Or: How to Coax your Brain into Cooperating
This is a two-part post, in which the parts are related, but different techniques will work best. Actually, different techniques will work for each person, since we’re all motivated uniquely. There are, however, some human commonalities that I can tap into which might help spark an idea…
I asked for blog topic suggestions and got two questions for me to answer.
How do I force my brain to write fiction when it clearly doesn’t want to? The second related one is ‘and how do I force it to do homework?’
First, I’d stop trying to force it. Walk away from the keyboard and do something else – stress, I’ve learned, is the biggest mind-killer of all. You don’t need to take a long break, just long enough to take a walk, do the dishes, short nap, or drive in the country… anything will work, here. Ok, maybe not anything. But something to get your mind off the task at hand, and into something relatively brainless is good. Body movement helps my brain wake up.
Exercise, in particular, will help with blood flow to the brain. Also, check when you last ate something, or took a drink. Are you dehydrated? I find I get headaches and general fuzziness if I need liquid (food, too, but that’s easier to detect usually). Maybe it’s just my oddity, but when I’m stressed I tend to bake. The focus on the recipe, the kinetic manipulation of dough – I find it settles me and gets my brain back on track. My First Reader has joked about knowing when I was blocked, by walking in the door to the fragrance of something cooking.
Specifically related to writing fiction, this next section is for a more long-term writer’s block than just ‘I don’t have it this minute’
I find when I’m having a drought of imagination, it helps to feed my mind. For me, that means reading. Film works for some, and some films might work for me – haven’t found one just yet. There are three ways to read for fiction writing production:
Inspirational: reading stories you know, and love, and have read before. It helps to re-read, here, as you can slow down and dig into the story structure, or word usage, on a level that helps you the writer understand what makes it great.
Frustration: read a bad story. One that makes you go ‘Oh, I can do that better!’ now, personally I’m not talking about really horrible books like the one-that-shall-not-be named (lest I draw trolls down on the blog) but ones that make me think there’s good stuff here, only maybe it would have been a better ending/beginning/denouement…
Research: read some non-fiction that you find interesting, and you might find that a story will spring forth from it. Or go to the museum and look at art. Only you’ll have to be careful, here, I tend to get stories unrelated to projects I’m actually supposed to be working on unless I choose my research
Music is another big one that helps me get into the right frame of mind. I love music, but I will often go through dry spells where I’m not listening to any, and there is a loose correlation to spells of can’t-write. Playing around on youtube until I find the right flavor to spark my mood might be time-consuming, but it can be worth it if it kicks my brain into high gear.
A while back when I was seriously stuck, and stressing about it, Amanda Green suggested I try free-writing. Opening up a blank document and just writing words with no real impetus to become a story, or a blog post, or anything. Once you’ve done that for a bit, like priming the pump, you can usually start pulling words out of the brain a bit easier.
I’ve gone through periods where I decided that I had to have x number of words a day, because after x(y) time had elapsed, I’d have a novel. I’ve gotten away from doing that recently, as I found it was stressing me, and that was making it harder to write, which stressed me more, which… led to me curled up munching cookies and chocolate and whimpering. So I don’t do that any more. However, I have found that words beget words. If I can write a little, and walk away, the next time I’m at the keyboard I can write more. And if I’m stuck on the fiction, I can ask for blog suggestions on facebook and voila! Here we are.
Also, if you have more than one project you can be working on, switching them up can give you some distance from what you were blocking on, and that can jog your brain loose enough to let you figure out why the block is happening. I have my First Reader, who I can usually ask to read the WIP and tell me what’s wrong with it, but I know that’s a luxury most don’t have.
If you have any suggestions for coaxing the words to flow, or the brain to focus on homework (or work-work, or what-have-you) feel free to add them in the comments as a help. Thanks!