You’ve probably been told how important good grammar and punctuation are to becoming a good writer. And they are.
You may have been made aware of certain “rules” or even current fads for writing fiction. “Show don’t tell.” “Eliminate all ‘wases.’” “No head hopping.” Then you scratch your own head when you see a best-selling author do all of those things. On one page.
You might have learned about story arcs, the snowflake graph, the best way to outline, structure, beginnings, endings, and a huge amount of other tips and tricks.
But still you don’t get it done. You don’t finish a story or a novel. You get stuck in the middle. Or even at the beginning. You think your skills are pretty darned good, but what good are they if you can’t finish what you start, or even get started in the first place?
There’s a new “thing” (I don’t know what else to call it, although it’s usually called a rule) going around about the 80/20 rule. This rule says that 20% of whatever you’re trying to accomplish is worth more than all the other 80%. So, you should concentrate on accomplishing that 20%.
I believe the 80% for writers are all the rules, guidelines, and mechanics of writing, and throw in the business side there, too. The 20% is the story, which is made up of words, sentences, and scenes. If you’ve read a lot and paid attention to how things are written, your subconscious probably knows a great deal about what is good writing and what isn’t. But all that reading, both about writing advice and fiction, can’t teach you how to put words on the page.
So, is there a trick for that? I think there are several.
First, stop worrying. Quit wondering where your next idea is going to come from, how you’re going to set up the murderer to be caught, how you’re going to fill the page.
Second, if you don’t have an idea right now, just pick one at random. It doesn’t matter what it’s about, who the characters are, pick anything. An object, a place, a person, a situation. Pick one of those things and start writing about it.
Third, eventually your idea will tend to peter out. This is where you stop and think consciously. Up until now, your subconscious was just doing stream of consciousness about what you decided to write about. Now, you need to start focusing more on a story.
Fourth, be pro-active in thinking about what to write next, about where your story can go from here. Use either pen and paper or your computer keyboard to let the ideas flow. Ask yourself “what if” questions. List all the possibilities that could happen next, no matter how outlandish (you may decide to write humor where outlandish is good).
Fifth, pick the idea you think is the most interesting, the most fun, the most unique, the best of all you’ve thought of.
And sixth, write some more until you come to the point where you have to repeat steps four and five.
If you insist on outlining, you use the same process. As you outline, just as those who do not, you will come to spots where you are stuck. Personally, I don’t outline for this reason. My first draft is basically my outline more fleshed out. And because this system is the way I write, I rarely have to make major edits to the story. So, I save a lot of time.
Some of the ease from this comes with more writing. Like most things, the more you do, the easier it gets. Usually.
And getting back to the 80/20 “rule.” Do the process steps over and over again while learning the current rules and fads for writing in this decade. In other words, pick them up as you go—don’t make them your main focus.
This works for me. I’ve had days when I’ve written three thousand new words in a novel. Most days I can get one thousand down, and many days I can pretty easily get close to two thousand. Each thousand words takes me approximately an hour or so to write, after a short time brainstorming with the what if/what happens next process.
I believe in learning by finding out how other people who are experts in their fields do things. I don’t classify myself as an expert—I’m not that arrogant. But I can tell that many prolific, successful writers, use this method. They may not even realize themselves how they’re doing it.
Give it a try. And let me know if it works for you.