Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Writing Tip: How to keep going...

One of the harder aspects of writing is how to keep going without getting stuck on a scene or idea. One important trick I learned (the hard way) was to 'stop on the clock', mid-sentence if necessary. For years (literal years working on my dissertation) I made the mistake of finishing for the day when I had successfully finished a section and it seemed a logical place in the writing to break for the day. The problem was, having finished a section the day before, each day I started by facing a new section—a new blank page, with no idea where to start. I spent much of each day trying to get started, and came to dread sitting down to write, or, you know, getting up in the morning. I eventually realized that the only days when I didn't start with hours of fruitless angst and wondering how I was going to start the next section was when my wife had pulled me away from work the previous day before I had finished for the day. Consequently, I was anxious to get back to work to finish what I had been going to say the day before. Instead of dreading starting, I started the day wildly getting down on paper things I already knew I wanted to say...which momentum generally carried me through the day. Having finally recognized the pattern, I learned that (for me at least) stopping at a set time meant that I knew at least the next few sentences I needed to write next morning, and a good way to start the day meant a better day writing generally. (The other benefit of this approach is that it is also easier to respond to other people's needs, since picking up the kids from school at 3:30 was a deadline to stop on the clock, and no longer an interruption until I could finish my thought.)

Stumbled across an NPR broadcast today that made the same point, part of the now defunct How To Do Everything podcast. The Nov 4, 2016 episode "StoryCorn" starts (approximately 1 minute in) with an interview with writer Eric Larson who makes the same point, if somewhat more eloquently. Larson also tempts himself to his writer's desk with permission to eat a double-stuffed Oreo cookie with his coffee when he first sits down to write. Worth a listen!

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