A few times per week, I offer unsolicited writing advice to anyone who will listen. Sometimes, I even follow it myself.
I had an interesting discussion with a friend a few days ago. We were talking over lunch, and I’d managed to sneakily bring up my writing journey during our otherwise non-literary-centered conversation. (This is something I tend to do. We all have our bad qualities, one of mine just happens to be narcissism.) That was when she said something that struck me, because I’ve heard the same lament several times before from many writers, both seasoned professionals and newbies.
She said, “I’ve got this great idea for a book. But I just don’t know how to start it. I keep sitting down to write the first chapter and getting stuck.”
Now, I’m not saying I’m immune to this dilemma. I’ve sat staring a blank Word document for hours, just waiting for the PA system in my head to go off. And then, I get restless, navigate to Twitter, brew a third pot of coffee, maybe write something for this blog. (I admit it, when I post on here, it’s usually because I’m actively avoiding my other projects.) My point is, whether you’re coming off a 10,000-word stint of fury-writing an inciting incident or just trying to introduce your main character, at some point in the novel-writing process, you might find yourself in a braindead standstill. Feeling stuck comes with the territory.
So here’s my quick tip. Skip it. Skip right on over whatever you don’t have figured out. Move on to the next scene that you have in mind. Write a piece of the story that doesn’t come until a few chapters later. No one ever said your rough drafts have to be linear. After all, no one is ever going to see them. Or, at least, they shouldn’t. More on that some other time.
Now, if you skip something, inevitably you will have to come back and fix it. So do your future self a favor, and make a note of it in parentheses. For those who write rough drafts “old school”, by hand, I’d use a colorful pen to stand out from the rest of the text. For those who use a keyboard, I recommend popping in the letters “TK” and following them with whatever you know you’ll need to address later on. For example, “TK – Research this location.” Or, “TK – Decide character name.” There are no words in the English language that contain the letters T and K side by side. As you revise, you can search the document for “TK” and find all the tasks your past self left for you deal with later.
Skip whatever is getting you stuck. “TK” is your friend. Keep writing that draft. You’ll thank me later.