This week we’ve been talking about writing setbacks, and the biggest setback of all: not wanting to write. It’s part of the process, but that doesn’t mean it’s pleasant, and it certainly doesn’t mean it’s productive.
(Alliteration is fun.)
As I said yesterday, every writer occasionally feels that sense of ultimate distraction. It’s a blinding need to do anything but put words on paper. I’ve found three tricks that I rely on to help me overcome it.
Probably the most common for all of us, conscious or not, is juggling projects. I’ve already talked about it some, and I wasn’t really recommending it there. In fact, when it comes to “getting to the end,” juggling projects definitely counts as a setback.
And if you’re working on NaNoWriMo (and following the official rules), I wouldn’t recommend it. But then, my friend Toby recently took me aside, all concerned about my ridiculous expectations for NaNoWriMo, and said, “Aaron…you know there are eleven other months you can spend writing, right?”
So I’m including this one as an answer to the general question of dealing with distraction, not to the specific problem of NaNoWriMo. It goes back to my conclusion in that last article, though: make sure you’re still finishing projects. Feel free to juggle as many as you can keep in the air, just make sure you get some done from time to time.
I can tell you from lots of experience, though, that you can get a mighty powerful slingshot into one project just by using it to avoid another. My sci-fi project SEATAC slammed to a dead stop a few hundred words in, way back in March, and I didn’t make any progress on it at all until November rolled around. Then, when I was really supposed to be working on Ghost Targets: Camouflage, I suddenly found it much easier to work on the other project.
Once I finally got the Ghost Targets book moving, I made myself put the other back on the burner, but I’ve stopped it at a spot where it should be really easy to pick back up as soon as this one’s done.
And that, really, is the most reliable trick I know. It’s exactly what I recommended to Josh when he asked us for advice dealing with his daily slumps:
Be very careful where you stop writing for the day.
I’ve heard this advice from other writers, too, but it’s a trick I first developed on my own when I was working on Sleeping Kings as a serial novel. At times, I was committed to not only writing but publishing every day, and I had several readers holding me accountable, so I had to learn some serious coping mechanisms, fast.
The one that worked best was to make sure I never got to the end of my script. Whatever I was writing, whether it was an action scene or an argument, I tried to make sure I was right in the middle of some high drama, at a really terrible stopping spot, and that I knew exactly what happened next (that is to say, the rest of the scene), and then I’d make myself stop writing. Right there.
That’s not to say I was publishing it that way. What I’d usually do is write the second half of today’s post (a complete scene), publish it, and then write the first half of tomorrow’s.
Find Your Spot (Creative Writing Exercise)
When you’re working in a novel, it’s even easier. You can write a whole scene. You can write a whole chapter. But don’t ever stop writing at a chapter break (or even a section break). Don’t ever put the pen down right after a punchline. Make sure you’re right smack in the middle of something, then walk away.
That way, when you come back to it, it’ll suck you right in and give you some instant momentum. In my experience, that’s usually enough to overcome the little distractions, and once I’m in the story, it’s usually enough to keep me going for a while.
Just remember to stop. The same thing that makes it easy to start tomorrow makes it tough to stop today. When the words are flowing, it’s excruciating to make that sacrifice, to cut them off. And if you’re not careful, you can lose a lot of productive time.
Learn your style. Learn your patterns. Get to know how far you can really go, predict exactly which scene would be the last one you’d write today, and stop just short of finishing that one. It’s a miracle cure for Blank Page Syndrome.
Try it tonight. Next time you get writing, stop yourself short. See how it works for you. And let us know in the comments.