ones (not by a long shot) but if I don’t get a grip on them, I can’t sort through to find which ones might be polished up and become my gems. (I’m certainly hoping some are gems.)
Several months of 2017 were devoted to that quest, such that emails and Facebook seemed like child’s play. In January, I’d thought 2017 would be my year to sit down and write, but it was my year to swing a butterfly net around my head, chasing my own dreams before they flit away, replaced by some other idea.
In retrospect, I have to say it was fun. A luxury even. But in the midst of it I was mighty irritated.
Relief arrived in the form of an old voice recorder which I’d initially purchased to do research interviews with. Those interviews never happened, but I continue to use the recorder a lot for learning songs. (I’m a late-onset singer, and I love it.)
Anyhow, I noticed the recorder during one of my irritating over-imaginative moments and had a go at blurting my thoughts into it. There was total silence at first. Speaking ideas out loud was weird.
And then it changed my life.
By keeping that little thing in my pocket, I need never scramble to get to a keyboard or struggle with myself for being such a slow hand-writer. It really didn’t take more than a day to get used to. Blurting is awesome! My mind is clearer than it’s been in a decade, I’m less stressed, and I’m loving the freedom to just focus on one thing at a time. It seems I might even focus enough to finish something!
Of course everything I say is not great, but the recordings do allow me to figure out which thoughts have legs and which should be discarded. Most should be discarded. Or at least revised.
And re-worded because the language sucks terribly. It seems that my brain’s speech pathways have been rewired to a technical academic frequency, such that even the most fanciful of fictional ideas comes out sounding like a flat-pack turbo jet instruction manual.
No matter though. At least they make it to a page. Finally, my ideas are making it to an actual page. And that is good.
So… with full acknowledgment that my methods are weird, I am interested in setting the bar a bit higher for myself, so the next step is finding out how others get ideas on to the page. I’m ready, I hope, to do better.
How do you handle your ideas? Do you get bogged, or do they come thick and fast, unbidden, or do you have more control over your creativity?