Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Wednesday Writerly Ways ~ Blank Page Syndrome

Is there anything worse than staring at a blank page on your computer screen for a writer? "Oh no!," you cry. "Not the dreaded blank page syndrome!" I use page and computer screen interchangeably because who writes first on paper these days. I know there are a few hold outs, but really does anyone... besides Danielle Steele?

I might jot down references, possible dialog, and scenes on paper, but actually write out the whole book on paper? Honestly I don't put pen to paper unless it's an important to-do lists or my grocery list these days because it's hard for me to write legibly with my left hand. A major milestone for me was writing my name in cursive to sign a check. I gave up writing first/typing later with my first computer in the 80's, but I digress.

Not staring at a blank screen was a goal of mine when I first started writing fiction. I achieved it by the following steps...
  • Start with a good, detailed outline.
  • Never stop writing at the end of a scene or page.
  • Type notes for your ideas of what's next or a what-if before you shut down your computer. I do this in a different color so I don't confuse my notes from my story. 
Most times, as writers, we keep writing until we finish a scene, dialog, or chapter. I tell you as a recovered "blank page syndrome" addict this is WRONG PLACE TO STOP! <Pushing back my chair and standing up. Give you a little wave.> "Hi. I'm Jo and I'm a blank page syndrome addict. I've been blank page free since 1996."

I say this sheepishly and speak from experience. I would write and write until my forehead hit the keyboard. I'd awaken to pages and pages of weird letters configurations depending on how I had moved my head in my sleep. Or I'd close down my computer at the end of the chapter, awake refreshed in the morning itching to start work, and go "er, um, it was all so clear last night before I went to bed...now nothing." After a few minutes of sweaty palms, shaky fingers, and blank staring off into space...otherwise known as sheer panic, I'd eventually remember my train of thought from the night before.

By starting with a good, detailed outline and character sketches you already have the what-ifs on there. You know where your story starts, the middle and the end. If you've done your character sketches, you won't have the characters chastising you with, "I wouldn't do or say that."

All right, maybe they still will. That happened to me repeatedly with The Sacrificial Lamb. Little, ol' Jackie Luann couldn't keep her mouth shut. That character wanted to argue with me about everything. She wouldn't leave me alone even in my sleep! It was reminiscent of my children in the why stage. Parents, you know what I'm talking about.

Before it was finished, I wanted to call 911 for adult abuse on me! But then, I would have to admit to the authorities that it was just the little voices in my head telling me to do bad things  to others. Ah, here come the men in their little white coats, with a straight jacket in just my size. Boy, that kid is still doing it to me. "Shut up Jackie Luann!" She's hedging about a sequel. I'm sideswiped again.

To finish with my previous train of thought before my brain was hijacked by an unruly child and a character at that, a good, detailed outline can save your hinny from the fire in another way too, the dreaded writer's block.

By writing part of the next chapter or scene, you can quickly orientated yourself back into story writing mode. If you've left off in the middle of the dialog, you know how to finish it. If you've started the next chapter, you have a pretty good idea where it is going. The same thing goes for scenes. I know, I know. It's messy. It looks halfway done and you can't stand it. But while you  are finishing that scene or dialog the next day, it helps get your creative juices flowing like oil on machinery. The gears in your brain start turning easier. We are talking about the morning after here. By the time you are ready to write something new, you are ready.

Making notes in a different color gives you a kick start into the next thing you want to write about. You wrote the note to yourself while the ideas were still flowing before you got interrupted by sleep, the in-laws, the out-laws, or kids with, "Mommie, can you read me a story?" Such interruptions such as real life effects your writing. Let's face it when you are writing first thing in the morning, doesn't everyone need a swift kick in the backside to get motivated? I know I do. This particular tip works well for panster writers. A pantster is someone who writes by the seat of their pants without an outline.

I hope this helps some of you with the blank page syndrome. Try it sometime. You just might like it.Come on y'all stand up and introduce yourself. I'll start it for you...

"Hi. I'm (insert your name). I am a blank page syndrome addict."

Keep writing and loving the Lord.

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