Tackling Procrastination – Part One

Things become what you think they are – including your story.  

You finally have time to write. The house is quiet. You have no pressing duties. It’s just you and your book for the next two hours. You approach your desk – and a sinking feeling creeps its insidious way into your stomach, or a tension headache flares, or you simply walk away from your work, suddenly realizing that the bathroom tiles need to be regrouted. And you do this, despite your characters calling to you, no matter how much you believe in your story, and regardless of how much you know you’re meant to be a writer.

Why does this happen?

If every time your book crosses your mind, your stress levels rise, it’s a strong indicator that you’re in a rut where focusing on the negative has become a conditioned response. The problem is, we can’t think a certain way for long without training ourselves, the same way Pavlov trained a dog to salivate at the sound of a bell – except instead of hearing a bell and thinking of treats, you think “writing” and feel dread. Your book = pain. And that makes accomplishing your dream thoroughly unpleasant – something that you feel intuitively is not the way it should be.

But there is a cure!

First, seek out and destroy every harmful thought that crosses your mind about your project. If you can’t control a specific negative thought, then at the very least, tag it until you can. Becoming aware of a certain self-destructive turn of mind helps you minimize the damage it causes.

Second, concentrate on the positive. Remember what inspired you about your book in the first place, and grow from there. Marvel at that brilliant scene, or this character’s unique flaw, or the impact of that plot twist.

Do these two steps for a while – even weeks, if necessary – until positivity begins to cling to your work again, and then…

Third, make your procrastination time valuable by using it to mentally fall into the awesomeness. Then as you slowly meander in the direction of your desk, feeling only positive thoughts about your book, you allow your procrastination habit to work for you, not only by making your writing practice more joyful and therefore easier to start, but to mentally play – and it’s in playing that we discover the aspects that make our story come alive both in our minds and in the imaginations of our readers.

Many more facets on procrastination to come on my Patreon page. Why self doubt is a jerk we sometimes love, how to use imagination to conquer procrastination in a fun way, how to manipulate your biggest enemy – yourself! – and more!

A Fine Silvery Stream

Sheng Yen, a Chinese Buddhist monk, wrote this passage:

“Be soft in your practice. Think of the method as a fine silvery stream, not a raging waterfall. Follow the stream, have faith in its course. It will go its own way, meandering here, trickling there. It will find the grooves, the cracks, the crevices. Just follow it.”

I’ve been doing this, but not only with my meditation practice. I’m learning to do this with story as well. A few days ago, I wrote an opening line, then followed that line to the next, and the next, like I was floating along that fine, silvery stream. I didn’t know where the story was going, where it would end, even if it would end, or just fizzle out. As I softly followed, it filled in the grooves and cracks. The crevices were found. The story emerged and was written.

I am doing the same again now but this next one is already longer. It may be a novella or a book. I can’t tell yet because I don’t know where that silver stream is carrying me. I don’t even know genre yet. All I know is that every day that I come to this story, something happens that surprises me. It’s taking form as I write, one sentence after another.

Faith is a beautiful thing – not faith in myself or my abilities, but faith in the story that is being told.

Let the story be what it wants to be. Let it lead the way, and be content to follow.

Expectation of Characters – and Self

I am wandering in my novel; the right things are not being written. I’m not touching the core, and some even seems obvious artifice, at least to me. I like my characters, and I believe they are worthy of carrying a story, but I keep losing their true personalities in my expectations of who they should be.

Expectation: as damaging in the world of the novel as it is in real life.

From the Tao te Ching:

“The Master’s power is like this. He lets all things come and go effortlessly, without desire. He never expects results; thus he is never disappointed. He is never disappointed; thus his spirit never grows old.”

I am disappointed tonight, for not only am I not writing the right things, but I have expectations of myself in writing their story. My main expectation as creator: to get the story at least close to right. And I’m not, because I am not allowing the story to naturally unfold from who my characters are.

Time to get real. No more shoulds. No more expectations. No more fear that I’m going to write the wrong thing, because that fear itself will cause the wrong thing to be written.

An Awesome Ten Minute Exercise

Set your timer for ten minutes. Write down FIVE novel or movie concepts  in logline form (one sentence describing each idea). You must get down five ideas within the time allotted. Polishing the loglines afterward is optional.

I did this recently and came up with the following:

  1. Comedy/Coming of Age: A teenager drops out of high school and heads out to find the Dalai Lama and ask him the meaning of life.
  2. Action/Adventure: An amnesiac woman in a bathrobe and fuzzy bunny slippers shows up on Dave’s doorstep – but she isn’t what she appears to be, as the gunmen who soon follow confirm.
  3. Action/Comedy/Fantasy: The Sonoran Desert trickster, Coyote, takes on a man’s form to halt the urban sprawl invading his environment, but only endangers his home further as spiritual seekers gather to ask him existential questions.
  4. Comedy/Action: Ellie’s father died years ago, or that’s what she thought until he shows up at the reading of her mother’s will – as a zombie.
  5. Action/Adventure: Deep in the forest, a lost hiker comes across a strange civilization, a group of alien “grays” running from persecution.

I’m not sure if I’ll use these, though I’m very intrigued by a couple of them, especially #3 (it may even be my next movie project), but this exercise shows how when pressed, the mind can come up with all sorts of crazy ideas, ideas that might turn out to be unique and promising.

Also, each idea could go a number of different ways. For example, I put Action/Adventure on #5, but what if I changed that to Comedy? It would be a completely different movie.

If you have time to give this exercise a try, I’d love to hear how it worked for you!

Quick Quote on Protagonists

Know what your protagonist wants, know why she wants it, and know why the thing she wants isn’t the same as the thing she needs. If you know those three things, the rest of your protag’s characterization will fall into place. ~ Xander Bennett

Symbols in Fiction

Why symbols are important in fiction, from the book Writing Fiction by Janet Burroway:

People constantly function symbolically. We must do so because we rarely know exactly what we mean, and if we do we are not willing to express it, and if we are willing we are not able, and if we are able we are not heard, and if we are heard we are not understood. Words are unwieldy and unyielding, and we leap past them with intuition, body language, tone, and symbol.

“Is the oven supposed to be on?” he asks. He is only peripherally curious about whether the oven is supposed to be on. He is really complaining: You’re scatterbrained and extravagant with the money I go out and earn.

“If I don’t preheat it, the muffins won’t crest,” she says, meaning: You didn’t catch me this time! You’re always complaining about the food, and God knows I wear myself out trying to please you.

“We used to have salade nocoise in the summertime,” he recalls, meaning: Don’t be so damn triumphant. You’re still extravagant, and you haven’t got the class you used to have when we were young.

“We used to keep a garden,” she says, meaning: You’re always away on weekends and never have time to do anything with me because you don’t love me anymore; I think you have a mistress.

“What do you expect of me!” he explodes, and neither of them is surprised that ovens, muffins, salads, and gardens have erupted. When people say “we quarreled over nothing,” this is what they mean – they quarreled over symbols.

Pg 275, Writing Fiction, 4th Edition

CONCEPT with Scott Myers

I’m thrilled. I just got a spot in Scott Myers class on CONCEPT, starting on Monday. Here’s what his website says about the course:

In this 1-week online screenwriting class, you will delve into the mindset of Hollywood studio executives, producers, agents, and managers, and learn time-tested ways to generate and develop story concepts, as well as the means to evaluate them to help you know when you find a winning script idea.

  • Hone your ability to think like a script buyer and see what they look for in a story concept.
  • Workshop your own story concepts through writing assignments targeted toward improving your brainstorming and critical analysis skills.

Scott comes highly recommended as a teacher, so I’m thrilled about being accepted into this class. And I certainly need the help when it comes to understanding concept!

A thought on Villians

If your villian starts working against the hero instead of for themselves, then something has gone wrong. Keep the villain’s motivation consistent and away from being plot driven. They need to have their own goals, which just happen to be in opposition to the hero’s goals.

Nine Questions

 

Uta Hagen was a well known acting teacher who taught acting at the Herbert Berghof Studio. Below are the questions she taught generations of students to answer for each character study in order to define their roles. I think they can be as valid for fiction writers as actors:

1.  WHO AM I?  (All the details about your character including name, age, address, relatives, likes, dislikes, hobbies, career, description of physical traits, opinions, beliefs, religion, education, origins, enemies, loved ones, sociological influences, etc.) 
 
2.  WHAT TIME IS IT?  (Century, season, year, day, minute, significance of time)
 
3.  WHERE AM I?  (Country, city, neighborhood, home, room, area of room)  
 
4.  WHAT SURROUNDS ME?  (Animate and inanimate objects-complete details of environment) 
 
5.  WHAT ARE THE GIVEN CIRCUMSTANCES?  (Past, present, future and all of the events) 
 
6.  WHAT IS MY RELATIONSHIP?  (Relation to total events, other characters, and to things)  
 
7.  WHAT DO I WANT?  (Character’s need.  The immediate and main objective
 
8.  WHAT IS IN MY WAY?  (The obstacles which prevent character from getting his/her need)  
 
9.  WHAT DO I DO TO GET WHAT I WANT?  (The action: physical and verbal, also-action verbs) 
 
I think  I might be presumptuous and divide up #7. In my opinion, what the character wants and what they need are usually two different things. The conscious and the subconscious goals are not often in alignment, especially in storytelling.
 
I’d love to hear if you have something to add to the list. Something that helps you figure out your characters?