Tracy S. Morris

Quirky Mysteries, Screwball Fantasy and Sassy History

Monday Musing: Take Time to Think

Written By: Tracy - Jul• 18•11

Thinking! Even a chimp can do it!

Author John Maxwell, who is known internationally for his works on leadership, is a big proponent of structured thought. He plans several hours daily in which he can just sit and think in an uninterrupted block of time.

Thinking time is productive time. That’s why some people say that they get their best ideas either in the shower or on the toilet. Those areas are the ones in which they get the most uninterrupted thought time.

Although most writers are familiar with creative thinking and shared thinking, they haven’t spent enough time on other forms of thinking, including big-picture thinking and reflective thinking.

Too often, I feel that the books I read are written by people who don’t think enough about what they’re trying to say and spend more time on the way in which they say it.

Here are some thoughts to consider:

What is the purpose of your book? Do you want to entertain? Do you want to explore a point? How can you do that? Where does your book fit in with the current culture? Is your book an outgrowth of your feelings on the news? Big-picture thinking can help you to shape your book more coherently.

Neil Gaiman wrote of his book American Gods that he wrote it shortly after moving to America as a way of understanding the country. The book itself is thematic of immigrant Gods who don’t quite understand America themselves, and their efforts to cope.

Author Suzanne Collins got the idea for The Hunger Games while channel surfing. Seeing a game show in succession with footage of the Iraqi War made her think of battle as a game show. She built off of this idea using the story of Thesus and drew on the fears that she felt while her father served in Vietnam to inform her heroine, Katness.

As you write, taking time to think about your book as a reader is also helpful. When your book is done, set it aside until you’ve forgotten parts of it or you aren’t so in love with it. Then read it over and think critically about ways that it can be better. Some authors think of this as letting a story simmer.

The Epic novel of 2010 was one that I originally conceived in 2000, but I couldn’t quite get the plot to gel in a way that satisfied me. I allowed the plot to simmer for nine years, and then a summer trip out west gave me plot elements that slid seamlessly into what I already had in my brain. The story practically spilled out of me at that point. I didn’t feel like I could write it fast enough. But that’s because I had a lot of thinking time already spent on the plot.

Thinking about a book shouldn’t end when you ship it to a publisher, either. Thinking can extend to making your next book better. When you receive a fair review of your book, consider all points that the reviewer makes. Most fair reviewers try to highlight both the negative and positive aspects of a review.  Consider the negative points. Is the reviewer right about them? How can you eliminate those mistakes from your next book? Is it time to change up your first readers? Were you a little too close to your book to think critically about it? This kind of reflective thinking can help you move forward, even in the face of mistakes and missteps.

Creative thinking can extend to marketing. What is the point of your book? If you strip away the embellishments and side-issues of the plot, what do you have? What are the strong points you should mention on your advertizing copy? What are new and unusual ways to reach readers? Are there any special-interest groups that this book would appeal to?

In the culture that we live in, thinking isn’t in vogue. Someone sitting around naval-gazing is often considered lazy. Some people don’t even consider thinking time to be ‘writing time.’ Yet if one spent as much time thinking about their work as they did in playing angry birds, they might be happier with the writing they produce.

— Chimp photo courtesy Peter Kratochvil at PublicDomainPictures.net

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2 Comments

  1. Sadly, technology seems to have taken over a lot of the quiet thought time that people once had. I know several people who even play on their smartphones while on the toilet.

    • Tracy says:

      It’s a sad commentary on the way technology fills up our lives. I get chastised by friends because I either turn off or ignore my smart phone when I want my thinking time. When I went out to lunch with these same friends recently, we all sat around with smart phones rather than talking to one another (I was writing on mine, they were playing angry birds).