Brilliant Diversions of the Lazy Brain

Brains, being... you know, brains, are so darned clever about getting out of work. Especially sustained, detailed work, such as the writing of a novel. Aside from the everyday diversions mine throws at me -- surfing (channel or 'Net), computer games (another round of Scrabble, anyone?), household chores (on rare occasions), Starbucks (where I accomplish nothing) -- I have to contend with the coup de grace, the blindingly-brilliant diversionary idea.

This "brilliant" idea invariably occurs when the going gets tough on the project-in-progress. Inspiration, by this point, has faltered, and there's nothing to do except trudge through the neck-deep, icy muck of hard, mental labor to find my way to the other side. False starts are inevitable and hours of wasted work quite likely. Then, out of the blue, I'm awakened at two or three AM with the idea: the most perfect, wonderful, sure-fire concept for a book that anyone, anywhere has every conceived. My agent will go crazy. A bidding war will erupt. People will line up to buy multiple copies (one to read, one to loan, and one to keep pristine, as an investment).
Move over J.K. Rowling, because my world domination is assured.

In all my excitement, I can't go back to sleep. Besides, if I do that, I might forget this incredible idea. So I jot it down on a notepad I keep beside my bed for just such emergencies. Then I try to catch a few more Zs.

Sometimes, when I wake up and read my hastily-scribbled notes (when they're legible), I can see the truth of it. Other times, I waste a few hours typing rapid-fire notes to flesh out the idea before I force myself back to my contracted work. But almost invariably, when I have time to actually work on this "fabulous" idea, I see it for what it was. A will-o'-the-wisp, that leads me off the path and into danger. A mirage on the horizon, whose shimmer distracts me from digging to the hidden spring beneath my feet.

For me, a truly good idea develops over time. It pulls at my subconscious like a lodestone and comes together slowly, bit by bit. To reach its potential, it requires hard work, almost daily, along with the commitment to see it through to the end.

So what does your brain do to distract you from the true course? And what techniques do you use to ignore its protestations and finally reach "the end"?


Oh Colleen, that is so true! Before I sold it was "the next great idea" that kept me going. I would be working on a project and think, "OMG I have to finish this one so I can write the next one, which will be THE one!" Lately I've been letting those ideas get me off track...

My other unproductive diversions include: cleaning house, laundry, Target, bookstore runs, website design (not content, mind you, just design), MySpace, and reading through the slogs of old ideas for one that might be workable.

Great post!
TJ Bennett said…
My unproductive diversion usually include reading the blogs of other writers. :-) Why write when you can read other people not writing? LOL!

Kathleen Bacus said…
My guilty diversions are actually often quite productive and usually have to do with a home project. After staring at a computer screen for way too long with way too few keystrokes, I tend to gravitate towards a project where I can quickly see results for my efforts. A new flower bed. A fresh coat of paint. Rearranging furniture. Organizing my office. Interestingly enough, I generally find such pursuits helpful as they give me time to think about my story and work out the issues that are keeping me from moving forward. And all with fringe benefits!

Jennifer Ashley said…
Oh my goodness, Colleen, my brain takes off from my current ms. to that new "brilliant idea" all the time. I did this before I got published (you should see the vast quantities of mss. begun and never finished), and it just keeps on happening.

If I think the idea really is good, I jot it down in a computer file and save it. I save all ideas, because I can't tell in all the excitement whether it's viable or garbage. Once it's written down in black and white I can wipe my brow and go back to what I'm supposd to be writing. The idea is safe now, I can leave it alone.

When I'm rooting around for that next book or series, I open the files and go through all of them. Inevitably most are junk. But one or two jump out and say "write me!" Plus pieces of several ideas might end up in the one book, which has happened on more than one occassion.

But yes, like you my mind looks for inspiration away from the work in progress. I already know what's going to happen by the time I'm immersed in the book--I just have to write it down. That's work. Inspiration is the fun part!
I'm so glad I'm not the only one whose brain has favorite tricks to derail the work in progress. I wish that like Tera and Kathleen, my diversions were a little more productive. House cleaning and fresh coats of paint never enter my mind. :)

Jenn, like you I have a "future file" on my computer, and I save most of the ideas and once in a while check them out. Sometimes, they ripen in their own season, and they're usable in some form or fashion. But I think the important thing is to jot them down quickly so you can get back to your commitment instead of letting the new idea lead you astray.

And TJ, you're right - blogs are a diversion. But at times, they're also brain fuel. Or so I tell myself. :)