I rarely free write. My available writing time is to too little and too precious. By the time I’m able to sit down at the keyboard, I’m usually roaring to start.
But being anxious to start writing doesn’t always mean I keep writing though out a session at the keyboard. My drafts—especially my ultra-messy early drafts—are riddled with potholes. Little gopher holes , like I want a word for “windy” but not breezy because I used that last chapter, and I want it to have a warmer connotation; and big old sinkholes, like my hero is locked in tower, surrounded by guards, has a knife wound and just accidently snuffed his candle. How does he escape?
For me, the trouble isn’t in cold starts. It’s in plodding onward when I’m stuck. When I know that opening the laptop means staring at a half-constructed, gap-toothed paragraph. That’s when it’s hard for me to get into my writing, when I hear the siren call of Netflix or Facebook or cleaning the microwave.
Because freewriting is off the table, here are some ways I get unstuck.
1. Go through my emergency box of paint samples. Colors, sure. They’re creativity boosters or something. And a nice break from a black and white screen. But, I find the most inspiration in the tiny type beneath each color.
Paint companies can really name a color. Oh, the evocative language. It’s not gray; it’s anvil or sea storm or cubicle. Read “sea storm” and suddenly my heroine on a desolate beach waiting for a ship to return.
It’s fun to play around evocative language, especially when wrist deep in a bad, first draft in which every other verb is “gave” and everything is telling, not showing. Even if that evocative language doesn’t survive subsequent drafts, replacing a standard word “gray” with, say, “anvil” does things to the mood off the story. Suddenly the scene feels heavier, crueler to me and I can play around with that feeling. Puts me back in the story, gives me a direction to aim towards.
2. Dialogue Spree! When a story stops dead on me, usually it’s because it’s been too interior and nothing is going on. But, you know, I neeeeeeeed those flashbacks and internal monologues and navel gazing. Important characterization that simply cannot be cut. Until the 9th draft or so (or earlier, depending on how stern my betas are, and how open I’ve made myself to their wisdom).
Anyway, dialogue forces a character back into the real world. Interacting and fumbling after the plot. And because I like action tags better than dialogue tags, it makes me make the character do something.
Plus, dialogue is something I do well. Creating good writing during one keyboard session is my no-fail guarantee that I’ll be jonesing to get back to the draft at the next writing session.
3. Outrageously Onward. I write the most god awful solution to my story problem. Horrendous metaphors, six-sentence long conceits, purple prose, fifteen-dollar words, modal verbs, clichés, stark language that would make Hemmingway tap out, flat-out stylist rip-offs of my favorite writers. Get my terrible, no-good writing out front. Prove all my fears right.
Once I am unable to do worse, I can go about non panic-stricken ways of figuring out how to do my best.
4. Stop and ask myself “what am I trying to accomplish in this scene?” I am a terrible plotter. I write in fear that there’s not enough going on, that I’m letting my characters off too easy, that my sub plots are too rando.
That all may be true. However, generally when I’m stuck in a scene, it’s because I have too much going on. Usually on the emotional front. I’m trying to squeeze 9,000 bits of story into one paragraph. Emotional residue is good, but so is clarity. When I pare away the extras, I find the soul of the scene, and that guides me to the finish.