Holiday Writing Workout (a.k.a. get yr motor running for the new year)

It’s not the 12 Days of Christmas; more like the day before and the 6 days after.

For those working on their NaNo rewrites (or any writing for that matter), I present a workout activity each day (except Christmas) to end 2011 with a bang and rev up for a new year of writing. Today’s workout focuses on what to do when you get stuck.


Anyone who has taken a writing workshop from me knows that I am a big on working thing out on the page. Sometimes during a timed writing exercise in one of my classes I’ll look up and see a frozen someone with a pained expression on his face. It’s the look of someone trying to find the right words before he gets them down.

This just happened last week and after class I told the boy I noticed how much he was struggling during the timed exercise. He said, “I just couldn’t think of anything to write about.”

That’s because he was doing it backwards. That’s like waiting for the water to emerge before turning on the faucet.  Write first, don’t think. When you put the pen to the paper, and keep it there, the answers work themselves out.

And the more spontaneous writing you do, the easier it will come.

I use the following exercise whenever I’m rewriting and I get stuck (which means that I use it almost every day). I use it if there’s a conversation that needs to reveal something important, a confrontation that needs to take place, a mystery, a question, an answer . . . any time I’m not sure where I’m going or how to fix some story issue.

You should definitely have a writing/rewriting notebook. Don’t only write into your computer. I believe writing by hand is essential for this to work.

I put the TITLE of the issue at the top of the page and put a box around it so I can refer to it later. Looking back in my rewrite notebook, titles include things like: Why Does Ondelle Keep Knowledge from Brigitta? How Does the Purview Work? What Does Mabbe Want? Elders’ Traits and Personalities.

It doesn’t matter what you title the entry, just make it something obvious so when you go looking for it, you can find it again.

This is not a timed exercise. In this exercise, you write until the answer comes. But Danika, you ask, how do I know the answer will come? Because you will write until it does. Sometimes it only takes 5 minutes until the light bulb goes on. Sometimes it takes 20 because and I circle around it like a hawk until it appears.

I don’t cross anything out, although I may write on the page “No, I don’t think that’s the answer, but what if…” Think of it like talking to yourself. I ask myself questions. I leave a blank space if I can’t think of a name or still need one. I write a frustrated remark if I’m feeling frustrated. I quickly underline something I really like so I can find it later (or make a smiley face) and move on.

The thing is not to stop. And if you get stuck within this, start asking yourself WHAT IF? What if’s are a great way to brainstorm. Just keep starting sentences with “what if.”

Since I’m working on a series, if I have some fabulous insight into something that happens later in the series, or I decide I want to save for a later book, I add it to a different section after the exercise is over. I have nifty tabs at the back of my notebook for further books in the series.

I do this quickly and try not to get distracted by it. But it’s important to catch these future ideas as they come and put them some place where you can find them.

Go for it and have a great holiday.


  1. gsprendergast
    Dec 24, 2011

    I completely forgot that December was supposed to be (for me anyway) NaNoFinMo. I’m not sure I can do, because I am stuck actually. Thanks for the push!

  2. I think Dec is a terrible time to do NaNoFinMo. Not only does December defy the laws of physics and speed by faster than any other month of the year, there are so many extra-curricular activities taking up our time – – plus at least 3 days lost to the digestion of holiday goodies. I think January should be NaNoFinMo and Dec should be spent preparing for the rewrite (i.e. reading mss, making notes, outlining/beat sheeting, etc).

    I haven’t even touched my NaNo, I’m rewriting something for my editor.


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