Two Rules for Typing Through Your Problems

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We all know the feeling: you’re on a writing hot streak when, all of a sudden, you realize the scene has gone completely off the rails. Luckily, today’s guest, writer and Utah :: Elsewhere Municipal Liaison Jessica Guernsey has some editing advice for what to do when you find yourself lost in the middle of a sentence:

This
past November, I earned my fourteenth NaNoWriMo winner bar. Because of this
streak, I’m frequently asked for my advice on undertaking such a
monumental task—and what to do with your draft once you’ve completed it. I have some suggestions for those struggling through the writing or editing process, but just like any time someone gives words of wisdom, take from it
what will help you become a better writer. No one thing works for
everyone.

Rule #1: Do Not Delete

You earned those words! As you’re editing your draft, you may find whole scenes, sections, or even characters that just don’t fit in the story. Even if they aren’t working for this story
any longer, tuck them away in their own file. Others use note cards to “file away” untapped ideas for later. This way, instead of erasing half the work you wrote in November, you have a document full of ideas and inspiration if you get stuck on your next writing project. Besides, you can always delete the file later!

Rule #2: Talk It Over

The
second rule is something I learned around year ten, when I lost the
use of my dominant hand and wrist, which turned typing into a tedious
chore. That year, I used a speech-to-text app to get my word count
in. It wasn’t perfect, and would frequently mash words together—but I knew I could one-handedly peck them to perfection later. Despite the bugs, it allowed
for a freer flow of thoughts. I’m not entirely a pantser when it
comes to plot, but this was rather nice for one very important
reason: brainstorming.

Let
me explain. While using the app one day, I was in the middle of a
scene when what I planned for the moment just sort of fell apart.
Instead of stopping and maybe cutting out a whole section, like I’d
be tempted to do if I’d been typing, I just kept talking. I asked myself questions:

  • When
    did the scene start going off track?
  • What
    was it about this that didn’t work?
  • Where
    was this scene supposed to end up?
  • Why
    were things headed off into the wild blue yonder instead of down the
    path I intended?
  • Who
    would be the more interesting POV character here?
  • Would
    it be better if I changed the setting or the characters involved?

Talking
through these questions helped me look at the problem from a different angle and find a
better solution. In this instance, I came up with three ways to fix the scene; I then chose the best of the three and then carried on writing. Sometimes, I don’t need to go through the entire list
to find the solution.

Now,
when I’m typing furiously and things start to dissolve, I hit the
“enter” key a couple times to make some space. Then I start
typing up my analysis of what is wrong and how to make it work. I
think better when I write my thoughts down so I can review them,
organize with more clarity, or make a connection I might have missed
before.

I use this method for my writing even outside of November. I look
back to find the start of the problem and go through my questions.
Then I brainstorm different ways to fix the plot so I get to where I
need to be at the end of the scene or chapter or blog article. And I
never, ever delete.


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As an ML for the Utah :: Elsewhere Region, Jessica Guernsey
writes Urban Fantasy novels and short stories. Her work is published
in magazines and anthologies. She is a slush pile reader for
Shadow
Mountain and manuscript evaluator for Covenant Communications. She frequently attends writing conferences, so look for the extrovert
with purple hair! While
she spent her teenage angst in Texas, she currently lives on a
mountain in Utah with her husband, three kids, and a codependent mini
schnauzer. Connect with her on Twitter @JessGuernsey.

Top image licensed under Creative Commons from Adikos on Flickr.