Last night I attended Jennifer Weiner’s speaking engagement at my neighborhood Barnes & Noble.
After the hour spent in her presence, I wanted to download everything in her brain and store it for both immediate and future reference. Since I left my USB cord at home, all I could do was ask her a question.
“Yes, you in the back row,” she said, confirming I was the chosen one.
“Can you tell us a little about your writing process?” I lamely asked.
After a funny James Lipton quip she answered. I hung on every word, knowing she was about to divulge (a) the secret to eliminating the road blocks in my writing, (b) exactly how to firm up my sagging middle (of my novel, people) and (c) her stellar connections that got her a pre-screener of that night’s Bachelorette episode.
Instead her response was far more advanced than I had wanted.
“I submit a draft to my agent who gives me 20 pages of notes. I rewrite. I submit another draft to my editor who gives me 30 pages of notes. I rewrite.”
Damn, I don’t have an agent or an editor. To whom will I submit my pages? I whined in my head.
She continued, “only about half of the words that were in that first submitted draft end up in the book you are holding.”
If compelling structure requires ‘action’ and ‘reaction’, compelling writing must command both ‘writing’ and ‘rewriting’.
It’s elementary, I know. It wasn’t new information, but in that moment I understood it in a different light. You see, I can get paralyzed by an idea. I cling to it like a three-year-old to his mother’s leg on the first day of school. I think about it to the point of obsession. I can’t get out of my own head when what I really need to do is just write.
When you are stuck the answer is simple – do whatever you need to do to get unstuck. Your sagging middle? Write a new one. Out of ideas? Write a list of your all-time favorite scenes. Put those thoughts and concerns tumbling in your brain down on paper. Whatever form the exercise takes, it must involve the written word. Anything less simply will not do.
What do you do when you are stuck in your writing? What techniques do you use to get over the humps in your material?