Earlier this week, I was a guest blogger at author C.J. West's site. He runs an "Over the Hump Day" series every Wednesday. I thought I'd share that post here.
When you’re a writer, most of your time is spent alone with your keyboard and that blinking cursor on the monitor. And sometimes it sits there blinking, blinking, blinking—daring you to move it down the screen.
There are probably as many methods for dealing with stalled writing as there are writers. Nora Roberts who’s written more books than even she can count, I think, is known for saying, “You can’t fix a blank page.” She’s spot on with that. I’ve got a t-shirt that sums it up.
A few tips I can share for keeping things moving forward:
1. Understand why you’re stuck. For me, it’s usually because there’s a plot point I haven’t figured out. For example, I might know who the killer is, but I’m not sure why he did the killing. Use the “Rule of Twenty” to help brainstorm through that. (Don’t know what the Rule of Twenty is? It’s simply coming up with twenty possible answers, reasons, or solutions to any given plot point.) In general the first ideas you get will be the obvious, and won’t make your writing special. Admittedly, I don’t usually get as far as twenty, but each one can open up new lines of thought. Often, what seems totally off the wall ends up leading to one that works.
When I began writing DANGER IN DEER RIDGE, the 4th book in my Blackthorne, Inc. series, I knew the hero was going to be Grinch, who’d been a secondary character in other books in the series. What I’d forgotten was that due to a throwaway line in the first book, where he never even appeared on the page, he had a child. How could I write a romantic suspense where the hero had a kid? After considering as many possibilities as I could, I ended up with a way around the problem. (Of course, my solution also involved a dog, so now I had yet another “character” to deal with.)
3. Don’t waste time on details. Placeholders are your friend. XXX works very well. I’m terrible at descriptions, and even worse at metaphors. Likewise character names. If I’ve stopped for more than about thirty seconds, I simply put in an XXX and move on. In DANGER IN DEER RIDGE, a character was a landscaper, and he’d brought a plant that was suited to the setting high in the Colorado mountains. An XXX with “research plants” meant I could keep writing instead of fretting about what kind of a shrub he would have brought her.
2. Understand you might have slow days. Didn’t meet your word count goal? Why? Were you stuck on a piece of research you needed? Getting the answers counts as writing time. “Head Writing” counts as writing time. I don’t outline, or plot more than a few scenes in advance, although I do have plot points that will have to be covered, or simple “what about?” questions that I write on sticky notes and put on a foam core board. Thinking about the book counts as writing. (And, this might be the perfect time to go back to your XXXs and see if you can fill them in.)
4. Don’t stop at the end of a scene. Move at least a few paragraphs into the next one, or make a note of the plot points. That way, when you come back to work the next day (and if you’re a writer, it is a job, so you need to be as disciplined as if you were going to the office), you’ll have a running start. Knowing where you’re going brings the excitement needed to get that next section on the page.
5. Print out your day’s output. Take it away from the computer to read. I like to do this in bed, where it becomes a “book” and not “work.” Make basic markups, noting things that jump out at you, such as repeated words, confusion as to who’s speaking in dialogue, typos, transitions, and places that need elaboration or cutting. Don’t fix them, just make notes. Then when you go back to work the next day, you’ve got another running start.
6. I also have a tracking board. When I finish a scene, I jot the plot points, characters, time, and setting onto sticky notes and put them on what others call a story board. But I do mine after I’ve written the scene. I admit I get behind at times, so during those “lulls” I go back and take care of updating it. This also can trigger new ideas. When I was writing DEADLY SECRETS, I wasn’t sure who the murderer was. Then I looked at my tracking board and saw a character’s name showing up in all the critical scenes. Ta Da!
Please remember: this is what works for me. I fix as I go, and when I get to “the end” I’ve got a polished first draft. Normally, one more pass and it’s ready to go to my editor.
And, when things seem impossible, you can always write a guest blog post!
Causes Terry Odell Supports
Pro Literacy Worldwide, The Nature Conservancy, The Adult Literacy League, The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society