Have you ever stopped to ponder on brain activity? Not brain activity in a general sense. I mean your own brain.

Like, how many things do you store in it at any one time – just in day-to-day life? Now overload it with your work environment clutter. Overwhelming, isn’t it?

the creative brain

All Hail to the wonders of a mass of tiny grey cells. Check out this interesting site if you’re interested in creativity and the brain.

As a former teacher of young children, I could not have survived without the BIG PICTURE – lists, checklists, programs and anecdotal records on each child in the class. And daily, weekly, yearly planning? There were greater authorities who made sure I did that.

So why was it as an author, I thought I could rely on storing information in my head or on bits of paper for my work-in-progress?

Ideas surged from my brain, thick and fast or thin and tangled like Singapore noodles. Details of characters personalities, likes, dislikes and motivations; plot line possibilities; sensory inputs from settings filled notebooks, scrawled across torn out articles from the morning newspaper and scribbled on the back of petrol receipts on the floor of the Subaru.

This story began with one tiny idea and one misspelt word – from that it grew into a short story and then into a fully-fledged, intricate story of adventure, history and magic in a north Queensland rainforest. When I finished it I sent it off to several publishers. They rejected it … most with a kind comment about interesting characters, lovely writing style etc, but ‘not loving it enough to take it on’.

A trusted writing friend agreed to have a look at it.

This is the value of having fresh and experienced eyes read your story – most likely you won’t see core inadequacies in plots and characters after you have been writing it for a year or so.

She came up with something I had missed – there was no true antagonist, no BAD ‘baddie’ to thwart the needs and wants of my hero. Hence, no real DRAMA. How did I miss this?

Usually, sorting out a ‘big picture’ of a story allows me freedom to branch out into unplanned areas. So did I plot and plan the big picture of this story, like I would normally do for anything else (anal-retentive comes to mind)?

No, I did not. Why? Too much happening, too eager to start writing. Also I was trying to finish another story at the same time.

My author friend showed me her planning methods on butcher’s paper – it was like a veil lifting. I tried it on my ‘completed’ story and was shocked at how much I was trying to store in my head. By seeing those ideas noted as connecting mind-maps and dot-points, I added other possibilities for the story. My mind-map looked more like a multi-coloured mud-map than a mind-map, but it proved the ‘baddie’ wasn’t who I thought it was. She was sitting over on the far-edge of the sheet of paper … waiting … biding her time …

Of course, this all adds to the workload of writing, requires more brain-draining, more pulling apart and reassembling of plotlines, and more frustration and joy, but no story is ever really good until it has been through the fire first.

Click for more more of Dee White’s blog from her May Gibbs Children’s Literature Trust Fellowship here in Brisbane.


6 thoughts on “A HEAD FULL OF STUFF!

  1. Totally agree, Darren. I think my problem this time was trying to keep too much in my head and knowing there was a plot problem but not being able to work out what it was. All part of the journey, I guess.
    Btw, I wish I had you and your clever pitch-ability here right now! Remember your instant pitch advice 4 or 5 years ago?


  2. Literary planning – interesting topic, for sure, Sheryl. And I’m not sure which way I swing. A lot of story info resides in my head. I plan more than I used to with my novels, but nothing to the extent of the butcher paper massacre above. In the end, I think great writing probably has less to do with planning methods than it does with spending time in the company of the story and characters, playing with ideas, imagining situations and answering questions. And, yes, making mistakes, too.


  3. Sheryl, I can completely relate to this! I felt exactly this way after my mentorship with Kate, realising how much I had overlooked through lack of planning. I now love mind mapping and scrawling things on large pieces of butcher’s paper. In fact I’m doing it for a new novel as we speak.

    And I know what you mean by ‘too keen to start writing’ – I still have to fight that urge when a new idea bustles into my mind in the form of a character with a strong voice. ‘Slow down’, I have to tell them, ‘there’s plenty of time for the writing afterwards…’


  4. I can see I need to see Dee’s planning and plotting things up close and personal for myself. I kinda vaguely get the idea from a few photos I’ve seen on blogs – but I need to really GET the idea.

    My poor brain often feels like its twisted, turned and tightened itself into a pulsating knot. Think I should maybe do this – for my brain. 🙂


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