I was washing the dishes yesterday when the answer suddenly came to me - a solution to a problem I was having with my book. It was a pretty bloody good solution too, if I may say so myself.
I was having issues with the plot; one scene in particular which occurs very close to the end of the book. The scene had to be bloody, nail biting, sneak-a-peek-between-your-fingers type stuff. But it also had to portray a pivotal moment for two of the main characters.
The problem was this: I knew how I arrived at the scene and I knew how I wanted to leave it, but bugger me if I knew what went on in between. I've found you really can box yourself into a corner sometimes, plot wise, and finding a way out can prove difficult.
Anyway, I decided to step away, take a break and let the mind sort out my conundrum while I performed menial household chores like washing the dishes.
And it worked. At the time, I was very, very pleased with the solution that I had come up with.
I finished up the dishes, returned to my computer, and sketched out a rough plan for the scene. Reading back over it, I smiled and deemed it pure gold.
Stepping away from your novel helps a lot, especially if you find yourself in a sticky situation. Sometimes typing your way through it can work, letting the fingers run free, trusting in the magical power of prose that you have at your fingertips. However, more often than not, it can be difficult to arrive at a solution while sitting in front of your computer, staring at the words (or lack thereof) on the screen. Shutting down the computer for an hour and concentrating on something else can do the trick. The subconscious mind is an amazing thing; while you are mopping the floor or completing your tax return (ahem, 31 January people), it can busily and quite happily piece the puzzle together and work out the intricacies of the scene for you. Cue the dishwashing.
Conversely, however, taking time out can kill a scene or idea. This is what happened to me. After jotting down my idea ("pure gold" remember), I headed off to Greenwich to watch some cricket on Sky at a mate's place. On the train ride, I managed to convince myself that the scene, as it played out after my dishwashing session, was not right. It had the wrong feel to it; it was completely out of sync with the feel and tone of the novel. The scene did need to be significant and stand out from the rest, but my idea was too extreme. So I binned it.
Which lead me back to the drawing board and I have just spent the last 45 minutes, sitting in front of my computer, thinking about how the scene could work, and getting no where. If only I could come up with the answer.
I think I'll iron my shirts.
BTW - for those of you who are interested in what my ditched dishwashing inspired scene was all about, it involved a mincer and a severed little finger.
If you are now disappointed that the scene was canned, it's probably a reflection of your good self. But fear not, sick puppies: if ironing the shirts doesn't work, the mincer might find its way back in.