Writers in the Storm

A blog about writing

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October 10, 2018

How Squirrel-Brain Helped My Writing

by Orly Konig

Are you guys done laughing at the title? Not yet? Now?

Since the early months of 2018, I’ve been dealing with overcrowding in the brain-squirrel department. Revisions on what became Carousel Beach, marketing and launch of Carousel Beach, writing proposal chapters, family issues, starting a new book, summer schedule and multiple trips, a shiny new book idea, a must-try crochet pattern, the writer’s retreat I organize for Womens Fiction Writers Assn., another awesome program for WFWA, more family issues, and ohohoh a shiny new book idea. 

I’m embarrassed to say that during that time, very little writing was actually happening.

Every time I sat down to write, I’d become paralyzed by the doubt-nuts the squirrels were hoarding in my head. What if the story I was working on wasn’t the right one to do next? What if that other idea was more timely?

My agent is a saint. Every email I sent with “What about this idea? Is that a better idea? Is it? Is it?” met with a calm assessment and a gentle nudge back on track.

But the story I was working on was dragging me down emotionally. A couple of writing buddies had provided feedback on early chapters, but instead of helping me settle into the story, I found myself getting pulled further away from it.

So, I started working on another idea. Sent the early chapters to my critique partners. And then started on another idea. I sent those early chapters to critique partners. Then started exploring ANOTHER story idea.

What can I say, my brain squirrels were busy stocking up for winter (or a multi-book deal … hey, can’t blame a girl for dreaming!). 

Then came the email from my agent that changed things around: “ORLY, JUST WRITE THE BOOK ALREADY.” Okay, she didn’t use all caps. And I still wasn’t sure which of the story ideas was the RIGHT one.

While the squirrels made me ridiculously crazy, they also gave me a couple of gifts, assuming I was brave enough to unwrap them.

Gift 1: Story ideas

If all the story squirrels went on strike today, I’d still have four solid ideas to develop. That’s four years of writing. And I run a pretty sweet little squirrel Inn – plenty of coffee and gummy bears – so more would show up before long.

The trick is to decide which of those ideas makes the most sense to move forward with. This time, it was easy enough … I went with the one that was the most developed. Despite all the starts and stops on this book, I still believe in the characters and the story idea. I just need to reconnect with it.

All the other ideas will wait their turn. Some will sprout roots and develop into full-fledged stories, ready to be written as soon as I clear time for them. Others may become secondary themes in one of the other books or take longer to gel.

Gift 2: The realization that something wasn’t working

The need to reconnect with my writing was the giant nut that dropped on my head. The fact that I wasn’t writing more than a chapter a month had nothing to do with the story and everything to do with my head space.

It was time to put a stop to squirrel rumpus time.

I made small but significant changes:

  • A notebook for each of the story ideas so that I can jot notes down without allowing the ideas or characters to invade my brain space for too long.
  • Dedicated writing time and that includes closing out of everything except Word for that period of time.
  • Limits on social media
  • Cutting down on the outside projects I agree to take on.

But the most important realization was that I needed to trust myself.

I had to stop second guessing my decisions and just write the book. For the first time since that very first attempt at a manuscript seven years ago, I’m letting the story write itself before I let anyone look at it. Every once in a while, I get the itch to have a critique partner tell me if I’m on the right track or not. But it’s a quick itch.

For the first time in almost a year, I’m enjoying writing again.

I’m not freaking out over the individual pieces, I’m savoring the whole. I still check in with my critique buddies and they know that next month, I’ll be ready to share a revised draft. For now, though, I’m happy in my nest. The squirrels still throw nuts at me sometimes, but I’ve gotten pretty darn good at dodging them.

How do you deal with squirrel brain? What did you do when you hit a giant nut-dam on a project?

*  *  *  *  *  *

About Orly

Orly Konig is an escapee from the corporate world. She is the founding president of the Women’s Fiction Writers Association, a member of the Tall Poppy Writers, and a quarterly contributor to the Writers In The Storm blog.

She’s the author of Carousel Beach (May 2018) and The Distance Home (May 2017).

Connect with Orly online at:

Website: www.orlykonig.com
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/OrlyKonigAuthor/
Instagram:  https://www.instagram.com/orlykonig/
Bookbub: https://www.bookbub.com/profile/orly-konig
Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/orlykonigauthor/
Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/OrlyKonig

35 comments on “How Squirrel-Brain Helped My Writing”

  1. Your post speaks to me! I have squirrel brain often and need to stop gathering all those nuts and just get down to it. I find that blogging is a great way to spur on my writing, but at some point, I need to leave the short blog stories alone and just work on those chapters that are waiting waiting waiting. Thanks for the push - I'm right there with you.

    1. It is great to have ideas beyond the project you're working on. Key is to not let those ideas distract you from the project at hand. That shiny new idea always has more potential. 🙂

  2. I run into this at about the 30K word mark. How can this ever become a novel? And then I tell myself it happens Every. Single.Time, and do I really want to start something different and hit the same wall? Since I'm not a plotter, I just keep going.

    1. I think BECAUSE I'm not a plotter, those shiny ideas seem so much more appealing, especially when a first draft is one a stop and go trajectory. I always think if I can just start a new one and get through it in one swoop, it'll be easier than going back to one already underway. Oh the games we play with ourselves. 🙂

  3. Thank you for this post, Orly. My squirrel brain has been slowing me down lately, and I worry I’ll never finish the darn book as I chase different ideas. Your list of small changes makes perfect sense. I’m hoping all the inspiration from the WFWA retreat will help push me. Onward!

    1. And don't forget Laura Drake's fabulous advice from the retreat ... "Just write the darn book." [yes, I cleaned that up to protect innocent eyes 🙂 ]
      Onward indeed!!!!!

  4. This was so perfect for me! I've been trying to edit a book for a year every time I sit down the self doubt nut pops up then squirrel brain says lets go play elsewhere. It does boil down to trusting myself. Thank you!

    1. And trusting yourself is one of the hardest things to do. But you have to learn to put the squirrels in time-out and tune out the noise. You CAN do this!

  5. Orly, cutting down on outside projects is my biggie. There are so many things I feel passionate about, one of them being our environment, so I feel I should be writing about that. I struggle between writing about issues and writing my novel. What you said about trusting yourself resonates. For me, it's a matter of trusting that what I want to write is every bit as important as what I should write. And if I'm ever to finish this novel, it's a matter of making it the top priority. Thanks for the post!

  6. Great post, Orly! It's so hard to narrow down which of the ideas are the ones we should focus on. It's such a big investment, and it's not a one month project, where we can say, "Oh, well!" if it doesn't work out. We feel so vested in it afterward, that it's hard to let go of it if it fails. The only way to go is to trust yourself, your writing, and your idea! Thanks for the post! Now I need to sit down and move forward with the one idea that's been bugging me for over a year and just start writing...

    1. The time commitment is what eats at me, too. I want to write ALL the stories. And I want them done NOW!!!!!! I've been working hard on becoming more efficient with my writing and phasing out distractions (and considering I haven't opened my manuscript yet today, that's clearly working brilliantly).

      As for you, dear Anne, WRITE!!!! 🙂

  7. In a way, I envy your squirrel brain! The hardest part of writing for me is developing new story ideas. So now you are set for the next four books and that's awesome!

  8. Oh yeah, the squirrels are always running rampant in my noggin. I try to keep them herded into the short story corral so that they don't pull too much time away from the main project, but every once, in a while one escapes and tries to take over. Lately, I've found that going to the library to write refocuses me. I find a table in the corner, turn off the WiFi, and set a word count goal I have to hit before I allow the squirrels to run free again.

    1. Getting away from distractions is a must! That's awesome that you found a place that works for you. I may have to try going to the library. 🙂

  9. Perfect. I was just looking at -- and updating -- my calendar for the next few weeks and thinking, "It's all too much. I can't do it and finish the book." And the last few weeks were just as bad. I needed to hear that it was ok to cut down on outside commitments. What I need most: dedicated time. Thanks, Orly. (And thanks for taking the time to write the post and share the insights!)

    1. I saw this quote a few days ago and it hit home:
      Things which matter most must never be at the mercy of things which matter least.
      - GOETHE

      1. Hey, fellow squirrel-wrangler! Orly and I commiserate with to-do lists, texted every morning. I always feel better after, because I dumped some of the stress by naming it, And, of course, because her's is usually longer than mine.

        But to be fair, she includes watering the plants!

        Use your riding crop on those little suckers, Orly.

  10. This sounds so much like me! I like new story ideas so much more than trudging through the whole work-in-progress. Even when I KNOW that getting through the book will make me happier in the long run. Thanks for the reminder to get back on track but also celebrate the goodness of those squirrel ideas!

  11. I'm exhausted reading this and I totally relate. I'm so looking for a giant gap in my calendar that is empty. It doesn't exist. When you look at Christmas and Thanksgiving as your only day off there is a problem. Today. I turned off my phone for 12 hours. It was amazing. AMAZING. Thank you for the confirmation, that sometimes it's okay to sit in the nest and just trust yourself.

  12. My current WIP is the first book (of five) that this has happened, so I'm new to this phenomenon. Your suggestions will help. A lot. thanks, Orly! Sending you love...

  13. […] Since the early months of 2018, I’ve been dealing with overcrowding in the brain-squirrel department. Revisions on what became Carousel Beach, marketing and launch of Carousel Beach, writing proposal chapters, family issues, starting a new book, summer schedule and multiple trips, a shiny new book idea, a must-try crochet pattern, the writer’s retreat I organize for Womens Fiction Writers Assn.… Read the post […]

  14. I started a story two years ago but had to abandon it when I wasn't going to meet the deadline. Was a good thing--the publisher went out of business.

    Started a second story, but life go busy again.

    Went to a conference and rethought first story. Failed to do anything about it.

    Got a kick in the pants from a friend. Started writing story from two years ago with some significant changes and a better direction. Am almost finished. Initial feedback is good.

    I just need life to cooperate.


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