It happens to all of us.
You’re working on your manuscript and you get stuck. The writing feels clunky. Something isn’t working. This is when you must duck and cover.
“Duck and cover” is the term author Pam Lewis coined to describe her process of jumpstarting her writing when she’s become stuck.
“I open a blank page on my computer and ask myself, ‘What’s going on in the scene?’ I close my eyes and watch the characters and hear them.”
In her current manuscript, Lewis said she used the technique to figure out what a character was doing in a particular scene. But she realized the technique helped her see what mattered to the character and the character’s emotional state. With her eyes closed, Lewis saw that the character’s hands were trembling, she was sweaty, and didn’t smell good.
Duck and cover can be a way of accessing the sensory details of your scenes.
Lewis is the author of A Young Wife, Perfect Family, and Speak Softly, She Can Hear.
Watch the scenes of your novel as though they were a movie, Lewis says. Start by writing the action or what the character is thinking or feeling. Sometimes Lewis writes random dialogue to get the sentences flowing again. “It almost always offers something useful, even if it doesn’t have anything to do with what I’m writing about at the moment.”
“Even more important than what the characters say sometimes is what they do and their facial gestures,” Lewis says.
For more ideas to break through writing resistance, read Four tips to defeat your writing funk.
Fight the blank page!
In previous posts, I’ve suggested ways to pre-plan for National Novel Writing Month, where writers strive to produce a 50,000-word novel in the month of November. While some writers create an outline, nail down character sketches, devise a story question, and outline their novel’s setting, others like to dive in on day 1 and just start typing.
Regardless of where you’re at, the blank page can be a terrible thing.
You may be saying, “How can I not have a blank page? It starts out that way — blank.” True. But just don’t let it stop you.
Don’t let the blank page stay blank for more than a second. Type something. Anything.
- The date
- A random sentence
- A description or a few words of the setting where your novel begins or your first scene takes place.
- A list of your characters’ names
- A working title for your novel
- A logline if you’ve created one.
By the way, this mental trick can be a great way to start any writing project. A letter, an essay, a marketing piece, a work assignment, or a blog post. Write something that you already know will be in the piece, even if it’s just a paragraph or a random idea about the project. If you don’t know the beginning, start in the middle or the end. You’ll come back later and fill in the gaps, because every piece of writing begins as a draft.
Don’t let the blank page deter you from your NaNoWriMo or any other writing goal.