Just Staring and Plotting
When a writer stares off into space, that writer is usually working. A writer acquaintance of mine once told me about how her young daughter -- the child was about seven at the time -- piped up one day and said, "Mommy, I'm going to work like you!" And she sat down at her desk and stared out the window.
What we do takes place in our heads -- in our fertile imaginations. If you don't have an over-active imagination, you'll be hindered as a novelist. Although I had one sibling, I was, for all extents and purposes, an only child because my sister was almost 10 years older than me. Therefore, my closest playmates were in my imagination. In my bedroom or backyard, I acted out whole TV shows and films I'd seen. I was Roy Rogers, Dale Evans, and their horses.
Which brings me back to the point of this. It might look as if we're just sitting and staring, but there is more to it. We're imagining. We should wear a sign that states:Caution! Writer At Work.
I just returned from sitting out on the patio. I went out there for a minute to let the dogs do their thing and I ended up staying there for half an hour because I was working out a tangle in the plot I'm developing. Something about the story was wrong. I couldn't put my finger on it, but I knew that some element wasn't firing properly. Out there on the patio, I finally saw the trees and the forest. My antagonist was wrong. Not nearly frightening enough or disturbed enough. That pivotal character was coming off mild, and that's the kiss of death for a suspense novel. Problem solved. I blinked, realized that the dogs were dancing around me, wanting back inside, and I came back to myself and my desk and untangled the knot in my plot.
That's how it works. Half of writing a book consists of not writing. It consists of staring while your mind whirls, pulling up this plot thread, examining it, casting it off, grabbing another, until you finally find one that you can weave in and out seamlessly to tighten your story. The best outline ever still needs tweaking, revising, and bolstering. That's because as characters take shape and find their own voice in your head, plot points can change. What once made sense for a character is now out of character. Actions taken by a character now are preposterous. Dialogue spoken by your protagonist suddenly seems forced. So, it's back to sitting and staring or jogging, doing laundry, vacuuming the rug -- it all works. Mindless activity to allow your brain to create scenes, conjure places, and pen dialogue.
As Dee Hock once put it: "Clean out a corner of your mind and creativity will instantly fill it."