Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Four Tips

Although I don’t like writing “rules,” I love writing tips. I like hearing what works for other writers, especially those facing the same challenges I face. How do they manage their time or deal with the dreaded Fear of the Blank Page? I want to share four tips I’ve found useful in hopes one or more of them helps someone else.

1. Grab 15 minutes. If you’re like me, you can’t get any substantive writing done in 15 minutes. It takes me about that long to “prime the pump” so the words start flowing. But there are things you can do in 15 minutes, at or away from your desk:
  • Decide on the name of a minor character or of some location in your book—a restaurant or street name, for example.
  • Give your character another complication, a small one adding to the dilemma he or she is in. How can you make life a tad more miserable for him or her? Maybe while your protagonist is changing that flat tire you gave her a passing car splashes her with mud or the heel of her shoe breaks.
  • Resolve that word problem. Say you’ve written the word “turned” too many times (it’s such a handy word). Come up with synonyms or, better yet, ways to rework sentences so you can remove the overused word and its synonyms altogether. 
2. Tell yourself it’s going to stink. I used to despair of that first 15 or so minutes at my desk because what I wrote during that time was never as good as what I wrote later, after I’d been at my desk for a while. And I let that paralyze me. I couldn’t stand writing those first bad paragraphs, so I occasionally put off writing, and at times writing became painful. Now I tell myself that what I write in those first 15 minutes will be bad—it’s just a fact. I still get that sinking feeling when I sit down at my computer, but it passes more quickly than it used to because I’ve come to expect it and I’ve learned to start my writing day in spite of it.

3. Find something that says, “I’m here to write.” I always have a hot cup of coffee or tea on my desk. It makes my desk a more comfortable place to be. It settles me and tells my body and brain, “This is your office. You’re not going anywhere, so start working.” I know a writer who creates his work space by turning on music. Though I could never do this—for me music is too distracting—he says it helps him get in the right frame of mind. Whatever works.

4. Just start writing. Don’t wait for inspiration. For many people, the very act of writing (typing) gets the mental juices flowing. If you don’t know where to go from where you left off the last time you wrote, just start. Type anything. You can always delete it later (and you’ll probably want to). In her book Write Away, mystery author Elizabeth George suggests something similar—free writing—when it comes to character creation. After she nails down the basics of her character, she writes a “report” about that character in a stream-of-consciousness fashion to “trigger the right side of [her] brain.” She says it not only helps her discover her characters but also enlarges her book’s theme and opens up ideas for subplots.

What writing challenges do you face? What tips do you have for overcoming them?



Andrea said...

I don't like writing rules, either. Thanks for the tips!

Cynthia Bruner said...

You are so right about "I'm here to write." Smells especially trigger associations for me. My tip? Use time lost to insomnia to daydream scenes!

Daun Jacobsen said...

Thanks for sharing Karin. I love your encouragement to "just do it." Like you said, I do find that the very act of writing itself triggers the flow of ideas. By taking every opportunity to write, despite whether or not I feel inspired, in the end creates a lot of usable material, that I would have otherwise not written because I didn't "feel" inspired. I'm so glad to have been pointed to your blog, I'll keep it in my list.

Karin Kaufman said...

Cynthia, excellent tip on the insomnia! That's hours of extra plotting time a week. I wonder if the state of being half-awake opens up more possibilities?

Daun, for the longest time I'd hem and haw, start a sentence, consider it, delete it, start again, etc. I finally learned to just start writing and keep writing. Something worthwhile comes out eventually!


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