7.11.2017

You’re Allowed to Meander

When you try to write regularly, you will find that you have times when you cannot summon the will to be creative. There are many stratagems for getting the ball rolling, including this perhaps unexpected advice: don’t go forward, go sideways. Although your initial inclination is to start where you left off the day before, you don’t have to. Writing isn’t a to-do task, to be completed by Friday at five o’clock. Besides, breaking out of the linear mode can be good for you. You should feel free to go where your spirit moves you.

These off-track writing forays can take many forms. A common one stems from a vague thought that has been nagging you for a while. A thought flickers in your head—“You really should write a description of her”—then flits away again. You don’t follow it because you’re immersed in the scene you’re writing. Well, today is the day to pursue it. You’re stuck anyway. Go write down that description. Better yet, you may find that writing it down gets you going on another idea you wanted to include for that character.

Another idea is to write out something that’s easy for you. For instance, you know that you’re planning for Eddie and Sue to have a fight a few chapters down the road. Try writing out the dialogue, making sure the fight keeps escalating. Dialogue is easy to write. You may find out when you finally reach the future chapter that your dialogue doesn’t really work anymore, but that’s okay. Part of choosing what’s right in your book is ruling out what’s wrong. The key point is that you made strides forward on that mopey day.

Another writing assignment that commonly is put off for later is a background segment on a character. A narrative summary, covering a person’s past in one sweep, is also an easier task for a writer. You don’t have to focus so hard on the details. For instance, you know that Valerie needs a back story in order to explain why she keeps her kitchen knives exactly arrayed in her three wooden blocks side by side, so use your off day to explore those reasons. Again, this background piece may not make the final cut. But everything you write about your fictional world is helping you to realize it more vividly.

Exercise: Forget about that half-written page you’re working on, where the way forward seems as likely as a half-formed tron creature slogging through sludge. Instead, turn to your notes for one of your main characters. Have you managed to include all of the notes so far? Let the interplay between what you wrote in the notes and what you know you’ve written in the actual manuscript bob back and forth in your mind. You’re letting yourself dwell inside your book.

“Writing a novel is like driving a car at night.  You can see only as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” 
—E. L. Doctorow

Copyright @ 2017, John Paine


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