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The Writer's Life: Brain Splinters

On summer vacation you barefoot your way down a quaint wooden pier for a swim in an alpine lake and before you know it, you’ve a stinging pain in your toe. Or, perhaps, your hand grazes the top of a picnic table while at the park and you jerk it away, looking for the ant that just bit you, but there’s not one. Instead, you see the tiniest sliver of wood embedded beneath your skin. Splinters, sadly, are a fact of life. They annoy. They pester. They hurt with a nagging discomfort that will not stop until the foreign object is pinched, nibbled, needled, or tweezered out.

Writers get splinters, too — in our hands, in our feet, and in our brains. Those last ones, those brain splinters, aren’t the physical pieces of something foreign that found their way inside our bodies and drive us nuts until we get them out, but they get under our skin all the same. A brain splinter is a story idea that embeds itself into our noggins and nags, nags, nags at us.

Like most splinters, they generally work themselves out without any effort on our part. That frustration fueled idea about a topsy-turvy universe where-in literary agents stalk authors, researching genre fit and flooding writers’ inboxes with their credentials in search of manuscripts to represent may linger a bit, but the mood passes taking with it that whimsical thought.

Then there are the ones that are more crippling. An idea hits us that refuses to fade but has absolutely no commercial future: it’s Christmas Eve and poor Santa has to defeat an army of zombies in order to deliver his toys; toilets around the globe unionize and go on strike until they get better working conditions. Sometimes all we can do is take the time, wielding the short-story like a pair of tweezers, to get the annoyance out of our system so we can get back to more commercially viable (we hope) plots.

That’s exactly what happened to me. I was single-mindedly invested in my project about a team of underage secret agents (I’m furiously working to get Book One to market by July/August so stay tuned). While chipping away at those kids' adventure, an idea embedded itself into my brain: What if a girl whose parents were murdered was helped by a ghost with multiple personalities to solve the mystery?

I went from churning out consistent word counts that were bringing my band of spies to life to limping along as if my muse had splinter in their foot. I refocused. I grit my teeth. I plotted. I pantsed. Nothing helped. In the end I tried to write a feeble short story, but that immediately morphed into a first chapter.

I tabled that with the promise, “I’ll get back to you.”

As if I were in control of such things. Hubris!

It was my spy-kids WIP that got put on hold and Leigh Howard and the Ghosts of Simmons-Pierce Manor took precedence. In the end, that was a wonderful thing to have happened. The bother of it all is in knowing the difference between a noxious brain splinter and true inspiration.

Writers blather on about craft, technique, plotting, story architecture, and writing tools, but there really is a bit of hocus-pocus to it all as well — a spiritual sort of something that defies analysis and, generally, what appears to be good sense, too.

Does any of this sound familiar? Ever had a brain splinter? Care to risk sharing the gist of the story and how you got it out — or did you? Maybe, like me, it turned into a published work.

Let me know!


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