One of my writing mentors often says that the way to get past writer’s block, is just to write the next line, even if you don’t know where it will take you. I often think of it as just taking the next step while staring out across the trackless desert sands from atop a camel’s back, but that’s just the image I’ve created for myself.
When I wrote Synth: Gold Record, the first 20K words and basic story arc leapt onto the page in two sittings. Then I putzed and frittered my way around through the next 15K words, kicking through the rocks and weeds at the edge of the desert for a v-e-r-y long time, staring out across the empty sands and letting them intimidate me. I had no idea where the story was going, other than one or two of the scenes that ended up near the end of the book. But how to get there…???
And then I tried just writing the next line. It sucked, and I later went back and changed it, but at the moment when I took that first hesitant step into the desert of the blank page, it didn’t feel so bad. So I took another step, and then another, and the story started telling itself again.
“Writing the next line” became “writing the next scene.”
“Writing one page a day” became days where I’d look up and realize I’d written entire chapters.
Yes, there were days during that journey across the desert of the book that I hesitated, looked back at the single line of footprints stretching behind me into the distance and forward at the drifts and dunes and blowing sand ahead and wondered where the story was taking me – and I left Brianna stranded in an avalanche or floating through space in a cargo ship full of screaming herdbeasts or lounging around in her mentor’s safe-house while I wrestled my doubts back into submission – and then I took the next step, wrote the next line, the next scene, the next chapter.
And six months after I wandered into the wilderness, I found my way out of it. The book was finished – another 105K words added to the 35K I’d started with, with twists and turns and situations and characters I’d never imagined.
Because I set the goal of “write the next line.”
My goal is more lofty now – it’s “one page a day” – and some days it’s difficult to find the time to write that single page. But if I meet that goal, I’ll have a book finished in a year, which isn’t too shabby when it comes to squeezing in writing time around the demands of a job and a life – demands I’ve let get the better of me in the last year or so.
Write the next line.
Write the next scene.
Write one page a day.
Odds are, meeting easily achievable goals like these just won’t be enough, and you’ll find yourself writing two lines, or three, or finishing a chapter instead of just a scene. Because storytelling is addictive, and once you let a story take root in your mind, it will keep dragging you back to the chair until it’s finished with you.
And, odds are, by the time the book is finished, you’ll look up to discover that other stories have taken root in the fertile ground of your imagination and are just waiting for their turn to take control of your fingers at the keyboard……….
p.s. In case you were wondering, this little essay is just over 600 words long, slightly over two pages in manuscript format. It took me 25 minutes to write. And there’s still 23 hours and 35 minutes left of my day, some of which is unscheduled…
p.s. 2 The article (below) is what got me thinking about this whole idea again today. It’s from a business perspective, not writing-focused at all, but applies to pretty much any type of goal you may find yourself struggling with.
Why You Should Set Goals So Simple They’re Laughable
Laura Montini | Inc. | Apr 15, 2014
…pledging to do something manageable is counterintuitive to most high-achievers. Instead, individuals are more likely to set [less-manageable] goals. “We create a situation somehow where A) failure is likely and B) failure is terribly, terribly devastating,” Forte said. But there’s an easy solution. In fact, it’s ridiculously easy…