After a long hot week—the first “heatwave” since 2019, I sat at my computer, blank for blogging inspiration. Finally, I discovered this little gem in my collection…
THROW AWAY THE CRITICAL PARENT IN YOUR HEAD
February, your New Years’ resolution, a not-so-distant memory, and you stare at the computer screen full of resolve. Time to start that great [nominate your country] novel. It’s a job, right? Hammer away on the keys eight hours a day. Right? You shift your weight in that padded, ergonomic office chair you bought for your project. Now what? Think!…
Check social media and the news. Pay a few bills. Back to your Word page, crack your knuckles and…time for a coffee. Get rid of that brain fog. Last week’s weather played havoc with your brain. Limber the old grey cells up with some solitaire. Or perhaps a quick crossword.
Back to the blank screen…and sigh!
You tap out a sentence. The first sentence, the hook. Must engage those millions of readers on Amazon, or that elusive publisher. You stop. Reread the sentence. Blah! It’s rubbish. You delete sentence.
You gaze out the window. Birds warble. The sky’s clear and blue. Maybe go outside with a paper and pen? There’s connection between you, the pen and paper. Outside, white paper on pad dazzles you. First sentence in black ink. What? Who’s going to want to read that?
An hour later, sun on your face and surrounded by scrunched up wads of paper, you nap. Nice with the sun on the back of your neck…and another morning of good writing-intentions wasted.
Brain Freeze and Platitudes
It strikes, anywhere, anytime. A work mate is leaving, or a friend is having a birthday. Some wise-guy buys a card and circulates it. Card arrives on your lap. You have two minutes to write some warm and witty sentiments. What do you do?
‘You’re a wordsmith, Lee-Anne, go on,’ my mum says.
But the clever words refuse to bubble to the surface of my brain. I locate the blank space where my wishes will go and then check out the preceding words of well-wishing. Pity, if I’m the first one to write this card.
I blame a relative of mine. Back as a teenager, I attended a funeral. The relative approached me and said, ‘I think you should go and comfort your aunty. But please don’t give her platitudes.’
Ever since, whenever I need to produce formal comfort or congratulations, that relative’s advice comes back to haunt me and all I can think of are platitudes.
It’s the “pink elephant” effect. When told not to think of “pink elephants”, what does our brain do? Yep, pink elephants in abundance.
So, when we stare at the blank screen or paper and remember our school days; our English teacher saying, ‘Don’t do this and that, and so on’, we sit there, frozen with our mental doors barred to the creative zone.
How do you get started? What works for you?
What works for me:
· First of all, and this is legitimate. Years ago, a writing mentor advised us. They said, ‘Pack up your critical parent that is in your mind, you know the one who’s never satisfied, no matter how hard you try? Yes, that’s right, tie them up, gag them, and wrap them up like an Egyptian mummy. Then, in your mind, take them to the jetty and throw them in the sea.’
· Then, have fun with your inner, natural child and with the story. You have permission not to put a jot on your computer screen or paper. Go outside, sit under a tree, or go for a walk. Imagine, daydream and if you wish, talk to yourself. This is the incubation phase.
· After cooking the ideas for however long it takes you to be ready, pick up a pen and paper, and go to your favourite place, and brainstorm. Probably a good idea to stay away from the computer and the temptation to check social media, news, or play solitaire. Well, I need to anyway.
· Find your characters, or should I say, allow them to find you. Do lots of reading. Also, observe others say in a coffee shop, beach, on the street, and even on television. You may find some interesting characters out there. You may be surprised at how these characters reveal themselves to you and even become your imaginary friends. Just like when we were children. Some people I know, okay, I confess, me, have created characters out of people I have known—usually a blend of a couple of people I know, from way back in my past, I mean.
· Imagine having a drink with those characters or going for a walk with them. Ask them questions as you would a new friend. Warning: I do find this dangerous as I soon have a story, or at least a back-story.
· Then put your character together in a restaurant, playing ten-pin bowling or going on a road trip. Now the ideas will flow, the story will flow and as the Borg in Star Trek say, “Resistance is Futile”.
· Finally, write the story. It’s your first draft. Your mind’s critical parent is at the bottom of the sea, so allow your inner natural child to have free reign. Write as you’d tell the story to a friend on a camping trip or a child. Get the words down. I emphasise, it’s a first draft, you have permission to make mistakes while the ideas flow. Editing will and does come later.
· Another suggestion: why stick to writing? If drawing, storyboard, or voice-recording works for you, do that. It’s your story. It’s your “child”.
Create an oral story. You may do this as a game with friends, around the table as a family, or with your writers’ group. One person begins the story with two or three sentences. The next person continues the story and so on around the group, until the last person concludes the story.
Gnomes, they appeared everywhere; all over the seaside town of Glenelg. They popped up in odd places. Gnomes, stuck up poles, perched on tree branches, and even balancing rather precariously on television antennas….
In the Zone Challenge: Write your continuation of this oral story. Or create your own to share. You are invited to send us a link in our comments section.
© Lee-Anne Marie Kling 2017; updated 2023
Feature Photo: Gnome under our lemon tree that took 15 years to get started © L.M. Kling 2013