Monday, 19 March 2012

The terror of the blank screen

Dog walking, so much easier than starting
Mother’s Day (36 hours in Scotland cooking and dog walking) – tick.  Desk tidied – tick.   Head on electric toothbrush changed – tick.  

Nothing, it seems, stands between me and starting time slip number 2.  Except the terror of the blank screen. I’ve even found myself hoping for revisions to drop into my inbox so that I can put off starting a little longer, which I may very well come to regret.  Be careful what you wish for!

I have an idea, and I even have a working title (The Memory of Midnight) and I know that all I have to do is to start a rough draft.  I need to rattle off scenes without worrying about how to link them together, without caring about punctuation or even making sense, without thinking much at all.  Because at the end of it, I’m just going to throw it away and start again.  I might retain a glimmer of an idea, or a snatch of conversation, but that will be about it. 

It’s frustrating, as it feels like such a waste of time, but it appears to be a vital part of the process for me.  After 60 books, I know this.  So I should just get on with it, right?  Instead I’m thinking about doing a story board, as suggested by the wonderful Blake Snyder in Save the Cat! 

I’m thinking that rather than sit here and start typing, I’ll pop along to Staples and buy some blank cards and carefully write out scene locations and character view points and what changes in the scene.  Then, the theory goes, I’ll pin them to my board and plot out the story arc, making sure I can tick off (more ticking off, my favourite thing) set up, catalyst, debate, fun and games, ‘all is lost’ and all the other points my story needs to hit.  Then I will have a perfect plan that I just need to follow.  I’ll give myself a timetable, and set off and in a month or two, the job will be done.  Easy.

I wish, wish, wish I could write like this.  I tried it with Time’s Echo, and successfully wasted a lot of time setting out a board that I never looked at again.  I blame the fact that a time slip has two parallel stories and it got far too complicated making them both fit the arc, but the truth is, I suspect that I’m just not a plotter. 

So I should just flex my fingers and start writing something, anything.  And I will, just as soon as I’ve run through every other justification for not plunging right in.  I could do character descriptions, I could research.  I could brainstorm motivations and goals. 

Or - I know! - I could read books on how to write.  I’ve still got Robert McKee’s Story and Christopher Vogler’s The Writer’s Journey to study.  Why didn’t I think of that before? They’ve been sitting there on my shelf for months, but whenever I’ve picked them up before, I decide they look too hard to get to grips with, and I put them back.  Excellent. I’ll get them down right now.  That’s at least a day before I have to square up to the blank screen again.  Phew.    

How do you get going on a new story or project?  Do you faff around like me, or just plunge in?  All tips welcome!


  1. Oh Jessica hugs xxxxxx You know me lovey, at the moment instead of working on my wip, Im FAFFING because I am the queen of Faffing. xxxx

  2. You cannot be the Queen of Faffing. *I* am Queen. You can be Princess. Or - thinks - I could be Empress ... Yes, I like the sound of that. As you were, QoF!

  3. It's funny how even that hideous pile of ironing in the corner of the room for a week, takes on a whole new light when you should be sitting and writing. Or may the online passport application process is the thing I should be "immediately" doing. Or trying to make a template for A7 cards that I want to put in the goody bags at the RNA conference (nothing is working!) Yes, I'm definitely in the FAFF brigade too!

  4. Oh dear, seems like we're a big brigade! I am so with you on the ironing. The odd thing is that I really WANT to start this book, but I feel as if I'm dithering around on the high board, trying to muster the courage to dive off. It's just making yourself take that jump ...

  5. Scarlet makes me laugh :) I do the ironing too. I'm working on becoming a better plotter. My left brain is currently horrified by the lack of organisation lol. I haven't come across Robert McKee’s Story but I liked Vogler. I'm off to google it!

  6. Faffers of the world unite! I'm in the same boat. And the number of times of written out those darn index cards is ridiculous. I'm on Alexandra Sokoloff's index card sequence at the moment:-) I keep telling myself to jump in and write and use the cards later to help make sense of it all. Hope you get the urge to start soon.

  7. Haven't heard of Alexandra Sokoloff, Louise, but am immediately alert at the prospect of a new card system to try!

    I did start - sort of - yesterday by writing random ideas for scenes. The theory is that I'll then expand them into more detailed scene notes and THEN see if I've got a story arc, but so far have very few ideas and it feels like a lo-o-o-o-o-ng way to go. Must reread Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird and keep my targets small.

    Good luck all, with ironing or otherwise!