“Writing is at its best — always, always, always — when it is a kind of inspired play for the writer. I can write in cold blood if I have to, but I like it best when it’s fresh and almost too hot to handle.”
While Stevie isn’t my favorite fiction author, his handbook On Writing is one I always enjoy dipping into, mainly because he’s so candid and unpreachy about the time, energy, and commitment it takes to succeed. He’s a craftsman who relishes his craft and isn’t afraid to share a few trade secrets. I like that in a coach.
Writing as “a kind of inspired play” is a way of working that we can all aspire to. But sometimes — and even prolific Stevie has been there — putting pen to paper or firing up our computer can seem more like something we simply have to do than something we want to do. When things get a bit stale, here are a few ideas to liven them up:
Interview your characters: Instead of picking up your narrative and struggling over a plot point, try starting a conversation with a key character and see what advice they have to offer about what should happen next. Their ideas might surprise you!
Use index cards: When I’m stumbling over a rough passage, instead of staring at a blank page, I’ll pull out a bunch of 5×9 colored index cards. I start noodling around and before I know it, I have a sentence or two written and I loosen up. Breaking up my work into these smaller, paragraph-sized chunks makes it seem more manageable. I’ve written whole chapters this way.
Switch gears: My sister Stephanie loves to work on more than one editing project at a time. When she gets stuck on one, she can shift to something completely different for a while. This approach gives her a mental-health break and lets her return to her original project with more energy and focus. This can be a good strategy for writing as well.
Any tricks or techniques you find helpful when writing turns from play into work?