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Writer's Quicksand

by Linda Jenkinson |

quicksand

Whether it's fiction or fact, historical or hysterical, prosaic or poetic, if you are a writer, you have a story to tell. Tell your story in what you will call, your first draft.

As you begin to speed through your first draft, chances are that you will realize, somewhere in the middle, that you forgot to put something up front that needed to be up front, like the other day when you told that joke and just before you got to the punchline, you remembered the line that needed to be at the beginning to make the joke funny. When that happens to a joke, often the laugh is lost. In writing, you get to fix it.

But not right now.
Write it into the page, right where you are. Put it in brackets and/or annotate it for later, but DON'T try to fit it into place just now. Just keep writing.

Why? Because if you go back to the beginning, you are certain to see that spot where you used an oxford comma in one place and not in the next. Continuity lost. While you are searching for even more mechanical errors, you will come upon a paragraph that "gasp!" told instead of showed. That one is going to need a major overhaul. And what of its sibling? Right now it looks to be a younger brother, but maybe it should be the mother of your creation. Should you switch that paragraph with your beginning paragraph or maybe …?

"Each morning my characters greet me with misty faces willing, though chilled, to muster for another day's progress through the dazzling quicksand the marsh of blank paper."
John Updike

You, dear writer, have been swallowed by writer's quicksand. This is why writers who write on paper find themselves surrounded by reams of crumpled litter. Writer's quicksand, made with a drop of false starts that become a bog of oopsies finally morph into a vortex of insecurities that threaten to pull you completely under.

What can you do to escape the trap of writer's quicksand?

  1. Write your draft. Slog through to the end no matter what downpour of thoughts threatens to inundate you. Annotate, bracket, double parenthesize as necessary. Don't edit. Just write! Write to the end. Phew! Take a deep breath.
  2. Check the continuity. Put those annotations and brackets in their proper place. Add, subtract, and/or rearrange as necessary.
  3. Check the flow. It's the grappling hook that pulls your tale into line and keeps it on a solid footing, clarifying your thoughts from beginning to end.
  4. Check the mechanics to make sure your engine is running smoothly. Spelling, grammar, and punctuation. Check them against your style guide.

Walk away from your piece for a couple of hours, overnight if you can. Then give it a final once over (steps 2-4). Notice that your first draft is now a road-worthy, finished piece. You have escaped writer's quicksand.

Semi-disclaimer: Nobody writes a whole book or play in one sitting, but this technique is useful for chapters, sections, and scenes as well as blog posts and short pieces. Give it a try. It will help you get unstuck from any sticky situation.


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