YA paranormal romance novelist and author of the Velvet Trilogy

Temple West | YA paranormal romance novelist and author of the Velvet Trilogy

Lightning Bolts to the Brain

Epiphany has struck, dear friends.  After beating my head against a wall for the past two weeks, a bolt of pure brilliance has finally struck my brain, and I'm ready to start writing.

"WHAT?!" you say.  "You haven't started writing?  NaNoWriMo is half over!"

It's true.  I haven't written a single word for NaNoWriMo.  In my defense, the first weekend of November I was celebrating my 25th  birthday with a downtown Seattle staycation, courtesy of my mom and sister.  Naturally I immediately came down with a horrendous fever / cold as soon as I got home and spent the next three days bedridden and the three days after that mostly zombie-ing around in my sweatpants, brain firmly locked behind an all-encompassing mental fog.   

Long story short, I didn't get a whole lot done.   Monday I finally started to feel better, but I was still stuck on story. Reaching a point of frustration I don't often reach, I gave myself Tuesday off so that I could reset.  I've learned that my brain works best while it is distracted.

That's where this came from:

I totally forgot to take a picture of the finished product, but I did finish this friggin' fabulous vintage skirt.  And then I left it at my mom's place on accident (hence no picture).

What is this?  It's a Butterick pattern, circa 1954-ish.  And I mean original pattern, not a re-print.  Never opened, never cut, which is quite a find.  I bought it at an antique store for a dollar.  I also happened to have bought three yards of a lightweight wool at another antique store for $8, which is the recommended fabric for this pattern.  And then I happened to get stuck on my novel and needed a non-word-y creative project to do, so I grabbed them both and headed over to my mom's to raid her sewing machine, cutting table, fancy scissors, seam ripper, tape measure, iron, button box, pins....etc. Love you, Mom!

I didn't think about the book.  I didn't talk about the book.  I listened to the iTunes Top 50 Pop radio station for approximately ten hours while I poured the entirety of my will into making this skirt.  And I made it, after some false starts and (only) one ripped-out seam, and I was pleased, and it fit, and I went to bed.

Today, I went to "my" regular cafe, a place that's jam-packed in the mornings (as I found out one day when I went there to write), and the ultimate in peace and quiet during the afternoons.  It had been a somewhat frustrating day due to Life Being Life, and I had zero percent faith that I'd get anything done.  In fact, I spent a good ten minutes staring down into the cinnamon-y depths of my cinnamon-apple latte, feeling dejected and tired.

And then I pulled out my Sandy Hall-inspired notecards that I'd labeled weeks ago and then abandoned.  I figured I could at least write one sentence on one card.  So I did.

And then I wrote another sentence, rather begrudgingly.  There were a few minor plot points I'd already figured out, I might as well put them on there, too.  

And then I drank some more latte and scowled at everything, and then inadvertently smiled as my favorite barista bantered with a customer somewhere off to my right. While scowl-smiling and listening and drinking the latte, my lower brain was mulling over the antagonists and what they wanted from my MC and why they had behaved the way they had in the first book and what the physiological nature of the bad guy was and THEN IT HAPPENED.

The Epiphany.

I realized what my MC was and why the things were happening and what the plot was going to do for not only this book, but the third as well.  So, y'know, pretty good considering I mostly went into the cafe to glower at my latte.

If there's a moral to the story, I suppose it might be, "Don't try too hard," which sounds counter-intuitive.  What I really mean is, when you run up against a plot problem that you can't seem to think your way through, try...well, not thinking. Do something else: sew a skirt, paint a wall mural in your office, bake a magnificent eight-tiered cake shaped like Notre Dame. Whatever it is that you like to create, go create it.  Sometimes having a tactile activity gives your brain a break to think through things on its own, in the background.  While your mind is problem-solving your activity (how on earth did I stitch this hem backward?  What is a kickpleat and do I really need one?), your sub-brain (that's the fancy technical term) is free to mull.

So if you're stuck, take a break.  But not just a coffee break or a TV break, which are fun and distraction-y, but not necessarily conducive to your sub-brain getting any work done.  Instead, dive into a completely non-story-related, small, manageable, one-day-or-less creative project.  I bet your noggin will continue chugging along while you're distracted with the construction of beach-ball-size Lego Death Star.  And then you'll have your story solution and a beach-ball-size Lego Death Star.  It's win-win.

Go forth, Nanites!  Go forth and be awesome.