I posted this tweet this morning: “Don’t feel like writing today? Type a placeholder sentence, and revise it, and you’re writing.”
This method works because the words enmesh you. We writers think of ourselves as controlling our words, and we do. But merely putting words on paper or a screen changes what you’re thinking, and in this case, your mood.
You can experience this effect when writing dialogue. For example, this morning I was drafting a scene in a novel about two boys trying to live in the woods according to a book their father brought back from World War II: How to Survive on Land and Sea. They discover they already know most of what the book says.
“We could have written this book ourselves, Donny. Whenever we look things up in it, we’re usually already doing it.”
“What a great idea, Eddy. When we get rescued, we’ll write our own survival book for boys like us. But we’ll need a zippy title.”
And off they go brainstorming potential titles. I didn’t plan that, but once they started, I just turned them loose. How did that happen? I had struggled through last fall trying to come up with a title for my new book, Writing Your Way, forthcoming from Writers’s Digest on March 13. So once the boys came up with their book idea, it was an easy leap to their needing a title.
Such happy accidents can unnerve a control freak, which is a bad thing to be if you’re a writer. But if you don’t like what the characters do or say, you can just erase it.
(Ever had your characters take over, or your words divert you?)