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Friday, 29 July 2011

Let Your Writing Brew by Sonia G. Medeiros

Time can be your enemy... or your friend.

Happy Friday, lovely minions!

Today’s another blog hop day for the Life List Club. Which means we hop from place to place to support everyone in their goal-setting and muffin-eating… or is that just me?

I have the pleasure of hosting Sonia G. Medeiros, who’s a fellow fantasy writer and #myWANA dweller. Today she talks about brewing ideas and since there are a lot of food references, I’d suggest you have lunch first and read second.

My own post on Sharing Goals is over at Pam Hawley’s blog. Check it out after!


Beer. Wine. Kimchi. Yogurt. Kefir. And bread, especially sourdough. Lovely, tasty things and none of them can be whipped up at a moment's noticed or zapped in the microwave.

All of these culinary delights must be left alone so tiny bacteria and/or yeasts can work their magic. And they need just the right amount of time. Too much time and that yogurt might be way to sour. Not enough time and the bread bakes up with a less than spectacular rise. The trick is knowing just how long to let them brew.

(Honey Wine by spinnerin)

The same can be said for the writing process. At some point, each work needs a brewing phase. Time for the first ideas to collide with other ideas and breed new ones. Time for the bubbles of possibility to begin rising to the surface. Time for all the ingredients to join into something intoxicating. 

Sometimes this happens before the words hit the page and sometimes it happens later on, requiring a piece of work be put aside for a time. And sometimes there might even be more than one brewing phase needed.

Last year, when I returned to writing after a 15 year break, I began a novel. The idea had rolled around my brain for a couple of years. I could picture the main character and a few key scenes. I started writing, confident that I would whiz straight through to the end.

I finished that first draft and promptly realized that my story needed something else. But...what? A new ending perhaps. And so I wrote the story again, reaching for that new ending. But...I got stuck in the middle of the middle. I knew what I wanted for the ending but I didn't know how to get there.

I put the novel aside, thinking it would just take a little while for my subconscious to work out the details. But, as the days stretched into weeks and months, I began to freak. I had committed so much to this story. I was sure it had the strength to be a novel. But I didn't know how to make it all come together. And every day I wasn't writing felt wasted.

As my MIP sat gathering dust, I branched out into other writing-related activities. I started blogging and found an amazing community of talented and supportive writers. I discovered flash fiction. I learned about various writing techniques and styles. I, a natural-born pantser, even began to see the appeal of plotting.

And I came to realize that all that time I spent not-writing was, in fact, brewing better things for my writing. I was learning the things I needed to know to finish my current novel and, hopefully, to write future novels with far greater ease (or at least condense the pain into a much shorter time period).

 At first glance, it might seem like an excuse for laziness. But the difference between dropping the ball and allowing a project some brewing time is in the active search for knowledge. It's been said that "we don't know what we don't know." So we have to search. Widely but not blindly. We have open ourselves to any crumb of knowledge than can further us along our path.

I'm still working on that novel but I know how to get to the end now. I'm making a thorough outline using Larry Brooks' Story Engineering as a guide. The story milestones outlined in Brooks' book were exactly what I needed to know to bridge the gap in my MIP. And I might not have discovered it if I hadn't allowed myself the brewing time.

So not every path is a neat progression from point A to B to C, etc. Sometimes we must stop where we are and look around. Smell the roses and stuff like that. And sometimes we need to take a few side trips, maybe a few wrong turns. Everything we learn along the way will carry us further than before. Plus, the scenic route's a lot more fun.

(Stone IPA by mfajardo)

Have you noticed a need for a brewing phase in your own work (writing or otherwise)? What's your favorite fermented food/beverage?


Sonia G Medeiros is a writer of fantasy, science fiction, and horror. She's the author of more than a dozen short stories and flash fiction pieces, blogs at WordPress, and is working on her first novel, a dark fantasy. When she's not wandering along the tangled paths of her wild imagination, she wrangles home life with one fabulous husband, two amazing, homeschooled children, three dogs, one frog and two cats who battle for world domination.


Anonymous said...

As a fellow foodie, I was sooo into this post. Yum! Yet I never thought of comparing my WIP to my favorite foods like cheese and wine. I do agree that our ideas need brewing time. My WIP is set in a graveyard and I often takes walks around the cemeteries in town to get new ideas, help with images, think of stories. I commend you for doing flash fiction to keep up the writing routine though. That's something I haven't yet accomplished, and am hoping my scheduling my writing time I will make some forward changes.

Jen Kirchner said...

Great thoughts, Sonia! I've also heard a lot of successful authors say writers should plan thinking time into their story craft. Thanks for the reminder about how important the "brewing" stage is. :)

Sonia G Medeiros said...

@Jess: Mmmm...cheese. I can't believe I forgot to mention cheese! Walking around graveyards souds like it would definitely be good brewing time for your MIP. And for a whole lot of other stories too.

@Jen: Thanks! It took me a little bit to realize that the down time wasn't really wasted. I kept thinking I always needed to be working on something. Now I know that I need a little quiet time too to let things process.

Jen said...

I'm also finding appeal in plotting and I used to be a religious pantser. It funny how the brewing time can make something so much stronger, and better. Great thoughts!

Michael Offutt said...

Brewing is good for most things in the writing world. Whether that be your work in progress or even a query letter. Once they've stewed all the parts start to float out and you get a better grasp of what you want to flavor the page.

Catie Rhodes said...

I absolutely think my writing requires a brewing phase. Once I let a manuscript sit for a while, the ideas start rolling in again. Sometimes, they were there all along, hidden in phrases and dialogue. It just takes my mind a while to put it all together. Great post.

Anonymous said...

I actually keep a folder on my system called the Brew Pot. All the tidbits, story elements, etc that I come up with go in there. Over time some have become folders of their own, others wander the wasteland of "Miscellaneous", but ya never know when that will be useful.

Great post, Sonia.

jamilajamison said...

This is a wonderful post, and oh-so-true. When I was trying to overcome my last major phase of writer's block (almost 2 years long - like a nuclear winter for me), I made the mistake of generating an idea and rushing headlong into it, only to fall into major depression when that idea didn't pan out. But it was like a seed planted in shallow soil -- not enough to nourish it, not enough room to grow.

Ironically, it's been my thesis-writing process that has helped to remind me that good work, and good ideas, need time to flourish. It's taken me 3 years to finally reach the point where I know what I'm doing and where I can generate a solid first draft. I had a lot of downtime during these 3 years, time when I wasn't actively reading or researching or writing. I thought I was just being lazy and I berated myself for it, but lo -- I was doing work, the important work of letting my ideas ferment and mature. Now I try to do the same for my fictional WIPs. When something feels a little sticky or underdeveloped, I walk away from it and give it some time to sit. Inevitably, some new idea will roll in, and I can get started again.

Sonia G Medeiros said...

@Jen: I used to be allergic to outlining. Even the thought of having to outline a project gave me hives. :D It's hard to believe I'm actually enjoying outlining now. But it really is more efficient, especially if I keep it flexible and free form.

@Michael: So true. Got to let all the flavors blend together into something new and delicious. :D

@Catie: It does feel like the ideas were there all along once they start rolling in. We just had to give them enough space to breathe.

@Gene: Love the idea of a Brew Pot! My ideas live in an idea garden, but I think I need a physcial place to put all of the ideas I've scribbled down in various places.

@Jamila: It's so easy to beat ourselves up. I think we writers tend to be obsessive and have perfectionist tendencies. That can be good to a degree, but it can get the better of us if we let it. Sometimes we just have to let ourselves play a little.

Erin Brambilla said...

Great analogy, Sonia (taking a cue from Brooks himself there :) ). I'm currently in brewing stage myself. I knew where I wanted WIP to go, I just didn't know how to get there. So I started my quest for knowledge and know when I get back into writing this, it'll be better.

Lyn Midnight said...

@jamila I love that, 'ideas need time to flourish'. This is so true and it reminds me of a certain Positive Psychology term on the rise today.

Flourish in this case means to realize the full potential of the human mind, and the same holds true for a work of fiction. We all need to make our stories the best they can be. The brewing phase is just one phase of a very exciting journey.

This is why I am very happy to host this post, Sonia. It's always fun to see how other writers see bits of the writing process. Like I said on Twitter, I tend to overbrew my stories. I'll never forget the blob referrence you have me in response, lol. *hugs* Thanks again!

Leslie Rose said...

Sonia, you are so right. There's nothing worse than biting into a cupcake to find a still-liquid center. I think when we push to hard and don't step back to percolate we block ourselves from the answer.

Sonia G Medeiros said...

@Erin: I've really fallen for Brooks since reading Story Engineering. :D

@Lyn: Now I keep having flashes of the blob bubbling out of my jars and pots.

@Leslie: Underdone cupcake = not yummy. We definitely need to give things time to fully cook/mature.

Carrie M said...

I definitely find that my writing benefits from a brewing phase. It can take me months just to complete a short story (should I be admitting that?) because I keep coming back to it and adding new things as the story settles with me.

Great post!

Sonia G Medeiros said...

@Carrie: I hear ya. Sometimes it does take me a long time to finish a short story. Heck, it feels like it's taking forever to finish my novel. :D But I think the outlining process will speed up future writing projects. I hope. :D