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Tuesday, March 15, 2011


Do you write? If you do, I'm guessing you get stuck sometimes. What to do about writer's block -- or how to move forward in the story when it stalls -- or some related phrasing -- is one of the questions I get most.

I have a bunch of techniques, and figure I'll share them with you here as I use them myself.

Today -- although my younger son is on spring break so I am mostly playing (and baking) with him -- I've also been sneaking away to write while he plays with a friend.

I'm working from the point of view of a nine-year-old boy named Justin, whom some of you may know from my book JUSTIN CASE: School, Drool, and Other Daily Disasters. Without giving TOO much away, I will just say that these days I find myself in Justin's head, during the summer between third grade and fourth -- and I want to be sure I am getting it right.

One way to avoid too much self-editing is to speed-write. So when I am checking in with a character, I like to do as many "I" statements as I can in a minute. Just start with "I" as your character, and write whatever nonsense comes. Maybe some of your statements, upon later reflection, won't work for your character. Or maybe some won't seem to but you'll discover that somehow they do because of something you hadn't fully realized before. Or maybe you'll just be listing stuff you already know -- which might remind you of something you'd forgotten, or maybe not.

Maybe it will be a waste of time. But it's only a minute. So no big loss there.

Sometimes I have to do another minute, though. So, two minutes.

Here's what I got just now for Justin:

I am Justin Case

I am not a worried kid any more

I still worry a fair amount, though

I want to get into Deep before the summer ends

I wonder what my sister thinks about when she hums and draws

I want to win a medal in something, anything

I hate the bars I can't climb across-- they hurt my fingers

I wish my heart wouldn't pound so much

I wish my counselor weren’t so mean

I feel sorry for Penelope Ann Murphy

I wish I were more like Cash

I don’t think Cash is such a good person, though

I like killing bad guys

I want to eat unlimited cookies someday

I think bus farts might be toxic

I wish Dad would be proud of me

I wonder if I am best at anything

I hate cold water, sweat that dries and itches my neck, and loud noises

I love gummy worms

I also love nothing to do all afternoon and it’s only 2 PM

I don’t have a crush on Montana C. Probably.

I don’t hate girls yet but I am still working on that

I hate when Bartholomew Wiggins pokes me when he talks

I could listen to birds arguing in our trees for an hour without getting an itchy butt

I sometimes dream the color blue and then I wake up very smooth

Now you try it -- post your character's minute (or two) of I statements if you want, but mostly do it for yourself. Did you learn anything? Did your character's voice sound in your head? Did you get surprised?

I did, a couple of times -- and I think those little eye-openers are just what I needed to spur my day's writing today. Well, that and maybe another of the banana muffins I just baked.

Do you want more tips? I'll post 'em if you want 'em...

Rachel Vail

1 comment:

  1. I loved this exercise and (although I'm not a PUBLISHED AUTHOR, I am an OBSESSIVE WRITER) I've been stuck for days. Thanks for the brain-freeze reprieve--- I've been in serious need of a motivator/ reminder to just WRITE.

    I am Anna Amelia Butcher.
    I am almost-not-quite-but-nearly a ninth grade.
    I WAS in love with Jason Flaggs.
    I USED to be best friends with Heather Miller.
    I now hate them both.
    I don't really hate them--- but I do, I really do.
    I have to spend the summer with my evil cousin Rosalind.
    I am pretty sure the world is out to get me.
    I am also sure that my father has given me his cursed last name.
    I hate being a Butcher.
    I also hate the fact that I have nothing to do this summer.
    I have a new friend called Claudia.
    I don't completely hate her yet.
    I guess I'll go to church on Sunday (Lord willing).
    I've only been talking for three minutes, and have so much more to say.

    Awesome exercise, Rachel! This is one of those things I'll remember, use, and practice regularly.

    More tips, please; we miss hearing from you,
    Deserae McGlothen