Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Listen to Yourself

How often do you listen to yourself? Where and when do you pay attention to your inner thoughts?

As authors we tend to hear characters speaking in our heads, and we see scenes and stories develop. Usually, we sit at our computers or typewriters, furiously describing scenery or writing dialogue and thoughts of those who people our book's world. But how often do we let our thoughts run amok and free? In other words, how often do you tell those characters to "shut up" so you can hear your own thoughts?

My son used to drive an old beat-up Suburban. It ran, but that was about it. No air conditioner, no radio, barely one mirror. We offered to fix the radio. He wouldn’t hear of it. He liked it that way. He said it gave him time to think.

To think.

I've taken up walking on my elliptical trainer. I'm training myself to use the time to think and listen to myself. Admittedly, I'm sometimes plotting (a book, not a coup), but I try to let my thoughts roam. Obviously, I'm not near a computer or a recorder, so I don't feel committed to any ideas or scenes that enter my brain. It's really revealing, both of yourself and your characters.

Try it.

You don't have to focus only on your writing, though. Use the quiet to do other things, like remember things to do, organize your life or your grocery list, plan a party for your grandmother, practice singing the National Anthem, count the different colors of flowers outside the window, whatever. You may even find these things coming up in your manuscripts.

If you're having "writers block," maybe you're just not listening to yourself. Let your thoughts roam as you walk, or swim, or play tennis, or exercise, or drive in your radio-less car. If you're stuck at some point in your story and you don't know where it should go from here ... or you can't decide how a character would react … or you haven't a clue what unexpected turn of events should happen next, walk away from the page and go off by yourself. If you stay at the computer, you'll be too tempted to write down the first thing that comes to mind.

You might say that if you're at your computer and the character in your head says or does a certain thing, then that's what you should type, that's what should go in the story. Is it? The characters in your book and in your head are only human, after all. They may be taking the easy way out. Sometimes you have to challenge them, as well as yourself.

Habits are made, not inherited. Make it a habit to find time (it doesn't have to be long) each day to listen to the quiet in your head. Pretty soon, that silence will be filled with thoughts, ideas, and even peace. But you've got to tell those characters to shut up and give you a little space. Not forever, but just long enough to get back in touch with your inner creativity.

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