Writing Hack: Use the Toilet

March 25, 2016 § Leave a comment

zurnHere’s an odd little trick that has helped prod me to keep writing. I stumbled upon it accidentally, but it seems to be working.

Several years ago, I wrote a (sadly, never completed) novel about a professional killer. I knew his first name was Gideon, but it took me a while to come up with a good last name. Then one day I was in the restroom at work and saw “ZURN” stamped into a floor drain cover. Bingo! Gideon Zurn was born.

I’m a big fan of writers who reuse characters across novels. Not sequels, mind you, but standalone books where the main character from some other novel has a cameo. Jonathan Carroll is good for this, and Elmore Leonard did it occasionally. So I started doing it, sometimes with business names (“Joltin’ Joe’s” is my universe’s equivalent of Starbucks) and sometimes with characters.

The space opera I’m currently working on is set in the far future, so I struggled with how to work in a cameo. I doubted Joltin’ Joe’s would last several thousand years and an intergalactic exodus, so that was out. And Gideon Zurn wasn’t immortal, so that eliminated a cameo from him. But what about his descendents?

And so my big, bad villain got his name—Mazan Zurn.

Here’s where the hack comes in. The restroom in my current workplace also has Zurn fixtures. Not just a drain cover, but the flush valves on the toilets. Every time I use the men’s room, I see ZURN etched into the plumbing in big letters and it reminds me of my work. Maybe it’s keeping my subconscious focused on the story; I can’t really say. But it is a constant reminder.

So the next time you’re stuck for the name of a character, a place, a ship, or something similar, take a look around you. What do you see every day that will remind you of your work? Use it, and maybe it will keep your brain churning on your story in the background, or at least poke you to keep writing.



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