Tips from the Pros: Greenwood and Evans on How to Jumpstart Your Writing
Deadlines seem anathema to inspiration. But for some writers, deadlines are actually quite inspiring. And not just in the “my editor’s going to kill me” kind of way. These writers take a strong work ethic, shape it with a little creativity, and come out looking at inspiration in an entirely new—and surprisingly efficient—light.
To celebrate the deadline-driven inspiration of NaNoWriMo, this Monday, Wednesday (today!), and Friday, some of my favorite professional authors are spilling their secrets on how they write even when the muse is M.I.A.
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I never get stalled in writing. No, I'm not boasting or preening, I'm sharing my survival strategy.
I don't get stalled because I'm brilliant or so frothingly full of ideas that they pour out of me whenever I so much as pass a keyboard, but because I always have six to eight projects on the go at any one time, and when I start to run down or hit a wall on one, I just switch to another.
As I work on the second one, my subconscious is usually puttering away on whatever I started to stall on, and will suddenly pop something up into my mind as I'm working on that second project. Or third.
By the magic of computers, I don't have to stop to go back to the first project (as it’s just a computer file) and perhaps lose my train of thought in doing so; I just keep right on typing as the new idea hits. I can stop to transfer it to the proper computer file later.
For me (and yes, other writers are different, so this might not work for you, but then again you'll never know if you don't give it a try), this even works if I'm up against a deadline on the first "I'm starting to stall" piece, and therefore "don't have time" to switch to a second project or anything else. If you're stalled, you're stalled; don't waste time slamming your head repeatedly against that wall, but go to the second project in hopes that your subconscious, out of sheer shame or disgust, will spit up what you need to get going on the stalled piece.
So set up your multiples today, and try it before it REALLY matters. If it doesn't work, here's Plan B: Outline in a few bald sentences what has to happen in the stalled area or section (if you're not certain, that becomes the classic "What happens next?" question). Look at an entertaining way to phrase those few bald sentences. Do it. Now look at what you've already written (before stalling), and look at your entertainingly rephrased few sentences. How can you rewrite them to match the style of what's already written? Do it. Now, what can you take out of those few sentences so they don't read like a placeholder. Again, do it. If you think that'll suffice, move on. If not, type "QQQQ" at the end of those sentences and move on to the rest of the piece. You're past the stall point, can keep going, and just have to remember to search for "QQQQ" later to replace your placeholder sentences with something better—after you've had time to read and mull them over, look at the (by now) otherwise complete piece, and decide what that new scene needs to do.
There: Plan A, Plan B, and hopefully my work here is done. Happy writing!
When I get hit with “writer’s block,” I fall back on two techniques, depending on the cause. If it’s just general malaise, it’s time to power through it. I set a timer for five minutes, and make myself write for five minutes straight (no revising!). Then I reset the timer and do anything but write for five minutes. Reset the timer for ten minutes and repeat, keeping the non-writing time at five minutes, and bumping the writing up another five every time I get the hang of the previous time frame. It works for me, because it breaks the project up into manageable bits. I don’t have to write a thousand words or a whole chapter or for two hours—it’s just five minutes. Even if I’m the worst writer in the universe, I can write for five minutes.
If it’s something wrong with the story that’s tripping me up, I usually go back and do some more foundation work. I’ll rewrite scenes from a different POV, or switch it to first person and try to get into the character’s head more. Or I just start writing questions to myself—why is she really doing this? What is it about him that makes this guy so edgy? What happened off-screen that led that character here? Not only does it help break through whatever barrier’s keeping me from understanding the story, but the shift in writing style usually yields some nice turns of phrase!