Friday, November 10, 2017

The Cursed Blinking Cursor

Have you ever undertaken telling a story you love? You set up something to pass as office space. You sit down. You begin telling your story - the story that has haunted you and spoken to you for months, if not years. It's going great. You're making tracks. And then it happens.

Something in your head stutters and your story stumbles to a halt. And there you sit. Watching the cursor blink at you. Eventually, you imagine you hear it laughing in time with every pulse. Maybe whispering 'you suck' as it blinks. No? Just me. Huh.

Here's how to break it up, silence that cursor and get back into flow.

1. Master the mundane - find the most mind numbing household chore you can find. Get up and do it. For me, it was ironing. Hates ironing. HATES it. But. It's a mindless task of repeated motion that lulls your ego into a stupor. You may be pressing your pets by the time that happens, but when it does, tidbits of scenes, snippets of dialogue, and new story ideas will crop up because you are SO bored, your story-teller's brain will rise to rescue you.

2. Immersion - If you've exhausted yourself working in the word mines, stop. Cook supper, eat. Relax. Head to bed a few minutes early. Take a notebook and a pen with you. Not a computer. Not a tablet. Archaic tech is your friend here. Do all the things that get you ready for sleep. Then sit in bed and write. Long hand. Write about your story. Your characters. No scenes. No pressure for dialogue or situations. Write ABOUT your story. What do you want from it? What do you want to feel? What do you want the characters to feel? Do you feel like you've gone wrong? Why? Where? Ask the characters what they want. Why won't they talk to you? Do you have a plot outline? A character arc graph? Can you look at either of those and jot some notes about where you are in those documents and what has to happen to move your characters to the next step? Earphones and 30 minutes of unguided meditation piped into your brain from something like is legal here, but not anything that will pull you out of focus. The point is to have your story on your brain when you turn out the light and go to sleep. This might take a couple of nights to kick you free. But it will.

3. Change your thinking - this has subheadings that I'm too lazy to enumerate in true a, b, c fashion. But here you go. Often when we're stuck, we're in a synaptic rut and just need a kick in the gray-matter to get imagination firing again. So first suggestion: switch your work space. Writing at home? Pick it up and go to the library. Or the coffee shop. Or a diner that will let you camp a table for an hour or two if you buy fries and a bottomless cup of coffee. See if the change of scenery doesn't shake something lose. Find a deck of tarot cards. No. I am not suggesting that you dive into the woo-woo with me. The water is fine, mostly, but this is about using the cards as story prompts, not divination. Make sure your cards have a book with them, so you can read the meanings. I usually do something like this: Tell me about the story as it stands. I lay out three cards. Then I ask what could happen next and lay out three more cards. It looks like a T laying on its side.
I am not looking for profound here. I'm looking for options. In a story that starts with someone looking for her happy place (The Sun), but buried in endless battles (9 of Wands), she's going to have to rise from the ashes and atone for who and what she's been to this point. (Judgement) What *could* happen next: The Magician at the bottom requires that she use all of her talents and skills - the light and the dark - it's a call to achieve internal balance. The next card, The World is another option - it's about having the world laid out at your feet and having to make a choice - one that will necessarily close all other options off. The final option: the 8 of Wands - just going for it. This is related to that 9 of Wands, right? It's a card about being a bull in a china shop - charging at obstacles all fired up. The problem inherent in that card is burning out before you've gotten very far. So there. One story arc. Three different ways it could go. BUT. Here's the thing. This isn't a means of figuring out what you SHOULD do. It's a means of stirring up how you think about your story and your characters. It's meant to put your brain in a Shake-n-Bake bag and toss it around so that story pieces rearrange or solidify in place as needed. It's meant to broaden your vision of your story and maybe get you to look at options you hadn't considered. 

Sure there are more tactics. But really, I've recently come to embrace the notion that I don't need to know what happens next in my story. I just write. And it is through the writing that I work out what the story wants and needs. Does it mean a lot of material that won't make the final cut? OMG, yes. But at least the writing is happening. 

And that damned cursor isn't laughing anymore. I am.