Wednesday, May 3, 2017

IWSG: Retrain My Brain


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I'm participating in Story A Day, and one of the suggestions for keeping momentum going through this month of daily writing is gathering Story Sparks. Basically Story Sparks - details from the world around you, "What if?' questions, memories, etc. - spark or enrich a story. Now, as founder Julie Duffy says:

"Set yourself a goal of gathering three story sparks every day and you will find yourself seeing the world in a different way (a writer’s way). Aim to have 15 at the end of each week, but don’t collect them all on one day. By getting into the habit of observing the world around you and capturing story sparks daily, you are training your brain to see the world through an artist’s filter. This will help immeasurably when you sit down to write."
Well, I'm pretty sure my "artist's filter" looks like my dryer's lint trap - gray and fuzzy and leaving my ideas like my clothes - damp, limp and funky-smelling. The older I get, the more other stuff - fluffs of reality! bunnies of dust! - clogs my creativity, vagues my vision.  

I definitely have to clean off my imagination, but scraping my nails around my brain and throwing away the gunk isn't really an option. How do I clean up my focus, get it clear and sharp again? How do I retrain my brain to see those sparks? 

77 comments:

  1. I know it's not a funny situation at all but I had to laugh at the dryer lint trap. Sounds a lot like my whole brain these days. I've never heard of story sparks but love the idea and am going to try to capture them myself.
    Hope you are enjoying the story challenge so far. Go you!

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    1. My brain really does feel like that lately, but hey, at least I got a good description out of it, right? :)

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  2. Hang out with kids. Seriously. Take a 3 to 8 year old out for a day and just listen. =) When I was a teen, I totally could have completed that challenge, but not anymore. Too much life. Once a month coming up with a new story idea is a great pace for me though...except I can never find the time to write that fast. Good luck!

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    1. I think kids would find me too boring to hang out with. I'm not that exciting. :)

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  3. I love the dryer lint analogy - very clever and funny :-) I'm not sure what the trick is to retraining one's brain. I wish I had a magic answer, although Crystal's suggestions of hanging out kids is a good one. Their creativity might inspire your own.

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    1. I'm thinking I might need to either focus more and harder on the possibilities around me OR let myself go all loose and day-dreamy and just be more open to ideas.

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  4. If you get a story out of those link bunnies, let me know.
    Most of mine come from movies and shows. And I am more than happy to keep watching for more!

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    1. If only the lint bunnies turned into story bunnies! I could raise them and care for them like farm animals, feed them all organic carrots and such until they become big, strapping, strong stories...what were we talking about?

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    2. Not sure, but you may have just given me a story idea...

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  5. By reading. I get into the grove and snag creative sparks along the way as I read really good books.

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    1. Good idea! I tend to get too sucked into the story though to pay attention to much else. :)

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  6. Loved the way you wrote this - such a beautiful way to talk about the gunk of plot messiness. I love your last comment I can see here about caring for plot bunnies like farm animals and raising them to be strong stories. It usually takes me years to corral some of my plot bunnies into one place and grow them into mutant bunnies of any kind of strength. Currently, I'm working on a WIP based on a short story that I wrote four years ago. The plot bunny got too well-fed on the dandelion weeds of my imagination so I captured it. :)

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    1. Mutant bunnies?! Like zombies? :o

      I love the idea of a well-fed plot bunny being too fat and lazy and content to escape. If only all our ideas were as easy to capture. :)

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  7. Heh, dryer lint! I get sparks from all over. Shows and books, just watching people, and as Crystal suggested, from children.

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    1. As long as we don't get actual sparks from the dryer...that would not be good.

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  8. I made a discovery the other day. When I write, I meditate. If nothing comes to mind, I wait in the quiet or tuned into Spotify. I outline, so I have a writing prompt, and I let it happen.

    I suggest jotting down the flashes of dust and lint to destroy later, sit somewhere quiet that feels good, and jot down plot points. As many as possible. Then the next day focus on one and make it happen. Let that one point fill in organically. Rewrite it. Sharpen it until there is nothing left to say.

    Let me know how you do. :-)

    Anna from elements of emaginette

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    1. I do have folders of what I call story seeds that I can pick from when needed. It's just been awhile since I've added to them, like I've stopped paying attention the way I used to.

      I love the idea of sitting, waiting in the quiet. Aaaah!

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  9. I jot ideas in a notebook and then weed through them when it's full and keep the keepers and toss the bad. It's like finding change in the laundry- it's not as abundant as the lint, but they're there.

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    1. I weed through my story seeds folders once in awhile, and I'm always surprised at some of the good stuff that's in there. Of course, I also come across things that I can't for the life of me figure out why I saved.

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  10. I'm not sure if you need to clean the filter. I just write down any of these "sparks" as they come to me: bits of conversations, dreams, stories other people tell me. Probably about 1% of these ever make it into a story--but I guess for me the clarity comes when the idea or spark doesn't let me alone. If I can't forget it, it usually becomes a story--but often not until years after I first thought of it.

    But I feel a bit the same way as you, as I get older, my mind sure is a lot more cluttered.

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    1. I used to keep a loose kind of dream journal for all my weird dreams and nightmares, how they made me feel, etc.

      I think for me it's about reminding myself to pay attention to those sparks again. I've gotten lazy!

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  11. I think it's easy for life to kind of over-fill us so we stop seeing stuff. Maybe the answer is to slow down, and to be deliberate and conscious about it. If you are thinking about being open to story sparks (I like the idea and the image) as you go about life, I'm guessing they'll start pouring in. I know I go through dry periods when ideas are more scarce, and other times when I have more ideas than I can cope with. I need to be better about storing the over-flow for dry times.

    —Rebecca
    My IWSG Post

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    1. Being more deliberate and conscious are great suggestions! In looking for those sparks AND in letting myself relax enough to allow them to come to me.

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  12. I love that dryer lint trap metaphor.

    The idea of trying to gather three story sparks every day stresses me out. I feel like I'd put way too much pressure on myself and end up coming up with nothing. Wishing you the best of luck with this—it sounds like a very cool endeavor!

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    1. Thanks, MJ! Yeh, three seems like a lot to me, too. I'm aiming for one a day or a few a week. :)

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  13. I LOVE the way you described the state of your "artist's filter." That in itself shows how much talent you have. Maybe you're putting too much pressure on yourself, and "expecting" your mind to explode with fantastic ideas. Relax. Take a walk, and just spend time appreciating what you see around you. You don't have to write about any of it... yet... just experience it. Listen to the people around you. (Try not to be too obvious, though. Some people have NO sense of humor...) Read things that spark your imagination, even if it's in a genre you've never read before. And yes, if at all possible, spend time with children. Seeing the world through their eyes is a learning experience in itself. It IS possible to recapture the wonder.

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    1. Aw, thanks, Susan!

      Pressure? Me? Nah! Okay, I do often believe I "should" be more creative than I am, that my mind "should" be full of amazing ideas all the time, etc. Sigh. What was I thinking?

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  14. I get into the writing groove by reading, listening to music and going for long walks! Sometimes even photographs spark off a story idea!

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    1. Photographs are an excellent idea, Rachna! Thanks for that reminder. :)

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  15. I'd suggest doing other creative things that have nothing to do with writing. As for me, traveling always works. Really blasts you out of that comfort zone and makes you SEE.

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    1. Yes, but you go to some really creepy places! I have enough trouble traveling without haunted islands being my destination. :)

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  16. I'd like to give some advice, but I haven't quite figured out what sparks my ideas. They like to hit me all at once and by the most random things.

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    1. I hear you about the randomness of those sparks' subject matter. I've got everything from news stories to scraps of dialogue I've overheard to snippets of dreams I've had. Now, if I put them all together....

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  17. The story sparks come when I least expect them. Usually, then when my mind is completely off in other things. Forcing never works. Or I talk to my brother-his mind is a weird place.

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    1. Isn't it fun when those ideas arrive and you can't get to a pen and paper?!

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  18. I also write down any sparks I get for the future. Some may be used, others won't, but there's really no telling.

    Good luck with StoryADay!

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    1. You really never know which of those sparks will turn into an inferno.

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  19. You know, I hear that lint is actually a really good fire starter. Just a spark, and blamo! Maybe the lint is exactly what you need?

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    1. Now that's an interesting way to look at it all, Loni. :)

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  20. Oh man. I have SO MANY ideas. It is the coherence threading them together I've been having trouble finding. I seem to have a lot of scraps these days without the full stories. Good luck!

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    1. Maybe you could start braiding and weaving all those story-lint pieces together, come up with a kind of really weird quilt.... :)

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  21. Interesting....I will have to give this some thought. I'm great at saving news articles & other written stuff for stories but not so great looking at the outside world.

    DB McNicol, author & traveler

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    1. That's how it is with me, too. When I'm out and about, I tend to keep my head down and just get things done. Hmm, might have to lift my head up and look around more. :)

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  22. It sounds to me that it's not that you're not able to glean the sparks, it's that there are too many other wispy clouds of distraction getting in the way of those sparks.

    It happens to me too. I allow myself to get distracted (more often than I should) but eventually I reach a point of saturation. I clean my desk, lay out my notebook full of notes, chores, or ideas, and then dive in.

    My brain reaches a point where it scolds me to get the lead out. :)

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    1. Yep. I let other things cloud - ha! see what I did there? - my creativity, and I can't see where it is I want to, need to, go, or who I am anymore.

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  23. Read, Watch Movies, Listen to music, get out of the house, blog or journal, cast my characters, create character profile, read you guys. Great post.
    ' Juneta @ Writer's Gambit

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    1. "Read you guys" is so totally true, today especially with all the awesome IWSG posts about all the funky research you all do. :)

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  24. The key for me is to jot down those story sparks when you get them! They fade like dreams and I forget too quickly.

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    1. I remember a famous author - I want to say it was Stephen King but I wouldn't swear to it - say that if some idea was that good, we'd remember it. Maybe, but I don't want to take those chances if I can help it. Give me a pen and paper, please! :)

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  25. Ha, excellent analogy with the lint filter - I think you see the sparks and just don't realize it.

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  26. Love the idea of story sparks. But 3 per day seems excessive. I would be happy with one a day or even a couple per week. Just got a really cool one from one of IWSG blog posts.

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    1. See, you were paying attention, being aware and you saw a story spark! Excellent!

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  27. I love the "what if" question. I cut out newspaper articles (or yes, [sigh], sometimes print them off the net) and pose a different outcome, i.e., fire destroys a house, but the family gets out safely. But "what if there's a dead body inside and no one knows who it is?" I have to admit, I never have trouble coming up with ideas - they are what clog up my filter. My problem is putting them together in a coherent piece. Good luck with your project.

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    1. It's funny because I can tell how old something in my story seeds folder is - yellowed newspaper article vs printed off the Internet. :)

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  28. I like this idea of gathering three story sparks a day!

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  29. The dryer lint had me laughing, Madeline! I keep my "story sparks" in a folder on my computer. I have hundreds of ideas. One thing I like to do is watch people in airports or in valet parking at a busy hotel; that gets my what ifs going! Good luck this month. A story a day sounds intimidating to me!

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    1. Thanks for the good luck wishes! So far, so good with the stories. :)

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  30. It definitely takes practice. Something to slowly improve the more you do.

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    1. When I was younger, those sparks seemed to jump out at me, waving, hollering "Here I am!" Now, I'm pretty sure they're hiding, giggling at me from inside all that lint....

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  31. Good morning, Madeline. I suggest reading Deep Work by Cal Newport. It helped me. One of the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers bloggers posted about it today: http://rmfw.org/deep-work/

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    1. I've heard of that book. I might've even seen it around here...hmm, maybe my husband was reading it....

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  32. Haha, the lint trap! I hate messing w/that thing. But it's necessary. =)

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    1. Both the actual lint trap and the one I call my mind/imagination. :)

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  33. I caught the mother of story sparks earlier this week and am planning a novel based on it. But the rest of my to-do list is thinking, "ARE YOU KIDDING ME? WHAT ABOUT ME?"

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    1. Do whatever you can to drown out that To Do List Voice! Cover your ears and sing "La la la la la" over and over until it shuts up. Let the novel voice SING! :)

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  34. Go for a crisp walk along the waterfront. Listen to the waves (at the beach or a recording) and let it empty out your mind. Do a load of laundry and listen to the humming... :-) Sending you lots of inspiration!
    Liesbet @ Roaming About – A Life Less Ordinary (May co-host)

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    1. I do kind of like listening to the thump and chunk of the dryer. Although, it can kind of sound like footsteps.... :o

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  35. I know what you mean about the lint trap. Good thing that stuff can easily peel off.

    I like to pay attention to the details my five senses are receiving, especially in environments that are less familiar. I also like to reflect on the dreams I have.

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    1. Interesting idea about the senses! I think I'll make more effort to focus on smell and hearing instead of always just sight.

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  36. Hmm, that's a tricky one. I feel the same way a lot - it's so easy to get bogged down in a routine! Sometimes it's about just taking a deep breath and trying to look at things as if you're seeing them for the first time. Good luck with Story a Day, sounds fun!

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    1. Thanks, Nick! And good point about taking a deep breath or two and trying to look at things differently.

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  37. My creative juices are always stirred when I'm reading a good book.

    A picture/word/phrase prompt and some stream-of-consciousness writing always does the trick! Writing prompts work for me.
    If you're so inclined, pop over to Amazon where you'll find some good writing prompt books, free of charge.

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    1. Good idea re the prompts! The woman who runs Story A Day has daily prompts, and I've been storing them up for later this month.

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  38. Mine probably looks like crusty dishes. lol

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    1. Ha ha ha! Love it! Now go give it/them a good scrubbing.... :)

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