Friday, December 3, 2010

Welcome Back and Brainstorming Ideas

Hi Everyone! Welcome back post-NaNoWriMo. I felt like I was underground there for a month, unplugged from social media.

I wish I could say that my NaNo experience this year was a blinding success, but it wasn't. I managed to write just shy of 40,000 words, which is short of the required 50,000 to win NaNo. But on the upside, that's 40,000 words closer to having a completed first draft, right?

There were two reasons why I missed the 50,000 mark.

1. Two of my children have birthdays at the end of November, plus there's Thanksgiving, plus the crush of both teaching and being a student. It was just too much and I cracked under the pressure.

2. I wrote myself into a dilemma. It wasn't a corner so much as an as-yet unsolved problem. 

Here's what happened: I decided to pants this novel. No plotting at all. Because it's written in first person present tense and it's a headlong chase adventure kinda thing I figured my not knowing what happens before the characters do would add some freshness, if not to the story at least to the writing process.  And for the most part it has. Unfortunately the downside of pantsing is that when you run up against a quandary you can't just look at your notes and say, "Ah! So that's what happens now!" and then go back to writing.

So I wrote as much as I could without solving this little problem and then I was stuck. Without giving too much away, I've got most of the cast of characters of this book looking for the same treasure, but I have no idea what the treasure actually is. And when the two main characters finally cracked the code that allowed them entry into the room where the treasure is hidden.....I had to stop writing because I was stumped.

Now, since there's only one week left of the semester and as a teacher I have to read and grade about 30 term papers, and as an MFA student I still need to write two papers, my main characters are frozen in time staring at a treasure that now only they can identify and I still can't.  However, my goal is to complete the first draft of this manuscript by the end of December, before the next semester starts, so clearly I need to get to brainstorming.

Which brings me to the main point of this post: As writers, I know all of you have run into these kinds of problems, whether it's in the plotting process or when you're in the middle of pantsing it.

In my search for ways to discover this treasure, I've collected several different brainstorming techniques I want to share with you, just in case you ever find yourself backed into a corner:

1. Freewriting. Everyone's done this at one point or another. Put the pen to the paper and just write. It doesn't matter if it makes sense and don't worry about the quality. The point is to stomp out the internal critic and let the ideas flow.

2. Clustering. This is kind of like freewriting, but briefer. You write your main topic (in my case "treasure") in the center of the paper. Then you work out from that center word filling the space with any words you associate with the central topic. Write fast, don't stop to consider, just get words down. Then when you're done start circling terms that seem related and connecting them with lines. These sets of words can help trigger ideas.

3. Journalistic questions. Ask who, what, when, where, why, and how about your subject and see what you learn about it. Ask about its history, why it's important, who is it important to, where has it been...etc.

4. Think outside the box. For instance, if you're writing a romance, ask yourself, "if I were faced with this very same problem but in a steampunk novel, how might I see it or understand it differently?" So for my problem, since my novel is sci-fi, maybe I would ask myself, "if this were a western, what kind of treasure would my characters be looking for?" And maybe the same kind of treasure would be useful to my sci-fi characters.

5. Meditate. Plug into some music and do something completely unrelated to writing, but with the problem you need to solve lurking somewhere just out of your conscious thought. Open yourself to input from any source and maybe something unexpected will pop into your head while you're playing Halo or watching the Food Network.

So what's your favorite way of breaking the block? How do you brainstorm for ideas?


Arlee Bird said...

I'm amazed that you got as many words as you did with everything you've got going on. You're still a winner. And those are great tips you've given. I've always had a problem with free writing. I'm a compulsive edit as I go sort of person. I still need to try some free writing exercises--if I can.

Tossing It Out

Joanna St. James said...

Like you said I just unplug from it - I call it a WIP timeout, and when its ready it will come and reveal its secret to me.
Welcome back and good 4 you on the 40k words

Jemi Fraser said...

You did really, really well! It's tough when you don't have a lot of time!

I tend to walk away from it for a bit and let my subconscious deal with it. That way the characters get to solve the problem for me :)

Donna Hole said...

I free write. Or clean house. For some reason, house cleaning gets my creative juices flowing. Maybe there is some chemical stimulant in the variety of cleaning solvents.

Or its just the dead space between my ears that allows my thoughts to free style too.

great post.


Kathi Oram Peterson said...

I'm so impressed that you tried NaNo with your schedule. I think you were a success! :)