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One Step at a Time

Today I hit a muddy patch in the novel. Not exactly a brick wall. Not really a bout of writer’s block, but a serious resistance to doing the work.


I did feel like writing but I just couldn’t quite picture the next sequence. If I’m perfectly honest, I

didn’t really believe in the plot at that point. I had confidance in the overall plot, but this section was like looking across a chasm where the bridge was down.

Twenty minutes into staring at the screen and getting nowhere, I reluctantly concluded I had to do some deep, methodical plotting. I was going to have to think this section of the story through in excruciating detail. And I so did-not-want-to.

Mind games.

This reminds me how much of writing is a mind game. The game of talking yourself into things (like writing anyway) and out of things (like worrying that it’s not very good.) I mean, I knew what I had to do, but it took a little while to convince myself. These are the kinds of times when a writer often decides to go shopping or clean out the in-basket. But my rule is that I have to work on the novel until a certain time each day. And that time was a long way away. So I could either do the work or sit there bored as hell for a few hours.

I was going to have to create a Step Sheet.

You know how sometimes you sit down to write, and you seem to know exactly what to do, or you  trust that it will sort out as you write the scene? This was not one of those times.

Step Sheet.

The Step Sheet is a logical plot progression composed of 2-3 sentences in each step. First this happens, then this, then this. All the while making sure that it could believably happen in that order and that it satisfies external logic, internal motives, and of course dramatic content. It isn’t a scene plan–nothing complicated–it’s just a simple list. Because when you need this much heavy lifting on your plot, it isn’t about nuance. You just need to get across the chasm. You can make it pretty when you write it.

I like to number the Steps. It helps me believe that this is going to be simple. One, two, three, four. I do my Step Sheets in a notebook, never at the computer. I’m not a superstitious person, but Step Sheets must be done with a pencil and paper.

And yes, it worked. It wasn’t quite as unpleasant as I feared it would be. And, as I worked and reworked the Step Sheet, I found cool (for now, extraneous) ideas occurring to me. I jotted them in the margins, but continued building that bloody bridge.

So now I’m in a good mood again about the novel. (Oh, fragile writer’s mind!) Nothing annoying or daunting about tomorrow’s work. When I sit down to write in the morning, I’ll just walk over that bridge.

Hey, what was so hard about that?


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