I’ve been working on a story that I adore. The characters are fun to hang out with, the setting makes me happy, the topics fascinate me. And I was rocking the first chapters. You know that feeling, right?
Then the brain chipmunks got out of their cage and took off with my brilliant story ideas. I typed and deleted more than I’d typed. The harder I pushed, the more convoluted the story became.
Pound. Head. On. Keyboard.
So, what’s a writer to do? Yup, I did what any self-respecting, on-deadline author does … I futzed away the rest of the day on Facebook.
But, spoiler alert (you read the title of the post, right?), it wasn’t a waste of a day. Au contraire mon ami!
And here’s why …
I wasn’t looking for anything.
A lot of times when we’re stuck on a plot point or have a character who isn’t cooperating, we knot and re-knot the loose threads of the story in a desperate attempt to keep everything from unraveling. We poke and prod, twist and bend. We play the what-if game. We force a square character down a round rabbit hole. And we end up more frustrated than when we started.
Now, I have a confession. I’m not on Facebook that much these days. I spend the time I need for promotion but I tend to get on for what I need and not linger. That wasn’t always the case but I realized that the more time I spent on social media, the harder it was to stay focused and positive. Oh wait, that’s not the point of this blog (what was that about focus?).
But that day, I hung out. I scrolled through my feed, clicked on story links (no, I didn’t take any of those quizzes, don’t panic), watched videos, chatted with friends, posted silly pictures of my cats. It was actually, rather fun.
Then I went on with my evening. My son had climbing team practice, dinner had to be prepared, laundry needed to be folded, cats insisted on being fed.
As I was futzing about, one video from early in the day, kept replaying in my head. It wasn’t a thread I’d entertained for this story but suddenly there it was, THE missing piece that tied the whole thing together. It totally flipped my idea about one of the characters and how the book would end, but this made sense. The story suddenly had a secondary plot line that made it so much stronger.
The following day, I cranked through the synopsis and had a blast writing it. Crazy, right?! And my SWIP (stalled work in progress) is now chugging along again.
This is not a hall-pass to go play on Facebook for the rest of the day. But next time you’re stuck or stressing over a story thread that isn’t working, let the brain chipmunks loose and follow where they take you … they may show you the awesome story nuts are stashed.
After years in the corporate world (most of it in the space industry), Orly Konig took a leap into the creative world of fiction. She is the founding president of the Women’s Fiction Writers Association, an active member of the Tall Poppy Writers, and a quarterly contributor to the Writers in the Storm and Thinking Through Our Fingers blogs.
Her debut women’s fiction, The Distance Home, released from Forge, May 2017. Carousel Beach will release May 8, 2018. Find her online at www.orlykonig.com.
Copyright © 2023 Writers In The Storm - All Rights Reserved
Great post, Orly! It's nice to know I'm not alone 😉
Instagram, TV shows, Books, Facebook are my brain chipmunks' favorite things these days. I actually follow several accounts on both Instagram and Facebook just because they post stunning photos of countryside or people, or they travel, or they have big families, they live on a boat, on a farm, in the city--all sorts of things that provide me with
what looks like mindless entertainment but is, in fact, endless inspiration. I'm inspired by the world, apparently!
Same. Social media is a goldmine (nut-mine ??) for story ideas. 🙂
Man, I wish. This has never happened to me! Glad it happened for you!
That's because you're too busy chasing those squirrels. 😉
I would have thought you'd work out plot ideas sometimes with a fishing pole in hand, Laura. That's how I imagine you—out by a stream, writing brilliant storylines in your head, and catching "the big one." 🙂
Yeah, not so much. I'm too intent on 'fish-whispering'!
Hahahaha. All of this is slaying me. "Fish-whispering." *snort*
Don't you just love those miracle moments? I had one similar through different source, but once I recognized the answer, it was a head-smacker. Why hadn't I thought of it before?
It's amazing when that happens. Pity it's not more often. 🙂
Yep, I've had plot breakthroughs in the shower, on neighborhood walks, during lunch with a friend, and even sitting in a lawn chair on the beach with my toes tucked into the sand. (If only ALL my ideas came in that posture. But then, if I went to the beach that often, I probably wouldn't write books.) I love the idea of stepping away when you're flummoxed, and letting your brain work through the problems. Great advice, Orly!
It's hard to walk away from a plot problem - the pull is to force the fix - but if you can trust yourself to release the strangle hold, the answer will often find you.
My neighbor and I walk everyday and I find if I'm stuck it helps to discuss it with her because she isn't a writer and she'll come at things from a totally different angle. Watching a favorite movie or tv show also helps. A clever piece of dialogue will sometimes be all I need to unblock me.
Thanks for the post, Orly! It helps knowing I'm not the only one.
Brainstorming with friends is amazing. They can often toss out the most obvious solution. Bonus points for the exercise at the same time! 🙂
Love this, Orly. I've been using the Headspace app a lot lately (or trying to, anyway. Those brain chipmunks don't like to settle down), and one of the big things I've learned from it is exactly what you said: that the harder we push, the more we actually push away what we're looking for--it's when we let our minds relax, the answers come. So glad you got your breakthrough!
Is there a Headcase app? I need that one. 🙂
It used to be walking with my dog. I had this incredible calm chocolate Lab, and we'd walk by the river, he'd do his sniffing and I'd do my thinking, work out story problems and all was zen and lovely. My friend died, and unable to live without that love in my life, I got a new chocolate Lab puppy. This one is crazy! Walks are hectic, frustrating, full of trying to keep him from mobbing other walkers or eating—well, what he shouldn't eat. He's bouncy, wild, and there is no thinking on a walk with this one. And yet, our walks are still full of joy, and if the story solutions don't come on the trail, they sometimes show up later, when we've got home, had a Milk Bone and a bracing shot of whisky (kidding—tea). Then in the quiet, it comes. Some days, anyway, and those are the days that keep me going.
That puppy sounds amazing, though! You have a story right there. 🙂
A drive, a shower, a walk/exercise...
Exercise, yes! I talk (okay, huff) through a lot of story threads on the treadmill.
so do I!
In the early days of home computers, you could configure your computer by partitioning the memory into sections to use different operating systems. (Yes, my husband built ours and I wrote the software. Can you spell g-e-e-k?) I use that visual to partition my brain when I want to "back-burner" an idea while not thinking about it. I used the same idea in college when I needed a break from those "impossible" proofs. No wonder that I write science fiction...
Alas, my brain has very few partitions. You're so lucky you can do this, Fae.
Going for a walk is my go-to method for figuring out a plot. I don't put pressure on myself. I walk for the exercise and casually mull over the scene. It almost always helps me move forward!
Love the way you use the word "futzing." It says so much and needs no defining. We all do it.
I started writing songs at an early age. My love for story telling grew and now I am a published author. As a writer I find inspiration all around me. Whether it is for a song or a book. I will see or hear something and think "That would make a great song or book title."