Writer’s block is a popular subject among authors. It’s also a depressing one. It can strike without warning, afflicting new and seasoned writers, and leaving the most creative of us staring at a blank screen for hours, feeling like the ideas have been sucked right out of our heads. The blogs are flooded with all manner of suggestions for thwarting this unpredictable evil.
But what happens when the opposite strikes? You’re making great progress on your story and then instead of going mute, your muse kicks into overdrive. Suddenly have too many ideas and you don’t know which direction to take your WIP. It may sound like a good problem to have, but being overloaded with options can be just as paralyzing as having none. This tends to be an issue for me more often about halfway through my first draft. Even when I have the entire story already mapped out, my brain sometimes goes on tangents. Some writers might ignore these stray creative whisperings. They don’t have trouble getting sidetracked and keep moving forward. But for those of us that can’t, the indecision can be daunting. When the clutter starts building for me, I employ a simple process to rein in my wayward inspiration. I call it Solitary Brainstorming.
To get back on track, not only do I need to see the trees through the forest, I need to see the one tree that will lead me down the right path. So with a notebook and a quiet place, I empty my mind on paper. I start with a heading; a brief description (a sentence or two) of wherever I am in the story when my brain went awry. Then I fill as much of the page, or pages, as I need to entertain every offshoot, every twist and turn rattling around in my head. I play each one out. I don’t bother with details. I avoid complete sentences. I rarely write in the lines. It isn’t the time to be concerned with boundaries or rules. It’s a free-style vomiting of ideas. An expelling of the chaos allows me to better see the consequences of each idea and how they will ripple out through the next few chapters, or the remainder of my story.
If I go left, then right, then left; how does that affect my characters? Does it flow better instead if I go left, left, right? By indulging my imagination, instead of stifling it, I can make informed decisions about which direction my WIP needs to go. It also takes less time than finding out four chapters later that the fantastic idea that woke me up in the middle of the night, has now written me into a corner.
Once I decide which path is best for the flow, pace, plot, and the development of my characters, I keep the unused ideas for later. I can always go back to them down the road and tweak them for another story. Having a vault of creative tangents and unexplored paths are also helpful to kickstart a stalled brain if and when the dreaded writer’s block decides to strike.