Surf’s up – the big wave
I’ve had the experience one too many times now: I finally stopped and paid attention.
I’m futzing about, surfing the web a bit, looking at my daily round of writing blogs and publishing blogs (I usually have the self-discipline not to head for Facebook in the early morning; usually…)
And I come across the big payoff: someone says something – this morning it was DM – that seems exactly right for where I am in writing the current scene, and I get both excited at my find AND guilty at the surfing.
Guilty, Your Honor!
The guilt part comes because I didn’t just block off the web and get to work this morning. In my usual defense, the brain wasn’t on yet, and I like reading almost as much as writing, and the writing part is going to be slow…
The most powerful reward possible: long-term intermittent postitive
And I often find these nuggets, like truffles, after I’ve rooted around for a while in the blogosphere (often way too long). So, the most intense kind of behavioral reward—the long-term intermittent jackpot reinforcer (remember the rat/pigeon experiments? the ones where the animals will keep pressing the reward lever until they literally die of hunger? because they know that there is SOMETIMES a reward?).
This is the reason it is so hard NOT to surf the web: because sometimes, just often enough, you find exactly what you’re looking for. The brain goes Yes! The mind focuses, you go off to USE the reward nugget – and your bad behavior – wasting time poking around an infinite source of garbage – is mightily reinforced.
I’m going after that reward when I’m stuck – and I will go on looking for it until I die (the brain turns off and I need to go to sleep) – or, on the lucky days, I FIND IT!
Why is this a problem?
There IS a problem, I can’t write until I solve it, and I have the intuition to find a solution.
Why is it useful to understand my own seemingly counterproductive behavior?
Because I can learn to identify the FEELING that leads to the surfing (in this case, I have a knotty problem – naughty problem (thank you, Dr. Freud) – and that makes me anxious), and see if I can’t find a better, shorter, more effective, and more reliable way to solve the problem I’ve identified.
Identifying problem leads to possible solutions
To stop being long-winded about it: my backbrain knows there’s a problem (usually I haven’t dug deeply enough, don’t have enough conflict in the scene), and I don’t seem to be addressing it, so it refuses to let me write the scene – using my lack of willpower to make me do what it wants, go out there, figure out the problem the hard way, and THEN it lets me write (the scene flows out like water the last times this happened – I hope it will happen again today).
When I find the solution to today’s problem, I KNOW. Backbrain gets all excited, I block the web, mysteriously get to work, and out comes the story making me feel a little foolish because it must have been there all along if it came out that easily, right?
WRONG. It might have been there in some fragmentary way from the plotting I do, but I haven’t even really identified why it’s there, and do not have it locked down, even in a minor way. It’s incomplete, whatever I have in there. It’s NOT ready to be written. I don’t know yet why I’m going to write it.
All the backbrain knows is LACK OF SATISFACTION.
A great servant, a lousy master. And then it takes credit.
I am a slave to some structure buried deep in my subconscious, the one that created the details in this story, that locked down how it had to go to come out right. And apparently I’m not going to be able to just toss it off.
It is going to be work. Maybe I can focus better, use the feeling to keep asking the necessary questions, look for solutions consciously, in what I already know, in the books I have at hand to trigger ideas. Keep asking myself if I’m unsatisfied, if I’ve put the conflict in the scene is begging for because it’s right under the surface in the very conception of showing this scene in the story. I thought I’d already done that. I skimped. The previous two scenes – from the povs of the other two characters – were hell to write. Maybe I wanted an easier one, thought I deserved an easier one. Well, guess what: you never deserve anything. You have to want it and earn it and create it from scratch.
Is it harder for me, with the CFS brain fog lurking? I don’t know – I think all writers have at least some of this going on if they’re paying attention.
In retrospect, though, I must admit to feeling as ecstatic as the pigeons when the nugget falls. Them nuggets is DELICIOUS.
Do you look into your own inexplicable behavior for tasty bits?