Two days ago, I turned in a manuscript that I truly feared I would never finish. That has never happened to me before, and to have it happen when the final installment in a trilogy was DUE NOW, was as potentially disastrous as it was unacceptable.
Keep in mind that I am one of those people who does not subscribe to the belief that you must write every day; for me, forced writing does not always equal useable writing and can often times derail the story. I also believe that sometimes fallow periods and distance from our manuscripts are the best thing for them and those philosophies have served me well in the past. However, there are times when you simply have no choice.
My first option is always to try and coax the muse out to play, using music, collage, artist dates, whatever I think will work. But sometimes, she just isn’t coax-able. In this particular case, I think she was simply exhausted. And that’s okay, but as a writer with contracts and deadlines, I can’t always wait for her.
Here are eighteen tips I use to help me produce words when my creative muse packed up and left me, leaving no forwarding address. You can, in fact, get an entire book written this way, although it is not the most joyful of processes.
Some of the things on this list are about assembling the raw materials you will need to write the story. Others are about priming the writing pump to get the words flowing. Often, the suggestions will do both. But all of them are about building forward momentum and finding a way—any way—to get those damn words on the page.
I tend to think of them as the equivalent of hauling the bricks, bag of cement, mortar, etc. over to where I am going to build the wall, assembling all the things I will need. Sometimes, having them all there and ready provides motivational juice. Other times I still have to build brick by brick, but at least I don’t have to go hunting for all the parts.
And look! Just in time for NaNoWriMo!
1. Write in short bursts of 20-30 minutes or 500 words.
2. Take a short 10-15 minute walk. Bring a small notebook or recording device.
3. Even if you’re not an outliner see if you can at least find your story’s turning points. It is much easier to build drama and write across shorter distances and can seem more doable. Exploring either of the internal or external turning points can often produce scene ideas and help propel you forward.
External turning points are those moment when everything shifts for your character; surprises or twists are revealed; or the stakes suddenly become higher. (And if none of those happen, then brainstorm some immediately.)
Internal turning points—think about your character’s emotional arc, who she is at the beginning of the story and how she will be different at the end. Be sure there is enough there there, then look at the incremental steps she will need to take in order to achieve that emotional growth.
4. Assemble the story’s descriptive details and building blocks. Map out the world of your story so all the info you need will be there when you’re ready. Map of the word, the neighborhood, history of the players involved, floor plan of the castle, whatever. This is not procrastinating because at some point you will need to be grounded in the story logistics enough that you can block your scenes and character movements.
5. Journal your characters wounds and scars and early life traumas. Once your character is fleshed out more, you often get a better idea for the sorts of obstacles she will need to face in the story, which in turn creates dramatic events and scene ideas.
6. If your antagonist is not a POV character, consider writing a few short scenes from his POV anyway, just for your own benefit. Knowing what your antagonist is doing, thinking, planning often helps you understand what needs to happen next and what your protagonist will need to do.