Wednesday is answer-questions-day. See how my blog is falling into a nice pattern here?
Monday: Status update on writing projects, publishing, queries. Writing prompt to kick start the week!
Tuesday: Shout Outs! I talk about websites, music, books, poetry, and other authors/bloggers that I find helpful.
Wednesday: Q&A day. A day where I answer questions. Either from the comments section, or common questions that authors/human beings receive.
Friday: “Five for Friday” and stuff that’s in the news. I also thought I could have interviews and post them on Fridays.
Thursday, Saturday, and Sundays are To Be Announced. Either I will post about what’s on my mind (a scary thought, I know), or a problem I have noticed, or a grab bag. It’s a surprise!
So, today’s question: How do you stay interested in a book for so long?
I hear that one many times, usually from non-writers, but some writers too. They lose interest in a book idea, or set one aside, and try to come back to their idea, only to discover that they haven’t the slightest clue what they were getting at.
Life happens. Sometimes you get excited about an idea and for whatever reason, you have to set that shiny new idea down. But coming back once life allows you too isn’t always easy. It’s hard to get excited about it again, once the dust settles and time passes. Likewise, you may work on an idea, coax it into a plot, and start writing, only to discover three months, six months, maybe even a year later, that you loss interest, and other, shinier ideas are starting to crowd you. Been there, done that as well.
That’s why I hypnotize myself while writing.
In the beginning, when I first have an idea, I do everything I can to capture the feel, the tone, the mood of the idea. Let’s say the idea I have is about monkey cowboys. I was at the zoo one day, and saw the chimps swinging around, and saw one lone chimp, standing off to the side, like he was an outlaw. And I started to think…what if?
So let’s say I want to write a western with chimps. I write the idea down and brainstorm. Normally this process takes a few days, if not longer, to gather all of the things I associate with my idea, we’ll call it “Monkey on the Run”. I look through my folder of character pictures I have collected (in this case, I would have to start a new search for chimps, since I am specist, and only have humanoids in my character picture folder) and pick out some pictures to go with my characters. I start a new playlist in my itunes, entitled “Monkey on the Run” and fill it up with Bon Jovi songs (he sings about being a cowboy A LOT), country music songs, and any other songs that I might associate with the book. If I used the song-inspiration method I described on Monday, then I add those songs into the playlist. I find pictures of deserts, like Arizona, and maybe even rent/buy some classic Western movies to get an idea on common motifs in westerns.
During this process I am also writing down every idea that occurs to me. My early plots tend to be over complication and crowded, because I employ the “stew method” and just throw whatever sounds good into the plot. Then the plot elements start to fight with each other, and the things that no longer apply start to weed themselves out, like a literary Thunderdome, and I have myself a complex plot with new twists. I do a lot of pre-plotting stuff, brainstorming for plot twists, character motivations, and some worldbuilding (even if it’s set on Earth. Unless you’re writing about your home town, I suggest you do a lot of research into the town you’re setting your story. Lack of anchored setting is rampant these days and can be a silent killer for your book, and ever worse, once it’s there, it’s hard to detect.) You might not do all of that, so plan out whatever works for you.
I have noticed that as I am collecting these allusions—poems, songs, pictures, movies—that my brain files all of this away, and I start coming up with random associations. Like before, when I made the Thunderdome reference, I thought about how the post apocalyptic element could really work with my Outlaw chimp. *Cue “Wanted Dead or Alive by Bon Jovi* Maybe instead of a regular desert town, he’s traveling across a war torn wasteland of a country, bringing his own brand of justice to towns that need him dearly, and are willing to pay him any price to keep the roving bands of gorilla from destroying their precious banana crops. See how that works? The process of gathering things that remind you of your story will also in turn spin you more ideas for your story, like a Midgard Serpent of allusions. Sometimes I find a cool picture in a magazine while on this inspiration hunt, and not only does it look like the town the Outlaw chimp will make his last stand in, but there’s another character in the picture too. Perhaps a clown with a top hat and a sawed off shot gun. In that event, I get an idea for another character, maybe the Outlaw chimp’s sidekick.
And the really, really awesome thing about this hunt? The world of your story starts to breathe, starts to feel really REAL. When I sit down to write the story, I have my playlist playing, and maybe some of the magazine pictures tapped to the wall, and the fake book cover I made as my wallpaper on my computer, it’s so much easier to immerse myself in the story world.
And even more awesome than that? This false world will hold indefinitely. I can attest to that fact from experience. I have several ideas I have developed past the “chimp is an outlaw, a rebel without a cause, but addicted to Panama gold bananas” stage. These ideas were tabled for one reason or another, but every time I open the folder for the story, all I have to do is start the playlist, take a quick peak through the character list, and read through some of my story ideas, and I am immersed in the story idea again. It feels whole, and real. It’s no longer a hypothetical story that I might write someday, but something breathing. I am currently debating on three different stories to start working on, each of which are in various stages of development. But I got far enough in developing each of this stories that I could just as easily immerse myself in any of the idea again, with a little bit of reading through the stuff I have typed out.
This also helps during the editing process. When I get stuck with a story element while editing, I look at some pictures, or read over some of my notes. I play the playlist while editing, and maybe read over a poem I found that seemed really appropriate. All of this helps me get into the mindset of the book again, helps me rekindle my excitement and fervor for the story, no matter how “old” the idea is. This keeps me going, and continues to make the story seem real to me. After I started doing this, a story never seemed stale to me again. I can not think about a story for months, reopen the story file, and it immediately comes alive to me again.
It’s magical, and slightly like having multiple personality disorder, but it works wonders. Of course, you don’t want to spend months and months doing this. You do need to get around to actually writing the book. But a little bit of leg work could help you stay on track, and when you falter, remind you of exactly why you love the idea to begin with.