BeNaNo Bread

Last year, it was a thinking totem. This year…

BeNaNo-bread…it’s BeNaNo bread.

Okey-doke, I’m game. Here’s to BeNaNoWriMo!

See why I need Becca NaNoing? Without her, things would be a lot less interesting around here, and I’d be hungry.

I had another exciting breakthrough in my NaNo novel today. Well, exciting is relative, I suppose, but I’m pleased as chocolate milk, what with not being a punch fan and all.

Creative people are often asked, “where do you get your ideas?” The dissatisfying but true answer is always, “ideas are everywhere, you just need to learn to recognize them.” If you wait long enough, some ideas are bound to come to you. Other ideas must be hunted and tracked down. When I sit down to NaNo, I’m hunting. I feel more blind than in past years. Other work prevents me from thinking about this novel in non-NaNo hours, so I sit down with absolutely no idea what I will write. I have to hunt.

Mike and I play a word game together, not against each other, as a team. It’s a simple game: we make as many words as we can, three letters or more, from a given set of letters, in a given amount of time. I type, we both contribute words. It’s a game of speed, as you can guess.

Sometimes when our brains are gridlocked, I will simply type, rearranging the letters to see if anything new jumps out at one of us. Sometimes my fingers type words without my conscious brain telling them to do so.

When they type a word I don’t know, I’m pretty sure that’s dumb luck. But sometimes they type words I know well. Yesterday, my fingers typed “VOMIT” and my conscious brain didn’t recognize the word at first. It pronounced it “vohMITT,” like “emit.”

I want to know what’s going on in my brain when that happens. Is it just dumb luck, or is my unconscious brain playing, too?

Really. I want to know.

And I want to know how similar that process is to the one that suddenly produces a great idea for my NaNo story.

It’s a good question: Where do ideas come from?

Categories: Personal

7 replies »

  1. Chocolate milk, sort of an unfortunate metaphor at this time. Of course, I didn’t drink a glass of plain milk my entire childhood, yet here I am.

    If you were a romantic, you would believe that ideas are out there in the ether, and it takes someone special to wrangle them. Having been a writing teacher for 8 years, I go with free writing and plain old thinking. But that’s so unromantic.

    (Our newspaper has that word game. They tell you the number of words that are “average” and the maximum number that can be made. Four or more, and they don’t count plurals.)

  2. Yes, Jen, I’m pretty sure your unconscious brain was playing, too. Or more likely, your corpus callosum is functioning well and the two sides of your brain are both working to get out their take on the game. When you let your brain/mind “wander” without directing it, sometimes things come from one side without being “translated” by the other. It takes a moment to process the output into a coherent whole.
    It is something like the test/game- I really don’t know what to call it- where the word names of colors are printed in colors other than the word. E.g. RED might be printed in green or orange, PURPLE in blue, etc. The idea is to name the color- not the word- that you see. It is very tricky because written language and color perception are processed by different parts of the brain and it takes a concious effort to block one to allow the other to work. Added to the conundrum is that you then have to translate your visual perception of the color into language to say the name of the color and our brain tries to slip back into reading/language.
    Games like the one you play let our brains take over and share a bit. I think it is very like the process of NaNoWriting. There are times when you let your fingers type and don’t really care what is emerging, because it isn’t very good or interesting, but you don’t know what else to write. Then your brain suddenly goes on alert. Some connection has been made in your mind, that likely is n’t coherent or clear, but resonates. Now you have direction. It may end up a dead end, but it is a direction, it’s an IDEA.

  3. Oops! I hit the Post Comment button, and I wasn’t done. (You probably wish I was)
    As to where do ideas come from- I think there is a combination of the romantic and unromantic. Ideas are out there, in everything we sense and experience, but we need the actual writing and thinking to do anything with them. I love Jen’s suggestion that the trick is in recognizing the idea. During last year’s NaNo, Philip Pulman (The Golden Compass, et al) wrote about the “Where do you get your ideas” question. His response was that he doesn’t know, but he knows where they come to. His desk. And if he isn’t sitting there writing, he misses them.
    You have to be there when it comes, you have to recognize it and you have to do the hard work of nailing it down into words and making it your own.
    What’s that you say, Jen? Get back to writing that blasted, benighted, becursed novel? (Small, meek voice) Yes, ma’am.

  4. I remember Philip Pullman’s pep talk! The pep talks are probably my favorite thing about NaNo, after the madcap writing frenzy itself.

    No, I didn’t wish you were done. This stuff fascinates me. I would have loved to see the changes my brain made when I switched to a left-handed computer mouse. Some freaky external things happened, and I’m certain the internal happenings were even more interesting.

    It’s November 15th today. I hit 25,020 words this morning. I made up my two day deficit. Yay!

    Are you at 12,500 yet?

  5. Free writing and plain old thinking–yep, that’s my way, too. My version of NaNo is just that: free writing. Very little thinking.