Sunday, December 4, 2011

Write ON # 2 from Chris Mandeville

Write ON #2
Five Tips, Quotes and Exercises
Provided by Give! 2011 Collaborating Nonprofits

If you're feeling "stuck" and you can't get any words on the page, here are some quotes, suggestions and exercises to help you break through that block:

1. "Sometimes the questions are complicated and the answers are simple." Dr. Seuss

Clear away the clutter and simplify your problem scene. Once you get down to the essentials, a simple solution should surface. Then you can clutter and complicate it in a way that works!


2. When the blank page seems insurmountable, paint a picture on it! First, close your eyes and imagine a great, white place—like a 3-D blank page. Now ask one of your characters to appear there. Go with whoever popped into your mind first and give her a paintbrush. Ask your character to paint whatever she wants in the blank space. If she needs help getting started, provide a prompt like "Show me what happiness looks like" or "What are you most afraid of?" If she still won't cooperate, select a color of paint and insist that she doodle. Whatever scenario or idea arises from this exercise, write that scene even if it doesn't seem to fit into your project.

Trust your subconscious and your character to give you what you need to build your story.


3. "One of the most difficult things is the first paragraph. I have spent many months on a first paragraph, and once I get it, the rest just comes out very easily." Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Sometimes the first paragraph is too difficult. When this happens to you, skip it! That's right, skip the first paragraph (or whatever part you're stuck on) and start on the second paragraph, the fourth chapter, the ending—start anywhere you can start. After you get rolling, you'll find it easier to go back and fill in the parts you skipped.


4. When you find it impossible to come up with the right word, use the wrong one. Prolific writer Margaret Atwood said, "If I waited for perfection, I would never write a word." Are you guilty of allowing the struggle for perfection to bring your writing to a screeching halt? If so, try following author James Thurber's advice: "Don't get it right, just get it written." Give yourself permission to produce some bad writing. Go on, write something awful! You can edit it later.


5. When you're stuck, go "3 Whys Deep" to get to the root of the problem. First, state your goal and problem (e.g. "I need my hero to run for help, but I can't write that scene. It's like he won't go!). Next ask yourself "why" and give the answer (e.g. "Why won't he run for help?" "Because he would stand and fight!"). Ask "why" and answer a second time ("Why can't he stand and fight?" "Because *I* need him to get help for the next scene to work."). Now ask yourself "why" a third time. In fact, keep asking until your answer illuminates a way to move forward with the scene. In the real-life example above, the writer came to realize that he was stuck because the hero needed to act "out of character" in order to achieve the writer's goal. Once he reconstructed his plot in a way that maintained the hero's integrity, the scene practically wrote itself!


For more information about these nonprofit organizations and their collaboration in Give! 2011, please visit