The Old-Fashioned Way

I’ve been dinking around with virtual index cards in software for about a week now, first figuring out the overview for the Moon and Sun series, then starting to plot out The Moonroads. Yesterday, not long after I posted that things were going well, things stopped going well.

They do that. I hate it when they do that. I dawdled, I doodled, I deleted a bunch of cards that suddenly looked really stupid, I wrote some new ones that looked stupider, and finally I stomped out to the livingroom and completely ripped back a sweater that I’d been knitting for about a week and that was about 75% done because I’d let myself be sloppy with some weaving in of ends, and I wasn’t going to be happy with the sweater when it was done.

Yesterday sucked, frankly.

So today the body resisted the computer, and dragged me to an unused notebook, a couple of gel pens, and my copy of Plot Clinic. (Someone in the back of the room has just cleared a throat and said, “Ah, ‘scuse me, but why would you need to read a book you wrote?)

I was asking myself the same question.

I told myself I wrote the thing, I shouldn’t have to break out my own copy. I should know all that stuff, right?

But, see…when you’re stuck, (and I got stuck pretty unpleasantly yesterday), your mind blocks out all the useful things it can do to get unstuck. It goes into panic mode. Okay, your mind might not do this, but mine does. I was looking at index cards, but I was hearing, “Stuck, stuck, STUCK!” like that kid in A Christmas Story who had his tongue frozen to the lamppost, and I might in fact know more than twenty ways to get myself out of a corner, but yesterday I couldn’t think of one.

I made the conscious mind shut up, because the conscious mind hadn’t been giving me anything but a headache, and I went with alternative input. Gut instinct. Whatever. The body wanted the book, and pens, and real physical paper. I gave it what it wanted.

So now I’m working in longhand, on lined paper, and I’m allowing myself to ask dumb questions, and I’m rambling through the tools and trying out different things. The conscious mind has taken its proper place as the one who spells things right, and has conceded idea generation to the subconscious, because the subconscious has the keys to all the boxes. I’m not going to offer a progress report, other than to say that so far today has sucked a lot less than yesterday.

I’m using the Question tool at the moment because it’s working, and the questions I’ve asked myself are:

  • What does Genna want desperately?
  • Where did B____ go?*
  • What is the cat hiding?
  • What mistakes did Catri make?
  • Who carries L_______’s* torch?

*Details cut to eliminate future spoilers for the first book.

image_pdfDownload as PDFimage_printPrint Page

About the author: Novelist, writing teacher, on a mission to reprint my out-of-print books and self-publish my new ones.

11 comments… add one
  • TimK Aug 25, 2007 @ 15:05

    Hi, Holly. That’s fascinating. I don’t know how many times I’ve gone through the Character Clinic. It feels like an old friend. But I couldn’t go through the process without looking at the book. Not even close.

    -TimK

  • hollylisle Aug 24, 2007 @ 12:35

    TimK–I always use the same process. A lot of times, however, I do much of it in my head. Worldbuilding, not so much. Language development, no. But questions? Yeah. A lot of times, I’ll ask the questions, and do the answers directly as the first chapter. Or second. Or whatever. And even when I’m writing things out on plot cards, I usually remember how to unstick myself.

    But not today.

  • BookLover Aug 24, 2007 @ 12:11

    Thank you, Holly. I get stuck so easily, and it’s beyond helpful to have a map to the way out.

  • TimK Aug 24, 2007 @ 11:22

    Yeah, so you broke out the Plot Clinic. You mean this isn’t a part of your standard process?

    Maybe you’re different than me, but I always need to have next to me a list of questions, ideas, &c. It doesn’t matter whether I know how to do it or how many times I’ve done it before. I always forget most of the items in these lists when it comes time to actually use them.

    (Of course, I’m the same way with finding the right word, too. Which is why I need a Thesaurus on hand whenever I write.)

    -TimK

  • Bettye Aug 24, 2007 @ 9:14

    While I’m sorry to hear yesterday was a sucky day it is really heartening to know that even successful writers have those “days” when their mind rebels.
    It is also great to know that the tools you created to help the rest of us still work for you as well.

  • ejoy Aug 24, 2007 @ 7:00

    I did the same thing yesterday. I stared stupidly at virtual cards, but when I got the pen in my hand the ideas started to flow, and then I put them into the computer. On one level I felt like I was wasting time and putting off the actual writing, but the two back each other up, and redundancy is my friend.

  • LadyQ Aug 23, 2007 @ 19:47

    Heh. I broke out the Question Tool today to help me with my latest WIP. Worked well for me. Next up: character clusters!

    Hope the plotting goes well for you.

  • MattScudder Aug 23, 2007 @ 19:07

    If it’s any consolation, I’m plotting my newest using Plot Clinic. It’s working for me. No reason it can’t work for you too. I highly recommend it. 🙂

  • PolarBear Aug 23, 2007 @ 18:41

    Ahhh. Yeah. Warm water and Macs…I don’t think I’d recommend that approach.

  • Keely Aug 23, 2007 @ 17:05

    Just pour some warm water over it and it will come unstuck.

    Oh wait… that only works on the tongue and the lamppost!!!

    (((HUGS)))

  • PolarBear Aug 23, 2007 @ 16:28

    Your subconscious mind always knows. Glad you remembered to trust it. Good for you.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.