System failure? No Signal? Use the Down Time.
You’re working on your latest novel. The plot, characters and setting are all worked out. Voice and atmosphere are established. It’s all flowing well – until that is, something causes the whole process to seize. It’s the equivalent of the blue computer screen or the ‘no service’ message on your mobile phone.
It’s not writers’ block. You’ve still got ideas and motivation, but something is jamming the transmission from brain to page. The inbox is full but you can’t retrieve any of it.
It was a fellow writer, Cathryn Louis, whom I met on Twitter, who posed the problem. Cathryn (@CathrynLouis) http://www.cathrynlouis.com made a plea, via twee,t for advice as to what to do when her ideas vanished mid-sentence whilst working on her novel.
And round about the same time, another writer and Twitter friend Nettie Thomson, (@NettieWriter) http://nettiethomson.com put a post on her blog about ideas being like buses, i.e. all arriving at once after a long time of no-show. Nettie pointed out that it’s often the case that when you’re busy working on one project, ideas for several other pieces start to appear. Now while this is inconvenient and distracting, I suspect the phenomenon can be used to solve the sudden signal failure problem.
When you experience a loss of service, you need to divert your brainwaves elsewhere. Leave your subconscious to ponder away on the work-in-progress. Trick your brain by being busy doing other writing stuff, or, even – gasp – non-writing stuff.
- Write a piece of flash fiction. This is sprint rather than a marathon and is good cross-training for a novelist. Pick something you can see as your stimulus – the scissors on your desk, the desk itself, your footwear, an ornament on the shelf – anything… Set your word/time limit and go.
- Write an opening chapter or short story in a genre you wouldn’t normally work in. So if you’re a writer of romantic fiction, try sci-fi for example.
- Write a letter to a loved one – alive or dead – telling them what they mean to you.
- Write a review of the last book you read
- Write down your earliest memory – use all your senses to recall the time – perhaps write it as a poem
- Go for a long, hot bath.
- Go for a walk or a run or a swim
- Dig the garden
- Listen to music
The above is far from being a comprehensive list, but I hope you get the idea. AND the above is NOT procrastination. You are a writer all the time – even when you’re not actually writing. Don’t beat yourself up when you take timeout from the work-in-progress.
Let your creative processors do their maintenance and updates without intervention or force from you. You’ll only cause a complete crash if you don’t. And total writers’ block may well ensue.
When it’s ready your system will reboot and you should gain access to all your files again. And in the meantime you can enjoy a spell of letting go and letting be.