Delany advice writ little

I’ve just discovered a magical thing that makes my writing go good.

Here’s how my writing days used to go: Read email. Read blogs. Be racked with guilt and read the first paragraph of what I’d written the day before. Reel back in horror. Decide that I need to research exploding magnets. Research exploding magnets. Read two paragraphs of what I’d written the day before. Take out the recycling. Realise that I need to go and buy more toilet paper. Read a wee bit more of yesterday’s horror. Bite my fingernails. Realise that the latest issue of Runaways or Nana or Scott Pilgrim or whatever else has caught my fancy is out. Go buy it. Possibly read it.

Eventually be so racked with guilt that I finish the read through and start writing. The writing goes slowly and horribly: I put words together that have either been together way too often or have never been together for extremely good reasons. If it’s a good morning I will eventually hit my stride and keep writing till I get to the end of the new scene or chapter or sequence of events.

Because I am very very very thick I only recently figured out what my problem is. No, not laziness. Well, not just laziness. It’s the writing till I get to the end of a scene or chapter or sequence of events that’s the problem. It means that every morning I am facing a (sort of) blank page and must figure out how what happens next happens before I can start stringing wrong words together.

Recently my writing day was interrupted as I hit my stride. (Damn the lure of restaurants with their yummy food.) I stopped writing in the middle of a scene. Next morning when I started again I was instantly back in my novel and writing full steam ahead because I knew exactly how to finish the scene. Now, obviously it wasn’t the first time I’ve done that, but it was the first time I decided not to stop writing until I was in the middle of another scene.

That’s right, I deliberately stopped in the middle of stuff.

And then the next morning—you guessed it—writing continued to be easier and less procrastinatory than usual because of not having to begin the day by having to figure stuff out and generate momentum.

This is a minature version of what Samuel R. Delany does when he finishes a novel and immediately starts the next one. I always thought he was a bit mad on account of when I finish a novel all I want to do is drink champagne (or fine Aussie sparkling) and dance in the streets. But doing it at a scene-by-scene level is a fab way to write.

I think part of why I have always doggedly stopped my writing day at the conclusion of chapter or scene or event sequence is because I was afraid that I would have forgotten where I was going next morning. It’s a justified fear as I have a crap memory. I am forever having genius ideas in the middle of the night, which if I don’t write down or wake up Scott and tell him about them, I completely forget. I guess I was afraid I’d forget where the scene was supposed to go.

Also writing to the end of a scene or chapter is somewhere definite to aim for. It’s a natural place to stop. But having to face the (sort of) blank page every morning, having to figure out a cool opening chapter sentence, and how to lay out the scene is an overly gruelling way to start each writing day. For me, anyways.

I’ve been doing the stop-in-the-middle-of-a-scene thing for a week now and it sure is working fabulously. I’m still stringing wrong words together but I’m doing it with a lot less angst. Sometimes writing can be fun!

12 comments

  1. sara z on #

    YES! This is something I learned years ago – I think from an old Mark Twain quote. Always stop in the middle of a scene, or even the middle of a sentence. Quit while you’re ahead.

  2. Leah on #

    This is a really good technique. I know that it’s one that I’ve used for years. Another thing that works for me is to read the last page or so of what I’ve written that day just before I go to sleep at night. I seem to sort of dream about the novel that night, and in the morning, I know exactly what it is I have to write next. This also has helped me figure out things, when I’ve been stuck on a plot point or something.

    Best of luck with it all!

  3. may on #

    i always do that. or at least leave enough of the previous scene that if i have to, i can revise/expand (i write short first drafts) before moving on.

  4. Ted Lemon on #

    Hm, that’s a good idea. I wonder if it works with geek things too….

  5. Penni on #

    Hey, that’s a great idea…maybe I should try this. Maybe deep down I’m not lazy either.

    Whenever I have bad writer’s block I start another novel. I have three substantial beginnings on my computer. One of them is half done and for a long time it was the thing I did whenever I was stuck (because there was no urgency or pressure it flowed quite well), but then I signed it with a different publisher and felt like I should be good and linear and focussed and not write books contracted to other publishers before I fulfilled my commitments with my first publisher. I miss it though, it’s a nice way to write.

  6. maria on #

    just so you know that this technique works for composing music as well. Sometimes it backfires though, and you forget what you were doing. Scary.

  7. Ben Payne on #

    When I saw Raymond E. Feist years and years ago he said he stops in the middle of a sentence.

    I haven’t gone that far, but I have tried to stop in the middle of a scene rather than mid-scene, for the same reasons you give.

    The difficulty is, of course, overcoming the temptation the day before, when you reach the end of a scene, to think “that’s a good place to stop for the day”! Instead I need to work out what happens next, which is at times easier said than done:) But it *is* a good technique.

    PS. Runaways rocks!

  8. Justine on #

    Ben said: The difficulty is, of course, overcoming the temptation the day before, when you reach the end of a scene, to think that’s a good place to stop for the day¬Ě!

    Yup. That’s what I find hardest. A couple of times I’ve gone ahead and finished the scene which means I then have to start the next scene and remember to stop in the middle of it!

  9. Justine on #

    Maria: That’s what I’m always afraid of! What if I stop in the middle of a scene and then come back to it a week later and have absolutely no clue where it was going?

  10. Rebecca on #

    hmm. i should try that. but i’ve always always always hated stopping in the middle of the scene. usually, i’d be interrupted to do something inane like chores or class (;)) so maybe if i interrupt myself, it’ll be different. it’d be hard to make myself do that though, even though it sounds like it might be just what i need.

  11. Little Willow on #

    I seem to be the most creative when standing in my kitchen, walking somewhere, and / or talking to no one in my hallway.

    They are sure to pad my walls for such behavior.

  12. sjh on #

    I discovered the trick of stopping in the middle of a sentence about four years through my five-year uni degree . . . and while it didn’t solve all of my essay-writing problems it certainly helped. I’m a big fan of it.

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