Butt in Chair. Hands on Keyboard. We’ve all heard the advice, in countless workshops and articles. Seems pretty self-evident, doesn’t it? The only way to write is to write. Write crap now, and fix it later (or have your critique partners fix it). You can’t repair what’s not there.
Who can argue with that? Workshop presenters usually offer disclaimers along the lines of, “This might not work for everybody. Take what you can use and discard the rest,” but I’ve never heard a disclaimer for BIC HOK. It’s so obvious, so basic. An essential first step.
I can’t think of anything more frustrating for myself as a writer than staring at a blank screen, fingers poised, when the words aren’t coming. Not only does BIC HOK not inspire or stimulate, it blocks my creative juices entirely. I think about my To Do list. A new restaurant I’ve been wanting to try. A TV show I meant to set my DVR for. But prodding my characters into revealing their next move? Nada. Zero. Zip.
Sometimes it helps to get away from the computer and write in longhand. It’s much less intimidating to sit at the kitchen table with a cup of coffee, thoughts free to stray off in any direction. Scribbling down and marking through sentence after sentence, until, occasionally, finding the right one that inspires other sentences to follow, like imprinted little ducklings following Mama Duck.
But I think best horizontally. (I stole that line from a character in my WIP). Usually I get my ideas or bits of prose when I’m stalling getting out of bed in the morning, or lying down ‘drying’ after a shower. Just resting, sometimes a plot element comes to me. Or a whole section of dialogue.
Horizontal writing works even better than the longhand/coffee technique when you’ve finished a scene and are stuck at beginning the next one. Instead of typing three pages which may ultimately be deleted I realize where the scene ‘really’ starts, I play the scene through in my mind until I come to it. You know, that sentence that appears in your head and you say to yourself, “That’s my opening line.” Once I have that magical line, it’s often all I need to get unstuck and start writing again.
Several years ago, Catherine Spangler gave a wonderful DARA workshop on the Unconscious Writer. When she said that ideas come to her when she’s NOT writing, when she’s at the supermarket, or driving, or doing some other mundane task, I lit up. I got it. Some of us weren’t meant to Apply Butt to Chair as a prelude for writing. Some of us start writing in our minds, and only after our ideas have wrestled and tangled for a while, do they settle down enough for us to put to keyboard.
Now here’s my disclaimer. This process doesn’t work for everyone. For some of you in-the-moment personalities, Butt in Chair is the only way. One of my critique partners, who writes a lot like me, mentioned that she’d gotten a new idea for her book while doing the laundry. The third CP raised a quizzical brow at that. We asked her, “What do you think about when you’re doing laundry?” She looked at us incredulously as if we’d just stepped off an alien spaceship. “The laundry,” she replied.
So, which are you? Do you ever write horizontally or do you need to have that keyboard and screen in front of you? Either way, what techniques have you used to get the juices flowing again when they’re blocked?
(I should add, most of this blog was written horizontally.)