Five things Not to Do After the Screeching Halt

PhotobucketToday’s guest is author George Singleton. George’s book, Pep Talks, Warnings & Screeds: Indispensable Wisdom And Cautionary Advice For Writers, was released by Writer’s Digest books last fall, and–according to the book itself–“serves up everything you ever need to know to become a real writer (meaning one who actually writes), in bite-sized aphorisms. It’s Nietzsche’s Beyond Good & Evil meets Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird. It’s cough syrup that tastes like chocolate cake. In other words, don’t expect to get better unless you get a good dose of it, maybe two.”

We’re glad George could join us today for some bite-sized tips. Enjoy!

Five things Not to Do After the Screeching Halt

I would venture to say that, when I’m writing, I come to a screeching halt about every minute or two. Sometimes it’s every twenty seconds. Usually this has more to do with my not being able to think of an easy word—salt shaker, aspirin, knife, roach clip, anticonstitutionalism. It’s not like that word won’t crop into my head within the next quarter hour. The easiest thing to do is go ahead and put a long dash in its place and go on with the sentence. For example, I might write, “I looked at Terry Kennedy and could tell that his wife wouldn’t understand why he thought it necessary to buy a _______ , and try to pour a concrete slab in the backyard for better stability.” In my mind I can see what I’m talking about, and sure enough, later on I’ll go fill in that space with “32 quart stainless steel turkey fryer.”

But it took me twenty some odd years to trust that the word or image would eventually pop into my pea brain. In the old days, I’d do these bad things instead:

1. Read the dictionary, thinking I’ll come across the word magically. Thirty minutes into that routine and I would forget what the heck I was writing about in the first place.

2. Go get a cup of coffee, and on the way notice that The Today Show was on, and how they might have a piece on which will include whatever I couldn’t think about. Then I’d sit and get wrapped up in our nation’s weather forecasts.

3. Get on the internet, maybe Google “concrete slab,” and then read about every dead body ever found in the Hudson and East Rivers.

4. Go stand in my own back yard and look at a space where, perhaps, something should be, hoping that “32 quart stainless steel turkey fryer” will hit me.

5. Hit Save, and quit writing for the day.

I tend to handwrite more and more these days, so when I look over, say, Monday’s writing on Tuesday morning, at times it looks like I’ve gone into Morse Code, what with all the dashes. So be it. When the aphasia hits full-force, and I can’t remember any words whatsoever, then I’ll know to quit. Or I won’t know that I was supposed to be writing in the first place, which may or may not be a blessing.



  1. Jodi says

    Thanks George! I thought I was the only one who had that “What’s the name of that thing…you know it’s round and you use it to eat soup…” syndrome. I’d like to add a sixth thing not to do:
    6. Bang your head against the computer screen. It freaks the dogs out and you hardly ever shake the word loose.

  2. says

    OMG, George! This is exactly what I do! Thank you for simply pointing out the one easy way to ‘fix’ the problem. I’ll have to utilize ___ in my. . . crap, now what what that thing I’m working on called? _____ *sigh*

  3. says

    LOL, George, I do the same thing but instead of ___ I use XX then I highlight the x’s so I don’t skip overthem in re-writes. Sometimes a new scene looks like downtown Chicago at night.

  4. says

    I use asterisks for those places…but half the time, I never come up with what I was searching for, so I just delete and tell myself I’m better off! (The old if-you-can’t-remember-it, it-must-not-be-important rule. :-)

  5. says

    Hi, George! You probabaly don’t remember me; I’m a friend of your old student Rachel Mehard, and we met at the 2008 SC Book Festival. In any case, Rachel’s admiration of you is contagious. I loved hearing you read.

    Back to the topic: I always feel sheepish when other writers make simple suggestions like this because tend to make things hard on myself: my writing stalls because I don’t know what to name a character or what the character’s gender should be, and then some kind soul tells me just to replace all the names/pronouns with the letter X. (Staples called. They said that was easy.)

    Likewise, it only sometimes occurs to me that I can keep writing across those vocabulary blanks instead of sitting there for ten minutes hoping I’ll have a Rain Man moment and magically pull le mot juste out of my ass. (Hey, sometimes that works. But not often enough.) I find it’s easier to keep going past that blank spot if I’m writing by hand, because a blank doesn’t look so out of place next to all the other scratches and arrows that are already on the page. Computer screens are too tidy for first drafts.

  6. George Singleton says

    Hey Jolie–

    Yeah, I forgot to mention that about characters’ names (usually minor ones, or antagonists). You’re right. If you’re living in the South and you want a believable name, there aren’t that many choices, and Bubba gets old. I put blanks there, then go straight to the local obituaries, or open the telephone directory to a random page. Then there it is: Mendal Dawes, or Stetson Looper, or Raylou, et cetera. I, too, think it’s easier in the notebook, handwritten. Big long em dashes look goofy on the page.

    I hope you’re well. Hey to Rachel

  7. says

    I use xxx, because each instance of xxx will show up when I spell check my mss in Word, reminding me of all the holes I have to plug. I also use xxx whenever I stop editing a draft at the end of an evening. All I have to do the next day is put xxx in the FIND function, and I’m back where I stopped.

    As writers, we all have trouble remembering the names of specific “things”, or parts of things. Something that’s really helped me over the years are “Visual Dictionarys”. Books where each chapter is devoted to a group of related objects (Plants, Doors, Ships, etc.), with drawings of each object annotated with the names of the components of that object. For example, for a horse, arrows pointing to the Muzzle, the Croup, the Knee, Fetlock, Stifle, and Coronet of a horse. It’s a big help. I use Dorling Kindersley’s “Ultimate Visual Dictionary”, and David Fisher and Reginald Braggonier Jr.’s “What’s What”.

  8. says

    I use the standard for nonfiction writers, TKTK, which means “to come.” Don’t ask me why this isn’t TCTC. Hmmm. I think I just answered my own question. TCTC is awkward to type.

    Thanks for coming over to guest blog with us, George!