Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Posted by Laurel Garver on Tuesday, February 11, 2014 9 comments
Have you ever been struck at an odd time with a solution to a plot or character problem that's been niggling at you for weeks? I was actually awakened in the early morning by one of these kinds of "aha!" moments.

image: Camdiluv, wikimedia commons
I'd turned in some chapters to my crit group last week, hoping they could tell me what wasn't working in chapter 15. I was tired of staring at it, thinking something is not working, yet not being able to pinpoint it. This morning I woke with a jolt, realizing I'd been afraid to let some characters come into contact because the meeting could be potentially explosive. But writing away from the confrontation made the built up tension deflate. With that realization came several more about what was falling flat in the chapter and what followed. These wonderful insights were soon followed with the sinking feeling, why didn't I wait just one more week before sending those chapters out?

Had I held onto the problem chapters, would the solutions have come to me? Probably not. I needed my mind to unclench--something that came only after releasing the problem pages to others.

Reflecting on this phenomenon, I now realize that the more we try to force insight or solutions, the more they tend to elude us. Intuition does not behave as well under pressure as it does in states of relaxation.

This puts me in a bit of a quandary, however. Because I know this could become an excuse to let something simmer rather than keep working when plot knots or character glitches crop up.

Are there ways of letting go of a problem section to let the the subconscious mull it and yet maintain a writing routine? 

What do you do? Research? Sketch out possible permutations of other scenes? Pick up a side project for a while? I'd love to hear what has worked for you.

9 comments:

  1. This happens to me so often; just when I send something out I realize how to fix it! I've reached the point where I'll send things to critique partners just so I can get past that block!
    I do also tend to move to side projects while I'm waiting for things to figure themselves out. This works--but it can be dangerous as there's the chance that the shiny new project will distract you too thoroughly. (Articles, blog posts, or short stories are best for me.)

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    1. It's funny how once something's off your desk, this sense of release comes. I like the idea of getting ahead with blog posts as a way a releasing a problem project. It would be far easier to keep a schedule with some material waiting in the wings.

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  2. I had one of those aha moments this week. And boy was it ever hard fought. After eight readings by others (including my agent, twice!), I finally figured out what I needed to do. It makes me wonder why I never thought of it before since it's fairly simple. The solution came when I was thinking about a different character altogether. I wish I had a routine for figuring this stuff out, but sometimes, the secret's in the marinade. Time. I really don't think there's a way to force it.

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    1. Hooray! Glad your breakthrough came, eventually. I agree it can't be forced. The real trick I'm hoping to learn is how to let go of a problem and give it space to marinate, yet keep on creating.

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  3. I tend to write short stories all in one sitting (very short stories); longer projects are over a couple of days as I only write for 30-60 minutes a day, tops. And I rotate around, not always working on the same piece, to keep it interesting for me. So I don't run into problems like this, much, but when I do I find simply stepping away and doing something else helps a lot -- I'll take the kids for a walk or go clean something or just watch TV and then my mind works on it and (hopefully!) solves it.

    (HOPEFULLY. In reality, my mind usually does stuff like wonder "Who was Sloopy, and why wouldn't she hang on?")

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    1. Lots of irons in the fire is advice I often hear. Glad to know you've had success with it.

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  4. I think time is the best solution. Also taking walks and showers.

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    1. Setting a project aside does help--it's what you do in the meantime I wonder about. Because those marinade periods can sometimes take weeks before a good solution bubbles up.

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  5. Love those Aha! moments. I find actively thinking about a different story line in another novel can trigger them. Don't have a clue why, but I'm glad it works. :)

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