Saturday, June 21, 2008

When You Skid to a Halt...

Ah yes. You're weeks (or months) into a WIP journey that requires some sideways thinking, some creative research and some serious pedal to the metal (read pen to paper) when the inevitable 'brain does not comply' message starts to blink redly at you from the console of your mind.

What went wrong?

That's the million dollar (OK, maybe $50) question. If you can answer that then you have a good chance at fixing the malfunction, stopping that insistent (and mind-numbing) flashing and getting back on track before you completely lose the plot - and I mean that literally. The plot part, that is.

There are several possible causes for this revolting brain matter (and by that I mean your synapses are staging a little coup, holding your creativity hostage until you meet their terms and decide that yes, perhaps you should run things their way).

But wait! That sounds like terrorist activities! And we should never negotiate with terrorists. Right?



It's YOUR brain and you can't function without it. This is one warning you can't ignore.

Most likely it's a sign that whatever was going 'right' before (get it? 'Right' brain? Creativity? Don't worry about it... I know you're tired) isn't going right - or correctly - now.

So what to do?

We go back to the derailment, or at least the warning of one, and find out what the heck caused it. Unfortunately that's easier said than done. Its source could be several different things - or a combination of two or all of them. So far I've noted these possible culprits:
  1. You've gotten off-track, your subconscious knows it and is trying to get you to turn around
  2. You're going in too many directions at once and it's exhausting your inner resources
  3. You're bored and lost focus, direction and drive
  4. You need some creative fuel to get you safely away from those inviting looking ruts near the side of the road so you can easily turn the wheels of your mind any direction they need to go, depending on what's up ahead
  5. Or simply, you're tired and you need to have a good nap - maybe three
My little mental warning light has been blinking at me for quite a few days now (OK, maybe it's closer to a month) and after seriously checking the creative engine I've come to the reluctant conclusion that I'm suffering from a bad case of number 5 (notice how the letters were larger than all the others?) with a little number 4 thrown in for good measure.

I think it may be the curse of the nightowl or, if we're keeping our metaphors straight, the midnight driver. No matter how exhausted you feel all day, come sundown or 9pm (nearer to each other than ever this Summer solstice) you're feeling 'awake' for the first time all day and simply MUST make up for lost time by re-tripling your efforts in the few precious working hours you have to yourself. This happens, of course, while all the sensible people have traded their thinking caps for night caps and are drifting blisfully into the land of dreams - the brain's true playground.

But once the warning light starts flashing it doesn't matter how many hours you try to creatively drive your brain - you get nowhere. The obvious solution is to pull over, turn off the engine and get some sleep. But it's hard. Habits are hard to break - harder, I think, when you're exhausted. If we could only be sure that pulling into a rest stop would actually benefit us getting to our destination.

Here's the thing I have to remind myself of though. It's not JUST about the destination. It really IS about the journey, and that, in the case of writing and other creative pursuits, AFFECTS the destination. I want to finish my novel - yes. But I'm going to be very unhappy if all this effort only produces something crappy. Crap is bound to happen but if you're barreling along on the road intent on finishing no matter what then you miss the gems on the way - the ones that make all those miles worth the effort in the first place. The ones that give you a story worth sharing at the end.

So, for the next week at least, I'm going to actually heed that warning light and turn off the engine a little earlier than usual for me. Stopping to count some sheep gives me a better chance of catching one of them acting out of the ordinary and who knows? Maybe it'll kick start my engine back onto the 'right' side of the write road.

Tick, tick, tick... Could that be my engine trying to tick over?

Or is it coming from that sheep over there?

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