I think it was Michaelbrent Collings who once said that he doesn’t get writers block because so many things count as writing, such as going to see a movie or taking a walk in the park. Anything that “primes the pump”, so to speak, is writing.
I think there’s something to that. Most of the time we writers feel guilty if we’re not writing. But, truth be told, some of my best ideas or breakthroughs come when I’m somewhere else: in the shower, driving to work, walking the dog. Anytime I have time to just think can be productive time if I think about what I’m writing. And sometimes letting my mind wander is even better.
Recently I was thinking about the main characters is my current project, trying to decide the best way for them to meet. My mind began wandering, and suddenly I was envisioning a scene in which one character walks in on another character during a touching and revealing moment. I suddenly had new insight on one of my characters–and it may not even make it into the novel! I still have no idea where that idea came from. It was completely unrelated to any previous thoughts I’ve had about my characters, and yet it felt so right that I knew it was a piece of the puzzle.
It can be a good idea to step away from the keyboard from time to time and just think. Generate new ideas, no matter how crazy. Spend time interacting with the world. Think about how your characters would interact in normal, everyday situations, like ordering at McDonalds or picking up their dry-cleaning. Let your mind wander.
Our brains are marvelous and unpredictable, able to make intuitive and creative leaps beyond anything even the most powerful computers can achieve. It would take WETA’s entire rendering farm days to weeks to fully render the imagery our brains generate just imagining a half-hour dream about going back to high school wearing our pajamas.
If we’re lucky those epiphanies come while we’re at the keyboard. But as often as not the most startling ideas come out of nowhere when our brains are engaged on something entirely unrelated. We need to leave ourselves time to think in order to tap that creative power.
So get out there and put your mental Author’s Think Tank to work!