The other kind of writer’s block…
Ah, writer’s block — that scary situation in which you sit staring at the blank page or screen and can’t conjure a single thing to write. It’s a common occurrence, happens to nearly all of us at some point. Once in a while it can be so debilitating that a writer may throw in the towel and give up for good. That is the writer’s block we are all familiar with.
Sometimes, though, the opposite situation challenges us — that is, having too many ideas clogging up our brains. There are several ways exploding brain syndrome presents itself.
When we first manifest a desire to write, it may not be clear what type of writing we want to do or what we might actually be good at. Let’s suppose that ultimately your desire is to write a novel. That is a daunting task to tackle without any writing experience. You decide to start a blog, follow other writers to see what they’re doing. Suddenly you are exposed to multiple writing styles, genres, and subject matter. Micro-fiction, short stories, serial fiction, personal journals, poetry in all its varieties… It’s all good! You want to try everything. And you can and should.
But… just try one or two things at a time. Don’t attempt everything all at once. I love the idea of micro-fiction as a starting point for story-telling. It forces a writer to be concise, to choose words carefully so as to convey the entire story in a small package. Six words stories, thirteen words stories, one hundred words stories — all of these types of challenges are floating around Bloglandia. Try doing one of those every week. Or try a poetry challenge, perhaps a haiku or a limerick. Notice I said or not and? The point is if you try to do it all at once, you will be very unfocused. You won’t excel at anything.
If you are an avid reader, the material you read might spark an idea. Or several hundred. (Exaggeration for emphasis!) That happens to me all the time. Some little side plot or one of the secondary characters sticks in my head and I wonder what kind of story they have to tell me. That’s what your notebooks, index cards or files on your computer are good for. Save all those good ideas for further exploration at a later date. For now, pick one and concentrate on it.
Even experienced writers can have exploding brains. You would think that after a while, you’d start to run out of new stories to tell but sometimes the opposite happens. A story can take on a life of its own, turning into a complicated mess that becomes unmanageable. Why? It can be difficult to bring a story to a conclusion. Even a well-plotted and outlined story might take an unexpected detour. You introduce a twist you hadn’t originally anticipated, but it’s so good you can’t ignore it! It must be written! That’s fine. Actually, that’s great! Keep going with it. But go back and review your outline, rework it so that the story doesn’t end up becoming “War and Peace” (300,000+ words)!
Alternatively, maybe the whole story works. With a novel, there’s nothing that says you can’t finish up the main story arc, leave a cliffhanger for the sequel, and publish what you have. Or alternatively, finish the whole thing and edit the hell out of it. You may find, upon review, that you have a lot of unnecessary filler. That is inevitable. My first book was over 110k words – way too long for the genre. I edited it down to 91k. That’s a lot to lose. So take a good look at what you’ve got and see where you can trim. If you don’t find that much to cull, outline what you have and look for natural breaks in the action. See if one of those breaks would make a good spot to pause the story for the sequel.
In the end, it seems that having too many ideas can be as debilitating as not having any ideas at all. The key to successfully overcoming exploding brain syndrome is to approach your ideas in an organized manner. Be meticulous about recording your ideas in a file — either paper or electronic. While experimenting with other types of writing, approach each one at a time. Don’t lose sight of your ultimate goal. And more importantly, don’t let your brain explode.