The best blog from the best author you've never heard of. Assorted thoughts ranging from comic books to politics. Sometimes I even talk about writing.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Stop Writing! (for just a little while)

Most of my writing time over the last week has been spent on a new story. It unfolded differently than I expected. I think I’ve alluded to the fact that I don’t outline for my writing. I never have. So in that way surprises are part and parcel of my experience with every new idea. Some stories go much as I expect them to. Some change a little. Some radically shift directions away from the original concept.

This story fell in the middle category. I had originally conceived a structure that bounced between two main characters on opposing ends of the narrative. My first sitting for writing it took me to the end of what I thought was one main character’s first scene. My intention when I left it was to begin what would have been the first scene for the second main character at the next sitting.

Well, it’s amazing what a head-clearing bike ride will do.

Actually, it’s amazing what a day at work, a ride on BART, and a head clearing bike commute home will do. As my mind twiddled its non-corporeal thumbs during that combination of human sardine packing and muscle exhaustion, the idea I had for telling the story spun off in a whole new direction.

Now, since brevity has never been my thing—and I refuse to be fashionable by starting now—that was my long introduction to something that I often think about but I never hear mentioned as advice to creatively aspiring people.

The change to the story’s structure—which I knew was a superior way to tell it the moment I returned to my computer—occurred to me while my mind was, essentially, elsewhere. There was no real active thinking on my part. Which I suppose goes to show how effective a multi-tasker—or, depending on your point of view, a procrastinator—the brain is. If, when I started the story, I had had the time to keep writing and had begun the scene for the second main character, I question whether I would ever have hit on the change I hit on. I am certain it wouldn’t have occurred to me while my mind was focused on spinning the words I was typing out at the time. Having finished the story—I just started my first pass at editing last night—I can’t believe I ever thought the idea was best told from two points of view. It feels like a much better character piece now, and—clever plots aside—that’s how I judge most of what I write.
"Take a load off...I'll handle the heavy lifting for a while."

I find that my time spent not actively writing is just as important as the hours spent banging out the first draft and then battling with tedium to edit it. I think we need that time to let our brains shift gears—on its own it will probably look at concepts and ideas in a far more creative way than our conscious, focused thinking ever will. And this is hardly limited to creative endeavors—is there anyone who hasn’t figured out the answer to some impossible question hours later when thinking about something else?

Don’t get me wrong. Emphasizing the need to write. Write! WRITE! is absolutely critical. If you can’t finish something you’re never going to get the writing much beyond a hobby stage. But I wouldn’t mind seeing a book about the writing craft that had a chapter telling its readers to put down the pen and paper (or keyboard and monitor) and go hiking or go biking or do some people watching or do any unrelated activity so their brain could do its thing.

"Of course! My ending shouldn't be about the epic battle but about the underlying existential dilemma causing the conflict--oh crap."

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