The Man with Two (Dozen) Brains
Brain patterns change when people think in different languages. We also think differently depending upon our environment, our mood, and our companions. There is a big difference between my “rat-race cubicle” brain and my “Florida Keys beach” brain, or my “I need chocolate” and “did he really just say that?” brains. We switch gears all the time. Most of the time it is easy, even subconscious, but sometimes we struggle to connect to the brain pattern we want.
When I create fiction, worlds open up in my mind. Possibilities convolute and coalesce, as they mutate into options. Plots and subplots develop substance, or dissipate entirely. Characters grow into three dimensions. I create and collapse small universes as I jump from idea to idea.
When I edit, I see patterns and forms. I feel the vibrations in my words. I sense the ebb and flow of my narration, the emotion of my dialogue, and the texture of my descriptions. I measure the tension. I trace the character arcs. I can invest two hours on a single sentence, and find elation in a single word.
When I work, I shove that all away. My focus is on math, programming and cold logic. The end goal is almost absolute. Point A must lead to point B (or sometimes a more suitable point C). I am a problem solver. I like it, and I do use my imagination, but it is not the same as writing at all. It can be very hard jumping back into the right type of creative brain patterns.
So how do I get back into mode? Let’s start with the obvious first.
Writing makes it easier to write.
Mind blowing, right? I know, I know, I should have waited for this revelation. But here’s the trick: What do you write if writing is difficult? I like throwing together flash fiction. Sometimes I use a prompt from a blog I follow or HitRecord. Sometimes I fictionalize an event from my childhood or use a movie or TV character. The source does not matter. Neither does the quality of the story. I never spend more than an hour on them. Their existence is only important for one reason. The story has to change my mood. For me, that usually means making me laugh. I always write better when I am in a good mood, even if I plan to kill a major character or start the dust bunny apocalypse.
Giving releases endorphins. Simply put, we feel better about ourselves when we help others. But it’s more than that. It’s a way of sharing experiences, and building upon the database of human interactions that we regularly pull from. And we learn.
When I started writing, I learned best when editing others. I could finally understand my own mistakes when I saw someone else making them. Now I regularly volunteer to edit, because I feel great when I can help. Whether it’s a chapter, query, or entire novel, it’s like exercising with a friend. You push each other to do a little better, but more importantly there is encouragement to just get on the equipment and start.
Let others help you
There are excellent tools online for becoming a better writer: podcasts, blogs, vlogs, conferences, etc.
I recently enjoyed WriteOnCon’s annual online conference. I follow WritersHelpingWriters, HelpingWritersBecomeAuthors and other links. Personally, I like lessons over insights or interviews when I am trying to find my muse. I also enjoy the information in Mary Kole’s blog and the energy in Kim Chance’s videos.
Of course, creativity is not limited to words. Paintings, sculptures and exhibits are just as likely to take you some place you have never been before. I love the drawings on the page edges of old books, and more recent boom in book sculptures. Recently I saw an exhibition about sleeping at the U of T. It made me think about bedrooms decor, sleeping position, windows, lights, sounds….An entire world continues to exist in and around the person who is no longer conscious of it. That one thought took me in ten different directions.
It may be how it distracts from the silence, or how it sets a mood, but music can really change my approach to writing. I have playlists that are pure encouragement. I have others sorted by time period or tempo. Sometimes it’s about the beat. Sometimes it’s about the triggered memories. I once spent two days listening to the music from an old children’s show (a show of hands for Dragon Tales?).
One of the reasons I like Spotify, is the opportunity to listen to others’ playlists. It’s a different mindset because it’s a different mind. I get to make assumptions about the creator. I can build an entire person around that list. And if they never actually took bagpipe lessons as a child, well maybe they should have.
I use YouTube too, even if I don’t watch the videos as they play. Recently I had PlayingForChange videos as my background music because I like the message as much as the music.
I like walking, so this might be just me. I once walked from Square One (Mississauga) to Yorkdale (North York) on a whim. When I land in a new city, I often walk until I’m lost then try to find my way back. Okay, maybe that is a little extreme, but after the first two kilometers my mind is usually going faster than my feet. I reason through the day’s news. I grumble through frustrations. I pour over my writing blocks. And one by one, with every step, I work through them.
My standard walk is 5K. Any shorter and I haven’t had enough processing time. Any longer and I start forgetting the good ideas from earlier in the walk. I don’t always return with the best edits, or even feasible ones. But it’s not about solving the problem, it’s about letting the mind wander as far as your feet.
I have circled back to words here, but this is not about lowbrow humour. It is about why I wrote in the first place. In my first complete story, the hero stabs the villain with an electrified sword, burning a hole through the centre of his chest. I wrote ‘If ever a man was truly heartless, this one was.’ Awful, yes, but it always brings me back to the utter joy of words. It reminds me to be silly and have fun.
At a dinner last year, I joked about the word ‘knackered’. It became a 65,000-word novel about demons trapped in porcelain figurines. You never know when a single word can change your entire outlook.
What works for me may not work for you. Switching gears is more than simply changing your mood. I think it comes down to inspiration. That can come from something you have already written, encouragement from a friend, an awesome online resource, or a new opportunity (like writing for this blog). Just don’t let your inspiration become a distraction.
DAVE WRIGHT is a computer consultant, teacher, calculus tutor, SAT creator, and writer. He has published a scattering of articles and short stories, and is working diligently on his novels. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or @ikmarwright (because there are way too many Davids)