Rebooting the internal thermostat

Eliza Dushku stars as Echo in The Dollhouse. Photo: Photo Agency, via www.fanpix.netCOULD I be an Active from Joss Whedon’s Dollhouse? Yes, a slightly shorter, less sexier model but still a doll, inputted with specific limiting mechanisms?

You see, some days I feel like an Isaac Asimov or RL Stine, bursting forth page upon page of seamless prose. Other days, my sentences are corrugated and I think I must be back in kindergarten, scrawling out dross with one hand as I scoff a banana in the other.

Last week I scorched out 14,000 words over three days. Twenty-four hours later, the Muse had disappeared. I’d caught the wave of the century only to end up with bruised ribs and a mouthful of foam and sand.

Could it be that Topher Brink (Who devised that name anyway? Whedon? Naturally!) placed a limiting mechanism on my brain’s hard drive? Or maybe I was born with an internal thermostat? If I write too many words, the temperature gets too hot for my mind’s Climate Control, the thermostat goes Bing! and it forces the temperature back to a more “acceptable” pace. Ooh! It’s getting hot in here, screams Subconscious. I’m writing too much and that can’t be good. Time to turn the thermostat down before I exceed my wildest dreams…

If neither Topher nor The Dollhouse exist (this point to be debated on a future blog), what is holding or pulling us back? Is it fear of failure or success? A pig-headed subconscious? Or a biological “return to the pack” imprint, impossible to erase?Handler Boyd Langton, Active Echo and programmer Topher Brink in a scene from The Dollhouse. Photo: Photo Agency, www.fanpix.net

Dieters face a similar threshold – the weight loss stalemate – on their super-slim-me (as opposed to super-size me) journey. They dedicate themselves to their diet for weeks, possibly months, until their body unexpectedly stops ditching the kilos as if an oven timer has buzzed its return to the wild. But dieters have found a solution to this challenge: They introduce new techniques, possibly a different diet or exercise regime, to re-invigorate their weight loss goals.

As writers, we too can develop techniques to overcome our stalemate (or Topher’s impeccable programming, whichever you choose). The most important rule in this equation is to allow ourselves time – time to write and time to rest. If we don’t seriously sit at our desks and focus on our story, however wretched our wordsmithing, we will never morph into the published butterfly. On the opposite side of the pancake, if we don’t allow time for rest, our written output may grind to a halt through exhaustion and lack of imagination and play.

Echo (Eliza Dushku) prepares for a fight. Photo: Photo Agency, www.fanpix.netWriting is easier if we devote a certain time or day of the week to our craft. If this is impossible, at least invest in a set of headphones so you can’t hear the children running down the hallway as they scream that they’ve set the kitchen alight. Another technique is to start your writing session with a relaxation exercise or ritual, for example, deep breathing, lighting a candle or free writing. Exercise also stimulates body and mind.

Reading the previous scene of your book will often inspire you back into your “storyworld” while googling the success stories of fellow authors help you set your thermostat higher. Finally, stay connected with your inner child, whether that’s via painting or collage making or fighting nerf wars with your friends – or ten million other inner child ideas.

By using a little imagination outside your story world, you may find that your words flow far more easily and quickly when you return to that fascinating page – and that will be your greatest gift ever.

Q: Do you use any of these strategies to overcome your internal thermostat? If not, what are your favourite ways to achieve tougher writing goals?

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