The pen is willing but the mind is out to lunch…

A few days ago, my friend Teresa Cypher posted on facebook this repost from her daughter who is a beginning author:

This morning, my daughter posted this on her wall…

“Any writers out there? I have a question: Why can I “write” in my head, but not commit those ideas to paper or a keyboard? Sometimes my head is exploding with ideas, but that always happens when I’m not in a place where I can write. Bedtime, shower or work are usually in my way. Or are those just excuses so I can’t fail? Maybe this is more of a Psychology question.”

She holds a BA in English–so she knows how to write.  She is searching for the way to connect the stories in her mind to keyboard or paper.  Any ideas, tips, tricks, advice, or just plain musings… accepted with gratitude.

Well of course, authors being what we are, we all leaped at the opportunity to help Teresa’s daughter.  There were some amazingly good suggestions offered along with an incredible amount of support.

Fantasy author Thomas A. Knight wrote, “This is mostly a psychological issue. She’s pressuring herself to write, and thus blocking herself. Tell her to try a free write when she first sits down to write. Just type or write whatever comes to her mind, to warm it up and get rid of all those random thoughts that get in her way. I bet if she does this, she’ll be able to focus on specific ideas to get some real writing done.”

Fantasy author Danielle Raver suggested, “Try picturing the scenes in your head, like a movie, letting them replay until you can write them all out.”

Stephen Swartz, author of both sci-fi and political-intrigue thrillers wrote, “1. Jacques Lacan theorized on the pre-language intellect of children and how the introduction of language systems actually serves to limit imagination and thus expression. The mind creates essentially in images, which the language-trained areas of the brain attempt to reconstruct in the more limiting format we call writing. Speaking is a slightly more free process than writing, so it is often easier to spit out what you want to communicate than it is to form the words visually.

2. One way to overcome this language sabotage is to speak ideas in as pure a form as you can produce, without any regard for how you say the words. It requires some training, yet try to duplicate the experience of awakening from a vivid dream and while not fully coming to consciousness, mumble what you saw or felt from the dream. And don’t worry about how the words come out; get just enough to write it more clearly later when you are fully conscious. A digital voice recorder by the bedside is perfect for this.

I often find I do my best analytical writing first thing in the morning, even before I fully awaken, because my mind seemed to be abuzz already with ideas that had somehow formed their own connections while I rested. The imaginative writing suitable for fiction always has been better served in the late evenings when I am actually feeling physically tired and ready to sleep. The mind opens up somehow and the images flow–as opposed to the stiff word-constructs that fire up the mornings.”

Another fantasy author, Byron Suggs , wrote, “She’s over thinking this. Persistence is the key. Example: if I can’t find something to write on/with when an idea comes, I don’t let that stop me. I’ll jot an idea on your face with ketchup and a french fry if an idea comes to me while we’re having dinner and there’s nothing else to use. I once walked out of a Ruby Tuesdays with (5) napkins covered in eyeliner scrawl. The idea felt so right, I couldn’t afford losing it. The other thing I’ve found is this: ALL stories are character driven. It helps a great deal when you develop characters you like (good and bad) and work them through different situations to allow them to grow. Once you have strong, multi-dimensional characters, they will drive a story and you’ll be hard pressed to keep up with getting it down in words. And finally, I see that she holds a degree in English. My advice, for what it’s worth: Forget that degree. Throw everything you’ve learned out the window when you sit down to write. It will obstruct that path between your head and your fingers. The first draft (and possibly the second) do not have to be ‘correct’ in any way except in the way you want the story to go. Write with no restrictions. All that ‘learnin’ will come in handy in the editing process, but really has no place in your creative realm. Good luck!”

Alison DeLuca, who writes fantastic Steampunk Fantasy, said, “What an amazing thread; thanks so much, Teresa, for sharing it! Honestly, I wrote my trilogy by coming home after work, putting dinner in a crockpot, and sitting down for three hours every night to write. After 18 months I had something. At first it was pretty bad, but writing is a muscle – the more you use it, the easier it becomes to flex. I wish your daughter the very best of luck!  Oh, and if she can find a copy of On Writing by Stephen King, as well as The Elements of Style, those are highly recommended. Easy reads and there is so much fantastic advice inside.”

Write, write, write. What Byron and indeed ALL of these wonderful authors have demonstrated is that we all approach it differently, but we APPROACH it, and at some point you just have to ‘let ‘er rip’!

If you just do that, no matter how silly what you are writing seems to be, you will overcome your block.

We all suffer from this problem at varying points in our careers as authors.  Sometimes it comes out of the blue as writer’s block, and sometimes it assails you at the outset of your career.  The truth is that you must write something, anything, just to build your muscles.  It doesn’t matter what you write, because the simple act of writing each day will strengthen you and free your mind from whatever it is that holds you back.

On a personal note, this is what I do each and every day:

I carry a note pad and pencil with me everywhere and I write down my thoughts as they occur to me. Then, when I am ready to sit down and work, I run through these exercises:

1. I sit down and clear my mind of everything but the story I am writing.

2. I look at my random notes, and rebuild the story in my head.

3. I begin to tell the story through the keyboard, imagining it to be the extension of my mind that it is. That is when I fall into what I think of as ‘Story Teller Mode’.

4. If I am unable to write on my work-in-progress at that point, I move on to something different, or I just write my random thoughts as they are at that moment. No one says that you must publish everything that you write just because you wrote it!

Having pile upon pile of random musings that shall remain unpublished, I can only say, “Thank God for that!”


1 Comment

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One response to “The pen is willing but the mind is out to lunch…

  1. I love all these ideas. Personally, sometimes I find that it’s easier to write than it is to talk. There’s no chance to edit what I’m saying 😉 However, I know the middle of the night/shower/cooking phenomenen all too well. Those perfect, amazing ideas somehow seem less so when you are fingers to keyboard.