Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Brainstorming?

Brainstorming techniques?

I think I may be the only writer I know without a file of cool ideas tucked away and I’m starting to feel worried about it. I could throw one together, but I don’t think I’d ever look at it again. For me, each novel exists only as I’m writing it. I never go back through old ideas. My process isn’t that straightforward, sadly.

First place I look for ideas? History. When I read about a historical event or find the perfect quote from a historical character, I know that I have to put it into a book. I can research for hours and claim it is all background and plot ideas. And it is! See that great picture? Tamara de Lempicka painted it. She's a Polish Art Deco painter and I managed to sneak her work into "A Night of Long Knives." Research...

Second place? OK, this sounds odd, but I make myself make a list of ten ways to solve whatever story problem I’m having. Ten. No more, no fewer. Sometimes the best idea is number one and sometimes it’s number ten, but usually it’s somewhere in the middle. But making myself do ten lets me give myself permission to throw nine ideas away, which is very freeing.

Still not working? Then I write on paper instead of typing. After a couple of pages of that kind of torture my subconscious usually throws something out in a desperate attempt to save me from having to decipher my own handwriting.

If that doesn’t work, I draw diagrams on paper with big circles and arrows or stick stuff on index cards and put it on a board in my room while muttering and trying not to step on the pushpins that somehow always end up on the floor.


If all else fails: I go see a movie and eat popcorn and chocolate. Even if that doesn’t solve the story problem, at least I got tasty snacks in air conditioned splendor. Did I mention that I love this job?

23 comments:

Joshua Corin said...

Now did you mean chocolate and popcorn separately or chocolate-covered popcorn? Do you perhaps leave your Hershey bar inside your popcorn tub and let it goo?

I think it's terrific we all have our individual sources of inspiration. I know that whenever I've tried to "borrow" another writer's muse, it has always ended badly...for the muse.

Sophie Littlefield said...

wow, you know, i learned something from your list! i'm especially fond of the ten-idea thing. i have a friend who does a variation...she makes herself keep coming up with ideas for a set amount of time. the ideas get more and more "out there" as she goes through all the easy ones and has to push herself. She says the most interesting invariably come at the end.

Lois Winston said...

So you're saying popcorn and chocolate are brain food? Sounds good to me! Next time I'm stumped, forget about the muse. I'm heading for the chocolate!

Rebecca Cantrell said...

I actually buy them separately, but now that I think about it, maybe the best plan WOULD be to melt a Hershey bar over the top....two great tastes that taste together (I bet Shane can find that commercial).

It is fascinating to see how other writers work, isn't it?

Rebecca Cantrell said...

Dang, I have to get up very early in the morning to teach Sophie something about writing. I feel proud.

I tried the timed thing but I usually ended up getting fixated on one thing and didn't get much done, so I had to make it about the number of solutions instead. Both are very interesting ways to knock things loose and think about them in a new way.

Rebecca Cantrell said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Rebecca Cantrell said...

Lois: You can't go wrong with chocolate. Ever.

Dorte H said...

"Then I write on paper instead of typing."

Oh, that is exactly what I do! But it must be a writing pad with squared paper; the magic does not work on any other kind!

I have never been short of plot ideas, though, so it is only that wobbly middle section of a novel that bogs me down. Perhaps I should write beginnings and endings and find a partner in crime who could cure my wobbly middle?

Rebecca Cantrell said...

Good to see you, Dorte! It's so much fun when you find exactly that perfect paper or notebook, isn't it?

I think a lot of us have trouble with a wobbly middle, in our writing and in our lives. Must be all that chocolate...

Kelli Stanley said...

I love Tamara!! Great post and photo, Becks. :)

Chocolate is a universal panacea, I think ... I love that J.K. Rowling made it a cure for the presence of a Dementor (also known as a deadline). ;)

xoxo

Rebecca Cantrell said...

Thanks, Kelli! I've always wanted to just toss in a Tamara de Lempicka portrait somewhere. Her work is so emblematic of the Art Deco aesthetic.

Chocolate does cure a lot of ills, doesn't it? But remember that the real cure for a Dementor is the Expecto Patronum spell and you can't call on it without thinking about a joyful moment. So, you need to summon up some joy in writing to really defeat those deadlines. And eat chocolate. Good luck!

Terry Stonecrop said...

Great ideas for solving your problems. Ten things, I like that:)

I'm always being distracted with new ideas for novels. Ideas are a dime a dozen. You're better off staying in the present with the one you're working on.

Rebecca Cantrell said...

Hey Terry! Good point about focus! The execution of the idea is very important and that takes time and work (and chocolate).

Graham Brown said...

I love the write on paper thing - I can only start on paper - once I get going I can switch up to computer but here's the funny part - it not the type/size/shape of the pad that matters but the type of pen. It must be a good - new pen - with gel ink - preferabbly medium fine so as not to glob or smudge. Wow - we are such weird people.;)

Michael Wiley said...

I love the list of ten, Rebecca. It also speaks to the liberating feeling of editing: you can have nine great ideas and delete them all because they don't belong . . . or because the tenth is better.

Chocolate seems like the perfect drug.

Shane Gericke said...

OMG, you can actually write longhand? I hate writing longhand. It's so slow and tiring. Good for you that you can do that! Oh, and popcorn+chocolate=delicious.

Rebecca Cantrell said...

Ah, the neuroses of writers! I never used to care about the pen but now I Have this lovely old fountain pen and it slows my writing and thinking down and makes me feel more old fashioned which is sometimes just what I need.

Lay in a good stock of those pens, Graham, because they are working!

Rebecca Cantrell said...

Exactly, Michael! Deleting nine helps me to stay focused on the story over the idea and not the other way around!

Rebecca Cantrell said...

Shane, chocolate is sublime, but I had my first Wisconsin cheese curd yesterday and Im hooked on them now. Cheese that squeaks is jus so darn cool!

Shane Gericke said...

Mmmm, cheese curds. Thought you'd love them. Where'd you find them?

Rebecca Cantrell said...

A friend shipped them from Wisconsin. Apparently 5 seconds in the microwave can restore some of the squeak too. Tasty.

Meredith Cole said...

You had me at chocolate, Rebecca...

I love the idea of the list (I love lists). I tried the diagraming on a large piece of poster board one time and it was an interesting experiment. It did make me think about my story and characters in a whole new way.

Rebecca Cantrell said...

I tried this software called Mindshare once which let you link scenes and plot threads. It was kinda cool, but I spent more time dragging bubbles around than thinking. Which is also fun.