Caps Lock Days

One of the most beautiful things about being a writer is the ability—well, for me, at least, the need—to create story, to design and get to know characters, to watch and manage how they interact within their environments and their circumstances. The process is surprising, incredible, and depressing in turns, but it’s never boring.

I’m a brainstormer. What I mean is that I’m somewhere between a plotter and a pantser, as I understand the terms. A plotter, in varying degrees, has an outline, a timeline, or a series of events set up in orderly fashion to assist the writer’s creative direction. He’s using a map. A pantser, on the other hand, may simply sit down and spill out what comes to mind, or might have an idea with little detail, or might have a few scenes and figure out how to link them together as he writes. This type of writer isn’t using a map to navigate the wild forest of plot, but is instead relying on the stars. But sometimes it’s cloudy, so he has to make his own way, even if it’s through an unforeseen ravine.

I like to think of myself as a compass writer. I don’t have a map, per se, and I’m not relying on the stars and my own curiosity to drive me toward a good camping ground, but I do have a compass. So even if I’m not sure where the campground is, I always know if I’m heading in the right direction.

I get to this point by sitting down and spilling out my thoughts in a brainstorming, what-if fashion. When I’m working on a project, I ask myself, who is this character? Why does he do this? Where is he at this point in the narrative? What is his relationship to the other characters? What is his motivation? And the million other questions that pop into my mind while I’m in that mindset. My compass keeps me focused on the project, but I’m not worried about the fiction writing aspect of it. Instead, I’m concerned with exploring the whole world in which the story takes place, its history and cultures and people. And it all comes full circle, because I have that handy compass with me, and the beauty of that instrument is that I’m not forced to rely on good weather or stay on a predetermined path. I can get lost for a while, because I know I can come back without destroying the story.

Why do I mention this? Because sometimes there are good days and sometimes there are bad. Sometimes, even with my compass, I still get caught in a clump of brambles, or I twist an ankle stepping in a plot hole, or I encounter a rabid plot bunny.

But sometimes, there are great days. Those are the days that make writing such a priceless treat, a pure and utter joy. They are the days marked by “aha” moments, or, in my manner, a sudden turning on of caps lock to express in my brainstorm document my sudden realization that this character is related to this character, which solves this problem and opens up this door. They are the days of wonderment, of finding in the story the hidden secrets, the twists, the solutions.

Because I’m brainstorming for four books (or five if including the first book, which I’m still editing), there have been a lot of “caps lock days” in the last three weeks. It’s been such a wonderful experience.

I record this as hope for those who haven’t had caps lock days in some time, or those who have had them and have lost them, maybe even those who are in the midst of caps lock days. I’m recording it for my future self, on those days when I’m ready to give up and turn away from the project at hand. Remember those good times writing, because those moments, fleeting or plentiful as they may be, make writing worth the struggle. It’s not just a privilege, but a delight.

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