Today, class, I am going to talk mindlessly about triggers. What they are, what they do, how to recognize them and most importantly, why you really should work to figure out what they are.
(You may already know yours, consciously and unconsciously)
Triggers are those things which spur you into writing. Specifically, they are things which take you past ‘just writing’ and make you write in a manner you are excited about, in love with, and writing fast. They are the things which make you tremble a little as you type, and you’re terrified of a typo, because if you stop and go back to fix it really quick, then you’re stopping.
They can be all manner of things. Many of them can exist in your own head, and they are as useful and viable as outward triggers. Those inward triggers are a little harder to define, but they’re anything that makes you excited.
For example, maybe in your head — or in the privacy and dignity-saving silence of an empty room — you imagine yourself standing on a dias, or sitting at a table and answering fan questions about your book. You’re at ComicCon, and you repeat the question back to the audience, and then you talk about it.
Dignity aside, I will shamelessly admit I do that one. I used to use it as a method for figuring out problems when I was walking. How did you overcome the problems with Thracius in the second half of the book? Well, it was complicated and interesting, but… and so on.
They can be shameless confidence and ego boosters. They make you excited and they make you work, and they can also focus your up-front-mind on your current project, which also focuses your in-the-back-mind on the problems in it. A good thing.
But those aren’t the only sort of triggers I’m talking about.
External triggers are music, books, TV shows, walks, and so forth. They are a piece of music which puts you in a certain type of mood — or puts you in a certain type of tone, if that makes sense to you — and which fire you up to work.
For example: During the early and middling stages of writing Where Sea Meets Sky, my Rome novel, I read and re-read, over and over again, two books. This tends to be fairly common, whenever I’m working on anything. I get ‘stuck’ on certain books (sometimes just one) and I just read them over and over. I can’t finish anything else.
This isn’t because I’m pulling the author’s style, or plot, or even characters…frankly, I’m not always sure why it is. Sometimes, I can tell what about the books makes me want to write, and that’s useful. I think it’s my brain getting involved in my novel and putting things like my Reader Brain on hold, or on re-runs. During Where Sea Meets Sky, I read Pompeii by Robert Harris (a book set in Rome, in Pompeii obviously) and Night Watch, by Terry Pratchett. Over and over again. Either I read them, or I read nothing.
They were trigger books, you see. They put me in the mindset of Rome, and they set me off writing it. They gave me certain things which went into Rome — I think there’s a little of Sam Vimes in Thracius, and I know that Pompeii taught me some things about the spoken language I could use in the time period — but mostly, they contributed to the shape and color and tone of my working mind, on that book.
With The Nondescript, I am stuck on American Gods, by Neil Gaiman, and The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck, and The Book of the Long Sun series by Gene Wolfe. I know where these things are influencing the text, but they really are influencing how my brain is ticking. And they’re triggers. In the back of my mind, they’re things that make me want to write and work on that project.
It’s the same with music, with movies, with TV. All the rules transfer.
Now, the key point which I am testing — and discovering to work — is to discover what your triggers are for a project (to consciously discover them) and then to exploit them carefully. If I knew that listening to Howlin’ Wolf and John Lee Hooker puts me in the right tone to write Nondescript, then I have to use it carefully. If I just play it all the time, it’ll wear off. But! I have discovered that if my mind is frazzled, or I’m in the wrong ‘tone’ of mind for Nondescript, I can use a little bit of music, a half an hour of reading, whatever, to get myself in the right spirit. You see?
They trigger different things, too. Perhaps it triggers the desire to write a certain type of text, or perhaps it triggers your speed, or perhaps it triggers your desire to think of new ideas, new characters, and so forth. American Gods is triggering the desire to write in an entertaining way the mundanity of life. John Steinbeck is triggering the urge to bring poetry into my writing. Not his style, my style, just more languid. I adore writing like that. I’ve tried to get away from it for a long time, for a lot of convoluted reasons (many of which were probably stupid) and I finally gave in.
I don’t know if I’m explaining it correctly, but that’s what triggers are, that’s why you should work to consciously figure out what they are, and that’s what you should use them for.
And that’s what I’ve got.