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Yet, your writing project can stall. And when you come back to it, you don't know where to pick up.
When this happens, it can take weeks to get back on track--weeks of deep doubt and fear. You worry your inertia is because the story idea is stupid; you can't remember why you ever liked your characters. You write 1,000 words and delete 780 of them, day after day.
Don't let this happen to you. There are some simple ways to stay connected with your project, even when you can't dedicate hours (or even half hours) to writing.
My friend, author Heidi Willis shared this powerful idea on her blog a few months ago, and I've found it encouraging, because it's both strict and permissive: Touch it every day. (I can hear you all sniggering like middle schoolers. Grow up and let's move on.)
"Touch it every day" means find some way, daily, to keep checking in on your project, whether or not you're able to add pages. Here are some things I've done and some additional things I plan to try:
"Reel it"Imagine possible permutations of a future scene, playing them through in your mind like a film. This is especially good for when you are sick or stuck driving people all over town. More on this technique HERE.
ResearchIn Story, Robert McKee says, "No matter how talented, the ignorant cannot write. Talent must be stimulated by facts and ideas. Do research. Feed your talent. Research not only wins the war on cliche, it's the key to victory over fear and its cousin, depression."
Research is often more portable than creative work. You can read books and articles while sitting in a hospital room with an ill loved one, or while the kids are at soccer practice, or while standing in line at the grocery store. Smart phone owners have an advantage, but even those without portable Internet can have research materials on hand--articles you print and set aside, books you download onto your ereader.
The key here is to stay curious about everything that touches your story world. Read about birth order and regional food traditions and interior design and pop culture and your characters' hobbies. Read about politics and economics and history and scientific discoveries. Never stop learning, never stop feeding your mind: STAY CURIOUS.
InterviewKeep your radar attuned to people you meet who might know something about your story world and bravely ask questions. I once got some amazing research done while at a church luncheon. I was seated by a friend who is a speech-language pathologist, and realized she might know something about speech problems in stroke patients, an element in my story. So I said, "I'm working on a story in which a grandparent has a stroke. What kind of speech problems might he possibly have?" That short chat was more focused and helpful than hours of reading. She knew in practice, not just theory, how patients behave and what the stages of recovery look like. That kind of information is pure gold.
This technique is great for those socially-demanding seasons when you shuttle from wedding to graduation to baby shower. Think about how your story might connect to every person you meet. Tap their knowledge and expertise as a family member, volunteer or professional. People love to be considered experts.
ObserveYou can also take advantage of socially demanding times to people watch. Look for interesting gestures, ways of moving through space, fashion sense. Listen for opinions, attitudes, great catchphrases and slang. Always have a few index cards stuffed in your pockets or handbag to jot down your observations. You never know when the embodiment of one of your characters will suddenly wander onto the train platform, sit at your table at the reception, or pass you on the convention floor.
BrainstormThink through any and every part of the story yet to be written, or parts you want to revise. Brainstorming is a great umbrella term for all kinds of creative thought processes that can fit any writer's style.
- Make big, sprawling, messy mind maps.
- Neatly write notecards with individual plot points you can later sort and order.
- Interview your characters.
- Write journal entries in a character's voice.
- Write out discussions with your characters about your revision ideas.
- Jot ideas to research.
- Develop backstories for everyone, even if only slivers or hints will be used in the story.
- Preplan scenes and what will change in each one.
- Doodle maps of your locations, including home interior layouts.
Brainstorming can be very portable and you can do it even when you're too feverish to hold a pen. Those fitful hours in bed can be rich with imagined conversations with characters and imagined walks through your fictional spaces. Love and inhabit your story world every day.
How do you stay connected to your story when you can't write? Which of these techniques might you try?