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"Writing Invention" is the term for "thinking of things to write about next." This is the one activity that occupies the minds of most writers, so it helps to have a mind-jogging tool like LOOP WRITING. Whether you have writer's block or are just STUCK at some point of a script, manuscript, poem, or whatever, Loop Writing can help you move past those subconscious fences.
A subconscious fence is one of those invisible brain-blockers that goes up the second you start thinking, “I have to write something!” Oh jeez! There’s nothing worse than getting marshmallow-brain while under the pressure of a deadline, especially when those 2AM eyelids are drooping low.
All you really need to know is that Loop Writing is a process of dumping all those superficial ideas--the ones on top of your brain--in order to get to the more meaningful ideas at the bottom. You start with whatever pops into your brain first, move forward with a toddler’s curiosity for exploration--eyes open, hands out, tongue ready for tasting--and then loop around to the beginning concept.
How does this look in actual practice?
Let's start with a random thought, like a couple sinking in a rowboat. This idea just popped into my head, or, rather, just came from the top of my head, so I’m NOT going to judge it or overthink it. I’m going to honor its presence and play with it! This is my BEGINNING CONCEPT.
ON PAPER, I'm drawing a boat with two people--a better visual--and writing "boat sinking," "couple," "big problem," "oars or no oars?" "sunny or raining?" "alone or friends nearby?" "close to land or far?"Where are they going?"
Essentially, I have two people in a specific place with an obvious problem, and I’m excited! It doesn’t seem like much yet, but trust me, this is good stuff. Really good stuff, and I've got some SLEUTHING to do.
I’m asking myself some basic questions, like…WHO are these people? WHY are they in a sinking boat? WHAT is the reason for this outing? WHERE are they going? WHEN is this occurring? Was this a happy adventure turned bad, a trip of reconciliation, or an offshoot of couple’s therapy to figure out if they should stay together?
My pen is moving fast to WRITE ASSOCIATE THOUGHTS like “vulnerable," "floating," "paddling," "dark water," "scary," "death," "marriage," "heartbreak," "anger," "divorce," "choices...” pretty much EVERYTHING that comes to mind. The stuff that comes out is greatly influenced by PSYCHOLOGY, so this list is going to be very different for each writer.
REMEMBER...the idea is to PURGE brain clutter onto paper so you can see everything more clearly and separate. When my hand has run out of stuff to write, I look at my paper. It's messy with words, as it should be, but I'm also seeing a COMMON THEME coming through.
This couple is on the brink of not being a couple, and they are METAPHORICALLY heading straight downstream! I don’t see a joyful pairing. I’m only imagining a couple at odds, drifting toward that proverbial fork on a relatively calm river, seated close yet miles apart, and heading to an unknown destination.
It’s poignant and fertile for previous and continued CONFLICT. I'm now thinking that this couple is on an "excursion to say goodbye," but one is certain and the other is conflicted. The fork implies a major choice leading to a major change. Very soon, their lives could be very different, but I also see that the boat has a small leak, suggesting that they still have a chance to salvage their relationship.
NOTICE that I’m writing about two people as though they are distant from myself (as well as one another), and, second, that I’m aware that the relationship may be beyond repair. This is a CLUE about the information my mind is actively working with and what STORY it wants to tell. At this point, I acknowledge that there is a strong PARALLEL to my own life and struggles, and I take a small leap of self-analysis to connect the dots.
ON PAPER, I write "marriage end," "very sad," "no choice." In real life, my marriage ended, and I didn't have any choice in the matter. My husband wanted to leave, and I wanted to preserve the family. It was a very sad time, as I was trying to salvage a sinking ship that had taken on too much water, and he wasn't helping.
I know this is an intimate reveal, but the purpose of sharing is to show how WRITING CONNECTS TO REAL LIFE. You may think you're working on a space adventure, but, make no mistake, there is most likely a deep emotional reason why you want to tell that particular story. You don't have to write toward that reason, but, if you HONOR THIS CONNECTION, your characters will be more authentic and layered in their experiences.
Once you get to the HEART OF THE CLUTTER, you're ready to LOOP BACK TO THE BEGINNING.
The couple in the rowboat are no longer strangers to me. They are also not me, but I understand their predicament of emotional parting. Instead of sitting still, I see "the woman" leaning over the side, precariously reaching for something to plug the hole, and "the man" is watching with mild concern, occasionally cupping out handfuls of water.
This is THE SETUP. "She" is reaching for a solution, and "he" isn't the least bit interested. The SYMBOLISM indicates that their life goals are no longer compatible...and neither are they. "He" knows it, but "she" is not ready to accept this. "She" is still hopeful despite his attitude and the leaky boat, and is on a marriage-saving mission. In fact, I'm now writing that this outing was "her" idea, and "he" was playing along just to be nice. Ironically, though, he's going to use this moment to tell her that he's really leaving.
Of course he is! The story needs IRONY and CONFLICT. We see "the woman's" placid demeanor take a sudden turn as she pounds an oar into the small hole to make it bigger. More irony! The water is now really coming in and "the man" is working like heck to scoop it out, while "the woman" casually rows them back to the dock. More conflict!
The boat doesn't make it back to the dock, so they swim the remaining distance--both furious--every man for himself!
"The man" outpaces "the woman" and trudges across the beach and out of sight. We hear an engine roar and then screeching tires spraying out gravel. The soggy and breathless woman crawls out from the shallows and collapses onto the sandy shore to sob. Her marriage is really over--verbally and metaphorically--and now she knows it. The sun is fading quickly, so the last of the beach-dwellers pack up and head toward the parking lot.
The writer in me looks all around the beach for someone to provide comfort, but everybody is gone. A brisk breeze crosses over "the woman." She looks up, sees her abandoned surroundings, and sobs again. I feel bad for her, but, mostly, I'm pissed that "the man" just left her there and worried--like a mother would be--about how she'll get home.
In the empty parking lot, a vintage mustang pulls up, "Movin' Out" by Billy Joel playing on the radio, headlights fixed on "the woman." Two shadowy figures step out of the running car and walk in the beams of the headlights toward "the woman."
A young girl kneels down to touch "the woman's" shoulder. "Are you okay?" The woman bursts up, all soggy and sandy, but is immediately calmed by the handsome and friendly face of the girl's father, who offers her a blanket.
As the mustang cruises along the dark and winding road, the woman stares out the window, contemplating her life, and sees the glare of moonlight reflecting off the windshield of a car in a shallow ravine.
The threesome stop and climb down to investigate the smashed-up car and find the woman's blood-covered and lifeless husband collapsed forward in the driver's seat. The stranger checks both the wrist and the carotid for a pulse and shakes his head. Confirming for herself, the woman touches her husband's lacerated face and recoils at the coolness.
At the cemetery, a young, pretty woman lays an extravagant bouquet of roses on top of the casket, and she and "the woman" lock eyes for a moment--one bitter, one guilty--before the young woman drives off alone. When the crowd disperses, the stranger and his daughter step forward to place a colorful spray of wildflowers. The girl whispers that they're from the place her husband was found, and the stranger proffers a gallant arm.
The woman nods her appreciation and links up with the stranger to leave the gravesite without looking back.
I can keep going, but my point here is to show how effective LOOP WRITING can be in kicking off a story.
One thing to remember is that though this story took a sad turn, it didn't start out as a story. It began simply with a couple in a leaky rowboat. We know so much more about this twosome because I followed bread crumbs that began as BASIC QUESTIONS. So far, we know that "the man" found someone else he wanted to be with, broke up with his hopeful wife, died, and left his wife to start her life anew.
The story involves infidelity, but I have to ask myself if I want to continue on this painful and overexposed path. Maybe and maybe not. I'm an optimist who believes in happy endings, but, at the same time, I also believe that things aren't always as they seem. I like that the husband is gone, but I don't want his story to end there. We know that their real and metaphoric boat was sinking, so there must be more to both sides of this story.
Already I'm deciding to make this a story of hope and second chances. Obviously, the time has passed for this couple, but "the woman" has no choice but to start a new chapter. Her husband's death is the INCITING INCIDENT that pushes her to live her life in a different way, but first, she has to figure out what was wrong with the old way.
After the funeral, she's going to be subdued and allow the nice stranger to comfort and console her and convince her she's better off without her husband. She'll agree, despite believing she messed up somewhere, desperately needing to be soothed by this kind stranger's validation. Eventually, the fog of grief dissipates, and the flashbacks begin. She first remembers the night she planned a thorough romancing--with him texting to say he'd be very late AGAIN--and then she'll become extremely bitter.
She's so bitter, in fact, that she hunts down the young woman at her husband's workplace and sets out to catch her, after hours, with another married executive. Mission accomplished, she sends plenty of incriminating photographs to the executive's wife, thinking this will cause trouble for the home-wrecker. Oddly enough, the executive's wife is not surprised or looking to retaliate; she merely adds the photos to her already thick collection and calls her lawyer.
On a date with the kind stranger, "the woman" confesses about what she did and how it went wrong, and the appalled stranger storms out. She chases after him to ask why he's so angry, and he says that if she were truly happy with him, she never would have done that. He already knows what life is like with a bitter woman, and he doesn't want a repeat.
Once again feeling rejected, the woman goes out with a few other disgruntled men before returning to her psychologist. She knows she needs help to break this bad cycle, but is she ready to do the work? In therapy, the woman is asked to think back to a time when she was not such a good wife. What?!! The woman is mega-pissed. She knows she was a good wife and doesn't even want to consider anything along these lines, but she flashes back to a time when her husband made her dinner, and she under-gushed the gesture by complaining about the undercooked meatloaf (her favorite) and God-forbid, the messy kitchen!
Okay, I'll stop there. I didn't mean to carry on, but I wanted you to see how one "LOOPED" idea becomes a story.
Make no mistake in underestimating the depths of your subconscious. It is an abyss of ideas, experiences, hopes, dreams, nightmares, fears, and traumas of all sizes just waiting to be freed...and transformed!
As you can see, allowing yourself the freedom to purge those inner thoughts (and secrets) from a broad starting point is a great way to shake all those wacky ideas from their hiding places...in droves! They’re like little kids; they want to be found, and they want to bring all their wacky little friends along. Zillions of them! Sneaky friends, speedy friends, and plenty of those clever little mavericks that hunker down in places you never thought to look, so they can scare you from behind! In these ways, LOOP WRITING is just like playing a game of Hide and Seek, and you are the perpetual seeker!
Have fun with it! Write anything you want, any way you want, and be completely defiant of anything resembling proper grammar and spelling. Seriously! Play in the mud! Put everything on paper as messy as you can tolerate, and know that everything is fodder for the telling or the trash...and it doesn’t matter which! No witnesses, no judges, just a Tarantino version of the Wild West.
The big idea is to honor all your small ideas! One tiny nugget can lead to a gold mine. You never know. Comedy improvisation works in a similar way. A participant is handed a banana, for example, and he/she has to fabricate, on the fly, a relationship (movie producers), a place (film screening), and a ridiculous or plausible purpose for that banana--such as a telephone--and then pass it on to the next player, who must accept, without question, the entire set-up. The sketch builds upon the tele-banana or steers off on a completely different tangent when one person peels it open, takes a bite, and falls to the floor, and the other listens to someone against the collapsed person's belly. Once again, freedom of expression is the game.
Scribble to exhaustion or SCHEDULE yourself a block of time every day to do this "exercise." But, definitely, don't think of it as work; think of it as a mystery to be solved, one crazy clue at a time. When you’re done, you will have a comprehensive foundation for building your story and for asking more questions. Seriously! Give it a whirl!
Copyright February 2020 - Terrie Hayes