Brain Fried . . . Rebooting

I was thinking about a scene in one of my favorite 80’s movies, Real Genius starring Val Kilmer (for those who have seen or might remember).  The story is about a bunch of genius kids at a prep-college.  Val plays the lead who’s gone on to buck the system and is teaching the young newbie how to ‘ungeek’.  In this particular scene, in which I am referring to, it’s a montage of everyone cramming for end of the year exams. One student in particular (an extra) stands up from the study hall table and just yells.  He is just freaking out and runs from the room.  Everyone else takes a brief moment to look– at him as he has his ‘meltdown’, and returns to their studies–unfazed.

Lately, I feel like that poor kid.  It’s what I call brain overload.  Sometimes we just get to the point where everything we are focusing on just overwhelms us to the point nothing makes sense–no matter how many angles you try and approach the problem.  The other day I had that moment . . . with my story.

Yes, the one thing I usually find joy in (my escape if you will) became a torment.  I’m not published so there is no deadline (other than my own) so what is the problem? My problem is this story, a paranormal romance, has haunted me for five years.  I’ve tried it in various stages, even finished the first draft three years ago and went on to a sequel and plotted out two more for the series.  I thought I had it made.  But every contest, critique I’ve had on it came up lacking–so I revised it, not once but twice.  I put it to the side while I worked on a ghost story/romance last year but once that was finished my heart went back to the paranormal.

When I presented it to my critique group (whom I trust and value their insight implicitly) it confused them since they knew I could write better.  There were so many things wrong with it.  So I went home and started fresh.  Two months later . . . still nothing.  So I thought maybe using plotting guides a friend of mine sent me would help.  Traditionally, I’m a pants-er . . . not a plotter.

I haven’t sat down to actually plot. I realized going over everything again was just mind boggling–and so the ‘meltdown’ this past week.  I’m taking a few weeks off and stepping away from the books and writing to see if I can ‘reboot’ my brain.  I don’t want my favorite pastime to become a dreaded reality.  Not a good thing for a creative mind. 😛

So instead, I’ve decided (as I’m writing this post) I am going to work on my house (God knows I’ve neglected my duties as a domestic engineer lately), catch up on my ‘to read pile’ and see if the worksheets my friend sent me on plotting/GMC will help guide me from being a total pants-er to a plotter, too.

What do you do to ‘reboot’ when your brain is fried?


17 thoughts on “Brain Fried . . . Rebooting

  1. Taking a break is always good but I’m finding that with myself, I need to watch how much time I’m away. I can’t give it too much time or I run the risk of not coming back. Sometimes, if you are having trouble with a particular chapter, try working on another and see if that helps.

    You can do it!!! 😉

    1. Kerri,
      I know what you mean. I don’t intend to take too much time off and still working on reading up on my craft–focusing on plotting, making notes, etc. I’m one of those who sit down for hours (the pants-er in me) and let the words flow. But if nothing is working I have to stop sometime.
      It’s not a chapter or a book (have two going and neither one is working) it’s the writing procedure.
      I’m not surrendering–just retreating to regroup. 🙂

  2. Smart gal! I did the same thing a few years back with my writing and with my manuscript Gideon. It was my first love – that story – and for a long, long time, I was rewriting the first scene a thousand times and couldn’t get beyond it. So I put it away (for two years actually), and worked on other things or didn’t work on anything, focused on craft classes, or work, or home, or reading, or whatever, and when I came back to that story, I felt more confident and ready to pull up my sleeves.

    I must admit though I don’t stop writing completely. I walk away from a story, but stay connected to my writing colleagues, take craft classes, write short stories – or fanfiction:) – just to keep my brain connected to me the writer.

    We all know that there are times when nothing seems to work and then those other times when it flows like magic. The hardest part of writing for me are those times in the middle. It’s frustrating, and sometimes joyless – yes, there are days when I hate writing! But it’s what I do, and being able to recognize when you need a break is part of being a mature creative artist IMHO. So take your time – this story and many more will be there when you’re ready.

    1. I’ve written the first three chapters over again three times in less than three months. So yeah, I hear you. As I was telling Kerri, I don’t want to give in as I want to stay connected by reading up on craft, plotting with some worksheets a good friend sent me–but not at such a frantic pace.

      I guess because my other story almost wrote itself, I’m not sure why this one isn’t. I have to figure things out. (But then, maybe it’s time to learn some new techniques to writing?) 🙂

  3. Oh, I have been there. Sometimes you do need to take a step back and give yourself permission to enjoy a day or two (or a week!) to attend to all those other tasks you neglect while staring at your keyboard. Get your house organized and it will give you some sense of control over your environment. (An illusion, of course, but it still helps.) Sometimes if I’m feeling blocked and brain cluttered, I clean my office. With a tidy desk, it helps my thoughts become organized too. The more you stress about ‘getting this book done’ the more your brain will resist. A great quote from “Book In A Month” is that ‘resistance is your brain’s way of protecting you from failure.’ So after taking a little break, return to writing and give yourself permission to write lousy – because you can fix it later, and you will!!

  4. Tracy,
    It’s funny you should bring that up (permission to write lousy). I’ve heard that from a few people in our trade over the past month! Maybe there is something about it. 😀

    Spring cleaning for the brain and the home. De-cluttering both will help me to focus–you are so right!

  5. Loni,
    I’m with you! Completely. I need a complete brain recharge.
    When I feel fried, I put the writing away and read. Because, to be honest, one of the reasons I love writing is the love of a good story and characters that come alive. Sometimes I feel like when I ignore other books and focus on just writing that I become burnt out. I need to read, too. That usually gets me excited to write again.
    When I feel stressed about my book (I write YA contemporaries) I read a bunch of books not in the same genre. Partly because I need to escape from what I write for a while. After I’m done writing my own story, then I will read in my own genre again.
    Also, be careful with reading too many craft books. They can suck the heart right out of your writing if you’re truly a pantser. Pick a couple that you love, and then stick with those ideas. There are a TON of craft books out there, and many of them have completely different ways of writing a book. You can’t take everyone’s advice, so pick a few trusted sources and Just.Say.No to the rest. Don’t be too clinical with your work, or you run the risk of pulling the feelings and the heart out of your story. Write what you feel–even if it seems crappy at the time–and then go back and explore the craft aspect. Don’t try to do that while you’re writing. You end up with a piece-meal book, trying to make your critique partners and contest judges happy. In the end, if you try to make everyone happy with your book, you end up not making yourself happy. Or your characters. And they do care. 🙂

    1. Good advice Kimberly!
      I’ve been afraid of plotting too much becaus I am a pantser. It flows from my heart/head to hands and trying to think too much into it makes it more like . . . homework. I loved to write as a teen but hated to write essays and reports with all the technical mumbo-jumbo. There are a few craft books I wanted to set my goals on but just for certain areas in which I could use a bit of guidance. Also, you are right about reading outside your genre. I want to just be able to enjoy a good book or two (and go back and re-read some from earlier days that made me want to be a writer 🙂 ).

      I’m trying for the happy medium and getting that feeling again where my fingers just go–and the characters/story comes to life on it’s own.

      1. Sometimes I end up critiquing a book if it’s in my genre. And then I think about all the things I don’t do in my books that I should….how the author deals with things better than I ever could…it becomes disheartening. 🙂 That’s the main reason why I read outside my writing genre. I love to read all kinds of books, so, for me, it’s not so hard.
        Good luck with your characters and your story. Just write what you feel! And the rest will come naturally.

  6. Hi Loni. I just want to echo what Denny said. I think she put it just right. And, I basically took a month off from writing just now to spend time with hubby because we thought he was deploying. It was the best thing I ever did. What comes after the meltdown? Something ooey, gooey that sticks to your heart and seeps from your soul.

    1. I hope so Carlene! And you two needed the time together. I’m going to do that this week when hubby gets home from business trip. We haven’t had too many dates and Saturday was our 23rd Anniversary. (He was away.) We have some reconnecting to do.

      I’m looking for the ooey, gooey seeping from my heart and soul . . . could really use it! 🙂 Hugs to you and hubby!

  7. Hi Loni,
    I think you are doing the right thing. No point banging your head against the wall. That is _not_ how stories are written. I like all the advice here and your ideas, as well. Take some time off, read a lot of books, visit a lot of places with natural beauty — the beach, the mountains, gardens, anything with water. Write another book, if you have to. This story will always be here. It’s just waiting for the right time to be written. Good luck!

    1. P.H.
      I was beginning to wonder about my head/walls issue. I was “thisclose”. But it’s not how books are written. If they don’t feel right, they are not worth writing.

      I think I need to clean out my hard drive–there are so many copies of revisions of this book–I don’t even know if I can make heads or tails out of them. I may just have to work on a new book–starting April 1. (And that’s not an April Fools joke either!) LOL 🙂

  8. Thanks everyone for all your wonderful comments! It’s good to know I have great, sisters out there in the Lagoon! I’m accomplishing many things today–cleaned out/organized our closet, bought a new bedside lamp and listened to Michael Buble crooning some Frank Sinatra. (I’m a lover of vintage music, light jazz and Big Band–my dad played drums and jazz sax so I fell in love with the music at a tender age.)

    I love my stories and characters but even a writer needs a break from her Muse–especially when the Muse is on strike. 🙂

  9. Loni, I can’t say I have anything new to add. I have experienced “the meltdown” a time or two myself. For me I have to walk away for a little while and regroup. When I walk away I usually spend more time with my family, read a lot of books and watch movies that inspire me. I used to totally be a pantser, now I have found it helpful to create a basic framework of where I see the plot going and then letting my characters fill in the story from there. I agree with what someone else was saying earlier, Kim?, anyway don’t let yourself get so wrapped around the axle with method and craft that there is no joy left in your writing. Leave yourself room to just sit back and write. And if a particular scene isn’t working maybe rewrite it fresh to add the missing element instead of trying to edit what isn’t working. That approach has helped me in the past and might let you look at your story through fresh eyes. Good luck!

Comments are closed.