Saturday, June 18, 2011

TRICK 2: FACING THE BLANK PAGE

by Mary Andrews http://www.FirebornChronicles.com


It’s the eleventh hour. Clock’s ticking. And you’ve got...nothing.

(I hate that, don’t you?)What went wrong? Why aren’t the words spilling out across the page like you know they can? What’s the deal?

Well, being a long time member of the procrastinators of America Club, I can suggest that you got exactly what you put into it.

Okay, don’t shoot the messenger, I’ve done this myself. That’s why I suspect it’s true.

When I first started writing back in the 80’s, my time was limited. I had three small children, a husband and a pretty full day. Eventually I figured out that I had only 2-3 viable hours to write per day. To make this work, I had no time left for glaring at the page. Since the clock waits for no one and I NEEDED those five hours of sleep every night I had to come up with a plan.

Thoughts of Pavlov crossed my mind. He’s the guy who proved conditioned response by ringing a bell whenever he fed dogs. The proof being that they salivated even without the food whenever the bell rang. Cool, huh? Anyway, that works on people too so I set out to train myself to get creative on command. (Don’t roll your eyes like that. It worked.)

Computers back then filled a room so I threaded my old-school, muscle building antique typewriter with a roll of paper to insure I could pick up from where I left off the next day. (Check—no set up time.) Then I kept some music on my foot-long tape cassette player just for writing.. (This would be my Pavlovian trigger.) And to make certain that I would have no excuse to walk away from the desk, I would pour a large glass of Pepsi. Done. That was the system. Every night at 10PM when the children were asleep, I sequestered myself at my desk and wrote.

To this day, whenever I put on that music, I get creative. But wait—there’s more!

Now I use a laptop with headphones and I found the same music on DVD so I downloaded it onto my computer, but whenever I sit down to write, I crave a coke—diet coke now since I’m diabetic. (It was an unforeseen side affect but I can live with it.)

What? You don’t believe in Pavlov? Okay, how about Skinner—he used rewards or punishment for motivation. Recently one of the other MuseItUp writers (Terri Main, I think) told us about a method which uses negative reinforcement to encourage action. WRITE OR DIE by Dr Wicked is both a downloadable program and an online site that claims to “put the prod in production”. It provides the writer a place to write without being able to see what he/she is writing. (This prevents editing instead of writing.) It also allows the writer to set the parameters of consequence if writing ceases, a grace period before punishment occurs and a word goal per time goal. (One of the settings will begin deleting text if writing stops for longer than a set time.) It is highly acclaimed as being very effective and is probably worth checking into. Here’s the site: http://writeordie.drwicked.com/ .

Terri also extolled the virtue of BIT WRITING, (to write many times a day for 15 minutes at a time). I have tried it and was amazed to discover how productive it was. I see why she swears by it.

Still not enough? How about RACE WRITING...or WORD WARS?
A while back I found myself having trouble getting into a schedule of writing. It’s very, very easy to just not get to it. There are so many distractions in life, so many reasons to just put it off and that is one of the most detrimental forces writers have to deal with. To combat this, I found a writing partner and we pledged to meet at midnight five nights a week and race-write for an hour at a time or until one of us reached 1000 words. We clocked in every night on Internet Messenger set the clock and wrote for an hour. When the alarm sounded we’d tally up.

It was amazing how much difference that made. Knowing someone else would be there forced attendance and the competition made it easier to keep writing instead of editing. I very seldom won this thing. Marquel regularly wrote 3:1 against me, but we each upped our normal word count because of the race. Human nature, I guess. In fact it got so very easy to put out 1000 words that I started to aim for 1200 with no real pain involved. It usually took me a couple of hours, but they were well spent and would free up the rest of my day for email, marketing, or even to have a life.

During this, I also discovered that by simply leaving words on the page and going back to edit later, usually before the next round to get the feel of where I was when I quit, my word count increased yet again. But again, what about that blank page, right?

Never sit down to a blank page cold. Since I knew all day long that I would be racing that night, I started to spend time thinking about the next night’s scene during the daily chores, cooking, commercials, or whenever I had a mind numbing empty moment to spare. I did not jot anything down. Sometimes I’d come up with an opening line. (That helps tremendously.) But mostly, I just mulled over generalities of what I’d like to accomplish in the upcoming scene. Then, invariably, when we’d sit down to race, the words and scenario would just pour onto the page. It astonished me how easily this happened. Try and see for yourselves.

Problem with my plan was that eventually my race writer dropped out. So I started racing the timer I had downloaded for our races. It has an option to put a song at the end of the timer instead of the horrible sounds it came with. I picked a short song that I really love and frequently find myself going another round of writing to hear it again. (Yes, I realize how stupid this sounds, but it’s just another way of making the challenge rewarding—positive reinforcement.) The free timer I downloaded is called COOL TIMER and is found at http://download.cnet.com/Cool-Timer/300...userreview.


This works perfectly for me and has really made a difference in my productivity. You do realize that if you write 1000 words (4 pages) a day only 5 days a week, you would have 20,000 a month with weekends off. If you could do 30,000 a month, in 3 months you would have a 90,000 word book. Just something to ponder.

A while back, Randy Ingermanson (in his very educational blog at: http://www.advancedfictionwriting.com/blog/index.php ) suggests that writing partners should put their money where their mouths are. He and his partner set writing goals which incurred financial fines (like $100) for not staying the course. He says it keeps him on the straight and narrow.

Now, let’s review:

1) Set a routine that works for you.

2) Don’t sit down to a blank page cold; allow it to tumble around your brain.
Construct an opening line if you can.

3) Try to work at the same time every day or whatever schedule works for you

4) Set goals for your production

5) If you can’t get a writing partner, use a clock to race.

That looks like a good start. Do any of you have other suggestions? Share them.

Are there any questions? Problems? Helpful websites?

Do you think any of this will help?

Let’s visit here. I’ll keep checking through out the month if any discussions or questions are posted.

WAIT, WAIT, WAIT, WAIT.

After reading this I realised when I wrote the above I had also been writing for a book where I already knew the characters extremely well. When the novel ended and I found myself needing a new story to write for a race night (Midnight Writers now meet on Skype), I went to my idea file and pulled one out. "Easy Peasy," I told myself. What a mistake that was. As it turns out, it is equally important to know your characters too.

Some people cut out pictures of each character and keep a file with his/her stats on it. I sketch my characters (badly) as well as their habitats, and environments where there will be scenes. I scratch out timelines, research and after I’ve started writing my story, I cut and paste my descriptions of them straight into a single file for that book. For the Fireborn Chronicles series, I have a file that spans three books so far so I can always refer to how I described them. I also keep a rough outline handy when I’m writing where I list my daily word count. You can learn a lot about your tendencies that way too.

So if you want your characters to spin these wonderful scenes out before your eyes like mine do, I guess it is important to get to know them before you start too. Go figure.

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