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Posts Tagged ‘troubleshooting’

Or maybe I love it when order starts to emerge out of chaos. I sort of had a plan for Camp NaNoWriMo, and then in the face of having rather a lot of things on my plate, it went a bit off the rails. I could call it project scope creep. I could say that I incorporated multiple goals or disciplines into one so that I wasn’t really giving up any of them, but the focus had shifted.

Then I read about a brainstorming exercise which is brilliantly perfect for writing. Maybe I am the last to know and everyone, or at least lots of people, writes this way, but it is completely liberating in the sense that it allows you to jump around between different ideas and don’t have to try to follow a linear plot or outline.

Let me see if I can explain.

I am about halfway through Lost and Found in Paris (and loving it). I will try to keep spoilers to a minimum, but I need to provide a little bit of context, most of which can be found in the book summary.

Our heroine Joan flies to Paris with some obscure but valuable sketches for a potential buyer. The sketches are stolen. The thief leaves behind a clue which includes a poem\riddle\invitation and a copy of a page from one of her father’s notebooks. She figures out the first message, and when she arrives at the appropriate location, a security guard hands her a second envelope.

Nate, her romantic interest who is trying to help her recover the stolen sketches stops her from opening the envelope right away. He asks her to tell him what she thinks is in the envelope. What might be the next piece or pieces of information based on what they already know? Joan is skeptical.

He explains the exercise this way: “My sister leads the brain-storming sessions.  She went to business school, so there’s a method to her madness.  It works.  It gets your brain pumping before you have to zero in one the question at hand.  When we’re trying to anticipate what might go wrong or right with a project, it opens us up to other avenues of inquiry when we think about all possible scenarios.” (pg 139)

They proceed to brainstorm possibilities, following different avenues of thought, looking for connections.

The concept didn’t make any sense to Joan at first, but it totally clicked for me.

I don’t have to write a linear story, even if I want to eventually end up with one. I don’t have to stress about picking a direction. I can start with an idea, a scene. I can set up the scene in different ways, and then I can tell the same story different ways or create different stories altogether. I can follow each thread from each starting point, or I can mix and match later on, keeping what works together and setting the other parts aside.

Instead of having to know what “really” happens and committing myself to one narrative, I can try out a whole bunch of different scenarios — no matter how ludicrous — follow each one as far as a I care to, branching this way and that as I go, and then backtracking to a certain point and starting a new branch or thread. (Yes, I am just going with the mixed metaphor.)

I tried it out with one of the ideas in my Camp NaNoWriMo project, which I decided to use as a month-long brainstorming session to just get ideas out of my head and into a document, so I think that I was pretty close to this newly-discovered process already. The problem is that I was letting myself get stuck on not knowing where to take a story or how to explore an idea for fear of not getting it right (even though I know it is not about getting it right the first time).

Now I can ask myself, “What are the things that can go right with this storyline or scenario? What are the things that can go wrong?” Do a little preliminary troubleshooting and then start trying out the possibilities.

The more I write out this idea, the more obvious it feels, but it was a complete watershed moment for me this afternoon. Maybe it’s the magic that starts to happen about halfway through a NaNoWriMo project. Whatever the case, I am feeling inspired, creative, and energized! I look forward to a weekend of writing.

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