Michaeline: Prime Results

An 1890s man in a dressing gown tells a harem girl stories about her eyes.

Oh, I think I could tell you a story about his eyes! Image via Wikimedia Commons

Last week, I had a good writing week, and I’m afraid I’ve been squeeing about it in several places. It’s the first time I’ve written “The End” since the end of November 2014, so I’ve been ridiculously happy and maybe somewhat obnoxious about it. I could put a lot of qualifiers on it – it’s just a draft, it’s not even 7,000 words, there’s probably some big and gaping hole that I can’t even see in the creative afterglow – but I don’t care about that. I just want to do it again. And again. And again!

So, I’ve been searching for something I’ve done differently – something that I can adapt into some sort of talisman or ritual, something that doesn’t involve blood sacrifice or extra housework. Something that would be a pleasure to do every day.

Well, I’ve reviewed the week, and there are three things that are different.

First, this could be a case of AbF-Time (About Fucking Time). Being productive, to my mind, has two parts: filling the creative well, then making time every day to actually sit down and creative. Making time to catch the stuff that drips out of that creative well, so to speak. An immature idea isn’t going to spring forth until it’s time. Some ideas take longer to be ready than others. I don’t have control over that. What I do have control over is that I make time each day to open the computer (or pick up a pen and pencil) and catch whatever is ready. Today Could Be The Day.

Second, I gave myself permission this year to write happily, to write what I wanted to write. This is probably the simplest thing. It’s either OFF, and I’m writing stuff I “should” write (or more likely, thinking I should be writing and sighing), or it’s ON, and I capture whatever juicy bits are floating around in my head. Never mind if it’s a book or a poem or a short story. Never mind if it’s a plot, or a vision, or even a sentence fragment. This week, I wrote it down, and admired how it looked on the page.

Third, and I feel super-woo-woo about talking about this, is the Priming Experiment I did last week. Remember the word jumble? (And by the way, apologies about the word jumble! There is a certain craft to puzzle-making that I haven’t fully realized yet. If you read it and gave up in disgust, please check out the early comments HERE for hints – it’ll make things a lot easier!)

I’d based the exercise on some research I’d read about in Dan Ariely’s Predictably Irrational and Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking Fast and Slow. The research they’d quoted implied that if we are presented with ideas associated with “old”, it will influence our thinking and behavior to the extent that many participants in an experiment actually walked down the hall more slowly, like old people. (io9 has a summary HERE of The Florida Effect)

So, I created a word puzzle associated with positive writing, in the hopes it’d help us write faster and more romantically. It was like posting a yard sign in front of the Creative Basement in my mind, with big red letters saying, “LET’S WRITE!”

But priming my creative process didn’t just stop there. I tried three new techniques to help put me in the mood for writing.

First, at the top of my work-in-progress (WIP) document, I placed a horoscope. Now, I don’t believe in astrology, but I do believe in priming, and I was very lucky to stumble across a horoscope that told me, “(Y)ou are in the midst of a highly creative phase” and “you’ve been treading water long enough; it’s finally time to move forward.” It was the perfect blend of current hardship, and promised reward for effort.

I think I’m going to start saving a picture file of helpful horoscope screenshots that I can use to inspire a WIP. The date or the zodiac sign doesn’t matter to me – what I want is an encouraging message that I must scroll past every time I open that writing document.

Second, I used photos. Now, lots of people know the benefits of keeping a story Pinterest board. I have been using regular computer files of story-inspiring pictures since 2012. But for the first time, I pasted the pics right into my document. This time, I had clothes, a picture of the hero, and a fabulous shot of the heroine’s living room that was hugely helpful for grounding me right into the story. So, don’t just stick those story pics into a file – either collage them like Jennifer Crusie (here’s an essay of hers on collaging and some pictures of collages for her books) or put them in the document or paste them on the paper. Make sure you SEE them when you are writing.

Third, my current YouTube obsession tied into the story perfectly. I haven’t started a formal YouTube playlist for my new universe (yet), but during my downtime, I obsessively watched videos that I wanted to watch. I can’t tell you how many earbugs I’ve had this week! Fragments of songs, mixing and matching and forming a soundtrack in my head that played as I wrote. I think this was very important – lots of input in the evening, and then no music at all during the writing so I could “hear” my brain processing what it learned the night before.

Well, anyway, everyone gets into story their own way. Some writers probably scoff at this elaborate attempt at self-hypnosis (I am a writer, I am a writer, I am a writer). But it seems like many successful writers have their own Thing that says, “time to write”. A lucky sweater (Edward Gorey’s Mr. Earbrass Writes a Novel), a magic teacup (Emma Newman talks to Victoria Schwab, who has two magic teacups on Tea and Jeopardy), or The One Pen To Rule The Words (What your pen says about you, from the Atlantic Online).

It may be a placebo. Well, that’s OK. I’ve heard there’s scientific evidence that proves a placebo will often work even if you know it’s a placebo – but as long as you think placebos work. (Hee-hee, take your time with that sentence. It’s pretty deep and scary, but somehow reassuring.) It may be a fluke. OK, I’ve got a story out of the fluke, which is one accomplishment for 2016. But what if it’s real? I’ve got to try it again.

Writing should be a reward for a hard day, and full of joys and thrills and adventures. I hope your writing week goes well, too.

12 thoughts on “Michaeline: Prime Results

  1. That’s fantastic Michaeline! I’m so happy you’ve been able to find triggers to help your creative process. I found your priming exercise very helpful last week. I’ve had good success in the past doing a similar priming with certain songs or, most recently, watching specific scenes from a movie that triggered the feeling/emotion that I was trying to capture in my story.

    Giving yourself “permission this year to write happily, to write what I wanted to write” is great, and isn’t that why we all write? That’s how I made my way through NaNo in November and it’s something I’ve been trying to keep actively doing this year.

    • Yeah, we should be writing for fun. I’ve been kind of caught up in the “shoulds”. I should be writing a book. I should be writing a great, structurally sound book. I should be writing romance, but not too much, because I don’t want to give the SFF people romance cooties.

      And of course, I’m writing for Fa-ame (fame, fame, fame, fame, fame, fame, fame). Which even David Bowie acknowledged as “what you need you have to borrow”.

      I’m going to write for me. (-: Remind me of this post if I slip into the deep doldrums again, and start focusing more on the “shoulds” than the “coulds.”

      So glad you had a good week! Movie clips are so powerful. I wish I had mad editing skilz and could get some onto my computer and make a “warm-up compilation” for slow mornings.

      • Congratulations, Michaeline, I’m so happy for you (incidentally do you actually type ‘the end’?).

        Last year I also let myself get caught up in the ‘shoulds’ instead of trusting my instincts, and I’m determined not to do that again this year. Maybe we can all keep one another on track!

        I love the idea of the horoscopes, and the images. I had to be dragged kicking and screaming to try collaging in class, but now I’m a convert. I think a good trigger place for a collage would be my laptop’s screen saver. I’m going to give that a try. Thanks!

        • (-: I sure did write “The End” this time. I felt like it was worth it. Corny, huh? I think I do for about half of my stories.

          Learning how to use pictures period in class was a big eye-opener. I don’t tend to be a very visual person. The pictures do help.

  2. Smiling from ear to ear to read this, Michaeline!

    Lots of writers have rituals that help them focus and relax. Mine is to go to the gym at 5 a.m. for an hour, then walk the dog a mile as a cool down. It doesn’t work 100% of the time, but it works more often than not.

    • (-: I hope it’s infectious!

      I’ve heard so many good things about walking as a way of working out plot. And, a body in good working order is not bothering the brain about tendonitis and vague aches and pains. Good for you for getting up and doing that! (Bet the dog loves it, too!)

    • I’m hoping I get a positive feedback going by spring, so I don’t need tricks and magic to get started. But then again, the tricks are pretty fun in and of themselves, so as long as they don’t grow too elaborate, I think I’m fine. (-: I think you have a positive feedback loop going already!

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