Sunday, February 7, 2010

Let Your Writing Thoughts Marinate for 24 Hours, Minimum

Confession: Patience is not one of my virtues. I thrive on efficiency and deadlines and goals.

In this way, Writing is cruel. Writing operates on its own schedule. Writing doesn't care that you, say, desperately need to pen a query letter that will bring the publishing world to its knees.

MeWhy, Writing, why do you do this! And why do I keep coming back for more?
Writing: Shhh, I'm trying to watch Lost.

You can Butt-In-Chair it all you want to combat a writing roadblock. But it doesn't always work. Words come, sure, but they're not necessarily the ones you need. The right ones.

Sometimes you must be patient.

I hate being patient.

In fact, when writing gets the best of me, I become supremely productive in all other areas of life, as if to prove to myself that I am not, in fact, an epic failure.

Then I remember that sometimes, even when your conscious mind is all "Huh?" your unconscious mind is all "I got your back, yo."

(My unconscious mind is kind of a tough guy. He could totally beat up your unconscious mind.)

Case In Point (or, Case In Brief Story):

I realized after the Query Shark workshop that a chunk of my query letter needed an overhaul. I wasn't presenting my novel in quite the right way. But I had no idea HOW to fix it.

Fastforward two weeks, past the emergency retinal procedure, straight to the SCBWI NYC Conference. Friday night, I drank an energy drink to prevent yawning and general comatosity* at KidLit drink night. It worked. But I slept about four hours. And in the three or so hours I lay awake in a groggy half-sleep, a sentence popped into my head. And then another. And another.

An Illustrated, Super Scientific Version of Why This Happened:

I reached over to grab the pen and paper by the bed (even traveling I keep this tradition!) and scrawled out (in complete darkness) my ideas. I had my shiny new query letter.

Well, I had a barely legible mishmash of sentences and phrases. But it was amazing. And surprisingly coherent, come daylight!

So what have we learned, dear readers?
Trust in your writerly right brain. Trust in Writing. And be a little patient. But not a lot. The whole time I was NOT rewriting the query letter, I was thinking about it and working on other writing.

My World-Changing Food/Writing Metaphor:
Marinating pretty much makes any food better. And the longer you marinate, the better it tastes. But if you let it marinate too long, it'll go rotten.

Fellow Writing Chefs:
Any good marinating stories or midnight inspiration? Share, share!

* Comatosity: adjective form of comatose. I'm totally copyrighting this.


  1. I totally get the right brain-left brain issue. My right and left brains often fight like two five year olds who got into Papa's whiskey. Not a pretty sight.

    Paying attention and being able to get down those ideas when they appear is clearly key--although I sometimes find the notebook in the shower trick doesn't always go well.

    And writing through marination? What could make more sense?

  2. Yup! Whenever I get realllllly stuck on something, I just quit for awhile. The answer comes to me eventually!

  3. LOL, all this while I was sleeping a few feet away from you. Also I think I should use your diagram in my next psych lecture. :-)

  4. My unconscious brain wouldn't bother fighting with your unconscious brain. It's entirely too sneaky for that. It'd probably wait till your unconscious brain wasn't looking, then pants it and run. *shrugs* Hey, that's how it rolls. I don't control it, eh?

    But your so right about that marinating thing. Except, have you seen those vacuum marinaters that suction the juices into the meat, or whatever? I need one of those for my brain....

  5. How funny that you chose to write this post... last night I had a problem of having a ton of ideas in my head but I was unable to write it down... so I had to let it marinate, which I didn't want to do!!! I think it will work out none the less! Still thinking about it though I can't write it down!

  6. Jon Paul - Well if you made it to the end of the post and you got my drift, then you're speaking my language. Welcome to the club! And may I recommend some sort of wipe-off marker for the tile in the shower?

    Beth - Yes, it's amazing what can happen with a little patience!

    Frankie - It's SUCH an official diagram.

    Simon - My unconscious brain is a nudist. So there.

    Jen - Hope it's awesome!

  7. I do something like this after I finish writing an outline. I let the information and the general flow of the story I put in the outline marinate for about two weeks. Then I sit down and just let the story flow onto the page. Very rarely after this sort of marinating time do I have any blockages. I'm only limited by the fact that I can't write more than like two pages in one setting. (I hand write so that's two pages on college ruled paper:).

  8. Funny. I wish I'd stumbled upon this last month, it would have saved me the dark circles under my eyes and maybe a few strands of hair. With me, I failed to sit on my query for at least a week. I wrote the sucker, showed it to my family (should never have trusted them) and sent it out confident in my work.

    *Insert suddenly pessimistic chuckle here*

    Needless to say, I've rewritten it about six times, received more than a few rejection letters, and now when I read my new query and find that I absolutely love it, I know it's not because I'm so excited I could cry but because I've worked so hard to get it to where it is.

  9. Ryan - Eek! Handwriting! I used to handwrite fiction, but then I realized that typing allows me to keep up with my brain better, and it's much more neat, since there's no crossing out!

    Brittany - If it makes you feel better, in hindsight, my rockin' new query version actually....... isn't so rockin'. It has a lot of problems. BUT I'm still using some of what I wrote, and it brought me one step closer to the perfect query! Good luck!

  10. I do that crazy illegible nightwriting a lot, and sometimes it's good stuff. Marinating has always helped, and the way I bear the impatience is by having more than one project going (juggling like a one armed monkey with septuplets, in other words). Great post!

  11. Couldn't agree more Donna. In the last year or so I've realised that my best writing doesn't come from long periods chained to the desk, it comes from having writing constantly on my mind. Hence I've opted for the write less more often path.

    Rather than burn out trying to hit a word limit each day, I write for a small period of time and then take a break. No writing session ends without another one planned.

    I find that most writing problems tend to unravel themselves over a period of days, even if at first they seem insurmountable. The hardest thing I find is to teach the brain to trust in the process instead of panicking every time I hit the creative wall.

  12. Janice - Crazy illegible nightwriting -- yep, that's what I'd call it!

    Mark - "Write less more often" - I like it! I'm slowly learning to trust my brain too.


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