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This week started off with a bang. Sort of. I left off last week with a short list of themes, characters, and events from my story that I was unhappy with and wanted to rethink. My plan was to use the clustering technique to brainstorm new directions for these story elements that were more to my liking. It aggravates the hell out of me that I have to bend myself into pretzels to get the ideas to come, but that's how it is. I don't get an idea for a story and start writing; I write and write until I get an idea. And on top of that, the story as a whole must be constructed up from tinier ideas, each discovered on its own and fitted one by one into the larger idea, and possibly re-envisioned multiple times.

So I picked one item from my list to cluster and dove in. The item I picked is a relatively new idea that I like but am not sure what to do with. I wasn't even sure it fit into the larger story. The way clustering works, at least the way I've always done it, is you start with a word or phrase expressing the main idea, and write it in the center of a page with a circle around it. Then you start branching out with lines and yet more circles, thinking of everything that comes to mind from that word and putting it in circles. These other words and concepts then generate new words and concepts, and you jot them all down, no matter how silly or unconnected they seem. Then, at some point, one or more of those branches of lines and circles triggers an idea of something to write and you start writing.

I clustered and clustered, and each of the branches in the cluster was a different possible direction I could go with this new story element idea. Which was all nice and good, but none of it spawned writing.

So I put the cluster aside and did other things.

You know, I should know myself and my writing process by now, but as usual, I was so caught up in my expectations for how things should go according to the clustering process I didn't think of how it was likely to go, me being me and all. Because hours later, and of course, while in the shower, a scene started writing itself in my head.

I think part of the reason I thought I should be able to write right away after clustering is I've always clustered to write autobiographical-style blurbs, and not fictional prose. I don't think it's likely that you can brainstorm different permutations of a story element and have it lead to immediate fiction. Fiction, at least when I write it, has to brew. I have to have time to run all the ideas up my inner flagpole and see which one I salute. And actually, the fictional blurb I ended up writing was based on none of the branches in my cluster in particular. True to clustering, my blurb ended up being based on a combination of a select few of them. The right brain soaks in all the varied concepts and delivers up, at a time unbidden, the formulation of an idea.

Interestingly, though, what bubbled up in me was more than just an idea for one short scene (which ended up being 240 words). What bubbled up got me rethinking my whole approach to a large chunk of the story, a chunk of the story I had not even clustered on, nor even had on my short list of problem topics, namely, my bad guys. I mean, I have been aware for a while now that the bad guys I've been developing are too two-dimensional, but I just figured that problem would work itself out in time. But writing this short scene gave me an alternative to it all together.

That was last Saturday and Sunday. On Monday, I tried my hand at another cluster. Granted, I did it at work between other stuff I was doing, but it didn't generate any writing, period. After that, I decided my goal for the week would be to do five clusters total, without any expectation that they would lead to writing. I think I ended up doing four. It's hard to know because I did them on random pieces of paper and now I don't know where they all are. With the last one I did, I needed more than what was coming out in clustering, so I decided to brainstorm another way. The basic premise of my story is spirit beings living in human form on Earth. The question that's been perplexing me up to now is why they're here. All the ideas I've tried to work with so far have ended up being unsatisfying in some way. This particular element is crucial to the rest of the story, though, so I need to find something that works for me.

I went back to my long list of favorite novels and films and started looking at stories about visitors from other places and the reasons they ended up somewhere else. It's actually quite varied. I started making a list of all those various reasons, trying to see which one(s) pinged something in me. Plus, if I thought of something else that wasn't from those stories, I wrote that down, too. I ended up with a long list, which I then pared down to a short list, and then I kind of stared at my short list, totally unwilling to choose anything on it. 'Cause it seems the minute I do, I start disliking the idea.

A day or two later, I went back to the list of story elements I'd put together the week before--not the problem ones but the ones I still like and have settled on. I've been trying to fill it out a bit more with the new ideas I have been generating. And suddenly I knew how to solve the "Why are the spirit beings here on Earth" issue. At least, I think I have. So far, it seems workable.

On Thursday, Writing On Both Sides of the Brain by Henriette Anne Klauser arrived in the mail and I started reading about the techniques she proposes. One is one I know well--letting things incubate. I do that all the time because it works for me. Another she suggests is basically clustering. But the first one she mentions, free writing, is something I haven't done in a long time. Not since my writing workshop classes back in SF. I don't do it much anymore because I'm not a writing procrastinator, I'm not the kind of person who stares sweating at a blank page. I can write. I do write. And write. I have difficulties, but they have more to do with being dissatisfied with what ends up on the page after the fact.

But free writing can work for that, too, being another way to jog loose what's buried in the subconscious, so on Thursday evening, I started a new practice of free writing every day for ten minutes. I did it Friday and Saturday morning as well. You just check the time and start writing anything--for me, it's been mostly autobiographical drivel, whining, and stream-of-consciousness thoughts about my story. I don't know if it will spark anything, but that's the counterintuitve nature of exercises meant to stimulate the right brain, isn't it?


( 10 comments — Leave a comment )
Mar. 28th, 2009 10:25 pm (UTC)
good luck with it
Mar. 28th, 2009 10:29 pm (UTC)
Thanks. It's a lot of work.
Mar. 28th, 2009 10:43 pm (UTC)
sounds like it
Mar. 28th, 2009 10:58 pm (UTC)
How goes your writing?
Mar. 29th, 2009 03:43 am (UTC)
points to yesterday's post. It went well only to find out I totally missed something oon the guidelines. I'llbe saving that one.

RIght now I'm in editor mode cleaning up a couple of chapters to go to the writers groups
Mar. 29th, 2009 04:40 am (UTC)
You're way ahead of me.
Mar. 29th, 2009 04:58 am (UTC)
my problem isn't starting. It's finishing
Mar. 29th, 2009 01:47 pm (UTC)
Writing TD has taught me how to say, "That's it, I'm done."

Of course, there's still the great American novel sitting on the hard drive that needs editing for submission, and has been sitting in that state for nearly five years.
Mar. 29th, 2009 04:59 pm (UTC)
that's why i'm doing the fma_fic_contest now, much like i did all the Buffy ficathons, learning to end

Mightbe time to shake it off. that's what I'm doing now. Yes, some of the stuff I feltback then has altered but not enough to say toss this out. Still editing is a job of work
Mar. 29th, 2009 05:37 pm (UTC)
Editing is a job of work. Which is one of the reasons I set that novel aside.

But now it turns out, starting a new project is also a job of work.
( 10 comments — Leave a comment )