Friday, January 09, 2009

When Writing Goes Boring

I’m working on an article on “Endorphins” for a reference book. Here’s a sample of the work so far:

Studies show that animals and humans become less sensitive to painful stimuli while under stress. Humans can sometimes experienced the severe stress of an injury without even being aware of the injury, and without feeling the pain of recognized injuries. For example, soldiers sometimes claim to experience no pain from serious wounds. Similarly, people show decreased pain sensitivity when engaged in the pleasant, but physically stressful, act of sexual intercourse. Much of this effect is mediated by endogenous opioid release in the brain as a response to pain. Drugs that block opioid receptors in the brain generally eliminate the decrease in pain sensitivity brought on by stressful events.

Now, endorphins are fascinating chemicals, often referred to as the body’s natural pain relievers. If people didn’t have endorphins in their brains, then opiate drugs such as morphine and heroin would have no effect on us. Those drugs work through the endorphin system. And…I’m also talking about sexual intercourse here. Who doesn’t find that interesting?

So how come I find myself so bored while laboring over this article this afternoon that I’m taking a break to put up a blog post? The answer is that I already know all this stuff. All I’m really doing is turning something I know into a suitably organized reference article for students at the undergraduate college level. This mostly involves checking my vocabulary and sentence structure, and double checking facts with the reference sources I have handy.

In contrast, when I did the articles on “Fear” and “Transvestism” for the same reference source, I never found myself bored because there was a lot that I was “learning” about those topics.

I’ve learned a lesson for selecting future topics to write on. I thought the endorphin one would be easier than the others because I already knew the topic pretty well. What I’m finding out is that “not knowing” is much more exciting.

Maybe that’s why I love writing fiction so much, and why I don’t do detailed outlines of fiction projects before I start to work on them. Learning what happens next is where the fun is.
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39 comments:

Lisa said...

Well I'm finding your article interesting! Where else can I read about battlefield injuries and sex in the same paragraph?! I'd never thought about your point before and it's a good one. I imagine that's probably the reason that certain people gravitate toward writing forms like historical fiction. The learn as you go keeps things interesting. Well -- chin up! You'll get through it :)

Crushed said...

You remind of me of what Tolkien said about Faramir.. He said he wasn't sure where we he came from, but once he showed up he discovered he liked him.

Miles McClagan said...

I know if I had to write something about Endorphins, I'd end up thinking about the band Endorphin, and get distracted downloading MP3s...

Which is why I don't indulge in academia!

Rick said...

Straight up stuff, Charles. Have you ever noticed that people doing exciting, novel, trying things walk differently and have not only different posture but different movements as well?

My instructor tells me that their voice is different, too- that a trained ear can pick up the difference. I did research work with a company in Ohio years ago on the issue of correlating gaseous emissions of people under stress- not farts, mind you, but the body chemistry changes, which affects the chemicals emitted through the pores and breath.

Scott said...

Charles,

I've found this to be true, also. I've been taking a forced break from writing my book(issues with Microsoft Word), and have been doing research on my next project, a novel about Dracula. I've been reading about the historical Dracula, and it's been very interesting. I almost don't want to go back to the first project because I'm having such a good time working on the Drac stuff.

Charles Gramlich said...

Lisa, yep, there always seems to be some new twists and turns in history. History is fluid.

Crushed, I've had that happen with characters. Or I dislike them.

Miles, I don't know if I knew there was a band called Endorphin.

Rick, definitely. the new engages our minds and bodies at so many levels.

Scott, that's one of the dangers of research. Sometimes it's hard to get back to an original project. If the project is basically new to me, though, I find that I can renew my interest in the original project once I start.

Michelle's Spell said...

Hi Charles,

I agree -- writing about what you don't know always is better. If I understand too much of what's going to happen (whether it be fiction or nonfiction) as I'm writing, I find myself drifting off. My students always thought they had to have direction to write, but I told them it was much better to charge forward without overthinking things.

laughingwolf said...

gotta agree on all fronts... writing about 'the known' becomes boring to me as well, a matter of almost parroting - or replaying a tape-recorded message - if i don't know what's happening, a different mindset emerges....

Georgie B said...

Same here.

Writing about something you already know a lot about, is a little like perpetually talking about something you know too much of and would rather forget about for a while.

David Cranmer said...

Endorphins may be something to make us 'forget' the pain, and I can see that yours aren't really kicking in tonight. Hope you can struggle through.

spyscribbler said...

That's a great point. I'm not good at doing stuff, when I know how. The wonderful thing about novels, is that every story is a different journey.

Cloudia said...

Very good points. The writer's excitement in discovery somehow gets transferred to the reader. . . Now what do ya know about endogenous canabanoids?
"If God intended . . . ."

X. Dell said...

Interesting.As a performer I know that the fastest way to lose your audience is by being disconnected from your material. When things go on autopilot, you don't have any fun. And when the entertainer doesn't have any fun, the audience doesn't have any fun.

That's one of the reasons entertainers constantly work in new material. Keeps it interesting for us. I suppose that might apply to writing too.

L.A. Mitchell said...

I couldn't agree more, Charles, though I could use some extra endorphins when rejection letters surface in my mailbox :)

Lana Gramlich said...

I hear you. Learning is fun, regardless what hundreds of disaffected youth think.

jennifer said...

In my life, I have always said that I have a fixation with 'beginnings' and lose interest in a topic, hobby, or even person the more that I know about the subject. Maybe the same thing that you are talking about?

And your comment about your snake bites freaked me out. Geez Louise Charles, I would have died of a heart attack!

Hope that you and Lana have a great weekend.

Greg Schwartz said...

well said, Charles. when i write about things i know pretty well (which isn't often) i sometimes find that i leave out key details, simply because i take them for granted.

that excerpt was interesting... i didn't know most of that stuff.

the walking man said...

Gotta love them endorphins...

The track less traveled is always where the riches are found.

Charles Gramlich said...

Michelle, it's been said, of course, but if you have too firm a goal set in mind you don't discover anything along the side roads.

Laughingwolf, well put.

Georgie B., I've always wondered how some folks can pontificate over the same thing over and over. We've heard it already.

David Cranmer, fortunately I'm Catholic enough to be able guilt myself into finishing even when I'd rather go out and play. It's pretty much done.

Spyscribbler, exactly. I agree.

Cloudia, anandamide, which is an endogenous cannibinoid, is being suggested these days to mediate runner's high. I haven't really examined the evidence though.

X-dell, good connection with another field. That happens with me in teachign at times, which is one reason I change books fairly regularly to revitalize the material I'm covering.

L. A., couldn't we all.

Lana, yes, as you and I show when we're constnatly enjoying learning new things.

Jennifer, we used to get a lot of chicken snakes in our hen nests and I'd have to pull 'em out. I got bit a few times but they barely have teeth so it's more like a file rasp than a needle.

Greg, I find that a danger too, leaving out stuff because it's so second nature. That's why it's often hard for someone to explain to someone else how to do a simple task.

Mark, agreed. I always wonder what's around the next corner.

BernardL said...

I'm with you, Charles, writing to teach and explain falls way down on my list of subjects, and it takes much more concentration. I could not help but edit your initial couple sentences. I'm editing this morning and everything catches my eye. Sorry. :)

Studies show (that) (leave out that) animals and humans become less sensitive to painful stimuli while under stress. Humans can sometimes experienced (experience) the severe stress of an injury without even being aware of the injury, and without feeling the pain of recognized injuries.

ARCHAVIST said...

A very interesting post - they should bottle those endorphins

Heff said...

I guess it never hurts to be taught while teaching, huh ?

Sarah Hina said...

I agree, Charles. Recycling old information is busywork. Learning, and inventing, is play.

I'd rather play. ;)

Steve Malley said...

I run up against the 'drugs blocking opioid receptors' thing at work sometimes. Nervous kid smokes weed to 'relax' him through his tattoo, ends up thrust into an envelope of unending, all-consuming pain.

I try to tell them, but they never believe me.

Travis said...

So this is an endorsement for writing what we don't know, as opposed to the advice we so often get...to write what we know?

Interesting.

Erik Donald France said...

'Learning what happens next is where the fun is.'

You got it down, brother.

"Curiosity killed the cat /
But satisfaction brought it back."

ivan said...

Endorphins and enkaphalins.

Ah well. They're all in our heads.

Charles Gramlich said...

Bernardl, that second editing suggestion is a really good one. I'll make that change. But I think "that" is important here. It might not be absolutely necessary but it makes the sentence more clear. I'm not sure where it's coming from but I've seen a number of folks recently who say take out almost all the the "that's." I often disagree, although it's good to have a look at them all to see if they could be eliminated.

Archavist, well, they sort of do. They just call it morphine, or heroin, but the effect is very similar.

Heff, it's as good a reason as any to become a teacher. Then you've just got to keep learning. I never learned psychology as well as when I had to teach it.

Sarah Hina, I think that's the thing that separates the fun folks from the no fun ones. The fun ones are kind of always at play.

Steve Malley, now that is interesting. I wouldn't have ever thought of that. I'll have to pick your brain for more on the subject.

Travis, I've been saying for years to write, not what you know, but what you'd like to know.

Erik, good one. :)

Ivan, as good a place as any.

Chris Eldin said...

Very interesting Charles! And though you may find this information old hat, others will see it as refreshing and new material!

In my old life, I used to develop training. Most of this required getting experts to 'unpack' the knowledge they have stored away so I can organize and write it for others to learn. Not easy stuff, unpacking yourself.
:-)

BernardL said...

People use 'that' in dialogue, so if not overused, it provides natural tone to a fictional conversation. When the object of dialogue sentence structure, as in 'I heard that', it flows well. When inserted between a verb, and the actual subject matter 'that' represents, it merely interrupts the flow of the sentence. As you say, every one should be looked at individually. :)

Charles Gramlich said...

Chris Eldin, "unpacking" yourself? Sounds vaguely like when you have to go to the bathroom really bad. LOL.

Bernardl, I've certainly become much more aware of "that's" these days.

Virginia Lady said...

I'd have to agree. I am always much more engaged when I'm learning about something than when I'm merely clarifying or writing about a well known subject.

In some ways the known seems too easy and almost self evident since we already know it so well. A new subject holds the excitement of discovery and opens our minds to a different perspective.

pattinase (abbott) said...

That's the truth. Never did understand writers who sat down with the whole story worked out on 3x5 or in their head. I need the excitement of not knowing till the knock comes on the door.

Charles Gramlich said...

Virginia Lady, well put. That's just how I'd describe it.

Pattinase, That's me as well.

Merisi said...

I hope you are by now way into the unknown! :-)

Barbara Martin said...

I tried writing an outline for my second manuscript and decided not to put too much into it, as I was becoming bored with the project before it even began. Good advice, thanks.

Charles Gramlich said...

Merisi, it's largely done. Which I'm glad of.

Barbara, I know I just can't think a story out too much or the urge to write it is gone.

Mary Witzl said...

On one hand, I know that learning something new can be stimulating, but there are times when the learning curve is so steep that the opposite effect is achieved. If I ever want to get to sleep at night, I just ask my husband to try and explain the hexadecimal representation of color. Works a treat.

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