I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that I’ve started drafting a new story. The first week, my word counts were rather lame, but this past week has been going much better. Each day finds me getting into my writing groove more easily.
I joked to my family that I’d apparently needed to get my drafting muscle back into shape. To some extent, brainstorming, drafting, and editing skills are like muscles that benefit from regular exercise.
Our Various Writing Muscles
If we’re in brainstorming mode, we know that no idea is too crazy, so we don’t hold our ideas back. Less holding back means more ideas.
If we’re in drafting mode, we might be taking those wild ideas and making them work. We might be deep into the characters, their voices, and the mood of the story, so we know what should happen next and the right words to get there.
If we’re in editing mode, we’re aware of all our writing tics to watch out for and hypervigilant for any issues. We’re analyzing and looking for problems.
In other words, the skills—and attitude—we need for each of those phases in our writing process are all very different. Some are “anything goes” and some are judgmental to the extreme.
The Struggle to Switch Gears
I don’t know about any of you, but when I’m “in the zone” for one aspect of writing, it can be difficult to switch gears. If I’ve used that muscle recently, it might take anywhere from a minute to a couple of hours to get those thought processes tuned and running.
In the case of this story, I’ve spent the last several months on editing/revising, creating a WordPress class, querying, contesting, etc. So it had been a while since I’d used my fiction drafting muscle, and it took me a couple of days to find my groove.
I think that’s normal and not anything to beat ourselves up about. *smile* However, I’m always on the lookout for how we can use our writing time more effectively and efficiently. So I had my eyes open for techniques that could help me switch gears more quickly.
Lucky for me, a fantastic email landed in my inbox from Holly Lisle, with a mini-workshop to help promote her How to Think Sideways class. (If you’re not familiar with Holly, she provides great information and tips for writers, often for free, like this free flash fiction class.)
We Need Our Brainstorming Muscle All of the Time
We often think about needing to brainstorm at the beginning of a project. What are we going to write about? What’s the genre and premise? Who are the characters and what are their goals and obstacles? Without answers to at least some of those questions, we don’t have a story at all.
We continue to rely on that brainstorming muscle throughout the drafting process as well. For each plot and turning point, each scene beginning and ending, each conflict and obstacle, we might need to come up with how the details will play out.
If we’re plotters, we might not know the exact way characters will react to events until we get there. If we write by the seat of our pants, our drafting process is often one big transcription of our brainstormed thoughts.
Even during revisions, our most analytical phase, we have to brainstorm different word choices, sentence structures, character motivations, etc. In other words, the brainstorming never ends.
Give Your Brainstorming Muscle a Workout
Here’s where Holly’s technique can help us. An easy two step process can get that muscle primed and ready. (Don’t move on to Step Two until you’ve completed Step One.)
- Step One: List five unrelated nouns off the top of your head.
- Step Two: Ask yourself these questions about the nouns:
- What secret relationship do #1 and #3 share?
- How are #2 and #4 dangerous?
- What extraordinary characteristic makes #5 worth a fortune?
I came up with:
- macaroni and cheese
- Answer to Q1: The narrator is trying write an update to The Frog Prince by instead making it The Toad Prince. (Hey, I’m a romance author. I had to get a romance in here somewhere. *grin*)
- Answer to Q2: The kitten is playing and knocks the garbage over, which had some extraordinarily stinky macaroni and cheese wrapped inside. The noise interrupts said narrator, who finds the foul stuff now spread all over the kitchen.
- Answer to Q3: The narrator grabs some tissues to clean the mess without needing to touch the so-multicolored-it-must-be-contaminated-with-something garbage. Kleenex to the rescue!
Now, in Holly’s email, she came up with a fantastic story that could make a novel. Mine would work better as flash fiction. And that’s okay!
How Brainstorming Warm-ups Help
Sure, we could use this technique for coming up with story ideas, and in that case, we’d hope we’d come up with meatier premises. But Holly’s mini-workshop is also perfect for jump-starting a brainstorming mode we can use any time, in any situation. Even when we’re stuck in our story.
When we think about ideas outside of our story—that, in fact, have nothing to do with our story—we can more easily shut up that nay-saying “that won’t work” part of our brain. Because really, does it matter if something does or doesn’t work in a paragraph-long flash fiction exercise that will remain only in our head? *grin*
The point is that we’re working out our brainstorming muscle. We’re forcing it to see connections that, by all rights, shouldn’t exist. We’re forcing it to create goals and obstacles from nothing. We’re forcing it to tell us a story that didn’t live in the world before.
Those are all great strengths we need when drafting a story too, especially when we’re stuck. Maybe our characters need clearer goals. Maybe we need to strengthen the conflict. Maybe the story feels flat or the cause-and-effect is broken.
If our brain is primed to create something from nothing, we might better be able to think our way out of the problem. And that’s how pens, kittens, toads, mac-n-cheese, and Kleenex could help me draft a story about (secret) and (redacted). *smile*
Have you ever felt that writing skills are a muscle to exercise? Do you struggle to switch gears? Do you agree that we need to keep our brainstorming mode on standby all the time? Do you have brainstorming warm-ups to share? Feel free to try this exercise and share your results in the comments!
P.S. Yesterday, I received word that Treasured Claim is a finalist in two more contests, the On the Far Side contest (sponsored by RWA’s Fantasy, Futuristic, and Paranormal chapter) and the TARA contest (sponsored by RWA’s Tampa Area Romance Authors chapter). Yay! Er, that’s eight finals/wins out of eleven contests in the past year. *boggles*Pin It