Wednesday, December 9, 2009


As I write this, here at the foot of the lovely Rockies, there is a layer of ice on everything outside. I haven’t been able to spend any significant time outside because driving is iffy on a sheet of ice, and walking risks losing vital parts of your anatomy, like your nose.

It would seem this is the ideal situation for a writer. After all, there’s nothing else to do...
Weirdly, it’s not translating that way. I pace. I stare at the computer. I find truly bizarre home improvement projects to do.

It is my belief that humans aren’t made to be confined. I’m about ready to go out and hunt a mammoth.

And that’s part of the issue. I have a perfectly good beginning for a novel and I want to write it. It’s due at the publisher’s anyway. So... why aren’t I writing?

Because humans are contrary. Or... wait, I don’t know about humans, but I am. My desire for walking outside translates itself to being assaulted by countless stories, in – I think – an attempt to escape.

All of a sudden, in my head, I have a young woman walking downtown Denver while the city is closed by a major blizzard. She’s kidnaped by an elf troop on magical horses mincing and glittering its way through ice-bound sixteenth street mall and forced to be midwife to their queen. There is a feel of glitter and brocade and shabbiness and a sleigh that shines gold and silver. The rest is still in head because I’m NOT writing it till novel is done.

Then there is the little girl who knocks at the door and carries an injured baby dragon. It’s too cold to throw them back out into the snow. What do you do?

And what do you do when your baby dragon eats glitter and you have to take him to the vet? Does the vet know dragons exist?

So – what do you suggest I do, other than gluing my butt to the chair – which I’ve been doing, but doesn’t keep my mind from wondering? What do you do when physically confined? Does it bother you? (I confess to a perverse impulse to throw it all to the winds and go watch Galaxy Quest for the hundredth time.) Save me from myself. Tell me how to vacate my mind of this silly stuff, so I can work.


C Kelsey said...

Much like today for me Sarah. I've been in the office since 5:55. It's snowing hard and nobody has come into the office yet. I'd really like to be writing right now but I know that if I were home, I'd pretty much be in the same straights as you. I've found the best way to reboot the writing brain is to literally shut it off from that creative source. Video games does this for me. I'm not thinking about ravens, or (currently) fairy princesses who talk too much about flesh eating unicorns and golden dragons when there's a hord of zombies after me or I'm trying to assassinate Larenzo Di Medici. :) Flashy, interactive pictures. That's the ticket. Video games do have value.

Alternately you could critique a short story... :)

Sarah A. Hoyt said...

actually, Chris, to shut off the brain I do art. Part of the issue I'm so late critiquing everything is that critiquing turns on Fred. Fred is the copyeditor in my head. When he's on I can't read for other reasons. Because he comes out and goes "do you really want to say it that way? What will people think?" etc. right now he's too much with me, as is.

C Kelsey said...

See, you can't reboot the writing brain if you're doing other creative stuff (at least, I can't). Go have a snowball fight! :)

Amanda Green said...

Sarah, first off, tell Fred to go find Wilma and play with Dino the dinosaur...oh, wait, don't do that. Then you'll want to go to Denver to the museum to molest dinos. Hmm, just tell Fred to get a life, one that's preferably not yours.

Other than that, I have to agree with Chris. Video games, blowing stuff up before you get blown up, that's the way to do it. Unfortunately, I've been doing too much of that recently because of competing plots in my head, all of which have been screaming so loudly it's all but impossible to work on a single one. Sigh. When you find the answer, share it with us.

C Kelsey said...

I will admit to being rather... bad last night. Instead of video games to help reboot the brain and write my multitude of stories, I bought the new LKH and started reading that instead.

Jonathan D. Beer said...

I suffer from a similar confinement, not due to weather but due to lack of employment. With all my days free, surely I ought to be writing like a demon... but its not really coming.

I find that I have to either cut myself off completely from all distractions, which often means turning of the wireless router into the house, or begin writing in the late evening when my mind oddly tunes itself the frequency "And now you can concentrate on a single thing".

Its very annoying. I wish I had a more useful suggestion, since I could put it into practice myself!

Anonymous said...

Sudoku, crosswords, free cell... something with no plot, no conflict.

Unfortunately I can use up an amazing amount of time trying to wrestle my brain into behaving.

Might as well write about the girl with the baby dragon.

That might be of use, some day. Crosswords? Fat chance.

Usually when I can't write, it's because I've got something wrong with the scene. Wrong POV, wrong hero. Which is embarrassing, when you realize your Good Guy is going to wind up being the Bad Guy. The other way around is uplifting. ::sigh::

Rowena Cory Daniells said...

Snow??? How exotic!

If this were Australia, I'd suggest mowing the yard. For some reason the repetitive exertion always gets my mind running on ideas.

Alternatively, take your head on a holiday. Watch a movie you've never seen before or a documentary about an obscure point in history, or place or event.

I watched a reenactment of the eruption of Krakatoa which was really interesting. The native lighthouse keeper stayed in his lighthouse sending out warnings as a tsunami rolled towards him. It flattened the lighthouse but he survived.

Kate said...

My best option is something relatively mindless that I still need to focus on - something that I can't do while I'm off in another world somewhere.

Which is not to say that this actually works all the time.

Sarah A. Hoyt said...

well, at least kids are going to school again, which should make things easier.

Jonathan, the transition to no-paid-work is always difficult because fo the lack of structure. I actually went through this when I first started writing.

Two things -- make it a schedule. Sit down on time, get up on time, eat at a certain time. It will make life easier.

Second -- try to write every day. If you write a page a day you'll have a novel by year's end.

Anonymous said...

What is it about the late (or extremely early) hours that boosts the writing? Jonathan, I'm often the same, and I see that Sarah is posting at 1AM, hopefully after a spate of writing.

I suppose it's the state of the Brain, not the vampiric "shielded from the sunlight," that is the difference. Right?

Sarah A. Hoyt said...


It's only eleven for me. I actually keep decent hours during school year. After that I spin totally out of control. I actually do my best work at three to four am. Much to my family's chagrin.

During a time I was exchanging emails with Flint and Freer and half a dozen other Baen people, though, I found out NONE of us sleeps normal hours, so you might be right.

Mike said...

Some notions that might help

1. I've found that most of the time I need to write down -- key words, snippets, bits -- of those ideas that are nudging at me. Once I do that, I can let go of them and they quit insisting on attention, because they are in my notes for later.

2. Howard Tayler talks about dividing up his work into tasks for Smart Howard and Dumb Howard -- and being honest with himself about times when he needed to just do dumb stuff. I have to admit this helped me, to relax and let myself do dumb stuff with a clear conscience when sinus trouble, headaches, and other stuff makes it difficult to focus on smart work.

3. Fairly often, when I'm having to push myself to do something, there's something wrong. There's a simpler way, I've skipped something, there's a problem that I haven't yet consciously noticed -- and I need to step back, take a second look, and find the loose edge that needs to be tacked down. Take care of that, and then things will move.

Deadlines, quotas, regular work habits, counting words -- sometimes those can help too. I think of them as ways to make progress visible.

Back to work, Mike.