Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Getting over a rough patch

Today's post title has two meanings, both literal. Rough patches in life can often derail your writing, or at least temporarily send it off on a different track. Rough patches in writing can often stop a writer in his/her proverbial tracks and prevent creativity from moving the story forward.

The second meaning is the focus of today's workshop.

What got me started on this was an exercise I gave myself this week concerning an old(er) story - a fantasy as yet unpublished. The second chapter has the protagonist reading a letter, later in the same section he sets it down, then picks it up again. I used the singular form "page" and then got to thinking - just how much space would what was written in that letter actually take up? Would it be a single page? Or would there need to be more than one sheet?

While some might say this is obsessing over a detail, I'm pretty sure there are readers out there who would pick up on such a thing immediately. It's kind of like checking the math when there are numbers in a story. Yes, I double-check author's answers and mentally make pictures in my head to see if the number of people in the party could actually fit into a room the size of the one described.

So I got out a sheet of lined paper and started hand-writing the note, word-for-word, from my manuscript. I could tell within the first paragraph the plural form of the word would be needed, but kept going because I discovered something really, really cool.

As I copied the letter, I rewrote it.

I made it better. Found better words, parallel structures, all sorts of cool stuff I'd missed. I'd written that section nearly two decades ago and re-read it dozens of times over the intervening years.

And yet, the act of writing it out, of using a different set of muscles and a different part of my brain, made the words flow smoother and the writing better.

And so I leave you with this tip for getting over a rough patch when the writing is stuck or you can't make it sound the way you want: pull out lined notebook paper and start copying. You might get through one paragraph, maybe even two before the internal editor kicks in, but soon you'll find yourself merrily rewriting yourself past the section that stumped you and beyond.

Trust me. It works.

And as for the second meaning of today's post title: please consider giving to the Red Cross. It is precisely when such disasters such as yesterday's bombing in Boston occur when they are needed most. Thank you.

PS. Any donations made to me via the PayPal link below will, for the rest of the month, go directly to the Red Cross for their relief efforts, not only in Boston, but all around the globe.

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