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A Momentary Lapse Into Sanity

Every once in a while my writer’s mind will surface from the deep belly underworld of my Mariana Trench-like mind to breath the normal air of my surroundings. What is it that I find when this happens?

Normal things, mostly. Like baseball, for instance. I’m not a writer when I’m a baseball fan. Everything turns off and I can focus for enjoyment on a game.

Cooking. This is another good one. I’ll become embroiled in a cinnamon roll or up to my elbows in a white sauce, far away from the twirling tributaries of my mind.

I suppose there are other activities which bring me back to sanity and let me be a normal human being, but other than these few items, I find that my writer’s mind is a constant dynamo, a steam engine sailing through the open plains, heading to Promontory Point and onward to the California Gold Rush.

I can’t watch a TV show or a movie without being a critic, either wondering why the writer of the script got this job or thinking how brilliant it was, wishing I had thought of it.

Exercising is the worst – or the best – depending on the day. Walking the hill behind my house with my ear buds blasting is a sure fire way to get my writer’s mind working into overload.

It is so easy for me to get sidetracked with a thought. I want to chase the rabbit down the hole every time. I want to take every scenario that pops in my mind and see where I can take it to.

Often times, a random phrase will pop in my mind and I’ll force myself to sit down and write a short play about it. It could be anything. “The armadillo said ‘yes’.” At this moment, this random phrase was the first thing that popped into my head. I have no idea what it means, but it sounds like an excellent start to a short play. I shall write it and let you know how it turns out.

Now I can’t get that phrase out of my head: “The armadillo said ‘yes’.”  I just stopped writing this post and morphed into a trance-like state repeating this phrase, wondering what it could mean. Then I realized that I just proved my point.

Which is what?

That every once in a while writers emerge from their thoughts and have a momentary lapse into sanity.

But for the most part, don’t try to understand us. People often ask me how I think of things to write about. I don’t know the answer to that, but I do know that it is probably not the right question to ask. The question to ask is “how do you not think of things to write about”? This question is much easier to answer. I do the few things (like baseball and cooking) which bring me back to the surface and let me breath the normal air.

I won’t be up for long, so make sure to catch me when you can.

“If I can think of it, anyone can” and other false thinking.

Did you ever ponder how one can be truly creative in today’s world? I mean, hasn’t everything already been thought of. Hasn’t every melody already been written? Hasn’t every plot line been explored?

I used to think like this and such non-productive thoughts have significantly shortened my writing years.

I remember when I used to get a random idea – whether a line in a poem, a catchy melody, or an idea for a story – and I would say to myself “If I can think of it, anyone can.” At that point I put the thought out of my mind and did nothing with it, knowing for a fact that my idea had already been done before.

How foolish I was! If you find yourself ever doubting your creative limits, consider the following:

1) we are all different. No two people are even remotely alike. How could we expect any two people to come up with the exact same idea?

2) thinking like that is admitting failure. Sometimes perhaps we want to readily accept failure instead of stepping out with our creativity and opening ourselves up to criticism. It’s easier to play it safe. But we weren’t created to play things safe. We are meant to express ourselves from the very core of our being.

3) we are living off the creative ideas that have come before us. Any creative artist stands on the backs of giants, whether he or she realizes it or not. We have all been influenced by the classics, the moving whims of culture, and the relentless drive of media. But the way we process and think and move and change and grow is completely different from other people.

4) a better thing to think would be “I wish I had thought of that” or “I could have never thought of that.” Did you ever read some thought-provoking lyrics or some wonderfully deep descriptive language where you wished it had been your idea. This is exactly what I’m talking about. Faulkner writes the best Faulkner out there. Hands down. But Faulkner, whether good or bad, could never have written like Sasse. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying I write better than Faulkner. I’m saying that my writing is unique, molded by experiences and life circumstances that no one else has had.

Therefore, your best writing will be when you are emulating yourself. That’s it.

I don’t let myself fall into this false thinking trap anymore. If I can think of it, then it means that I thought of it and I should write about it. And by the stares and strange looks I get from people sometimes, I realize that they are asking me, “how did you ever think of that”?

I don’t know. I just did, and I wrote about it.

You should do the same.

Writing – Like a Workman

Sometimes it’s all inspiration.

Sometimes it’s all perspiration.

Writing experiences vary from day to day. One day the words flow poetically off the keys like I have discovered the key to writing the world’s next epics. The next day, the words drip like my leaky faucet.

But here are a couple of takeaways that I’ve gleamed.

1) On days when its all inspiration, be thankful and write for as long as you can.

2) On days when it’s all perspiration, be thankful and write for as long as you can.

Hmmm. Those sounded somewhat the same, but to tell you the truth, they are.

Most writing is done in the trenches, digging one sentence after another with a half-broken shovel and a comrade who is thoroughly distracting. It might be that a person near you turns on some annoying music which throws off your concentration. It might be that your brain is functioning on not enough sleep. It might be that your plot suddenly seems completely silly and unrealistic. It might mean that all you can think of is a bunch of “there was” and a repetition of then, and then, and then, and then.  It might be a hundred other things which through off your concentration, but my advice is to write through it.

It’s not necessary to be “inspired” for every writing session. Continue to put down word after word. Continue to use the same hackneyed vocabulary. You can always improve it a later. One thing that you can never do is this: you can’t ever improve writing that you haven’t written.

You don’t have to like your writing in order for it to be useful. I never quite got the idea of a writer writing five pages one day and then coming back to it the next only to deep-six it in the trash to start all over again. I use most everything of what I write, but the final result may be very different from the original draft.

So keep at it. Even if you feel uninspired.

Write. Even if you don’t have any ideas.


Then come back to it the next day and see what is salvageable and move on.

A poorly worded sentence from a bad writing session may just lead to inspiring writing the next day.

Write like a workman. Steady. Slow. Determined. Thorough. Dependable.

It will pay off.

A Thinking Stop

I was writing early today, and the story flowed well. It wasn’t long until I had rattled off a thousand words without much difficulty at all. It felt good. I was accomplishing something.

And then I stopped. Not because I couldn’t have written more; I was completely prepared and able to do so, but I purposefully stopped – to think.

I have found that an extremely important part of writing is thinking. I tend to just go, but what comes first isn’t necessarily the best. I reached a part in my story where I have to make some conscious decisions about what to do next. I generally know where it is going, but some small important details may greatly hinge on the pondering that I do.

So I purposefully stopped in order to let the plot and characters rattle around in my brain for a day. I want to see if any seed thoughts can grow into a direction which is more intriguing that I originally intended. A lot of writing can happen without any keyboard or pen or pencil. A lot of writing can happen in the mind while driving, while doing the dishes, or while exercising.

Some people stop writing because their stuck. I stop writing because I’m not stuck. I just want to add a layer of thought to the direction I am taking.

Slow down for a day and see what happens the next time you turn on your computer.


I Just Write

Writers will talk about their outlining and book structure.

I just write.

Writers will plan the black moment in their book.

I just write.

Others ponder plotting in three acts.

I just write.

Some will define and redefine, characterize and re-characterize. 

I just write.

Seminars are given, books are written, blog posts are posted about how to correctly write a novel.

I just write.

So when people ask me how I write a novel, I respond:

I just write.

When people ask me how I plan my novels, I respond:

I just write.

When someone asks me how I thought up my idea, I respond:

I just write.

And from my experience, the best way to write a novel is to just write.

Word after word. 

Putting the words on paper is always the most important part of writing. Everything else takes care of itself.

The Perplexing Question: How do you approach your writing? I simmer.

I was asked this question yesterday by a young writer.

I dislike this question because I feel like I don’t have an adequate answer. The answer is that I just write.

See. Very unsatisfying.

I’m a spur of the moment writer. I don’t plan much. Don’t do much outlining, but, and I think this is probably the key for me, I do a lot of simmering.

What do I mean by simmering?

When a novel is about ready to be written, I have noticed a pattern:

First, get an idea. Possibly write down the idea and a few related items so I don’t forget them.

Second. Think. This is the simmering stage. Everyday, something will trigger thoughts of the novel and I’ll just think about it some more. I don’t write anything down. Just think. This simmering stage can go on for a long time. A very long time. For example, my yet-to-be-written fourth novel has been simmering for about 15 months. I even know the title, the plot, the characters, the action. I don’t know the resolution. Here’s what I’ve actually written down about this novel so far:

Summer of 2012, I got the idea. I decided it was going to be set on a fictional island in the Pacific. I wrote out an extensive demographic and historical background of the island including languages, GDP, etc… That became the basis of my simmering.

I know the four main characters and what is going to happen. So all of this has just been sitting there in the back of my head all these months. Every once in a while, I get a trigger which will bring me back to the island and give me a new idea. About two months ago I sat down and wrote the first chapter. That gave me some more tangible details to simmer on. This simmering has been happening almost daily for those two months.

I must say, that the stew is almost ready. I just need to write it. And this requires only one thing: TIME.

From experience, I know that when I sit down to write, everything will flow rather smoothly because of the extensive thought that I’ve put into it.

So, no, I won’t outline the whole story, but the story will write itself out of my tasty and long-simmering writing stew.

That’s how I do it. What about you?