Feeling stuck, blocked or resistant often comes from not having what you need. Your resistance is there because something important isn’t. You need something to move your writing forward: it might be reassurance, support, time, training, experience, tools.
Looking for a new tool or technique can be a trap. Installing Scrivener, for example, can take distract you from actually writing until you know how to use it. And Scrivener isn’t going to write your project if you don’t show up to work with it.
But there are times when you really do need a new tool or technique. Today, I am profoundly grateful for both.
New Tools and Techniques Help Me See New Possibilities
I’m revising my novel using scene cards (that is, index cards with one scene per card and one card for every scene in the manuscript). The new technique is to revise my novel at the level of scenes, not at the level of the hundreds of pages in the manuscript.
When I lay out the scene cards on my dining room table, I see more of the story than I ever could trying to look at manuscript pages.
I also give myself an 30,000 foot view with a Word table that identifies the POV character in each scene, a fragment that describes the main action in the scene, and the timeline (e.g. Card 1 happens on Day 1, Card 12 happens on Day 3, etc.). At this level, I can see where to add new scenes for a new POV character. I can also see scenes that are probably no longer necessary.
I could never do what I’m doing at the level of words on the page.
For example, I deleted three entire chapters today. I haven’t altered the manuscript yet and I might salvage some of the dialogue from those scenes to copy somewhere else before I hit the Delete key. But I wrote Delete on three scene cards and pulled them from the deck. When I start working with the manuscript again, those pages will go.
I wouldn’t have the courage to contemplate deleting those chapters without agonizing over the great stuff that’s there. At the level of sentences and pages, I’m too attached. At the level of sentences and pages, the way the story is in the current draft seems to be the only way the story could unfold.
I wish I’d created scene cards first instead of drafting my way through, but I didn’t know about this technique when I started this novel. I learned the foundation – e.g. dreamstorm and create scene cards as you imagine an entire novel at the level of scenes, rather than trying to outline (with the analytical mind) or just sitting down and drafting your way through – from Robert Olen Butler’s From Where You Dream. (I used this method to write a novella.)
Student Requests Led to New Tools and Techniques
I’m developing new tools and techniques as I beta test exercises for a new class I’ll teach this fall. Many students who took one of my Entering the Flow classes have dreamstormed and created scene cards for memoirs and novels. Some of those students requested a “next-step” Flow class to help them transform the cards into a draft; some created a draft and want a “next-step” Flow class to help them revise it.
I am deeply grateful to those students for nudging me to create a new class, which meant creating new exercises, which in turn led me to create new tools and techniques. Of course, I also thank the Loft’s Education Department for accepting my proposal for Revisiting the Flow.
I needed my students’ requests and the Loft’s support as much as the new tools. I know I wouldn’t be as far in the revision as I am without them.
What are you missing? Tools and techniques? A community of writers to nudge you forward? New ideas and exercises? Reassurance and support? You can find these things in many places, including in a Loft class like Revisiting the Flow or one of the other marvelous classes the Loft offers.
I hope to see you at the Loft. If I don’t, I hope it’s because you’re in your writing space moving your story forward.