Wednesday, February 3, 2010

The ongoing struggles of trusting my brain

I'm not a big fan of my brain. I know that sounds harsh, but I bet most people aren't enraptured with the reliability and genius-levels of their brainpower either. How many times has my brain let me down? Lost shoes, crummy English essays, forgetting to get in touch with a friend when I knew she'd be having a rough day, misplaced car keys--heck, I even lost my CAR once!

The irony?

My goal this past year has been to trust my brain MORE.

Weird, huh? But over the past two years I've discovered my brain (or at least my subconscious) knows exactly what my writing needs. It lets me know when there's a problem in a way quite similar to how a toddler lets you know when she's bored (crying, screaming, suddenly weighing 300 pounds). For example, lately I've been more or less happily working on a new novel (biding my time until my tutor returns my previous submission). Until this past week...

Wednesday: Got idea for chapter 4, jotted down rough sketch of the plot. Still some time before lunch, so I wrote a few sentences, but I couldn't get started. Instead I drew a picture of the setting. Then I wrote: What is character's mental state? I couldn't answer the question, so I stopped for the day (lunchtime!).

Friday: Started to write about my character's emotional state. Realized how to solve a problem from chapter 1, so returned to the beginning of my novel.

Sunday: Rewrote opening sentences I wrote on Wednesday. Wrote three more paragraphs. Goodness, this is painful! How many hours until lunch? Found other things to work on.

Monday: Asked myself a lot of background questions, wrote a few more sentences, but it was all crap and I had no idea what should happen next. Again, found other things to work on.

It took until Tuesday for me to give up. OK, brain, why isn't this working? Why does my character hate me? Why can't I write anything? So we played twenty questions.

Brain: Is the scene necessary?
Me: I like this scene!
Brain: Why?
Me: Well, for X character development and Y emotional state and...
Brain: But you already showed those things in chapters 1-3. What new thing are you showing?
Me (after much scribbling): My character realizes something's bothering her.
Brain: What?
Me: Uhhh... she's angry.
Brain: Really?
Me: Uhhh... no. She's sad? She's lonely? She's empty. She feels empty inside like she's got nothing to hold on to anymore, like an empty paper bag... (madly scribbling).

Fifteen minutes later? I outlined the whole scene, used some of my previous paragraphs, added a few more short paragraphs, tied it all together... DONE.

It only took 4 days and fifteen minutes.

Maybe I'm not being entirely fair to myself. That drawing of the setting did prove helpful. I used the paragraphs I wrote earlier, though I'll probably tweak them a bit later. My insights on chapter 1 improved it considerably. But if I had forced myself to stay in my chair and played twenty questions with my brain last week? Maybe this would have gone a lot faster.

On the plus side? 4 days isn't bad... in the past it's taken me months, even years to listen to my brain. I think I'm getting better.


  1. I'd say whatever you're paying for that course you're taking, it is a major bargain! Thanks for sharing this!

  2. Haha, I had a very similar conversation with my brain the other day. It convinced me to cut out a character, and it was right. Funny how all that gray matter comes in handy once in a while, huh? :-)

  3. Too bad we can't tap into it more often, though, huh?


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