Blathering Past Writer’s Block
I’m sure you’ve all heard the drill. Rough drafts are rough! Quantity rules, quality drools! Embrace the suckage and keep that crap flowing!
There is a certain wisdom here, especially if you’ve been caught in the trap of rethinking your work in progress and never quite reaching The End. But this can also lay its own trap of busy work – writing for its own sake, forcing out irrelevant and redundant passages with little potential to show for their word count. You can’t edit a blank page, but you do need potential for refinement. For that, you can harness the quantity beast by giving it a sense of direction.
Lay a Foundation
Begin with a good enough sense of what you want to write. Depending on your preferences for planning versus figuring it out on the way, this can be as basic or detailed as you wish – a premise, a list of plot points, a scene by scene outline.
Spam, Spam, Spam, Spam
So you need to kick off a scene or a conversation or some action. Write a list of openers – a line of dialog, a thought in a character’s head, a description to give a sense of place. If one of these takes off, continue to sketch it out. If it doesn’t, write another. And keep doing so, even if you have that sense of Nope before you finish the sentence. Ideas beget ideas, and the way to get more good ones is to get more overall. Since you’re staying within the conceptual phase, there’s no time wasted in jotting down whatever pops into your head. Conversely, you reinforce the habit of brainstorming.
Sometimes you imagine a scene or sequence in high level form, flowing from start to end through all of its requisite development. Or you might have one or two specifics in a sea of question marks. Write out those known bits, no matter where they fall. Fill in the blanks later on – hopefully with fresh inspiration from your other rough work.
Sticking Points are Opportunities
When a passage fizzles out, try a transition. Dialog can trail off into internal exposition or narration or action. The characters might pick back up with some other topic, thus simulating the natural drift of conversation. Is a scene stopped short, or just plain skeletal? List some ideas to add – either to this general point in space and time, or to the developments that you’re dealing with.
Content is Crucial, Presentation is Polish
Sometimes your rough material seems to be a line edit away from beta draft. Or sometimes it plops out like Kentucky fried horse’s ass. Said ass is a foundation, not irredeemable fodder for the glue factory. Put it in brackets, change the text color, or otherwise mark it as under construction. When your overall draft is fairly refined, and your newest content isn’t, setting off that content helps you acknowledge its potential and move on rather than getting hung up on its ugliness.
Think along similar lines when working past sticking points. Don’t fret about showing rather than telling, or writing out natural speech. Just dump out what you have and clean it up later. Dull narration can be rewritten with crack and verve, utilitarian dialog with character-specific chemistry. Summarized action can be brought onscreen, back story refactored out of conversation that currently exists for the reader’s benefit.
Achieve Incremental Goals
Commit to filling one blank space each time you work on your draft. This can be anywhere from one sequence – a conversation, some exposition, a stretch of action – to a scene or other longer unit. Start small! This sets you up for success, builds your confidence, and helps you learn to make progress when writing time is sporadic and limited. If you feel inspired to do more, you can always keep on rolling.