Many guides tell writers to write and keep writing and don’t stop, but that’s not always a good thing. Sure you’ll end up with 100,000 words in no time, if you just keep hammering away at the keyboard, but when you come to re-draft all that outpouring, you’ll find most of it is not much use and you’ll end up starting over and wasting a lot of time. Actually I find ‘hammering away’ is hard work and if I’m not mentally prepared, finding the words can be like squeezing rocks to make lemonade. Or worse, it can lead to over-thinking which is just unnecessary worrying. So what you need to do is actually waste time to save time – and by that I mean Messy Thinking.
Every brain needs some downtime, and some writers like to ‘get away from it all’, spend time by the sea or in some retreat somewhere, but retreat doesn’t really work for me. Getting away from it all actually makes me feel anxious. I feel I ought to be DOING something and feel guilty and frankly a bit depressed that I’m not making progress. My brain goes into hyper-drive and I start worrying about things instead of taking it easy. That 'over-thinking' issue again!
So I let my imagination go wherever it feels like. Maybe pick up a book, read a few pages, put it away and watch a bit of video – on any subject, doesn’t matter, in fact the more variety the better. One of my major inspirations for my book about 17th century Dartmoor was an interview with Mae West!
The trick is NOT to start reading at the beginning of a book and work my way through it in sequence. Not yet anyway – that’s fine for the logical researching side of my brain but pretty useless for my imagination. Instead I pick and mix and do a lot of drawing, browse the internet for interesting bits and pieces, maybe go to an art gallery, see a show. The last few days, I've been asking my target audience for books they liked and then seeking out those books and reading bits of them. Still not ‘research’, just brain stimulation. Some of
the books look pretty good and I’ll probably go back to them, but I don’t want anything that demands I concentrate right now. Concentration is bad.
Sleep is good – if messy thinking is working, then you should have dramatic dreams that unsettle you. Maybe you won’t like it, but if you want to write, then get used to it. Messy thinking can stimulate parts of your brain you haven’t used in a while, maybe even some unfortunate memories, but that’s all good material right there. Your brain is helping you
make connections as you sleep, and that’s makes for good writing.
I’m not moving forward because I don’t understand my two main characters.
Now that’s a big one. How can I not understand my two protagonists when I've already written a whole book about them? And a full outline of what happens to them over the next few books. I know what they look like, where they go/went to school, their favourite colours, their background stories and I know how they reacted in Book One when they were put into difficult situations.
But I’ve got to put them into even more difficult situations in Book Two and I don’t fully understand WHY they are reacting as they are. This is not just their motivations and how they react when they’re in trouble. This isn’t about what they want to be when they grow up, or their goals in the next chapter. This is the deep psychology stuff that makes them make mistakes or affects their decision-making. This is their fears and desires at a fundamental level.
I like to think my protagonists Josh and Megan demonstrate courage. People talk about courage, and you’ll have heard the phrase: “Courage is knowing fear and doing it anyway”. Actually that’s not true, certainly not in most cases. “Knowing fear and doing it anyway” is just reckless and often dangerous. That’s not courage.
Courage is taking action despite the fear because you are more afraid of the consequences if you don’t act.
Let’s put that in a real life context, one most people have suffered. You meet someone you really like, you are attracted to them and find the courage to start a conversation with them. You fight back the fear of rejection and possible ridicule (maybe by ignoring it) and step up and you say hello and even get through the first few lines of small talk. And then the conversation dries up suddenly. Your brain is a blank, those witty lines you were going to say are just gone – maybe that special someone’s eyes have glazed over or they've been distracted by someone else, and you awkwardly retreat, move on, embarrassed. So much for courage. What made you retreat and what would make you try again? What would you change in the second attempt, if you can pluck up the courage to try again, even though you've seen the consequences?
What is it about that special someone that makes it worth trying again? Are you afraid of being alone? Are you angry about being rejected or ignored? Do you desperately want to be loved/admired/respected? Are you jealous? Do you believe you've found your soul mate? These can all determine how you go about meeting them again – google them and find their facebook page? Sneak around after them on the hope of a chance meeting? Kill their friends to get his or her attention?
This is inner psyche stuff that determines behaviour and I need to know this about my characters – I've glimpsed it in the action sequences, but I need more. It’s more than motivation, more than talking to someone because you fancy them. It’s about how you cope with the consequences, real and imagined.
So what have I discovered about Megan and Josh? It's pretty amazing actually. It surprised me. Do you want me to tell you? Or do you want to find out for yourselves in Book 2? After all that Messy Thinking I'm now ready to find out more. Are you?