Thinking is hard work. Much too difficult for this dried legume I call my brain. And yet, I find myself painfully hashing out a new plot. I have a general story. I know how it’s going to end. I know the premise, the characters, and some of the twists. In fact, I thought I had enough basic information that plotting this one would be like drift diving along a scenic reef.
Not so much.
Instead of coming up with concrete, workable ideas, I get distracted. Which is not like me in regular life. I’m usually disciplined—work before pleasure and all that. Like the character on Friends. What was her name? The Courteney Cox character, not Rachel, who was Jennifer Aniston. You know, the one who got all bent because her friends wouldn’t click the caps on the marking pens and they’d dry out? I never liked her and really hate that I can be like her…. Um. What was I saying about distractions?
Then there’s the fact that I’m a lazy thinker. I can get out of working for new ideas by telling myself that it would do my shriveled up gray matter good to rest and take in a movie to absorb story telling by osmosis. Or, really, wouldn’t it be better to read that new book on craft to gain some inspiration? Or maybe that old book on craft.
It’s said the great ones like Hemmingway and Fitzgerald knocked back a few cocktails to loosen the creative juices. Many of my writing pals have play lists or use pictures tacked to their walls to inspire them and keep them focused.
Even as I write this The Man With Infinite Tolerance is scurrying around and he said, “You keep looking at me with a blank expression and I assume you’re thinking.” Just because he’s the only thing moving and my eyes can’t help but follow him might make it look like I’m thinking but really, I’m panicking. My brain is refusing to give me what I want.
There are two tricks I use to force myself to concentrate. They both involve physical things to make my mind forget it’s working. The first thing I do is get out my big, thick, yellow legal pad. It has to be a new one so I don’t fret (Courteney Cox character-esque. What the hell was her name?—Squirrel!) about running out of paper or wasting it. I write down questions: Why would Nora have to solve this murder? Why wouldn’t she call the cops? What happened to her cell phone? What is the first plot point? The midpoint? What is her character arc? You know how that list grows and grows.
Somehow, the act of moving my hand across the page can trigger thoughts and many times the answers flow. Often, the characters themselves answer in their own voice. (Oh, don’t pretend I’m the only one sick enough to do this. You KNOW you hear your characters, too.)
The other ploy is to strap on my running shoes or hiking boots and hit the trail or pavement. Walk, run, plod, trek, traipse. Whatever it takes. I pound myself into some kind of trance and my eyes turn around and start to look into my brain. Please, dog, someone tell me you do something like this, too. My brain becomes like a movie screen and the scenes play themselves out before my turned-around eyes. They aren’t always brilliant scenes, mind you, but sometimes magic strikes and it works. I’ve also done this on cross-country drives but I don’t recommend it. It’s really hard to concentrate on driving if your eyes are turned around in your head.
If you are one of those geniuses who don’t writhe in pain when you plot, I don’t want to hear from you. But if you struggle and fight your brain to give you the shining nuggets, I’d love to hear how you make it cough up the goods.