Keep Moving: Three ways to brainstorm off the page

by W. Brian Coles

After The Initial “Spark,” How Does A Writer Maintain Momentum?

“People are like bicycles,” Albert Einstein wrote to his son Eduard in 1930. “They can keep their balance only as long as they keep moving.”

Writing is all about movement. It’s a moving scene that the reader tucks under a warm blanket that canvasses the rest of the story, making the characters stronger, the action more meaningful, the ending sweeter. It’s keeping the right pace. It’s inspiring the reader to share it with a friend, taking what you’ve created and moving it onto another. Endless writing workshops make these points in one way or another.

But what happens when we, as writers, stop moving? How do we overcome walls of self-doubt? What about self-imposed boxes of overthinking and (gulp) perfectionism?

When the spark has left me, I do what any good firestarter (thank you Stephen King) would do, I get outside my box, rub my mental sticks together and tease out a flame with puff or two of oxygen. I get moving in other ways.

Countless self-help books tell people to journal or diary when they’re stuck. And this is of course a familiar, great tool for brainstorming to most scribes. But then there are those moments when the gears just stop moving, gnashing away at each other with contempt and acidic saliva born from stewing in one’s juices too long, staring at a blinking cursor.

Thus, I have learned, I often need to do the opposite. Here are three forms of movement that do not occur on paper or laptop, but have helped me greatly in the challenge to keep moving.

Walking

A 2014 Stanford University study confirms that walking boosts our creativity.

A person walking indoors – on a treadmill in a room facing a blank wall – or walking outdoors in the fresh air produced twice as many creative responses compared to a person sitting down, one of the experiments found. (May Wong, 2014)

Now I prefer getting outside, but the point is to get those legs moving and get some oxygen flowing. I cannot recall a time when I went for a stroll to “unblock” where I didn’t return with a new idea to get me back in the flow.

Talking it out (moving those gums!)

There is strong evidence that talking things out with a partner improves our problem-solving abilities. (Judith C. Tingley, 2012)

Funny enough, this is not so much about the partner giving advice, but simply listening. The person with the issue is solving their own problem most of the time, by merely verbalizing it and being encouraged to continue.

Well heck, I can do that on my own. I love hearing myself talk! Pbffft!

Here are a couple “self-talking” tactics that work for me:

  1. First I try to summarize the plot as if giving an elevator pitch. If I find it too difficult to put into a quick overview, then I know I need to do some work. I then continue to ask myself questions about the issues I am having until I come up with answers. Sometime the solution is to go back to the drawing board but regardless, I have moved forward in the process. Yes, even saying “Okay, this sucks, start over.” I call this process the “self-interview.”
  2. Another tactic is to act out dialog between characters. This can work to unveil motivation or even reveal a potential plot twist. It also gets me closer to the characters as I am, in a sense, being them when I do this. The best results come from saying something surprising and reacting to it. The key is to keep it free form and unplanned.

I must reinforce, this is a verbal exercise, not on paper or laptop.

Moving your hand away from your face (gaining some perspective!)

Put your hand up to your nose and stare at it. Blurry, huh? Now move it out until it comes into perfect focus. The point? Sometimes we are too close to our work and/or to obsessed over something that doesn’t really matter and everything becomes a giant blur.

We must remember to keep things in perspective. It’s not going to be perfect. No book is. Even the classics. Why? Because even the best painting in the world will look off in the wrong lightning, and you can’t control everything in the universe. I can’t even control breakfast half the time.

If something worries you deeply, ask your editor. That’s their job.

Loosen up, laugh, smile. Combine all the above and get out and walk and talk. I call it a “sqwalk.” See? How ridiculous is that? But you know what, it works. And it reminds me not to take myself too seriously.

Tip: Worried others will see your lone-blabbering as a sign of madness? Put on a Blue Tooth earpiece. You’re just “talkin on the phone.” La-di-da.

To move others is a gift. But we often find ourselves overthinking in a dark place of our own making, becoming just as unbalanced and frustrated as someone who thinks very little. The blur has blown out the candle. The gift becomes a burden.

So unblur, unbox and bust down those walls, and get sqwalkin’! Ahem, moving.

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Sources:
Opening quotation: 2007 Einstein: A Biography by Jürgen Neffe, Translator: Shelley Frisch (Translated from German to English), (Copyright 2005, Translation Copyright 2007), Chapter 19: From Barbaria to Dollaria; Einstein’s America, Quote Page 369, Footnote 39: Quote Page 431, Published by Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, New York.

M. W. (2014, April 24). Stanford study finds walking improves creativity. Retrieved May 6, 2017, from http://news.stanford.edu/2014/04/24/walking-vs-sitting-042414/

Judith C. Tingley, J. C., PhD. (2012, February 09). Enhance Metacognition and Problem-Solving by Talking Out Loud to Yourself. Retrieved May 06, 2017, from https://sharpbrains.com/blog/2012/02/09/enhance-metacognition-and-problem-solving-by-talking-out-loud-to-yourself/

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W. Brian Coles is a new author with a passion for stories that capture the spectacle, heart, and humor of the movies he loved growing up (think: Star Wars, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Back to the Future). His early education was in TV/Film, then advertising and marketing. He also interned/worked as a script reader and has written for comic books.

3 thoughts on “Keep Moving: Three ways to brainstorm off the page

  1. Fabulous article, Brian. I’ll tweet so others can benefit.
    I regularly walk and talk to fellow writers and can vouch those work great for brainstorming and reality checks. I’m still working on perspective.
    I get my best ideas and solutions either in the shower or just after turning the lights out, but that’s probably oversharing.

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