I know this has probably happened to you. Picture this: You are hard at work solving a complex problem; any problem, it doesn’t matter. You get stuck. Your flow is gone. The river has dried up. Or so you thought. Your brain has simply shut down to the solution because it is trying to come up with something that will work. All you’re doing is pressuring it to come up with something quickly. Bad idea. Why? When you pressure your brain to come up with something, anything, your brain will come up with anything. And they usually aren’t great ideas. They are ideas, but they are forced ideas. Why not take a break, let your subconscious take over?
Where I work, as a computer programmer, we deal with complex problems all the time. When I write, I also have to deal with complex problems and complex situations especially in scene construction and structure. Many times in both, I find myself unable to come up with a good, comprehensive idea. I’m stuck.
When I’m writing, it’s not such a big deal. This is more of a hobby than a living for me, not that it can’t be, it just not is. However, in my day job, it is a huge deal. If I can’t solve these problems, it affects everyone around me. Many times, they rely on me solving my problem before others can use it to solve theirs. That’s the way computer programming works. Often, I spend days trying this or trying that to no avail. That is where time comes in.
As software developers, we are also creative individuals. It should not be surprising, given what I do after I come home from work (AKA, this). We are given freedoms that many other types of work are not. We can stop what we’re doing and go for a walk or just sit next to a coworker and chat it up. We can even play a game of ping-pong. Why are we allowed to do this, you ask? Good question.
It all boils down to time. You have to give your brain some time to process all the variables to your problem. Sometimes talking it over with your coworkers can give you insight, but still your brain needs a few moments to catch up. Let it. Moll it over in your subconscious to the left of your brain where creativity happens. Many times, after doing any or all of these activities, the solution just falls in my lap.
I say this to you because you might have moments in your writing when you seem to have painted yourself into a corner or you’ve run out of situations to keep your character in peril. Many times, I have had this happen: I’m writing my perfect scene and a new branch presents itself. A new direction where I hadn’t made a plan just yet. It’s a better idea making the other pale in comparison, but where do I go from there?
I have to update my outline or my structure to make it fit. Then what? My brain has frozen. My story needs a transition from this new idea to the meld with the original scene that follows. Panic swells in my gut and neck muscles tense up. I can’t concentrate with that sound of the dog licking itself or the music in the background. It is all so loud and distracting and who is that calling me now? Whew!
Take a step back. Find a moment. Your brain is trying to tell you that it’s got everything under control. Don’t force it.
So take a siesta. Go eat. Take your significant other out for the night. DO SOMETHING ELSE. Me? I usually take a shower and get ready for bed (I usually write from 6:30 pm to 8-ish depending on the scene I’m writing–sometimes 9 pm). There has been times when I’m in the throes of doing these other things that my brain says, “Ding, ding, ding! Your idea is ready, sir.” You know what?
IT IS BRIILIANT! Much better than what I could have ever hoped for. Those are the moments I realize that this is why I write (also, when programming solutions fall into place, it’s why I program). The euphoria that comes off is intoxicating and exciting.
That’s why we do anything, right? To get that feeling of accomplishment.
Don’t lose sight of your dream of becoming a writer because your brain is locked up. Take a break, let it roll the possible solutions around a bit. It just might come up with a better one on its own. Many of my favorite moments and sections of my own writing are results of my brain getting time to process a possible solution.
I hope that this brings you all peace knowing that you are not the only ones who suffer through this. It happens to everyone, regardless of whether they are a writer, computer programmer, a civil engineer, an electrician, or whatever. We all have problems we have to solve. Letting our left brains come up with some solutions will allow the right side of our brains to work on the logical stuff.
As always, happy writing.