I think about Grand Moff Tarkin a lot when I’m writing.
He pops into my head when I’m stuck on a writing problem. When I can’t figure out a good take. When I reach into my idea closet and find nothing.
For the uninitiated, Tarkin is the old British guy who runs the Death Star in Star Wars. After boasting to Princess Leia how fear of the Death Star will bring the galaxy in line with the Emperor, she simply replies, “the more you tighten your grip, Tarkin, the more star systems will slip through your fingers.”
The more I tighten my grip on figuring something out, the more likely it is the answer will elude my grasp. It feels like falling down a well. My focus narrows. I’m straining to see the answer that I’m sure lies at the bottom. But this never works.
I’m Grand Moff Tarkin.
Walk It Out
So how do I loosen my grip? I get the hell up and get out.
When I’m in front of my desk, I’m in work-mode. Narrowing my focus is effective and necessary to get things done. But I try to be aware the minute it becomes counter-productive so I don’t waste time gripping.
Walking is tricky in Pandemic times but its still my first go-to to work through a problem. Even just a quick trip to the bathroom or kitchen to grab a snack can be the thing that loosens the noose I’ve put around my brain.
By disengaging from the work I free up my mind. It remove the shackles of expectation that you should be able to figure out the answer.
And I can’t tell you how many times I’ve be on a run or walk when the fix suddenly hits me. It is the BEST feeling.
I don’t grab it right away. I just keep my mind loose and follow my train of thought. I let the fix flow out as unfettered as possible. This can be a challenge when you’re running in the street and trying not to get hit by cars.
When I have as much as I’m going to get, I record an audio memo on my phone and spit out the idea as I try to catch my breath.
Talk It Out
It’s amazing how just communicating out loud can lead you to an answer. And even if it doesn’t it at least helps clarify the problem and why you’re feeling the way you’re feeling.
Ideally, you can do this with a friend, colleague, love one or very smart child. Most times, I run upstairs firehose my lovely wife with my problems. She’s not a writer but she’s a great listener. She asks questions and responds honestly.
I do this alone sometimes too but I find it’s much more effective with another person. As writer’s, we get trapped in our own little vacuums. It’s nice to talk to someone else and breathe for a change.
Write Something Else
AKA if you can’t blow up the rebel base, blow up Aldreean instead.
I’m very stubborn. I like to figure things out. I want the problem to be fixed.
But sometimes, I’m just not going to get the answer. It will probably come to me. But it might not. So when the first two tricks fail, I move on to writing another project.
For me, moving on to something else is a last resort. There is something to be said for being in the weeds of your own writing and pressing through. Working through problems and kicking the tires on solutions is how you become a better writer.
But working through a problem is unhelpful if you just remain stuck. This is where having another project to turn to is immensely helpful.
It gets you writing again. It gets you excited about something, anything. It’s not that it’s easier ( but it might be). You aren’t so burrowed into it. There’s an ease and joy that comes with the new.
The best part? By freeing myself and moving on to something else, I usually get the answer I’m seeking for the first project. It comes, as always, without warning.
But I never would have go there if I hadn’t moved on in the first place.
So what do you all do when you’re stuck on a problem? Ever feel like Grand Moff Tarkin? Let me know in the comments.