We’ve all been there, right? You wake up with every intention of writing. You might even have cleared some space in your packed schedule so you can get some proper work done. Then you find yourself standing in the kitchen tidying up the dishes because you wouldn’t want to be faced by them at the end of a writing session. Fair enough. But once you have put the dishes away do you find yourself inspecting the food cupboards? Before you know it you are rooting around in there. How old is that jar of nutmeg? This cupboard is long overdue a sort out. No time like the present. Pretty soon the entire contents of the kitchen cupboards are on the worktops and writing is a vague guilty niggle at the back of your mind. That’s avoidance.
So is being gripped by an urge to strip the beds when they don’t need it or manically hoovering. Sorting out magazines/bills/books/clothes – they can all be avoidance techniques.
Sometimes it’s harder to spot. The car needs petrol so you go and fill it up and while you are at it you’ll get it washed too. Both jobs needed doing. But both jobs could have waited. It’s still avoidance.
Deciding to phone that friend who will keep you talking for ages? Classic avoidance technique.
Why do we do it? Why are there days when we want to write, even make time for writing and then do all we can to avoid it?
The answer is usually lurking in your work in progress. Not that you realise that when you are writing. At least I don’t. I spot the avoidance technique I happen to be engaged in first. Only then do I think about my writing whilst cleaning the cupboards or sorting the wardrobes.
When you are engaged in a menial task which leaves your mind free to wander it can actually be of tremendous help. You are freeing up parts of your brain that can be left to problem solve while you move on from hoovering the carpet to hoovering the dog.
We tend to engage avoidance techniques when our writing has hit a brick wall. In my case it usually means I am trying to make a character act out of character to suit the plot and somewhere in my writer’s brain a big red flashing warning light is whirling and screaming away. We all know that if that happens you change the plot but sometimes it can sneak up on the best of us. At least once you have identified the problem you can spend the rest of your mammoth cleaning up/tidying out session working out the solution.
The other reason it happens is because I am unsure of how a character might react in a particular situation and I end up trying to make the character face two ways at the same time. He’s confused. I’m confused and if it ever made it as far as my Beta readers they’d be confused too! If you have a character like that strip them back to basics. What is it about the core of that character that made you want to write them? What is it that made them right for this story? What are their values, hopes and dreams? If there was an election, which way would they vote and why? Which car do they drive? Which car would they drive if money were no object?
When you can answer all of those questions and more like them, tack on to the end of the questions the situation your character currently finds themselves in and think about that. You will doubtless then be able to solve the dilemma that engaged the avoidance technique in the first place. You doubted your character, remember? You weren’t sure how they would react to the situation you had put them in and your writing ended up a muddled mess. Now you have such a clear vision of your character, his personality, his world, his values that you should immediately be able to see exactly how he would react to any given situation. It may not be how you would wish him to react. It may be that the right path for the character would mean more work for you the writer and hands up I’m as lazy as the next person but in your heart of hearts you know the work will be stronger for it.
Avoidance techniques can be a necessary part of writing, giving us a chance to disengage our brains for a while so they can quietly work through the kinks in our writing but once you have worked through those kinks it’s time to get back to work. Real work. Writing work. Besides, the house, the garden, the kids and the dog will be spotless by then so there really is no excuse……
What’s your favourite avoidance technique?
Today’s blog is the latest in my Flower Seller Thursday collection of writing related blogs leading up to publication day of my first novel The Flower Seller on Thursday 2nd June 2016 #FlowerSellerThursday
The Flower Seller Kindle edition is now available to pre-order from Amazon via my website http://goo.gl/0Gv8Jg