The more I learn about writing, the harder it is. Back when I knew nothing, I would just leap to the page in joy. I created with unabashed passion. I had no critical brain, only creative.

Now, I can still tap into that creativity but it’s hard for me to stay there. My critical brain is always looking over my shoulder, asking questions:

“Does that advance your story?”

“Could you be less expository?”

“Is that the character or are you on your soapbox?”

“Is that the right word?”

“Could this passage serve more than one purpose?”

“Who talks like that?”

These are all good questions, and they need to be asked. Critical brain has improved my final product greatly. The problem is that critical brain keeps jumping in the middle of my playtime and kicking sand in the face of my creative brain. Critical brain is a bully. Creative brain has an inferiority complex. Not a good combo.

The result is my seeming inability to get my stories out the door.

It’s taken me a very long time to start to be able to see how critical brain can improve my writing. I rejected her for so long she learned to be awfully passive aggressive. But she does have her purpose. She’s got my back in a foxhole. She makes sure I don’t leave the proverbial house with proverbial toilet paper stuck to my proverbial shoe. But when I just want to hang out and create, she’s kind of a pushy bitch.

I’ve tried distracting her, kicking her out of my office, bullying her, even giving her free reign. But she is singular in purpose, digging in her heels while creative brain goes off flitting after lightning bugs. So I’ve found bigger guns.

My writing life now is filled with a complicated set of sticks and carrots. Critical brain loves rewards, but even more, she hates to be punished. And I’ve found some great ways to keep her in line. Actually, my friend Désirée has found some great ways of keeping critical brain in line. Désirée kicks my critical brain’s ass.

I met Des at a workshop in Squaw Valley years ago. She’s from Southern California and loves Lake Tahoe. I live near it and never go there. We both wanted to get away and just be writers once in awhile. So we cooked up a plan to rent a cabin at Tahoe for a weekend and work out plots of the books we were stalled on. We did, and it was wonderful. We went again the next year but without real goals. It was still wonderful, but not as constructive. So we made a bet.

I needed to rewrite a book. I didn’t need to fiddle; I needed to cut out large chunks and rearrange what remained. But every time I opened the file I started tweaking language instead. And I was making the language worse. In this book, creative brain had done her job on a first draft with verve and style. Critical brain wanted to rein her in. Bad brain.

Des suggested that we have our works-in-progress rewritten by the time we met again in May. Plenty of time. If I didn’t? I had to write a painfully large check to a politician I deeply despised. Not only would it suck to fork over the money, but the check register would permanently remind me that I helped that person.

In typical Cindie fashion I waited until the last minute. Then I got sick. Had there not been that stick hanging over me I would’ve blown it off. But there was no way I was writing that check. And there was no way I was going to Tahoe as a welcher. The only way to bring an end to the tweaking and avoidance was to just finish the book, critical brain be damned. Come May, I showed up at the airport to pick up Des and drive to Tahoe with a complete book.

The following year we challenged each other to start and finish books before our return to Tahoe. The reward for this productivity was an extra day at the Lake. We met our goals and spent the weekend critiquing and brainstorming and writing (and eating and drinking and marveling at the beauty of the Lake right outside our window. Seriously, there is much marveling with us). That extra day was heavenly. We plan to do it again this coming year because we will have new manuscripts done by then.

Now we have smaller goals as well, goals designed to help us write more than one book a year and, more importantly for me, finally send them somewhere. We set weekly goals. We check in on our progress. And need be, Des will find another big-ass stick with which to threaten critical brain.

(One of my weekly goals is to write and post a new blog entry every Wednesday. I have a cold. I feel … not well. But I know Des is going to check in with me come Monday. So I’m sitting here writing while hopped up on cold pills. Critical brain is quiet. Maybe drugging her into oblivion is another stick. Or carrot.)

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2 Responses
  1. dana says:

    You know what works as a good carrot, at least for me? Carrot sticks. Kept just out of reach.

  2. Des says:

    Whoohoooo! Well, ya know I’m gonna love this post!
    Now I’m wondering, did you outsource your critical brain?

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Cindie Geddes

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