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March 22nd, 2008
The First Date

Writing a book is like dating. There’s the first excitement of the new idea where you wonder what to wear, how to approach the shiny new relationship. It goes well and there’s a second date. The liaison seems full of promise but suddenly the guy doesn’t ring…

What on earth has gone wrong? you wonder, trying to frantically rethink the relationship, obsessing about what you should have, could have done differently.

Writer’s block…

For days you dither, thinking and rethinking, trying to find a way to get the relationship back on track.

Personally I don’t believe in writer’s block. For me there’s no such beast. When my date comes to a screeching halt I know I’ve taken a wrong turning. I need to go back to my character motivations to strengthen them and beef up the conflict. I need to kick procrastination (the other girl) in the butt and get back to work.

When I first started writing I decided to make writing a habit—yes, I’ve become a habitual dater. I write most days, a set number of words whether I feel like it or not. The regular writing routine has trained me to write under all circumstances.

I’ve also developed some strategies so my date never comes to an abrupt end and eventually ends in marriage.

1. Set achievable targets and stick to them.

2. Write in small blocks of time. Set a timer for half and hour or an hour, sit down and write until the timer goes off.

3. If you need to run around after children, driving them to sports practices etc. take a notebook with you or better yet an alphasmart and write during the times when you’re waiting.

4. Pre-plot during times when you can’t write due to other obligations.

5. Take your writing to a different place – write outside or in your favorite chair or in a café if you’re having trouble writing in the normal space.

6. Experiment with working at different times of the day to discover the best time for you to write.

7. Take time out to exercise. It’s amazing how alert and eager you are to write after a burst of fresh air and exercise.

8. Eat properly – a balanced diet helps concentration.

9. Take a good hard look at your character motivations. Make sure your conflict is strong and that will help the words to flow.

10. Take time out between projects.

11. Feed the muse: go to the movies, read books, try new hobbies and experiences, people watch. It’s all good.

12. If all else fails, chuck a dead body into the plot.

Of course not every writer is the same. You might think I’m dead wrong about writer’s block. Heck, you might have met the guy last night. What do you do when you have a writing slump?

13 comments to “The First Date”

  1. I rip out the last chunk I wrote. I’ve learned that if I’m stuck, it’s because something I did last time, before getting stuck, is wrong.

    You’ve got fab advice, as always, though.

  2. I’m not letting my blocks conquer me this time. I work through them. I bought a big white board, and like Dr.House it seems to really help me now.

    I’m trying to get back into cross stitching because I need a creative outlet … besides writing.

    I’ll burn myself out if I don’t.

  3. Susan – good advice, especially for a panster. I let my plot drift through my head while I’m in the shower, walking the dog, taking a bike ride. Usually by the time I’m back at the computer I know what I need to do. Just letting my mind wander seems to help unkink the blockage or sort out the problem.

    Amy – I have a great visual of you a la Dr. House scribbling on your whiteboard and treating your plot and characters like a disease. It’s a great idea. Did you do the storyboarding thing? It’s a form of storyboarding except instead of post-its you have your whiteboard pens.

  4. Yes. The post it’s drove me crazy, albeit they are excellent, but I use the whiteboard and FORSOOTH the pantster now plots. LOL!

    I have different purty colors to for Hero, Heroine, Antagonists, GMC, and the plot. I usually write out those three main characters and what motiviates them, then the plot comes.

    I erase stuff. I know a basic idea of what I want to happen, and yeah like House I try to figure out why that happens and how to get those guys there.

    Taking that storyboarding class last year has helped me out a lot.

    I also do a visual board, with pictures and things that look like characters, and of course on my computer I make a playlist of the music that drives me and the story. :D

  5. The storyboarding class helped me, too. I have a notebook I scribble plot ideas in, which works sort of like a white board. I use this system for longer books where I need/use subplots etc. I end up scrapping some of my ideas but this method helps me think the plot through. Of course I still do quite a bit of pantsing in there. I’m more a hybrid – sort of a cross between the two plotting methods.

    The visual board and music have never worked for me, but I know lots of people use this as part of the creative process.

    I love learning about the different ways people have of writing. It fascinates me.

    Part of each writer’s journey is trying out all the methods and learning what works for them.

  6. I’m so unorganised it’s not funny, and me being German :wink: but somehow I get stuff written.

    Though I avoid deadlines like the pest. :mrgreen:

  7. #13 listen to some favorite music.

    Great advice. I loved your list of suggestions. :mrgreen:

  8. Gabriele – I don’t think any of us like deadlines!!

    Pussreboots – I didn’t mention music, did I? Definitely music. I love to listen to music while I’m writing, but when I’m in the groove I tune out and don’t hear a thing.

  9. Yeah the music is there but when I throwing the words out I can miss so much music too.

    I totally tune everything out. To the point that my DH and kids went for a walk and I wrote, but it was a hard scene to write. They walked in the door, they were gone for over an hour … it felt like a few minutes to me.

  10. 7 & 10 are things I really need to work on. *g*

    #5 really works well for me. I like to jot ideas in the food court at the mall. Lots of people and stuff happening there. LOL

    And if all else fails, I think I’ll try #12 next time. :-)

  11. Great advice, great list, and I like the additions made by others, but they are as difficult to follow as the New Year Resolutions I never make.

    I find every story different, and this is never more true than the current one – a historical where the romance runs parallell to the action, each affecting the other.

    I began as a plotter, drifted into being a pantser, and am currently a pantser who plots the storytelling at the end of the first draft, recasting the way large chunks are told. (although I am currently doing that task only fifty thousand words into the draft.

    From choice, I prefer to allot time differently at each stage, often working in the garden, or doing house maintenance during some of them and, as a reformed (only partially) workaholic I have to guard against my tendency to close the rest of the world out and snarl at interruptions – my grandchildren ignore it anyway and barge right in.

    I like your advice and agree with it, just don’t expect me to change too much.


  12. Great post!

    #11 is my favorite way to find inspiration. I write in small chunks by necessity and then mull things over while I’m out walking around doing errands or working on a quilt project.

    I’m really interested in the Alphasmart suggestion too. I am spending a lot of time these days taking the kids to various activities so having a very portable gadget I could bring along would be great.

  13. Excellent advice, Shelley. I’m printing it off and sticking those points on my bulletin board!