Friday, July 24, 2020

Best Writing Tip Ever--or What I Learned from Wile. E. Coyote

     I don't know where I picked up this "best writing tip." It could've been in the Vermont College MFA Writing for Children program.  Or at one of the many, many writer's conferences I've attended over the years. Maybe it was in one of the dozens of "craft" books I've consumed. I'm sorry I can't credit this writing tip to anyone specific.  All I know is that isn't mine originally.

So here it is.

Stop writing.

I'm one of those people that can't get started when I sit down to write. I fiddle around. I read my mail. I play an online word game. Maybe two.  OK, maybe more than two. Then I go back to my document screen. Words have not magically appeared while I was trying to get started.

This blank screen (or if you're Old School, blank sheet of paper) stares at me. No, glares at me, in all it's blinding white glory. I can look at the previous paragraph or chapter and tell myself, "Look. You wrote this yesterday. See? This sounds pretty good. You can do it, Mary Ann."

The screen doesn't blink. Still blank.

I get a second (or third) cup of coffee.

Sometimes, with that next cup and a hour or so of spinning my wheels, I might squeeze out a couple of terrible sentences. I keep writing sentences, boards thrown randomly over a muddy patch of plot. The sentences, fuzzy and badly placed, will get me to dry ground. But after I regain solid footing...I have to go back and clean up that rickety word bridge. By that time, I can rearrange those boards into a recognizable narrative. If I don't clean up the mess it right then, I'll have the same problem months later when I revise. So it's writing, re-writing...then three hours are gone, and I have a paragraph.


Who has hours to waste with unproductive writing?

So here's what I do now.

I stop writing.

I don't write to the end of a scene or a chapter. I just stop. Stop in mid-chapter, paragraph or even sentence.


If I write until I run out of ideas, guess what? 99% of the time, when I next turn on the computer, I will still be out of ideas! It's like Wile E. Coyote running to the edge of a cliff, and realizing there is no bridge. Dead end.


...if I stop while I still have the end of the scene, or chapter firm in my head, I can begin the next time, knowing that the next words are already there .  No stalling, no hem-hawing around. The act of continuing what was already in my head, creates momentum.  The physics of writing--A writer in the act of writing will continue to write. Or--A writer at rest will continue to be at rest.  Or something like that. (Physics is not my strong suit.)

When I'm engaged in writing what I already know, most often, my subconscious is "building the bridge" ahead. So, unlike poor Coyote, when I get to the end of what I "know," I will discover that the road ahead has cleared...or a bridge has been built...or fill-in your own simile. And as you merrily make your way down to the road of your story, remember to stop. Stop before you get to the next dead end.

Don't fall off the cliff, like Wile E. Coyote.

It works for me. I hope it works for you, too.


Rosi said...

What an interesting idea! I will have to try this. Maybe it will work for me too. Thanks for the post.

Carmela Martino said...

I've heard this advice but forgot about it. Thanks for the reminder, MA!

Elizabeth Varadan, Author said...

What an interesting tip. Actually, I think that was Hemingway's method. He would wrap up the day's writing by stopping mid sentence, so he would be able to start the next day where he left off and where something was happening. Good reminder.

April Halprin Wayland said...

I think Sid Fleischman talked about doing that, too. Thanks for reminding me. I love these short tips! It's about all I can hold in my mind right now!