Keeping the Ball Rolling

So, once you have the work started, how do you keep the words flowing?

Sometimes, of course, you don’t have that problem. Sometimes you have to hustle to keep up with the flow.

But sometimes, eh, you might have to encourage things a little. This isn’t going to be an essay on the art of encouragement. Rather, it’s a short list of things you might find useful in keeping word productivity up.

First, some general tips/rules/suggestions:

#1 – Write. This may seem silly, but if you don’t plant your posterior in the authorial chair and exercise your fingers on the keyboard, nothing is going to happen. Really. (Unless you’re one of a handful of writers that I know of who dictate everything. But even then, the principle holds.) Good intentions, well-laid plans, “gonna get around to it” generate no words. Only the actual act of writing can do that.

#2 – Write consistently. Most of us, whether we want to admit it or not, are creatures of habit; we do better at our craft if we exercise it on a regular basis. (Okay, I’ll grant that there are writers who seem to be “burst writers”, who will produce a book or two or three almost in a blur, then not do anything for weeks or months. But they are the exception to the rule.) There is validity to the idea of “being in practice.” It’s easier to slip into the creative trance if you’ve been there recently.

#2A – Be organized about your writing. This is especially important for folks who have kids at home, or who have a day job, and therefore have to manage their time closely. Try to write every day, but if that’s not possible, then at least set up your schedule so the back of your brain knows when you will be writing. You almost have to have a minimum of an hour per session in order to give your mind time to get back into the flow. Whether it’s early in the morning, late at night, three nights a week, or all day Saturday, your mind will be more prepared to write if you’ve got a regular schedule worked out.

#3 – Do as much of your research as possible before you start writing. Those two activities require two different mindsets, and if you have to stop in the middle of the creative flow to look up something you need for a plot or character point, you can blow yourself right out of the creative trance. If you’re lucky you can get by with just throwing in a NOTE TO SELF at that point and moving on and doing the research in the edit pass.

#4 – Another potential mindset conflict: don’t go into editor mode while you’re in the middle of the creative flow. That’s another case of two different mindsets needed for the two different activities, and they are often not compatible. If you suddenly start doing heavy editing and critiquing, the odds are good you will again blow yourself out of the creative trance.

Now for a few tips and tricks about actually getting the flow started every time you sit down.

#5 – When you stop working for the day/night, don’t halt at the end of a major section, especially if you know it may be a couple of days (or longer) before you come back to it. I don’t recall which writer I learned this from, but I can attest to the fact that it really does work. I have hamstrung myself a couple of times by ending a night’s work at the end of a chapter or even an arc within a novel, only to have a totally blank mind when I finally was able to get back to work on it. After the second time, I make it a point not to leave a work at such a point. If I’m at the end of a chapter or an arc, I’ll go ahead and write the first couple of paragraphs of the next chapter, just to set the tone and point where I’m going to go next. Sometimes I’ll even leave the last sentence I’m writing that night unfinished. That kind of primes the mental pump for the next session.

#6 – I think this one came from Robert Silverberg originally: if you sit down to continue and nothing wants to start flowing immediately, go back and retype the last two or three paragraphs (or maybe the last page) of what you had written last session. Again, it seems to prime the pump, and when you get to the end of that section your mind and fingers should be ready to put out and take down new words.

#7 – This one comes from David Morrell (First Blood, among others) in his book on the craft entitled Lessons From a Lifetime of Writing. (If you haven’t read it, do. It’s worth the price of admission.) One of his techniques for getting past stumbling blocks (or even the dreaded writer’s block) is to sit down and interview the character, or sometimes interview himself, asking questions as to what the problems are that are being faced, and what the character (or the author) might do to overcome them. For those of us who are pantsers (as opposed to plotters), this may be something we’re already doing almost unconsciously. Sometimes doing it as a conscious exercise, even talking out loud as we type, can really help.

There you go-seven suggestions/tips/tricks that can help keep productivity up and words flowing.

Good luck!

About David Carrico

David is a member of the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America. He has been writing since 1977, but made his first sale in 2004. Most of his work has been written in Eric Flint’s Ring of Fire universe, and has either appeared in The Grantville Gazette electronic magazine (http://grantvillegazette.com) or in the anthologies Grantville Gazette III, Grantville Gazette IV, Ring of Fire II, Grantville Gazette V, and the forthcoming Grantville Gazette VI and Ring of Fire III.

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