Write Every Day: Automated Vacuum Cleaner Robots

I'm going to sort of skip forward in the narration. I'm going to assume that you, oh intrepid writer looking for a boost, a nudge, a poke, a wiggle, are good with committing to building the good habit of writing.

"I want to write," you say.  "But I don't know what to write."

Okie dokie.  I can help with that too.

Write Every Day Logo

Write Every Day Logo

Maybe you're staring at that blank screen with no idea where to begin.  Maybe you've got a great idea for a story, only you've also got a great idea for another story.  Or twenty another stories.  Which one to write now?  Which idea to go for?

Or maybe it's (shudder) writer's block.  Maybe you're dying to write but you don't have a single good idea to mess around with.

Okay.

Stop it.  Seriously.

Let's take these in reverse order:

WRITER'S BLOCK!

It's sort of like that line from The Usual Suspects: "I don't believe in writer's block, but I'm afraid of it."  Yeah.

Do you have writer's block?  Maybe.  I mean, anyone can get stuck.  It's been my experience, though, that what most folks call writer's block is more like one of those little automated vacuum cleaner robots getting jammed in between the wall, the couch, the coffee table and the edge of the rug.  How'd it get in there?  Doesn't seem possible, but there's no way it's getting out on its own.

So, what do you do?  You go over, you pick it up, and you carry it to another, probably open, area to get back to work.

You see where I'm going with this, right?

If you get stuck -- blocked -- the first thing to do is take Douglas Adams' advice and Don't Panic.  It's going to be okay.

Then look at why you're stuck.  Maybe you've written yourself into a corner.  In my case, it's almost always that I've let the story get away from me.  I had an idea where I wanted the story to go and I was wrong.  I can pound my head on a bit of story, trying to figure out why it's not working.  Almost always the answer is to go back, see if I can spot where things went off the rails, and get things running again.

So: pick yourself up and get a fresh start.

If you're in the middle of something, go back like I just wrote and see if you can spot where things started going pear-shaped.  Un-pear-shape things.  This can be as simple as deleting a scene that -- in retrospect, of course -- not only doesn't work, but seems, tonally, completely different from the book you're writing.  It can be as difficult as -- I'm looking at you, The King's Glamour -- rolling over to the second draft when you're more than 2/3 of the way "done" with the first draft.

Hey, it happens.

Don't be like that little robot, backing up half an inch, then zipping forward into the wall again.  Over and over again.  Pick yourself up, take things from a new perspective, and get back to work.  Might take more than one try -- sometimes those robots just rush right back into the corner -- but give yourself permission to get past it and you just might.

(I realize I'm sort of vastly simplifying the crushing pain of writer's block here, and that for some people it can be a very real and horrible thing.  Therefore, please accept my apologies if taking a fresh look at things doesn't do the trick.)

TOO MANY IDEAS!

This one's easy: pick one.

Any one.  Doesn't matter which one.  Doesn't have to be your big, giant, marketable idea and it doesn't have to be a little, scrawny, whining-in-the-corner-in-pain idea.  Just an idea.  Write about it.  See where it takes you.  Don't worry; you can write about something else when you're done.

I used to have this problem.  Maybe I still do.  As I'm finishing The King's Glamour, I'm also taking notes and outlining for (check this out): The Prince's Revenge, Painted Ocean, Lions Together Are Called a Pride, From Beyond the Grave, Verrazano Narrows,several additional books and stories inwhat I'm tentatively calling The Marketverse, including a follow-up series of books once Ellie's adventures are done(ish), and a good half-dozen short stories.  I'm also organizing notes for my rewrites and revisions on Beautiful Handcrafted Animals, which I wanted to release this spring, but am holding off on because my editor and I had a freaking killer idea for how to make the book a thousand times more awesome.

How do I manage it all?  Easy: I focus on one thing at a time.  Even when I don't want to focus on one thing at a time, I make myself do it.  So, I'll be at the gym thinking about Painted Ocean, and I'll jot down some notes, but when I get home it's all The King's Glamour all the time.  Painted Ocean, your time will come soon enough.

I DON'T KNOW WHERE TO BEGIN!

This one's easy, too: begin at the beginning.

Oh, but finding the beginning?  That's tough.

Here's what I'll do when I'm starting something new, trying to figure out how to begin.  "Something new" being defined as "a new story, a new book, a new chapter, a new section, a new paragraph".

(1) I'll try to start cold.  This works about half of the time.  With The Seven Markets it worked a lot.  With Glamour, less so.  I wish I could tell you there's some rhyme or reason, but there isn't.  Anyway, try to jump in cold.

(2) Try again.

(3) Try a third time.  It's okay.

(4) After three or ten or thirty times, when it just seems like you can't get into the zone, stop.  Open a new document in whatever program you're using (Scrivener is particularly good for this, as you can put all this stuff in one place for safe-keeping).

(5) Start typing.  I'll begin all these documents with "Okay".  It acts as a sort of mnemonic device for me, telling me that's where I'm going.  I'll free associate, I'll take notes, I'll ask myself questions.  "What's the point of this section?"  "Why does this section need to be in the book?"  "Can I do without this section?"  "What's the most important thing that has to happen next?"

(6) Eventually, stuff'll start to happen.  For me -- and I'm sort of an old hat with this technique -- it can be pretty quick.  I'll realize I was going left when I needed to be going right.  I was focusing on the wrong character.  I was so amused by a clever notion I'd caught (beware cleverness in all its forms) that my characters weren't being true to themselves.

(7) Basically, let the right path reveal itself.

And it will.  Well, it should.  I mean, it's possible you're so far down the rabbit hole you need to get a Medivac copter to come in and airlift you to safety.  But even that should become obvious as you're plugging away.

I'll have nights where I'll write a 2,000 word notes document to get one line of text.  Totally worth it.  As a nice ancillary bonus, I'll usually get ten or fifteen other things about the story I wasn't thinking about brought into sharper focus.

REALLY, THAT'S IT?

Well, yeah.  Yes.

The point of Write Every Day is to get you writing every day.  Part of that is to help build the good habit of writing.  Part of that is just to produce.  Part of that is to see the ways regular writing is more than just plugging away, head down, nose to the keyboard, at whatever it is you're writing.

Can you get stuck?  Absolutely.  Should you let yourself stay stuck?  Hell no.

A lot of people (we call them non-writers) believe the hardest part of writing is having a great idea to write about.  "I've got this great idea for a story," they'll say, perhaps offering to hand said great idea off to you, the actual writer.  You do the writing and they'll share the money (ha: money).  How generous.

But ideas aren't your problem, are they?  Ideas you've got.  But how to translate that great or okay or not so great or bleh idea into an actual story?  That's the real trick isn't it?  That's the work.

So: let yourself do the work.  Don't be discouraged if the door onto the page seems jammed shut.  Kick it, hit it, pick the lock, sneak around and check for a back door.  Because it's there.  If you're committed to writing, if you're dedicated to it, it'll be there.  Look hard enough and you'll find it.