On June 17, 2017, best-selling author Susan Squires came to talk to the chapter of Romance Writers of America to which I belong. Squee! I am such a fan of this lady. Her presentation is called Talking Back to Your Brain. She knows this subject well.
Before she started, however, our chapter applauded our members who were winners of the Prism Award. This is Susan’s favorite award because it looks so pretty on her piano. Funny lady.
She passed out a print out of the slides she would be working with. Don’t read ahead, she warned, before giving us homework: Get Dr. Robert Maurer’s book, One Small Step can Change Your Life: The Kaizen Way.
We all want the days when the words flow. We don’t want the days when you feel you are working against yourself. This is not full-blown writer’s block. It’s Brain 101 and has to do with the structure of our brains.
You must understand that the cortex of your brain loves to answer questions. Your Lizard Brain controls the four Fs: Fight, Flight, Food, Sex. Keep thinking, you’ll come up with an F-word to put in there.
King Cortex thinks it is in charge because it has the words and HAS to answer when it hears a query. Don’t know the answer? Your brain will make educated guesses if it doesn’t actually know. Your cortex drives you to be a problem solver.
Tip: You can tap into this power when you ask a question at night. Right before you fall asleep, ask the question. Be sure to phrase the question in a positive way. Not what’s wrong with my book? Instead, what would make my character more interesting?
A little fear can be useful to you, can drive you to do better. But too much will shut your brain down. We find it socially unacceptable to talk about fear. Children will say I’m scared or I’m afraid. Adults are not supposed to be afraid because we are in charge. We’re anxious or nervous or stressed. But we have to find a balance between emotional trauma like a breakup with a loved one, and turning that into a fear for physical safety. Talking about it will help.
When asking your brain for answers, keep the questions small. Small is key. Kaizen is Japanese for “good change”. It’s oriented toward the flow of goods and information in the business world. W. Edwards Deming studied and brought it to Japan. Like the iPad or Walkman, small ideas and quality product changed music for the public. And it’s continuing to change the world, both commercially and in the minds of consumers.
It takes practice to get the questions right. How can I make this scene move faster? How can I make the stakes bigger? Ask about scene or chapter, not the whole book. Focus on technique, not the end product. I asked about my sequel to the submitted manuscript and got an answer I totally didn’t expect. I can’t wait to get working on it.
Take the time to appreciate and enjoy the details in what you ask about. This will engage the cortex’s interest in the question. If you could care less about the details, fake it till you make it. It’s like smiling, pretty soon the interest will be real. Some questions are brain candy and lead to way too much research. Stay in charge, don’t let the brain get away with that.
The cortex is interested in answering questions. However, you can train it to follow the path you need it to walk. Ritual can act as cues for the cortex to engage. Like writing in the same place each day. Use music as a cue to start. Ask questions that you want to cover this session. Read over the last scene you wrote.
Keeping backing up until you get to the place where it happened. For instance, asking why the story is dull is too big of a question. Back up a step. Why is Chapter # lacking punch? Back up again. What should my heroine be after? Close! One more step and What happened to my heroine when she was a teenager to make her feel this way? That’s a more manageable amount of information.
Maybe write small instead of all day if you need to get out of a plot hole. Set a timer. If okay at the end, set it again. By the way, contracts from publishers in NY are structured to induce fear.
Susan mentioned that when she had issues with being discovered by readers, she considered becoming a PBR writer. Huh? Apparently, just as there are hockey romances out there, Pro Bull Riding has fans who want to read romances about their heroes. Instead of Puck Bunnies, these are Buckle Bunnies. True story. Luckily, things came through for Susan and I am so thankful for her body of work in the paranormal area. Am I a Fang Bunny?
The key is this: Write what makes you excited. The enthusiasm will show up in your writing and you won’t have to pretend to love rodeos.
Procrastination. Perfectionism. These two demons sit on your shoulder when you write. One whispers this will never be good enough for anyone to read. The other one says, just a little more research and we will nail it all down. Back to Pinterest. Don’t fall for it.
Start your writing session with a question. Work toward the answer as you type. I always ask the same question: Where was I?
Fun brain factoid: You can’t be fearful while you are eating. Doesn’t that explain a lot? Stress can be great for gaining weight. (I’m looking for studies that support this but so far I am not finding anything.)
There is a lot more that went on for the afternoon session, but I want to wait and cover that next Sunday. Just because I need to give the Practicing Useful Writing Questions a try so I can report on how helpful it is.
Thanks for reading, I’ll be back on Thursday.