Robin’s Randoms: Dreaming, Playlisting, and Exercising Those Writing Demons Away

In my classroom I tell my students that prewriting is what you do before you draft your story. I show them techniques like brainstorming, webbing, listing, outlining, reading informational books, and note taking. What’s not included in the state learning results and school curriculum are the other ways I prewrite, that I find just as valuable as the pen and paper exercises.

1) Daydreaming: I have always done this. For as long as I can remember, I’ve been looking out a window and thinking about other things, better things, things I’d rather be doing. I think I became a natural writer when I would revise the undesirable thing happening into a desirable thing. Sometimes that was a horrible school day, and sometimes it was being embarrassed in front of a boy I liked.

2) Music: As soon as I’ve settled on a character and her situation, I know it’s time to make her playlist. A playlist is a list of songs that are unique to the character. I make a folder in my iTunes and label it with my book title and add to it when I feel connected to a song. For me, the timing has to be right. I have to have some history with her before I start choosing songs, but there’s no reason it can’t be reversed. I revised a whole book based on a Counting Crows song I heard at just the right time.

3) Art: I believe there’s no better way to get in touch with a character than to do something messy and free. Painting, drawing, diorama… They will help you discover more about your character or scene, or whatever you make your goal. I think collage is amazing. It’s easy, it’s quick, and there are no rules. All you need is a glue stick, paper, old magazines, and a pair of scissors.

4) Talking: Talk to yourself, talk to your character, talk to your trusted writer friends. I say that last one with extreme caution because sometimes talking about your story pre-draft can kill it. Most of the prewriting chatter I do is in my head, or on paper—not with live people. Often it’s with the character in the form of an interview, or it’s a scene that I have to get down. If that scene comes alive, then I know I have something.

5) Exercise: No! Don’t run away! I have a point. Maybe I should have labeled this one Movement instead. There are scientific reasons why exercise stimulates your creative side. We all know about the runner’s natural high, right? But did you know about the importance of integrating both sides of your brain so you aren’t relying on just one side? To do this, before your walk or run, include some warm ups that cross your midline. Every time you touch your right side to your left (or left to your right) you are telling your brain to connect. A simple spinal twist in yoga will do that, or touching your toes–right to left, left to right. I used to run, then I was injured. That injury led to no exercise and being a depressed blob. Writing is harder when I’m a depressed blob. It’s easier when I take a long vigorous walk, ski, or Nordic Trak. After the initial few minutes of I HATE THIS, I find I love it and I say to myself, “Never forget how much you love this, Robin!” But I do. To help motivate me I put on my playlist Music for my story, and my character starts moving around in my head doing stuff, and then the ideas begin to flow and I’m daydreaming about her, or a scene, and I’m talking to myself about what’s next.

~R.M.M.

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