Thursday, June 29, 2017

The Importance of Getting Up and Walking Around: Guest Post by William Shaw

William Shaw is an award-winning pop culture journalist, who has written regularly for the UK's Observer and Independent, as well as the New York Times. He is the author of the Breen and Tozer series and THE BIRDWATCHER. Shaw lives in Sussex, England.

William Shaw:
The Importance of Getting Up and Walking Around

You can’t overestimate the importance of getting up and walking around a little.

If you think writing is all about sitting at a computer and banging out words, you’re wrong. My kids, when they see me wandering around the house, or strumming an instrument with a vacant expression on my face, snigger and say, ‘Yeah. Writing again, is he?’

But most of the ideas don’t happen when you’re sitting down at a desk.

And it’s doubly true of crime writing, because crime writing is as much about creating an atmosphere as it is about problem solving. How do you get your protagonist from A to B without C knowing? Surely C would know that B murdered A because he was in the next room. When I wrote The Birdwatcher I let people know right away in the first two paragraphs that William South, the hero and good guy, was a also murderer. This was a fantastic opening, but it left me with a host of structural problems to fix about how long I could delay the reader knowing who he had killed. As a result, I had two plots, one in the 1970s and one in the present day and for a while they were tangling together without really working.

The Birdwatcher took a lot of getting up and walking around, but it worked.

I finished the book at a writing shack I have down in the English county of Devon. It’s off-grid and there are a lot of low-level tasks that need doing, like stoking the fire, or putting rainwater into the filter. I write for a while, putter around, write some more. There is a limit to the amount of writing I can physically do there because my laptop works off a single solar panel. I was doing the washing up which requires getting rainwater and heating it on the stove first when realised I had figured out a way in which the two plots came together like I had meant it all along.

The thing is, I can’t even remember thinking the thought. It was just there.

Psychologists call it the creative unconscious. They’ve even proved how well it works. Back in 2006 two Dutch scientists, Ap Dijksterhuis and Teun Meurs, did an experiment in which they gave participants three minutes to think of as many uses as they could for a simple object like a brick or a paperclip.

Half the group were given the chance to complete the job uninterrupted. The other half were given a second task – such as counting backwards in threes. Both groups produced a similar number of ideas, but the ones who were distracted produced ideas that were more divergent – or, to put it another way, more creative. In other words, not thinking directly about something can produce more interesting results.

We haven’t a clue how this works; we just know it does. It’s reassuring to realise that the brain is much weirder than you might imagine it is. Fans of Artificial Intelligence who imagine we’re approaching the singularity take note.

That day I ran out of the shack whooping with glee. What a great ending, I thought. The funny thing is, it’s not even like I can give myself credit for thinking of the solution. It just happened.

From Book Reporter:
The Birdwatcher by William Shaw
A methodical, diligent and exceptionally bright detective, William South is an avid birdwatcher and trusted figure in his small town on the rugged Kentish coast. He also lives with the deeply buried secret that, as a child in Northern Ireland, he may have killed a man. When a fellow birdwatcher is found murdered in his remote home, South's world flips. The culprit seems to be a drifter from South's childhood; the victim was the only person connecting South to his early crime; and a troubled, vivacious new female sergeant has been relocated from London and assigned to work with South. As the hero investigates, he must work ever-harder to keep his own connections to the victim, and his past, a secret

1 comment:

Unknown said...

This is true even when I am not at the computer while I am writing my novel, yet to be published or seen, my mind is always going about what happens next or who says what or how will I connect B to C to D and so on and so on. I often keep my curtains open because watching the scenery is very relaxing.