Summer’s end is coming closer every day. We’ve had either too much rain or too little. The flowerbed I planted never sprouted and the ants ate the seedlings in the pots of flowers that I put out.
So I started over.
That’s what you do. I said in my last post that I will get stuck and have nothing to show for my time. It happens to all of us. Is there a solution to this problem? Of course there is! There’s always a solution!
Okay, but is the solution going to make you feel guilty somehow, when you think that maybe staring out at the distant blue horizon is less important and less valuable than doing something that everyone can see? I’m talking about brainstorming when you’re stuck.
I went to a restaurant on one of those boring, dull, off-and-on rainy days that had me feeling cooped up in my itty-bitty house and took pens and a small notebook along, with the intention of just making notes. Instead, I stared out one of the picture windows toward the west, toward the very pale, wimpy sun dropping lower through the rainy clouds toward the horizon, and did not put a single word on paper. Finally, I made a note: I have nothing important to say right now, with a big smiley face, and I paid the bill for my nice, crispy french fries, and went home.
And that’s it right there: sometimes brainstorming works, sometimes it doesn’t. Your brain goes blank. Your characters are taking naps in your mind. Your plotline has chosen a new path to follow without asking your permission. Your brainstorming session which was meant to refire the engine of your imagination petered out to a mere pop of backfiring noise and simply didn’t restart as you’d hoped. Gee whiz, even Chaucer and Shakespeare and Mark Twain and Charles Dickens had bad days, you know!
Normally, this is when people trash the story and delete it, but here is the solution: DON’T DELETE IT. Period.
Set it aside. Print it out. Put it in a 3-ring binder with the other stuff. Let it gestate. Go do something else. Make chocolate chip cookies with an extra splash of vanilla. Have a small notebook at your elbow and every time you put a sheet of cookies into the oven (10 minutes at 375F for chewy, 11 minutes for crisp), write a brief sentence about something.
Title this page ‘What if…’
See, this is when the notebook becomes your source for more stories. So you ran out of things to say about the story you were working on – so what? It happens. It’s part of the job, and yes, writing is a job, one that you chose to do, and one that you can do for the rest of your life if you want to.
If you inhabit the working world, you can carry that little notebook in your purse or briefcase and make notes on the train or the bus. You can write them up on your smartphone and mail them to yourself. I used to do that, with a pen and notebook. Then as soon as I got home, I’d put typing paper in the typewriter and copy my ‘what ifs’. They were all single sentences like ‘what if… your new neighbor next door never told you who he was or where he came from, but after he vacated his apartment, men with little plastic ID cards showed up and asked you lots of strange questions about him?’
Going through my 3-ring notebooks full of stuff that I started a L-O-N-G time ago, I found that particular story, which I started in 1989, reread what I had written, and decided I was glad I kept it because it was a good idea, after all. I just have to revise it here and there, and finish it. I don’t care if it turns into a novel or stays a short story or fits somewhere in between. If it was a good idea 24 years ago and it still works now, it’s worth the effort to finish it.
That’s my point.
Ditch the guilt and let your brain churn. This is not done for instant gratification. It takes time and persistence, and the more you do, the better a writer you will be.
I know people who will discard some bright idea because they can’t figure out how to make it work right away, or at least, they think they can’t. Well, if you come up with the idea, you put it into existence on a piece of paper and store it with the other ideas you had. Then go back and review it. You’ll most likely figure out how to make it work.
This is where you start over, replant the seeds and let her rip. Never mind if you run out of gas. Keep it. You can always do revisions later. You’ll be surprised how much is worth keeping and finishing.
Oh, yeah – my sunflower? Poor thing isn’t going to make it through the summer. The cardinals discovered it and they’ve been eating the seeds every morning. I can hear them around sunrise. They just think I don’t know. And there is another ‘what if….’