The Last Five Minutes of Writing

You’re writing along, the words are flowing, one eye watches for typos while the other watches the clock in your taskbar. Not much time left before you leave for that appointment. If you can just keep typing, fingers speeding along across the keyboard, you can get out the rest of your thoughts, and beat the clock. 

More often than not, this does not work. You hit save and rush off to other things promising yourself that you will get right back to your story as soon as you’re done. But then one of the kids needs help with their homework, the dog managed to escape from the yard, and the toilette clogged while you were out and overflowed turning your bathroom into an amusement park fountain filled with 2000 Flushes blue water.

Days pass, maybe even weeks, and you finally sit back down to pick up where you left off. Only one problem, you don’t remember which way you were headed when you left off. You stare at that blinking cursor and the words that come before it and wonder, “What the hell was I thinking?”

That’s exactly the predicament I found myself in recently. It’s that special case of actually having something planned out before you were cut short, not the more common case of running into a wall.

I find that the only way to get back into the story is by reading over it again, lining up all of the elements of the story so that they are fresh in my mind. It’s something that you have to be careful with because if you’re not careful you’ll start revising things. Once you start down that path you open yourself up to a whole host of concerns, completely changing the direction of the story, getting stuck in a cycle of continuous revisions that deny further progress of the storyline, running out of time to get actual writing done.

If you know ahead of time that you are going to get to sit down and write later on in the day, I suggest printing out your WIP so that you can read through it during those mundane moments on the train or while waiting for your car to be worked on (like I’m doing at this very moment, though I chose to write a post with my spare time). This maximizes our writing time so that we aren’t spending a huge chunk of it rereading when we could be writing.

It also limits the amount of revision we can do. I find it far more difficult to get caught up in serious revisions when I don’t have the magical ‘delete’ key at my disposal. And while I do have the back of the page available for more additions and rewrites, I generally tend to stick to the margins.

Another helpful tip is to take preventative measures. While we can’t be sure when life will interrupt us, or how well the writing will go, if we know that we have to stop at a certain time, take those last five to ten minutes to free-write your remaining thoughts. Don’t pay attention to spelling, grammar, punctuation, just write. Send your internal editor on his coffee break and let the thoughts flow.

S needs to get to hospital going to wrong oone. Meets strange old man tells himhe is going in the wrong direction somethinginside doesn’t agree. like B is trying to tell him something, it is drawn to J. Moment of crisis, what should S do? Follow logical directions or follow the internal calling? Moves to follow directions but the pulling inside turns him around.

That's how the last paragraph of my WIPs usually look when I come back to them later on. Just a bunch of rambling thoughts poured out of my head and onto the screen. (Note: I have no idea what that image says, I swiped it from some obscure corner of the net)

And so on. It’s an example of what I should have written last week when I had to stop working on Spark. I was sure I was going to get right back to it. But life is filled with uncertainties. Granted, it might not make complete sense, (okay, so it doesn’t really make any sense, life or my rambling) but having something to start with is much better than nothing, especially when you’re staring at a blinking cursor at the bottom of a page with the white pit of nothing hanging below it.


Paige Bruce said...

Funny, I had this happen to me recently too. With a busy schedule at work in July, then having a week long vacation away from my laptop, it's harder to try and get back into the things I was working on before life decided to rear its head.

Some of what helps is that I have a tendency to try and think of things related to my current WIP at work (or other ideas), then if I get a spare moment, email them to myself through gmail. I have tons of emails to myself sitting there with creative bits, scenes, ideas for where I want a plot to go. The nice thing is that I can access them from anywhere, so it's pretty similar to your idea of printing out the WIP and rereading it on the bus. :)

David Noceti said...

Oh, I do that too! My problem is actually going back and looking at them after I've emailed them to myself. I try to keep a small journal that my wife bought me with me wherever I go and jot my notes down in there. For some reason, if I have them written down in one place as opposed to in my emails, I'll actually look at them. Often times I'll go through it because I'm looking for one thing and see something else that I'd already forgotten and say, "Hey, I remember that."

But if you're going to send yourself notes, I think Gmail is probably one of the best applications to do it in. I cannot wait until they release Google Wave. I have all sorts of collaboration fantasies waiting for that email client.

Paige Bruce said...

I used to keep a journal, and it's fun to see what I wrote before, but I don't use one anymore. Sometimes, I get a sudden Muse Moment at work and I use a note pad to jot down some ideas, but I never manage to keep them all together and I get looks from my fiancé for having papers all over our coffee table, lol.

Anonymous said...

*dreads the white pit of nothingness*

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